Thursday, September 15, 2005

Resisting Indigenous Expectations

Here's my abstract for the paper I've been mentioning over the past few months about Terminator and Whale Rider. I submitted it to a conference in Hawai'i next year, hopefully it'll get accepted, because the issues I'll try to raise are important ones, dealing with how we imagine ourselves and what we imagine our futures can be and supposed to be.

The Whale Rider vs. The Terminator: Resisting Indigenous Expectations in the Pacific
Michael Lujan Bevacqua,
University of California, San Diego, Department of Ethnic Studies

With the international success of Pacific Islander films such as Whale Rider and Once Were Warriors there has been a resurgence of indigenous identity discussions revolving around the cultural imagery and metaphors these films propose. Whale Rider in particular has been seen as a centerpiece for emerging dialogues over Pacific Islander resistance and survival. While obviously an uplifting film, with its emphasis on cultural hope and pride, are there drawbacks or limitations to this type of representation that aren't being discussed?

In analyzing Whale Rider as a site for articulating cultural resistance and survival I turn to the concept of "indigenous expectations." What this refers to is the ways in which the anthropological expectations of non-indigenous people are pressed down and imposed on indigenous people, becoming the expectations they have of themselves. Given the triumphant mainstream reception of Whale Rider and its iconic status in the Pacific, one must wonder if this success has come precisely because of the way the film forces so beautifully this matching of expectations? Philosopher Giles Deleuze once said "if you are caught in another’s dream, you are lost." Does the elevation of Whale Rider exhibit how indigenous Pacific Islanders are somehow trapped in the dreams, the desires and imaginations of others? And if this is the case, does it provide the best imaginary or metaphoric site upon which cultural resistance should be grounded?

Through the use of a critical theoretical analysis of Whale Rider this paper will discuss the film’s positive possibilities while also attending to the processes of colonization which might lie beneath these representations. How does the film rely on Western expectations about indigenous cultures and cultural change, and how might these expectations continue to trap Pacific Islanders thus hampering them in their struggles to revitalize their cultures? This paper will conclude with a discussion about expanding indigenous imaginations beyond our expectations through the use of unexpected films such as The Terminator.

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