- The Western in the Global South ed. by MaryEllen Higgins, Rita Keresztesi and Dayna Oscherwitz
This volume of fifteen scholarly essays offers a timely overview of the travels and transformations shaping the Western through its development across the Global South. With an introduction that situates this work in film history, transnational studies, and post-colonial theory, the collection addresses a tremendous range of cinematic Westerns produced in a variety of locations including South Africa, Chad, Jamaica, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Colombia, Thailand, India, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, and elsewhere. As some of the contributors indicate, global film production has moved beyond the tradition of spaghetti Westerns that became popular in the 1960s and that critically challenged the US form. We in fact now have a new body of films that are affectionately described as “Cassava” and “Kangaroo” Westerns by various West African and Australian audiences (24, 130).
Neil Campbell’s preface offers a useful entry for discussing this highly diverse group of films by building on Derrida’s considerations of genre as involving “participation without belonging” to the dominant tradition, extending Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “minor” literature to the field of global post-Westerns (xv), and referencing Bahktin’s idea of “re-accentuation,” a process that “rein-vigorates the American genre to show its underside” as well as the imaginative forces “driving its heroic repetition of American values and identities” (xviii).
While the contributors show they have a deep knowledge about film histories of the Western as well as genre theory, their arguments find equal inspiration from frameworks emerging out of Third Cinema (189) and the critical work of postcolonial scholars [End Page 105] such as Manthia Diawara, Frantz Fanon, and Achille Mbembe. In developing a counter-archive of the Western in global contexts, for instance, author Tsitsi Jaji foregrounds the imaginative “pleasures of playing the outlaw” (33), as audience members find themselves identifying with onscreen characters, rescripting the Western’s thematics involving the law and lawlessness and “the legitimacy of the state” (26), while recasting the bad guy as a crucial vehicle for bringing about much-needed “reparative justice” in the postcolony (27, 81). Likewise, in their essay on the mash-up between the classic Western and the Asian action film, Jesus Jimenez-Varea and Milagros Expósito-Barea describe the “delirious pastiche” located in director Wisit Sasanatieng’s Tears of the Black Tiger, the first Thai movie to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival (154).
As the essays indicate, the Western genre has proven to be especially resilient throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, able to sustain ongoing revision or permutation across different film traditions. Extending arguments Marcia Landy has previously made about the form, Giovanna Trento suggests that this is in part because the Western, like other action genres, often takes the “social order” as its prime focus (47). In certain contexts, then, Westerns may be a useful tool for questioning ruling ideas about savage-ry and civilization, a central division fueling the genre and colonial imaginaries alike. Cinematic Westerns in the Global South may also endure, as Clifford T. Manlove aptly notes, because they frequently “inspire their audiences to critically engage with history, especially the unbearable, invisible histories of modern colonialism” (69). In this way, Brent Strang offers a transnational reading of director Tommy Lee Jones’s Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men (2007), centering on violence in the contested borderlands while examining the interactions between neoliberal multiculturalism, the global drug trade, and post-9/11 cultures of policing and surveillance. In the process, his essay illustrates how the Global South is not a distant place for US audiences after all, but already permeates the American West “through the frame” of Mexico (235).
The contributors track surprising revisions and unexpected twists in the form, showcasing how ideas of modernity, the civilizing mission, and myths of progress are frequently critiqued and [End Page 106] dismantled in global Westerns such as M. Karnan’s Kaalam Vellum (1970), Perry Henzell...