Blurring the Colonial Binary : Turn-of-the-Century Transnational Entertainment in Southeast Asia

Abstract: This dissertation examines and writes the early history of distribution and exhibition of moving images in Southeast Asia by observing the intersection of transnational itinerant entertainment and colonialism. It is a cultural history of turn-of-the-century Southeast Asia, and focuses on the movement of films, people, and amusements across oceans and national borders. The starting point is two simultaneous and interrelated processes in the late 1800s, to which cinema contributed. One process, colonialism and imperialism, separated people into different classes of people, ruler and ruled, white and non-white, thereby creating and widening a colonial binary. The other process was bringing the world closer, through technology, trade, and migration, and compressing the notions of time and space.The study assesses the development of cinema in a colonial setting and how its development disrupted notions of racial hierarchies. The first decade of cinema in Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore, is used as a point of reference from where issues such as imperialism, colonial discourse, nation-building, ethnicity, gender, and race is discussed. The development of film exhibition and distribution in Southeast Asia is tracked from travelling film exhibitors and agents to the opening of a regional Pathé Frères office and permanent film venues. By having a transnational perspective the interconnectedness of Southeast Asia is demonstrated, as well as its constructed national borders.Cinematic venues throughout Southeast Asia negotiated segregated, colonial racial politics by creating a common social space where people from different ethnic and social backgrounds gathered. Furthermore, this study analyses what kind of worldview the exhibited pictures had and how audiences reproduced their meanings.

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