Transcending the Transnational

If we consider a transnational film as combining elements of multiple cultures so that it does not belong to one particular nation, then it becomes obvious that many of today’s blockbuster films are in fact transnational. Take the Marvel’s Avengers franchise for example- these films may fall under the Hollywood umbrella, but when you take a closer look at the cast, crew and also the choreography of the fight scenes, it becomes obvious that influences from many different nations have been combined to create the films. From The Matrix, to Harry Potter, to Kung Fu Panda, transnational elements are evident. So the question is, are transnational films a problem? Are we blending, or erasing cultures? Where is the line between appreciation and appropriation?

As stated by Schaefer and Karan, filmmakers today have begun ‘mixing both global and local elements to appeal to audience tastes and trends’ (2010), thus making their films transnational. Boundaries between the global and the local, the modern and traditional, are blurred. Let’s take a minute to discuss the Indian film industry. It is the biggest in the world, in terms of production, however it still has not achieved as much appeal in Western society as other Eastern film industries, such as China. Hindi films have been popular with non-Indian audiences throughout Europe, Africa, and the UK for many years, while only recently been popular among US audiences. Of the 15 highest-grossing foreign films in the US in 2010, Monsoon Wedding was the only Indian based film on the list (Schaefer & Karan, 2010). This film is a perfect example of a transnational film, and even references numerous times the deliberation of traditional and non-traditional ways.

Mira Nair, the director, has reworked the Bollywood traditions and customs so the film doesn’t really perfectly fit into either Bollywood nor Hollywood but contains elements of both to create a film which incorporates themes, comedy and situations appropriate to and understood by western audiences. One of first scenes of the film shows a TV talk show, with the guests discussing the issue of film censorship, debating the blurring of Indian morality and Hindu tradition with modern Americanized customs- should they embrace everything and abandon their long-standing traditions and values?

I think this is an important question to pose, not only regarding globalization, but also in regards to transnational film production. In some cases, such as Nair’s, transnational films have proved to be positive and successful in the way that aiming them at western audiences have allowed previously unexplored and offensive themes to be portrayed and other audiences are able to gain insight into Indian culture and tradition. However, this is not the case with many other transnational films, which result in the minimizing of cultures.

Slumdog Millionaire, a British produced film set in India, is a classic example of cultural appropriation, and stereotyping. Not only is India portrayed as violent and dirty, its main settings are at the Taj Mahal and in an Indian call center- is this really how we want western audiences to view India? For this, the film has been shamed for orientalism; “Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient” (The Indypendant, 2009). The film has been mislabeled as Bollywood over and over again, and the Indian audience was highly unsatisified. India experienced “a sense of injured national pride” (Time, 2009)  around the release of the film, and who can blame them when all is portrayed in the film is poverty and filth, with no positive aspects. Western appropriation of other cultures is a serious and offensive issue here.

So, in some transnational films, traditional themes are combined with western to educate and show the superficiality imposed by stereotypes of traditional appearance, language, and customs. However, this is not the case for all. If we consider the melting pot in regards to transnational films, it is obvious that there is a whole lot more western than eastern going in. Western influences tend to dominate these “transnational” films, and what results is an offensive portrayal of a nation, and the erosion of traditional culture and values. We are left questioning which nation is truly benefitting from the production of these films.


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.

Gupta, A. 2009, ‘Slumdog Colonialism: Hollywood mines Another Culture for Raw Material, Celebrates a Box-Office Bonanza’, Indypendant, March 19, viewed 2nd September 2015

Singh, M. 2009, Slumdog Millionaire, an Oscar favourite, is no hit in India, Time, viewed 2nd September 2015,8599,1873926,00.html

Watanabe, M. What Is Cultural Appropriation | Feminist Fridays, Dec. 5th 2014, YouTube, viewed 27th August 2015

Desai,J. 2012, The Scale of Diasporic Cinema: Negotiating national and transnational cultural citizenship, Academia, viewed 24th August 2015

Sharpe, J. 2005, Gender, Nation and Globalisation in ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, Academia, viewed 24th August 2015

Weebly, Hollywood/Bollywood, collage, Weebly, viewed 3rd September 2015

“ermahblurg” wordpress, 2013, Transnational film collage, collage, WordPress, viewed 3rd September 2015

viki, 2015, Monsoon Wedding, film poster, viki, viewed 3rd September 2015

Scott, C.E. 2014, Melting pot theory, cartoon, National Review, viewed 3rd September 2015


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