In the introduction to Postcolonial Cinema Studies editors Sandra Ponzanesi and Marguerite Waller acknowledge the fact that postcolonial cinema cannot easily be defined as a single genre or a category. Postcolonialism itself is not a fixed condition nor is it specific to any time or place; therefore the editors have successfully compiled a range of essays that explore how several films and filmmakers engage with postcolonial conditions, as well as the histories, subjectivities, epistemologies, and the politics of each (9). The selected essays span from Empire Cinemas of the silent era to the Nollywood video industry, and provide clear analyses to the ways that various cinematic elements evoke concepts of identity, nationality, religion, conflict and memory. Many of the essays selected by Ponzanesi and Waller provide the reader with necessary backgrounds on the pro-filmic circumstances of each film as well as detailed (but not exhaustive) summaries of the narrative, which are especially useful since several of the films are difficult to find outside of libraries, university collections, and even within the expanse of the Internet. Despite this minor impediment, Postcolonial Cinema Studies engages both cinema studies and postcolonial studies through illustrative and articulate means, and scholars of any level who are interested in these fields will find this book to be highly advantageous.
Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright have stated, “we understand ourselves to exist within a global context, even as we identify ourselves as belonging to particular nations, regions, and cultures” (1). This is highly relevant in an increasingly globalized world where media can transcend boundaries with unprecedented ease. Yet our ways of understanding and interpreting media continues to be varied and complex and Ponzanesi and Waller recognize that viewers throughout the world have been – and continue to be – deeply conditioned by colonialism and its legacies (9). Although Postcolonial Cinema Studies does provide necessary analyses of the ways that certain Hollywood and European films project ideologies of power and otherness, it goes into further detail by describing the creative ways that filmmakers throughout the globe have used to counter these attitudes: “film (and media generally), because they can deal in fantasy and the imaginary, project new possibilities of resistance and subversion, particularly through the prisms of micropolitics and aesthetics” (9).
The selected essays illustrate how the specific language of each film corresponds to a unique postcolonial condition. Furthermore, they illustrate how the selected films provide models of awareness and resistance to colonialist ideologies. For instance, Shohini Chaudhuri’s analysis of Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006) explains how the film’s mise-en-scene convincingly creates a futuristic dystopia, while at the same time illustrating how strategies of Orientalism have been refitted into post 9/11 discourses of conflict and terror (186). Chaudhuri carefully investigates how actions, objects, settings, and people in the film’s background call vivid attention to real-life issues such as torture and detainment, and “locates agency among immigrants, refugees, illegals, and detainees” (186) who have been vilified by powerful governments in the name of peace and security. Hamish Ford’s chapter, “From Otherness ‘Over There’ to Virtual Presence” examines how Ousmane Sembene’s Camp de Thiaroye (1988), Guillermo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966), and Michael Haneke’s Cachè (Hidden) (2005) trace France’s colonial history from the mid-twentieth century to present day. In his analysis of Cachè especially, Ford illustrates how the film’s temporal and spatial nature evokes the memories and collective guilt that continue to persist in contemporary France, despite attempts to repress and relocate them: “cinema, with its visual specificity, its freedom to sculpt time and to shape space, its synesthetic appeal to multiple senses, and its privileging of movement over stasis is particularly well-suited to subverting conventional frames and choreographing new histories (61).
Although Ponzanesi and Waller do recognize the valuable contributions of acclaimed directors such as Ousmane Sembene and Trinh T. Minh-ha, Postcolonial Cinema Studies does not redundantly analyze the oeuvre of a few celebrated filmmakers, nor does it confine itself entirely to arthouse cinema. For instance, Claudia Hoffmann’s “Nollywood in Transit: The Globalization of Nigerian Video Culture” acknowledges Nigeria’s media industries and their ways of engaging local audiences as well as the Diaspora. Sandra Ponzanesi’s “Postcolonial Adaptations: Gained and Lost in Translation” examines the intersection of film and literature in order to illustrate how “the postcolonial message can become diluted, defused, or lost, or…accentuated, emphasized, even created” (128) when it is adapted for mass audiences. Ponzanesi’s analysis of Bride and Prejudice (Gurinder Chadha, 2004), a Bollywood-style reworking of Jane Austin’s 1813 classic novel Pride and Prejudice, clearly demonstrates the importance of reflecting on the culture industry, in order to better understand its means of appropriation, and the consequences that may ensue.
Postcolonial Cinema Studies provides a refreshing, comprehensive look at global cinema and postcoloniality. It is helpfully organized into four sections: Cinemas of Empire, Unframing Histories, Postcolonial Aesthetics, and Postcolonial Cinemas and Globalization. Each section begins with a brief introduction that summarizes the major themes and ideas of the corresponding essays, and also provides the reader with additional concepts relating to postcolonialism and cinema studies. Although more advanced scholars may consider these introductions unnecessary, they provide a cohesive outline for those who may not yet be as familiar with these theories and concepts. Ponzanesi and Waller conclude the book with an interview with the renowned scholar Priya Jaikumar, who eloquently discusses methods and reasons for teaching postcolonial studies. Jaikumar’s insights, along with the themes and ideas discussed throughout Postcolonial Cinema Studies will doubtlessly prove beneficial for scholars and educators, especially considering film and media’s role in an increasingly globalized world.
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Ponzanesi, Sandra and Waller, Marguerite. Postcolonial Cinema Studies. (New York, NY. Routledge, 2012).