If you’re thinking about getting corn-rows because your saw Kylie Jenner on Instagram posing with her ‘new do’, then think again. It may seem like a cool trend or the latest fashion but it is also a key example of cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation refers to the adoption or use of elements of a culture from members of another culture. Generally this is done without paying respect to the culture or understanding the significance of the tradition and can often change its original meaning (Marinashutup, 2014). Sadly, cultural appropriation has become a common practice in today’s society. It not only occurs in the fashion industry, but has also become quite common in the film industry.
Let me introduce to you, transnational film. Transnational films blend elements of many nations and cannot be easily defined as belonging to one particular nation (Evans, 2015). Think of the film Mad Max: Fury Road, the 2nd highest grossing film that Australian has produced (Hawker, 2015). But really, how Australian was the film? The cast included actors from South Africa and Britain, the film was written by a British writer, funded by American studios and based on American stories and it was shot by an international film crew with some scenes being in Africa (Evans, 2015). A perfect example of a transnational film. As mentioned above, the film is based on American stories but released as a purely Australian movie, does this count as cultural appropriation?
From early days, cinema was seen as a way to promote nations. However there has been a paradigm shift from national cinema to transnational cinema (Evans, 2015). Instead of films being made up purely of one nation, various nations are being blended and elements of different cultures are being portrayed in ways that come across as degrading and disrespectful. China’s strict film censorship board disallows films that negatively portray Chinese people to be released or screened in the country (Evans, 2015). The film Iron Man 3, for example, when released in China, featured significantly different context to the film that was released to the rest of the world. In order for the film to be realised in China, extra scenes shot in Beijing were added to the film, a Chinese actress was added, and the mandarin villain (who was a deeply offensive stereotype of Chinese culture) was played by a British actor instead (Daniel, 2013). This could just be an example of China being patriotic to their country, or are there underlying fears of cultural appropriation that has caused this reaction?
Cultural appropriation is clearly evident in today’s society and can also be brought about by transnational film. Although transnational films can promote cultures to appreciate one another, they can also lead to negative consequences like disrespect and humiliation. Whilst transnational films will continue into the future, cultural appropriation in film is something that can hopefully be resolved. By having a deeper understanding of cultures and the significance of their elements, and by using these elements in a way that will not cause offense to the culture, transnational films will hopefully be something every nation can thoroughly enjoy.
Daniel, J 2013, ‘Iron Man 3 execs ‘changed film for Chinese audience’ by adding four minutes to the film with Chinese actors’, Daily Mail Australia, 14 May, viewed 31 August 2015 <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2324077/Iron-Man-3-execs-changed-film-Chinese-audience-adding-4-minutes-Chinese-actors.html
Marinashutup 2014, What is Cultural Appropriation | Feminist Fridays, video, YouTube, 5 December, viewed 31 August 2015 <https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ2yCFYUDiBJajga4tXRdNA>
Evans, N 2015, ‘Transnational film & the politics of cultural ownership’, BCM111, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 19 August
Hawker, P 2015, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road now second-highest grossing Australian film internationally’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June, viewed 31 August 2015 <http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/mad-max-fury-road-now-secondhighest-grossing-australian-film-internationally-20150608-ghiot0.html>