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date: 23 February 2020


A Dictionary of Film Studies

Annette Kuhn,

Guy Westwell

postcolonialism (postcoloniality, postcolonial theory) 

1. The study of the cultures of countries and regions, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, whose histories are marked by colonialism, anti-colonial movements, and the transition to independence during the 20th century, and the study of their present-day influence on the societies and cultures of former colonizers.

2. The analysis of issues of ‘otherness’, hybridity, national and ethnic identity, race, imperialism, and language both during and after colonial times: as postcolonial theory, in the wake of Edward Said's 1978 study, Orientalism, this approach has attained some prominence in cultural studies. Postcolonialism in film studies draws on both these meanings.

Firstly, it informs studies of postcolonial cinemas: these embrace not only the national and regional cinemas of former colonies, where cinema was often seen as important in the reconstruction of national identity after independence (see north africa, film in; sub-saharan africa, film in), but also films emerging from postcolonial diasporas in the West (see diasporic cinema), and ‘intercultural cinema’ in general (a broad category in which might be included films by Claire Denis such as Beau travail (France, 1998) and White Material (France/Cameroon, 2009). Secondly, where it draws on postcolonial theory, postcolonialism is part of the anti-essentialist, poststructuralist trend within film theory (see poststructuralism), where questions of hybrid subjectivity and multiple identity are of central concern. Both tendencies can trace a genealogy to earlier theoretical debates around, and to the cultural politics of film movements that address, issues of otherness, exclusion, and hybrid identity—in particular a trend in feminist cinema represented by such films as Measures of Distance (Mona Hatoum, UK/Canada, 1988); Reassemblage (Trinh T. Minh-ha, Senegal/US, 1983); A Song of Ceylon (Laleen Jayamanne, Australia, 1985); and Nice Colored Girls (Tracey Moffatt, Australia, 1987); as well as questions around Third Cinema and its ‘films of decolonization’, such as El otro Francisco/The Other Francisco (Sergio Giral, Cuba, 1975); and Lucía (Humberto Solás, Cuba, 1968). Although it has been criticized for eliding questions of class, economics, and politics, postcolonialism continues to offer a distinctive perspective on films from formerly colonized countries and regions, on diasporic films, and in general on films that enact the mixed, and often conflicting, identities associated with the postcolonial era. See also beur cinema; national cinema; world cinema.

Further Reading:

Marks, Laura U. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (2000).Find this resource:

Shohat, Ella and Stam, Robert (eds.), Multiculturalism, Postcoloniality, and Transnational Media (2003).Find this resource:

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty and Harasym, Sarah (eds.), The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (1990).Find this resource:

Minh-ha, Trinh T. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (1989).Find this resource: