Precious Bodily Fluids

An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking – Hamid Naficy, 2001


Naficy argues for an “accented cinema,” a cinema defined by a certain style and broken down into various and often overlapping categories. Exile, diaspora, and ethnicity are the first three. Exile may apply to individuals or groups, persons dislocated from their home nation whether by choice or impelled. Quoting Said, Naficy notes that the topic of exile is interesting to discuss but impossibly difficult to endure. One is broken off from the space of home. Filmmakers within this group may convey a longing for home, a cinema accented by such an unfulfilled desire. Disapora, on the other hand, applies only to groups and is more far-reaching that exile. Traditionally, diaspora was applied chiefly to the Jews. However, Naficy notes, diaspora now describes the experience of many other people groups. Diaspora is the scattering of a people group from a homeland across a variety of places and nations, multi-generational, and attempting to maintain an identity that continually displaces them. Finally, the ethnic filmmaker is usually defined by the hyphen: Italian-American, African-American, etc. Naficy communicates the problem of the hyphen, as it may denote partial status, fractured identity as opposed to a complete one, and liminality. However, liminality seems to be key to most of Naficy’s categories, as the notion of the accent itself is based on a linguistic model, applied to film. An accented film is one in which another dialect, social standing, economic background, or national origin is identifiable through a trace of style. The only cinema without an accent is the dominant cinema, which, although Naficy does not name it, is assumed to be Hollywood. Hollywood is dangerous as an unaccented, dominant cinema by its absorption of other nations, societies, and worlds into itself. As a result, the dominant becomes more dominant and the non-dominant is effectively consumed. Naficy notes, by way of linguistic example, how American news networks tend to employ the “standard” or “neutral” accent in their anchors and reporters in order to imply impartiality and a lack of ideology. But since it is impossible to speak without an accent, and every accent reflects a certain background, no accent is immune to ideology.

Naficy does well to attempt to reclaim authorship in light of the poststructuralist (Barthes) deconstruction of the author as dead. Naficy takes a step forward rather than a step back, insisting that the author is a situated and unsituated, located and dislocated social being, not the transcendent figure that Barthes killed. By reclaiming the author, Naficy also reclaims the audience. And by describing an “accented” cinema with (dis)located authors, Naficy also insists on the social configuration of the audience, a series of social and, importantly, embodied beings from a variety of backgrounds and speaking with a variety of accents.

The accented cinema is one that makes appeal to embodiment and tactility through its diegesis (appealing to the homeland in sensual ways), its form (long takes that, rather than distracting the spectator from her embodiment, reminder her of it by means of the film’s own body), and its mode(s) of spectatorship (speaking of and to a variety of audiences). The accented cinema is of an epistolatory nature, “written” and “spoken” in a state of flux while geared toward a fluctuating audience composed of ever-shifting identities. By situating non-dominant cinema in terms of its accent, Naficy presents broad possibilities for examining diverse cinematic styles and for recognizing divergent, subversive, and alternative film forms as part of a conversation, an attempt at language within a broader discourse. Multiple voices speak ostensibly the same cinematic language, but their unique styles accent their speech. In the same way that linguistic accents have historically often led to a response of exclusion, Naficy reorients our view to cinema, noting how accented films have been not only excluded from the dominant cinematic discourse but marginalized in the greater social arena.

This entry was published on August 29, 2013 at 12:23 pm. It’s filed under Book Summaries and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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