In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Transnational and Diasporic Cinema

  • Introduction

Cinema and Media Studies Transnational and Diasporic Cinema
Ramona Curry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0243


Although from the earliest years film production, marketing, and reception involved extensive national border crossing, the rubric “transnational cinema” has emerged only comparatively recently. Taken up from other disciplines such as anthropology and migration and postcolonial studies, the concept of “transnational” in this still-emerging area of cinema studies remains highly varied, pointing to sometimes contested working definitions and analytic approaches. Rather than attempting to delimit an evolving concept narrowly, this bibliography seeks to elucidate the present understandings and significance of transnational cinema through the selection and annotation of a wide range of compelling scholarship that together constitutes an exciting contemporary discourse. That discourse generally includes “diasporic cinema” as a subcategory distinguished from transnational cinema primarily through the specific historical circumstances of the film- and video-makers studied and their target audiences. Diasporic cinema usually refers to a set of films or other media works produced by (and often in the first instance for) members of demographic groups and often their descendants who have experienced collective, sometimes forced, migration from their lands of origin to survive in face of ethno-racial, political, or religious discrimination or displacement due to war or other economic necessity. Although diasporic film-making thus defined is neither as commonplace nor as long-standing a practice as transnational cinema more broadly, such incidents of cinema production and consumption also emerged early in cinema history, dating to the late 1910s. Wide-ranging research conducted particularly since the 1980s has yielded the fresh and field-shaping awareness of transnational and diasporic cinema’s deep roots, with many books and essays demonstrating nuanced connections between the practices. That circumstance warrants an integrated overview of transnational and diasporic cinema studies as a conjoined research field that has emerged in conjunction with broader intellectual shifts from unitary to more multivocal, de-centered perspectives as realized in, for example, cultural and critical race studies. Such trends underpin the current reframing of film historical and many contemporary studies away from the “national” to an at once localized and more globally based, boundary-crossing scale, with many scholars bringing interdisciplinary case study approaches to document and interpret understudied occurrences of transnational or diasporic cinema. A factor driving the growth of transnational and diasporic cinema studies is the visible proliferation of the phenomena. The sheer volume of media derived from “elsewhere” now accessible in at least electronic format to an alert observer at any given location (even, with some effort, in the United States) invites queries into the processes of contemporary media flow and exchange. To focus its very considerable scope, this article addresses primarily scholarship on narrative transnational and diasporic cinema, making quite limited reference to research on documentary or experimental work or digital media.

Discourses and Definitions

That the overlapping topics of transnational and diasporic cinema have generated an active film studies discourse is evident from the number of publications on the subject in circulation, many initially arising from myriad symposia, conference presentations, and scholarly interest groups. Many works’ titles deploy the word “transnational,” including many that then challenge its (oversimplified) use. An example is Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s book Multiculturalism, Postcoloniality, and Transnational Media (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), discussed in Oxford Bibliographies article on Cinema and Media Studies Immigration and Cinema, which defends the term’s potential usefulness while pointing to its politically tainted “congruency with transnational corporations” (p. 9). Other publications argue a preference for terms such as “world” or “global” cinema, while yet addressing what is increasingly called “transnational” media phenomena from critical cultural and historical or interpretive perspectives. The conduct of compelling research in the emergent field presumes knowledge of cultural critiques of gendered and raced representation as well as media studies discourses about globalization. Without necessarily disagreeing with well-established critical analysis of the means and effects of US media dominance of world screens, scholars of transnational and diasporic cinema attend largely to the specificities of border-crossing practices that have enabled media flows running parallel or even counter to what, for example, Toby Miller, Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell, and Ting Wang call “Global Hollywood” (Global Hollywood 2. London: BFI, 2005; see Blockbusters). Studies of transnational and diasporic cinema have not, that is, taken predominantly political economy or other approaches to industrial and institutional dominance prevalent in communications studies but rather have focused largely on the valence and import of perspectives and terminology grounded in cultural and cinema studies. Besides with its self-definition, transnational cinema grapples as a field with the relevance—whether continuing or diminishing?—of “the national” as a productive approach, often counter-posed to the regional or the global. Publications cited in the subsections Individual Works Theorizing “Transnational Cinema” and Related Concepts and Journals and Anthologies engage that central question with reference both to the study and the on-going creation and circulation of cinema and other media. Individual Works Theorizing “Transnational Cinema” and Related Concepts thus offers background to a subject and field yet in formation. The references in this section and the rest of the article reveal the prevalence of work in essay format, including anthologies of original essays. No authoritative textbook on the topic has yet appeared: indeed, the singular textbook concept seems antithetical to the subject’s purposive dispersal of foci and diverging interdisciplinary methods.

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