Transnational Film and Cultural Appropriation

Transnational Film is primarily seen as a result of globalisation, whereby western films aim to incorporate aspects of eastern cultures to appeal to a more diverse audience. The result of this is a more connected and understanding cinematic experience, however Rogers argues that the ongoing influx of Transnational Films has led to a gross misunderstanding of other cultures due to the ‘Americanisation’ of eastern cultures (Rogers 2006).

This amounts to the rise of ‘contra flows’ as argued by Schaefer and Karan, shifting the cultural influence to the Global South and ‘blurring the boundaries between the modern and traditional cultures (Schaefer and Karan 2010).

Through this influence arises the highly controversial phenomena of cultural appropriation within transnational cinema. Cultural appropriation is defined by Rogers as the adaptation of a cultures symbols, traditions, rituals and genes by members of another culture. Through this he criticises the use of cultural appropriation in film declaring that it is used in the “assimilation and exploitation of marginalised and colonised cultures” (Rogers 2006).  The misrepresentation of cultures in transnational cinema comes from both a lack of understanding and respect, perpetuating in largely negative cultural stereotyping.

Through this comes the debate that cultural appropriation infers superiority of one culture over another, and whilst Johnny Depp’s Lone Ranger was apparently aimed at celebrating and appreciating Native American culture – he only succeeded in angering Native American communities, adding to the list of movies that accounted for cultural misrepresentation.

tonto-and-the-lone-ranger-19942-1366x768

Aspects of globalisation are more prevalent than we believe, and it is not uncommon to be subjected to cultural appropriation in seemingly acceptable social situations. Simply wearing a Native American costume to a themed party can be deemed offensive as quite rightly members outside of that community are not deemed as worthy or understanding enough of the culture to associate with this symbol. The same principles apply in movies which incorporate cultural appropriation, and can lead to gross misrepresentations and interpretations of customs and beliefs within this culture.

Other examples include:

Babel

Apocalypto

Slumdog Millionaire

When cultures are misrepresented for the purpose of Hollywood entertainment, it can lead to anger within native communities that feel as though they have been undermined and exploited, with a lack of justice and dignity served to their ancestry. Rogers alludes to how Western cultures see themselves as ‘superior’. Furthermore he argues that the appropriation of the elements of a subordinated culture by a dominant culture often come without substantive reciprocity, permission and/or compensation (Rogers 2006).

Whilst this truly is a fascinating debate, there isn’t a lot more than opinion that separates what constitutes both morally and ethically correct film in this context. Whilst the intention of innumerable Hollywood films including the aforementioned blockbusters, there is no comprehensive way that what is depicted is any true reflection of the cultures that have been represented. It is important to be sensitive irrespective of what side of this debate you are on, so the final question I pose is;

What side are you on?

References:

1) Rogers, R. A. (2006), From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, 16: 474–503.

2)Karan, K and Schaefer, DJ (2010) ‘Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema in global film flows’, Global Media and Communication, 6: 3, pp. 309-316.

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About alexdebs

Second year Bachelor of Communications and Media studies student at the University of Wollongong. I am an aspiring journalist with a passion for sport, music and travel.
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