In my doctoral research on the poetics of Islam and gender in Indonesian cinema, I found a few inventive cinematic devices and techniques used in the Islamic film genre to achieve various desired effects. In the case of the Indonesian Islamic film, the main desired effect is the use of film as a medium for religious teaching.
One of my favourite cinematic devices is the direct address, the moment when a character looks and/or speaks directly towards the camera, and by implication, the spectator, breaking the fourth wall. KCL’s Tom Brown has recently published a book on direct address in which he identifies seven meanings of the direct address: intimacy, agency, epistemic superior positioning within the world, honesty, instantiation, alienation, and stillness (see more on Brown’s direct address in a video interview with Film Studies for Free’s Catherine Grant here).
In the still taken from Asrul Sani’s Para Perintis Kemerdekaan (The Pioneers of Freedom, 1980), the progressive Islamic scholar Haji Wali (played by Asrul Sani himself) reminds his disciples of Islam’s openness towards religious diversity. It is one of several scenes in the film where Haji Wali dispenses progressive words of wisdom of which some are unmistakeably feminist.
The camera moves towards Haji Wali until we get a tight shot of him looking back at us, reciting a line from Al-Kafirun, ‘Your faith is yours/your answer and my faith is mine/Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion’. This is the only time when we get the direct address from Haji Wali which suggests the gravity of his statement.
Yes, I know, I haven’t been writing here enough. It’s been a very busy few months obsessing over my PhD thesis. If you’re asking, yes, the thesis is taking shape quite nicely and I am very proud of it. What makes me a little less proud is how neglected this blog has become. But here’s a catch-up on what’s been coming out of the kitchen throughout the period of heavy duty writing:
I will be presenting a paper (titled above) taken from my doctoral research as part of the International Gender Studies Centre Trinity Term Seminar Series at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, on 16th May 2013. The theme of the seminar series is ‘Gender and Propaganda’ and I’ve somehow managed to design my paper in such a way to fit the theme.
The narrative of inter-religious romance and marriage in film, usually between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, is typically employed as a superficial statement of tolerance, pluralism, and acceptance of perceived irreconcillable differences. This is because love between two people from different social groups can sometimes be seen as a seal over group divisions and as a way to incorporate one member from a different social group to another. Depending on the historical and political context of the film and the motivations and background of the filmmaker, such representations of inter-faith romance may however tell a different story. Indonesia is a hugely diverse country but beset by bloody inter-faith conflict between Christians and Muslims since the 1990s. A few films with Islamic themes from 2008 onward transcode the discourse of inter-faith discord and subvert it into a feel-good narrative of heteronormative love and romance. However, such narratives play out a specific gendered arrangement of faith and religious conversion: female love interests are Christian while their male paramours are Muslim. Christian female characters convert to Islam for their love of the faith and the man they love but Muslim male characters do not convert to Christianity or other faiths. Such narratives may be informed by several Islamic interpretations and cultural specificities pertaining to religious conversion in Islam in Indonesia. But ultimately, what the films say about inter-faith relations through romance reveal faith-based hegemony and propaganda.