Across the world, the film industry is changing and evolving on a number of levels, one of which being that films are becoming more and more transnational. The term transnational refers to the cultural phenomenon of blending many nations and cultures so that they can no longer be defined as fitting to one particular nation. It is not exactly a new phenomenon, however with the growing rate of globalization, more and more films are becoming – or include features of – transnational film.
A film makers ultimate job is to mix “both global and local elements to appeal to audience tastes and trends” (Karen&Schaefer 2010) and they must do this if they want to create a film that stretches across the globe and is successful in many different countries. This results in the hybridized content that is featured in transnational films. Because transnational films focus a lot on the cultures of different nations, it raises some important and interesting questions surrounding culture ownership and possible cultural exploitation. Take, for example, the movie Kung Fu Panda, a 2008 DreamWorks animation about a Panda who wants to be a Kung Fu master. The film is primarily targeted towards children, and some would argue that this gives the film a sort of “get out of jail free” card in terms of accuracy and not having to think about things too much – it’s for children and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously. However the film sparked controversy in China, where the film is set, because it Americanized elements of Chinese culture, with some Chinese academics calling it a “cultural invasion”. There are countless other examples of the same nature that all kind of circle around three main questions – to what extent can a nation/group/tribe/race/ “own” a culture, are movies like Kung Fu Panda cultural appropriation and do transnational films embrace cultures or work to completely erase them?
Probably the best example to highlight some aspect all three of these questions is Bollywood, which started out as a term to describe Indian films that were regarded as “too Hollywood” by Indian film critics, but is now a film genre of its own. Even the name is transnational – blending Indian culture with Hollywood, and the films tend to have many Western tropes and elements in them whilst still including large amounts of Indian culture such as traditional clothing, dancing and the use of Indian actors and actresses. There is an argument here that Bollywood films are using soft power (the use of culture by one nation to get other nations to look at them favorably) to “promote India’s economic and political interests abroad” (Karen&Schaefer 2010). Because of Bollywood films and the popularity of them, elements of Indian (more accurately, Hindu) culture, for example bindi’s, have worked their way through to become fashion items, which can be considered to be cultural appropriation because the meaning and significance of the bindi is taken away and is used as nothing more than an accessory. Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical Moulin Rouge uses elements of so many cultures it is almost like a colourful and musical smack in the face, and is majorly influenced by Indian culture and Bollywood films, but these elements are used in a way such that any cultural meaning is almost completely stripped away and it is just things you are seeing on a screen, not Indian culture.
In some ways, transnational films could be considered to be embracing other cultures, or on the other end of the spectrum, it could be argued that they are exploiting other cultures to make money. It is a hard cookie to crack.
Karan, K and Schaefer, DJ (2010) ‘Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema in global film flows’, Global Media and Communication, 6: 3, pp. 309-316.