Recuperation and fragmented identity: Chinese stories in contemporary Indonesian film

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Copyright: Teo, Miaw Lee
The year 1998 saw anti-Chinese sentiment and discrimination in Indonesia reach its peak. The resulting outbreaks of violence not only caused the deaths of hundreds of Indonesian Chinese, but also triggered the downfall of Suharto’s government and the dismantling of the New Order (1966-1998). After decades of suppression by successive regimes, ethnic Chinese public expression experienced a revival in the period of political reformation, the reformasi. The re-emergence of Chinese-themed films marks the rebirth of ethnic Chinese filmmaking after more than three decades of ethnic erasure and force assimilation. The lifting of the media regulations and the resurgence of Chinese identity in the reformasi era transformed the filmmaking scene in Indonesia, with a renewed focus on the stories of Chinese Indonesians. Inspired by the re-emergence of Chinese subjectivity and culture, Indonesian filmmakers, like Nia Dinata, Riri Riza and Nan Achnas turned their focus to Chinese-themed stories producing Ca-bau-kan (2002), Gie (2005) and The Photograph (2007) respectively. Central to this political transformation was the participation of ethnic Chinese filmmakers, like Edwin, in the Indonesian filmmaking scene. The young Indonesian filmmaker, who begun his career making short films, later produced his first feature, Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly (2008) and Postcards from the Zoo (2012). This thesis seeks to unpack the multifaceted meaning of ‘Chinese films’ and ‘Chineseness’ as represented in contemporary Indonesian cinema. It evaluates the hybrid experiences of the ethnic Chinese minority in Indonesia through cinematic stories, themes and narrative styles of feature-length films produced in the early 2000s by the three key indigenous filmmakers and also focuses on Edwin as a case study to highlight a very different approach compared to the Chinese-themed films by indigenous Indonesian filmmakers. He expresses his experience of being Chinese in Indonesia through personal experience and through the adoption of an ‘accented’ style. The thesis argues that where the indigenous filmmakers narrate Chinese stories from the outside, Edwin manages to approach the trauma, fragmentation, dislocatedness and hybridity of being Chinese in Indonesia in a style that emerges from the inside and as such closely approximates this experience.
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Teo, Miaw Lee
Langford, Michelle
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PhD Doctorate
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