“… you cannot mobilize a movement that is only and always against; you must have a positive alternative, a vision of a better future that can motivate people to sacrifice their time and energy toward its realization.”
Obioma Nnaemeka, “Nego-feminism: Theorizing, Practicing, and Pruning Africa’s Way”, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 29.2 (2003), p.364
Inspired by the RhodesMustFall movement at the University of Cape Town in May 2015, certain higher education institutions, individuals and collectives across the world have engaged in renewed, contemporary work to try to decolonise academia over the past four years. These movements are not new, and need to be historicised in relation to the long history of struggles for political decolonisation, complex engagement with the word “decolonisation” itself, and a wealth of significant theorising around decolonising (e.g. wa Thiong’o 1986, Tuhiwai Smith 1999). These contemporary movements are also not uncontested, with some arguing that the term “decolonisation” has provided a useful way of bringing together academics from different disciplines with similar agendas around transformation, and others arguing that the term hides a range of distinct activities and practices, some of which appropriate or exploit the term without real commitment to fostering change.
In this Open Access edited volume which forms part of the “Screen Worlds: Decolonising Film and Screen Studies” project, we seek to put the field of Film and Screen Studies into conversation with these contemporary, cross-disciplinary debates and discussions. Despite the complexities of defining “decolonisation”, particularly in relation to distinct contexts, we feel that this is an urgent conversation for Film and Screen Studies given how Eurocentric the field remains, half a century after its academic formalisation. While an important body of research has been published since the late 1980s on African cinema (e.g. Diawara 1992, Ukadike 1994), Black cinema (e.g. Cham and Andrade-Watkins 1988, hooks 1996), postcolonial cinema and media (e.g. Shohat and Stam 1994), and on de-westernising film studies (e.g. Higbee and Bâ 2012), a large proportion of Film and Screen Studies scholarship continues to ignore continental Africa, much of Asia, research in languages other than English, and questions of diverse cultures and worldviews. For example, Braudy and Cohen’s Film Theory and Criticism (2009), often used as a Film Studies textbook and now in its seventh edition, includes only four entries that deal with critical race theory and/or (post)colonialism (Diawara, Stam and Spence, Yoshimoto, Dissanayake), and these are placed towards the end of the book, suggesting that imperialism, colonialism and racism are an afterthought when it comes to the histories and theories of filmmaking.
As Robert Stam powerfully notes in Film Theory: An Introduction (2000), film’s historical relationship with imperialism, colonialism and racism has been the least studied area in Film and Screen Studies. This is in spite of the fact that the film medium, since its invention in the late 1800s, was powered by White patriarchal privilege and negative representations of dark-skinned peoples. Since racism has been a form of visual supremacy it makes sense to explore its origins, effects, and legacies through a visual medium such as film itself, which was invented during the Scramble for Africa. Film and Screen Studies thus needs to be rethought in relation to imperialism, colonialism, and racism. This volume calls for scholars from all disciplines and in diverse locations around the world to help in this ambitious task of re-envisioning Film and Screen Studies to make the field far more globally representative and inclusive of diverse and dynamic screen cultures and worldviews.
The fact that Film and Screen Studies has had to struggle for recognition as an academic discipline in its own right has led to a versatility and dynamism that we hope means that the field will more easily be able to take inspiration from, and adapt, decolonising debates, methods and theories from other disciplinary fields (e.g. Archaeology, Anthropology, Education Studies, International Relations, Development Studies, Gender Studies, and even Medicine and the Natural Sciences) while shedding light on how films and film theory can also help other academic fields to decolonise. We encourage contributors to read widely across disciplines for inspiration, and we also encourage contributors to foreground their own positionality and lived experience, as well as to reflect on the relationships between their research, pedagogy and/or practice (e.g. hooks 1996, Nnaemeka 2003, Mistry 2017).
Questions that might be explored (although this list is by no means exhaustive) include:
- What are the possibilities and problems of trying to decolonise Film and Screen Studies?
- What would a decolonised Film and Screen Studies programme look like? Which films and scholarship should be included, and how? And how might this vary, given that decolonising has different meanings in diverse local, national, regional and continental contexts?
- How can we ensure that the inclusion of films and film theory by people of colour in Film and Screen Studies is not tokenistic but integral to the re-envisioning of the whole field?
- What are the obstacles (institutional, political, economic, and cultural) that might inhibit fully decolonised Film and Screen Studies programmes and why?
- How can we embrace the diversity of languages in films in the ways that we research, teach and write about films? In other words, how can we extend our work beyond English?
- How can foregrounding our lived experiences and intersectional identities (cf. Walker 1983, Christian 1985, Crenshaw 1989, hooks 1994) change the ways we engage with Film and Screen Studies research, teaching, and filmmaking practice?
- How can theoretical/critical Film and Screen Studies programmes and practice-based Filmmaking programmes in Higher Education institutions help one another to decolonise?
- What can Film and Screen Studies learn from how other fields and disciplines have been decolonising, and vice versa?
In line with our understanding that decolonisation, in any context, is a deeply affective and complex process, we welcome different methodologies, from practical case studies to theoretically or empirically informed arguments to creative responses. We welcome the inclusion of quotations in different languages although please provide English translations. Please email paper proposals of 500 words, and a biography of 200 words, by 30 April 2020 to Professor Lindiwe Dovey at LD18@SOAS.AC.UK
Potential contributors will be notified by 30 June 2020 as to whether or not their proposal has been selected. For those selected, full papers will be due by 30 June 2021.
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 819236).