Chinese Cinema Looks at Ethnic Minorities

There is a strong temptation on the part of those from outside of China to either think of it as a monoethnic mass or to go the other way, to narrow focus onto its ethnic minorities as an antidote to the vastness of the country and wide reach of Han hegemony. Just as orientalism isn’t only a zero-sum game between the West and the East (in spite of what any correspondence-student of Edward Said – and they are legion – will argue), but can just as easily exist across and within Asian societies, so too does that desire to bypass the flawed and simplified notion of homogeneous China and fixate on minority cultures exist among Han Chinese themselves. In visual culture this can be positive, celebrating difference and valuing cultural diversity. But more often than not, it’s used to cement notions in the Han audience of their own dominance, and also create an image of an untroubled coexistence, one lacking in history, humanness, and political implications. Read the rest of this entry »



India / 1985 / Malayalam & Tamil

Directed by Govindan Aravindan

With Bharath Gopi, Smita Patil, Sreenivasan

Still From 'Chidambaram'A Bhojpuri folk song, sung throughout the diaspora (in Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji, and beyond), relates the image of two swans in a pond, a male and a female. The pond, the lyrics go, cannot be beautiful without the lotus. Helen Myers, who documented the song for years in her brilliant ethnomusicology work, generally speaks of it as a song about family ties; the pond represents the wedding tent, and the lotus represents a sister-in-law and her importance to the ritual proceedings. But, like most folk songs, it can have other metaphors snaking away from the central image. Read the rest of this entry »