Blurring the Colonial Binary

Turn-of-the-Century Transnational Entertainment in Southeast Asia

Description

Blurring the Colonial Binary assesses the development of cinema in colonial Southeast Asia, and how it disrupted notions of racial hierarchies. The book charts the development of cinema, and its distribution and exhibition, from a transnational and colonial perspective. The first decade of cinema in Southeast Asia, particularly Singapore, is used as a point of reference from where issues such as imperialism, colonial discourse, nation-building, ethnicity, gender, and race is examined.

I demonstrate the interconnectedness of Southeast Asia, and its constructed national borders, by examining tha transnational itinerant amusement companies that performed in the region. These entertainment companies, in turn, were dependent on imperial networks, in terms of trade and communication systems, which facilitated their movement between territories. Cinematic venues negotiated segregated, colonial racial politics by creating a common social space where people from different ethnic and social backgrounds gathered.

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Abstract

This dissertation examines and writes the early history of distribution and exhibition of moving images in Southeast Asia by observing the intersection of transnational itinerant entertainment and colonialism. It is a cultural history of turn-of-the-century Southeast Asia, and focuses on the movement of films, people, and amusements across oceans and national borders. The starting point is two simultaneous and interrelated processes in the late 1800s, to which cinema contributed. One process, colonialism and imperialism, separated people into different classes of people, ruler and ruled, white and non-white, thereby creating and widening a colonial binary. The other process was bringing the world closer, through technology, trade, and migration, and compressing the notions of time and space.

The study assesses the development of cinema in a colonial setting and how its development disrupted notions of racial hierarchies. The first decade of cinema in Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore, is used as a point of reference from where issues such as imperialism, colonial discourse, nation-building, ethnicity, gender, and race is discussed. The development of film exhibition and distribution in Southeast Asia is tracked from travelling film exhibitors and agents to the opening of a regional Pathé Frères office and permanent film venues. By having a transnational perspective the interconnectedness of Southeast Asia is demonstrated, as well as its constructed national borders.

Cinematic venues throughout Southeast Asia negotiated segregated, colonial racial politics by creating a common social space where people from different ethnic and social backgrounds gathered. Furthermore, this study analyses what kind of worldview the exhibited pictures had and how audiences reproduced their meanings.

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About the Author

Nadi Tofighian

Nadi Tofighian is a lecturer at the Section for Cinema Studies. He has previously been a lecturer at Linnaeus University and at De La Salle University Manila, and did a postdoc at the Film and Media Studies Program at Yale University in 2015-2016.... Read more

Reference

Tofighian, N. (2013). Blurring the Colonial Binary: Turn-of-the-Century Transnational Entertainment in Southeast Asia. Diss. Stockholms universitet. Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis.