Journal Article

Moving pictures across colonial boundaries: The multiple nationalities of the American Biograph in Southeast Asia



This article assesses the transnational exhibition, distribution, and marketing of films in Southeast Asia, primarily the Netherlands Indies and British Malaya, around the turn of the last century, by using the American Biograph as a case study. We have found various ‘American Biographs’ in the region – some directly linked to the American parent company, which was one of the world’s leading companies in early film distribution and projection, and others apparently using the Biograph as a branding tool. This article is divided into three sections, each devoted to an itinerant American Biograph company we have chosen to highlight: their Indian subsidiary, and their subsidiary from the Netherlands, the Java Biorama. By considering their film programming choices and ticket price categories, we map and discuss how early film pioneers, with their cinematographic devices and films, moved between colonial borders, as well as how they were received by their audiences and the local press in Southeast Asia. Their exhibitions created spaces where people from different ethnic backgrounds within the colonial societies could come together as film spectators, yet were segregated within that cinematic space through price levels and racial politics. Finally, the article reflects on the impact of the American Biograph companies on the film exhibition circuit in Southeast Asia, signalling that moving pictures were to become a permanent fixture on the popular entertainment scene.

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  • Type:
    Journal Article (peer reviewed)
  • Journal:
    Early Popular Visual Culture, Vol 14, Issue 2.
  • Pages:
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About the Author

Nadi Tofighian

Nadi Tofighian is a researcher and lecturer at the Section for Cinema Studies at the Department of Media Studies. He has previously been a lecturer at Linnaeus University, Örebro University and at De La Salle University Manila, and a postdoctoral ... Read more


Tofighian, N. (2016). Moving pictures across colonial boundaries: The multiple nationalities of the American Biograph in Southeast Asia. Early Popular Visual Culture, 14(2), pp. 188-207. Available at: [Accessed 7 Dec. 2022]. doi: 10.1080/17460654.2016.1175545.