Colonial Worldmaking in an Unruly Medium: Empire and Educational Film in British Malaya

When and Where

Thursday, February 25, 2021 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Online Event


Nadine Chan, Claremont Graduate University


With the widespread dissemination of educational films throughout the British colonies, cinema was never simply a form of entertainment, but was entangled with increasing forms of imperial governance in everyday life. With its ability to rupture space, rearrange time, and visualize the empire, cinema became the most important vehicle for the mass instruction of colonized communities from the 1920s to the 1950s. Yet, the “unruly” qualities of the cinema—its clumsy technology, slippery indexicality, untethered time, and untamed reception—reveals a medium that verges on friction and precarity. Thus, while the author argues for an understanding of the cinema that locates its technologies, ontologies, and aesthetic practices in the logics of colonial worldmaking, this project is also invested in the unruliness of the medium—in how its slippages, lapses, opacities, and irrationalities inadvertently lend themselves to riotous counter-colonial possibility. 

Nadine Chan is Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies (Film and Media) at Claremont Graduate University. Chan has published in The Journal of Environmental Humanities, Cinema Journal, Studies in Documentary Film, Periscope for Social Text, Spectator, and the anthologies Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film (Duke UP) and the forthcoming Theorizing Colonial Cinemas (Indiana UP). Chan’s manuscript-in-progress, A Cinema Under the Palms: Colonial Worldmaking in an Unruly Medium examines cinema as a worldmaking and terraforming technology through the framework of counter-colonial “unruliness.” Her second project focuses on complexity, futurity, and uncertainty in visualizations of the Anthropocene in Southeast Asia. Her work has been supported by an SSRC research fellowship, a Harper-Schmidt postdoctoral fellowship at UChicago, and a Global Asia postdoctoral fellowship at NTU Singapore, among other grants. 

Contact Information