I have chosen to provide an analysis of the transnational perspective, in terms of production and reception in various films. The integration of cultures in some of the films I look at is a particular reason for its distinction between transnational as opposed to a national film.
Lion serves as an example of a transnational production which incites considerations of ethical importance. The transnational focuses on the heightened interconnectivity between people all around the world and the loosening of boundaries between countries and cultures. Transnationalism has social, political and economic impacts that affect people all around the globe. I will explore transnationalism through the key concepts of diaspora, displacement, culture, and multiculturalism in many examples of transnational films. Many ‘transnational productions emerge from within a specifically diasporic configuration that.
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..articulates the relationship between the host and home cultures, and is aware, at same time, of the interconnectedness between the local and the global within diasporic communities’ (Higbee 2010: 11). For instance, Davis (director of Lion) does this with his film. The film is set in Australia, yet there are flashbacks of Saroo’s early life in India before coming to Australia.
In this way, both Australian and Indian audiences can relate. Thus, the east and the west are integrated as one. This is a shared connection that cannot be overcome with national films.
The transnational approach to cinema has overcome the limitations and deficiencies of a national approach; especially since National cinema is problematised. ‘The more valuable forms of cinematic transnationalism feature at least two qualities: a resistance to globalisation as cultural homogenisation; and a commitment to ensuring that certain economic realities associated with filmmaking do not eclipse the pursuit of aesthetic, artistic, social, and political values’ (Durovicová and Newman 2010: 30). National cinema embodies a limited or national audience, as well as contributing to the shape of mainstream film, the hybridisation of world cinema, the domination of American cinema or Hollywood and its stereotypes. We know by now that many roles in Hollywood are given to primarily Caucasian actors. Many films in Hollywood feature a primarily Caucasian-dominant cast, even recently, films such as Ghost in the Shell (2017), Aloha (2015) and Doctor Strange (2016) have been subject to the so called ‘white-washing’ that is prominent in Hollywood. Fu (2010) has stated that adaptation across cultures is easier when they are alike. A logical extension is that cinemagoers in respective countries will react to films of a given origin according to their own cultures.
In this context, it is expected that the Hollywood film diet of a national audience will depend on the country’s cultural distance from the United States. The performance of ‘Americanness’ is becoming universal, thus national identity is becoming abandoned as a marker of cultural specificity. Hollywood also influences world cinema such as Bollywood and third world cinema. American films are therefore influencing other film industries into an Americanised style of film. This form of national cinema is therefore limiting as there leaves no form of unity, and if many film industries followed the same style, then there would be no cultural exchange. Borders are crossed in the The Secret of Kells; the idea of nationality is challenged in the film by permeable borders.
The idea of nationality is challenged by permeable borders, such as Abbot as the antagonist. The main protagonist in the film, Brendan must transgress boundaries and understand the forest in order to complete the Book of Kells. The book is tied to national and religious culture, this includes Irish, Scottish, and English monasteries which is part of the cultural narrative. He must go beyond the bounds of his own borders to become more in touch with his own culture as well. This ties in with the idea that Transnational cinema is most ‘at home’ in-between spaces of culture. Therefore, there comes ‘a responsibility towards the studies of national/ cultural representation and power politics in cinema, and a desire to move beyond the limiting confines of reading cinema within a national optic’ (Chan 2010: 38).
Transnationality and mobility across national borders is often characterised by loss and loneliness in the characters. Displacement is represented as a permanent state of being as opposed to a transitional state. This can be seen in The Secret of Kells, as Brendan lacks a definitive sense of home prior to working on the book. There is an omnipresent sense of loss due to his status as an orphan. The constant back and forth to the monasteries places him both physically and emotionally in a limbo of uncertainty and in-between cultures with a lack of stability/ permanence in terms of place. The idea of the diaspora and returning home is prevalent in the transnational. In some transnational films there is an emotional construction of the homeland and a strong sense of nostalgia. This can be thought of as a post-national articulation of Anderson’s ‘imagined community’ (1983).
The promise of return is inherent in this diasporic connection, which the audience can see through Brendan’s return as an adult to Kells. In addition to narrative content, the production of films also contains a lack of belonging in the current film world. Most films are dislocated from the places they represent, whether filmed at a different location or simply created with Computer Generated Images (CGI). Here, we can see how the transnational crosses borders yet again. ‘Transnational cinema…
through its analysis of the cinematic representation of cultural identity, challenge(s) the Western (neocolonial) construct of nation and national culture’ (Higbee 2010: 12). Transnational cinema whether it be made by a displaced director or a migrant filmmaker ultimately explores people and life on both the ends, or in other words, enabling filmmakers to communicate with its variety of audiences about different lives of similar people. This can be exemplified by considering Gurinder Chadha’s work, who is of Indian Origin and is a British Director of films like Bhaji on the Beach, Bend it Like Beckham and others. One of the common topics of her films involves the life of the Indian immigrants in London, the cultural dilemmas they face and the adjustments made to survive culturally. For the Indian community the films of Gurinder Chadha become an entertaining way to look at their peers in a nation other than their own by someone who is essentially like them. Films in India post the economic liberalisation, like Dilwale, Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kal Ho Na Ho, Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham, etc., which have been dealing very frequently with the Non-Resident Indians, in short, the families that Chadha depicts in her films. So, what is the difference between these? one may ask.
The difference is in perspective. If the former looks at the immigrant to be an outsider the latter does the opposite. This establishes the classic thread of cross-border communication. The transnational therefore may be prompted by economic necessities (and thus values) but the overarching goal is to promote values other than the purely economic: the social value of community, belonging, and heritage in the case of epiphanic transnationalism; and the social value of solidarity in the case of affinitive and milieu-building transnationalism. As opposed to the National film, which are mainly produced to gain economically, not taking into account other factors and values.
As Durovicová and Newman put it, ‘cinematic transnationalism is a ubiquitous phenomenon at the beginning of the new millennium…’ (2010: 15). Naficy argues that this transnational exchange has given a voice to diasporic film-makers in the West while transforming the national by framing their difference or accent within the discursive of the national cinemas and traditional genres of their home and adopted lands (Naficy 1996: 120). Key words that may be used to describe the cultural production of diasporic film-makers, include: accented, postcolonial, interstitial, intercultural and multicultural. All of the above could potentially be subsumed by the term ‘transnational’, due to their association with modes of film production that transcend national borders and bring into question the fixity of national cultural discourses. This cross-cultural exploration that a transnational approach to film does, is something that a national approach lacks.
One of the most significant aspects or rather phenomena that transnationalism has made possible is the resemblance of places, ideas and verisimilitude of being. This essentially occurs as a result of the permeable nature of transnational cinema to exchange not only people and services but also ideas and aspirations. One of the potent examples in this regard will be the way the hegemony of American media spread all over the world. The American way of life has been deliberately proliferated everywhere and its media, which has a great role to play in influencing and homogenising the media, way of life and culture in other parts of the world. As far as the effect of the transnational media on life is concerned, according to Mirelli (2011), it can be illustrated with the example of this tiny state in Northeast India, Mizoram, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh where there has been this wave of Korean culture fever.
And thus we also get a glimpse of transnational cinema not only leading to the exploration of diversity but also its far-reaching effects. Drawing heavily on the work of sociologist Ulf Hannerz (1996), in his article, Bergfelder (2005) argues that one advantage of the term ‘transnational’ is that it offers an alternative to the generalised and imprecise application of the term ‘globalisation’. Whereas globalisation is routinely applied to any and every process or relationship (political, social, cultural or economic) that crosses a national boundary, the transnational is more suited to the scale, distribution and diversity of such exchanges and their impact on a local level as well as an understanding that they could have effects within and beyond the nation-state. The reality of power inequality, however, demonstrates that the co-optation of East Asian film-making talents (from cast to crew) through the Hollywood system or Hollywood’s outsourcing of labour-intensive processes to are used to benefit Hollywood studios, especially in financial terms.
Hollywood tries to appeal to transnational audiences, yet does not succeed in many ways. This is explicit due to Hollywood’s transnational imagination of East Asia, exemplified by films such as Memoirs of a Geisha (Bob Marshall, 2005) and The Last Samurai (Edward Zwick, 2003). These films impose an unthinking linguistic hegemony of English to maximize global profits while igniting geopolitical tensions by ignoring ethnic/racial difference, such as the casting of Chinese actresses in the roles of Japanese geishas. This racial appropriation is common within Hollywood, and enables us to question what the transnational actually means. Transnational cinematic flow is also, ‘contrary to the metaphor the word invokes’, not ‘a spontaneous force of nature, but shaped and produced by various social, economic and cultural forces’ (Berry and Pang 2008: 6). In examining all forms of cross-border film-making, it is also always attentive to question post-coloniality, politics and power, and how these may, in turn, uncover new forms of neo-colonialist practices in the guise of popular genres or auteurist aesthetics. It scrutinises the tensions and dialogic relationship between national and transnational, rather than simply negating one in favour of the other.
Moreover, it refuses to see the flow or exchange within transnational cinema as taking place uniquely between national cinemas. Instead, it understands the potential for local, regional and diasporic film cultures to affect, subvert and transform national and transnational cinemas. It may also wish to pay attention to the largely neglected question of the audience and to examine the capacity of local, global and diasporic audiences to decode films as they circulate transnationally (not only in cinemas but also on DVD and online), constructing a variety of meanings ranging from adaptation and assimilation to more challenging or subversive readings of these transnational films. Does an ethnically/culturally/linguistically diverse cast and crew lend itself to a transnational category? How does the viewer impact transnational cinema? I find myself questioning how festivals promoting independent films, or those being produced on a smaller budget, have impacted national or international reception; therefore, I think the audience plays just as much a role in establishing a transnational cinema due to the ability to access films at the click of a button, whether on our tablets, smartphones, or laptops.
Within our own academic setting, films via Netflix or YouTube are available to students, which is a vital component in opening the classroom to authentic texts. This is what the transnational enables us to do. David Morely and Kevin Robins believe ‘the idea of the “nation”.
..involve(s) people in a common sense of identity and…work(s) as an inclusive symbol which provides “integration” and “meaning” (1990: 6). This is not dependent on living within the geo-political space of the nation. Thus, some diasporic communities, from a specific geo-political space of the nation/ homeland may still share a common sense of belonging, despite their transnational dispersion.
On one side, modern nations exist primarily as imagined communities. On the other, those communities actually consist of highly disintegrated and widely dispersed groups of people with as many differences and similarities. If this is the case, it follows that all nations are in some way diasporic. Thus, they are forced into the tension between unity and disunity, between home and homelessness. Nationhood thus answers to a ‘felt need for a rooted, bounded, whole and authentic identity’ (Morley and Robins 1990: 19). In this sense, it can be said that the Transnational would overcome problems such as this. As Andrew Higson notes, in regards to transnational cinema, ‘The experience of border crossing takes place at two broad levels.
First there is the level of production and the activities of the film-makers. … The second way is in terms of the distribution and reception of films’ (1989: 19). Ultimately, the imagined hyphenation or ‘in-between’ in the transnational consists of spontaneous and organic interactions between the following components: the specificity of the production team, including the actors, directors, crew, etc., the financial backing, the filming location, the thematic/cinematic content, viewing location (theatre, festival, university classroom, or internet), use of subtitles and reliability of translations, among others. This is not always something that is always taken into consideration in a national approach to film. To conclude, there are many ways in which a transnational approach to cinema would overcome the limitations/ deficiencies of a national approach. The ones to consider are: diversity, multiculturalism, national unity, lack of dominance over Hollywood. It appears that the transnational approach appeals to a larger, wider audience, and is overall diverse/ cultural in its nature.
As opposed to the national approach, which is limiting due to its appeal to its own nation and specific industry. Therefore, there are no borders crossed. However, there are many questions that arise when thinking about the national and the transnational, such as, is it perhaps a problem that American and Western film is so dominant and pervasive even in the production of other culture’s films? Does an ethnically/culturally/linguistically diverse cast and crew lend itself to a transnational category