SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

Cinema, Nation and the Transcultural

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year
Within critical discourse until the late-1980s, ‘national cinema’ has often been defined and posited in terms of the ‘other’ of Hollywood and as such, it has often been located within high/low culture debates that sought to elevate cinema to ‘high culture’ status centred on the ‘art house’ cinema circuit. Alternatively, elementary discourses stemming from notions of ‘cultural imperialism’ have considered the ‘negative’ influences (both cultural and financial) of Hollywood on local production.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The principal objectives of this module are to question these existing paradigms that define ‘national cinema’ in the simplistic terms of geographical production and to offer an alternative methodology for the study of the relationship between cinema, as a product of mass entertainment, and the nation-state in the age of globalisation. This methodological paradigm analyses ‘national cinema’ as social practice, while taking account of the hybrid nature of the medium through a study of cross-cultural connections. From the context of recent critical debates on the transnational nature of cinema, this line of thought is extended and concludes by asking the question ‘do national cinemas exist?’

These objectives will be framed within an initial discussion of the context of cinema as a western technological invention that was imported into Asian and African countries, and a consideration of the historicity of the juncture in time when it was invented. Cinema began in the age of Freudian psychoanalysis, the rise of nationalism and the emergence of consumerism (Shohat and Stam 1996), and as Comolli (1986) reminds us, the development of the camera obscura as a ‘machine’ was not neutral but came imbued with certain ideological assumptions that underpinned its development.

This module, forming the core course of the MA Global Cinemas and the Transcultural Degree, is primarily designed to provide a cohesive contextual and theoretical basis for students specialising in one or more of the diverse regional cinema modules on offer within the School. Where possible, classes will be ‘learner-centred’ and styled as directed workshops with some lecture content. As such, students will be assigned weekly readings and attend formal weekly film viewings. will also be directed to additional supporting films for private viewing. 


Total of 20 weeks teaching with 4 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture, 1 hour seminar/tutorial and 2 hour film screening.

Scope and syllabus

In practical terms, the module will be divided into two discrete segments corresponding to the two academic terms. Term one will take up historical, theoretical and methodological issues relevant to the study of ‘national cinemas’ in general, while the second term will centre on the increasingly transcultural nature of the aesthetic cutting across the cinemas of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.These weeks will be joint-taught with various regional experts drawn primarily from within the School.
Topics covered include:

The question of national cinema. The transnational approach to film history. Orientalism and hegemonic discourses in cinema. Hollywood as a ‘global vernacular’. Film representation of modernity and the new femininity. Re-invention of cultural forms in Africa and Asia. Diasporic cinema. The local/global debate.

Internationalising film cultures: Art cinema, Third Cinema and Accented Cinema. The relation between European art cinema and non-Western film cultures. The aesthetic and institutional frameworks of ‘third cinema’ and ‘accented cinema’ as alternatives to the ideals of art cinema. Changes in technologies of production, distribution and exhibition. Global cinema and transnational co-productions.

Globalisation, Space and Place: The effects of globalisation on the representation of place and space. Film representation of locations in relation to wider social and cultural transformations. World cities as privileged sites of global interconnectivity and the difficulties of representing the scale and scope of globalisation. The emergence of alternative spaces (such as slums) outside the juridical norms of global politics.

Method of assessment

An essay of 3,500 words to be submitted on day 1, term 2 (40%); an essay of 4,500 words to be submitted on day 1, term 3 (60%).

Suggested reading

A comprehensive film and reading list will be made available to students at the beginning of the course.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules