Crossover Cinema: Orientalism

The term ‘Crossover cinema’  describes a form of film involving the crossing over of cultural borders in terms of influence, production and distribution (Khorana 2014, p.2). When a film references another culture, or tries to adapt a different country’s film into their own, it is thought of as a cultural hybrid or crossover film (Khorana 2014).

Crossover film impacts the every-day viewer, as it shapes our ideologies about foreign cultures and countries. It can be a window into various lands that we have never had the chance to experience and allows us a look into their way of life. It is a form of hybridisation to fit other markets as American directors see aspects of foreign film and attempt to adopt it into their own cinema productions.

Crossover cinema, however, doesn’t always (or ever) paint the truest picture of the foreign cultures the films try to represent and therefore fall subject to stereotypes and other prejudices. One trope in particular that is rampant in Hollywood cross-cultural films is Orientalism. Films like Eat Pray Love, Price of Persia, Sex and the City 2 and (all?) Disney films all contain it.

Eat Pray Love:a contrived re-telling of everything we've ever allowed ourselves to believe about the East.

Eat Pray Love:a contrived re-telling of everything we’ve ever allowed ourselves to believe about the East.

Orientalism, coined by Edward Said (1978), it is where Westerners believe that they are superior to Orients (East Asia, Middle East and India). Orientalists stereotype these countries with a sweeping generalization of either fear or desire. We all know that this is not the case!  

The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of
romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable
experiences…. Unlike the Americans, the French and the British…have had a long
tradition of what I shall be calling Orientalism, a way of coming to terms with the
Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience.
The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and
richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural
contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition,
the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea,
personality, experience. (Said pg.1-2)

A cross-over film, I have only recently watched recently is full of Orientalism- The Living Daylights (1987), from the famous James Bond series. Some may argue that James Bond is a British spy in a British film; however, British and U.S. interests tend to mirror each other with respect to foreign policy, and the James Bond movies are ultimately Hollywood films, primarily aimed at American audiences. The influence of U.S. foreign policy can be seen in The Living Daylights, when Bond finds himself imprisoned on a Russian military base in Afghanistan.

Orientalism in The Living Daylights image viahttp://talkbacker.com

Bond escapes with another prisoner, Kamran Shah, the leader of the local leader of the local Mujahideen. Shah agrees to help Bond stop the plot of a corrupt Russian general. The film portrays Shah as a clean-cut, Oxford educated leader speaking perfect British English. He and his Afghan militia are viewed as allies of the West in their ongoing struggle to defeat the occupying Russians.Ironically, many of the Mujahideen during the time of the Russian occupation would later on become the Taliban that the U.S. continues to fight today.

image via basementrejects.com

This depiction of Shah and his men runs contrary to the more modern (post-Soviet) orientalist views of the Afghan people. The stereotypical image (Clifford 1988) of a man such as Shah would be describe him as a terrorist, an uncivilized, violent, guttural man speaking broken English. However, this orientalist portrayal was partially suspended in The Living Daylights due to the fact that these “orientals” were, at that time, allies of the U.S. (due to the fact that they shared a common enemy). The disparity between the way a man like Shah was depicted in 1978, and the way other Afghan men are portrayed now in 2014, is the perfect example of how orientalism takes many of its ques from the political climate of the West.

Of course there are cultural differences, but there are also cultural similarities– we are not binary opposites. In pointing this out, I hope you start to think about if Orientalism is it play in the film you are watching. Even though this concept is over 30 years old, it is still alive as ever in your favourite cross-over films.

 

 

Clifford, James. “On Orientalism.” Predicaments of Culture. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988. 225–76.

Khorana, S 2013, ‘Crossover Cinema: A Genealogical and Conceptual Overview’, Producing a Hybrid Grammar, pp. 1-7.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 2003.

Sharp, T. 2010, ORIENTALISM, West Coast Line. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby.

 

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