This project is a response to the intriguing proliferation of cinematic exoticisms since the 1990s, which urgently requires an in-depth analysis. As the exoticist discourses and aesthetic strategies of contemporary transnational film are rooted in geo-political and cinematic contexts that cannot be adequately conceptualised only through earlier understandings and critiques of colonial exoticism, they need to be assessed on their own terms. While historical manifestations of exoticism have recently attracted much scholarly interest in cultural geography, cultural translation, postcolonial studies and history of art, in film studies, exoticism (not to be conflated with Orientalism) has received little attention. Rey Chow’s book Primitive Passions (1995) on auto-ethnographic practices in Chinese visual culture and Olivia Khoo’s The Chinese Exotic (2007) on exotic femininity in contemporary Chinese cinema are notable exceptions. The innovativeness of the Exotic Cinema project, therefore, rests on its global scope and transnationally comparative perspective; its focus on exoticism’s aesthetic paradigms and the pleasures they afford audiences (rather than on ethnic stereotyping); and its contemporary focus.

I conceptualise ‘exoticism’ in three ways: as a discursive construction of cultural difference; as an aesthetic mode of perception and representation; and as a critical category that is pertinent to the analysis of cinema in a globalised world. I use the term ‘transnational cinema’ for a constellation of cinemas that – in profoundly different ways – transcend the national and traverse cultures and borders. Although I privilege world cinema and postcolonial diasporic cinema over films made by Western majority culture filmmakers, the latter also merit attention, not least since they illustrate differences between Eurocentric and decentred forms of exoticism.

My project is based on the premise that the global interconnectedness of our contemporary world has resulted in a degree of cultural homogenisation which, in turn, has led to a flourishing interest in cultural difference. Therefore, exoticism is central to thinking about the global dynamics of (world) cinema and its transnational circulation and reception. The exotic gaze is both anchored in the cinematic text and elicited in the spectator, since it is ‘a perspective “from the other side”, from outside geographical [or cultural] boundaries’ (Forsdick 2001). Exotic cinema’s sumptuous style, which shifts the attention to the surface, is often an attempt to compensate for the hermeneutic deficits that arise when ‘films from elsewhere’ circulate transnationally.

Aims and Objectives

  • To develop exoticism as a critical category by charting its historical evolution and semantic shifts and by bringing it into dialogue with cognate concepts, including Orientalism, autoethnography, cosmopolitanism, cultural translation and cultural appropriation
  • To explore in what respects the new, decentred exotic differs from its Eurocentric precursors and to develop a taxonomy of exoticisms that maps the concept’s manifold permutations and inflections in contemporary transnational cinema
  • To stimulate public and scholarly debates about exoticism in contemporary cinema and culture more broadly through appropriate dissemination strategies (publications; organising conferences and symposia; presentations; lecturing and teaching; raising awareness). In particular, I would welcome opportunities to introduce relevant exotic films about cross-cultural encounters to the cinephile public at film screenings and contribute to workshops and discussion panels