Reading the Malay-Indonesian Film syllabus

It’s now 4th week of term, and so obviously I’m only sharing this for the benefit of non-students of this course. Designed for final year undergraduates majoring in Malay Studies, this course is an intensive critical engagement with key film and scholarly texts on Malay/Singaporean and Indonesian cinema. It was a pleasure creating this syllabus, as for the time first I know nearly everyone in person listed in the weekly required readings!

Note: do send me a comment below or email if you’re inspired by this syllabus and would like to adopt/borrow it in your own teaching. I would appreciate the acknowledgement!


This module invites students to reflect on Malay and Indonesian films in their various genres and historical periods. The main themes, ideas and values reflected in films of the Malay world are analysed and understood against the social, political, and economic contexts of their times. Through a reflection on films which centrally revolve around tropes and motifs of the Malay world and Muslim societies, the module provides insights into the evolution and development of global trends such as modernisation, Islamisation, and pluralisation.

Lecture topics and readings

1.How to ‘read’ Malay and Indonesian films: An introduction

James Monaco. 2000. “The Language of film: Signs and syntax” (Syntax) in How to Read a Film: Movies, Media, Multimedia. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sen, Krishna. 1993. “The politics of melodrama in Indonesian cinema.” In Melodrama and Asian Cinema edited by Wimal Dissanayake. Cambridge University Press.

2.Spatialising and temporalising cosmopolitan modernities: Malaysian, Singaporean, and Indonesian cinemas

Barnard, Timothy P. 2010. “Film Melayu: Nationalism, modernity and film in a pre-World War Two Malay magazine.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 41.1: 47-70.

Frymus, Agata. 2022. “Cinemagoing in Kuala Lumpur: Memories, Movies and the Multi-ethnic City, 1970 – 1979.” Film History: An International Journal 34.1: 55-81

Alfian Sa’at. 2012. “Hinterland, heartland, home: Affective topography in Singapore films.” In Southeast Asian Independent Cinema, edited by Tilman Baumgartel. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

3.Romance, music, and decolonisation: the studio era

Barnard, Timothy P. 2009. “Decolonization and the nation in Malay film, 1955–1965.” South East Asia Research 17.1: 65-86.

Johan, Adil. 2018. “Decolonising motifs.” In Cosmopolitan Intimacies: Malay film music of the independence era. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.

Gabriel, Teshome H. 2015. “Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Films.” In Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory. Routledge, 340-358.

4.The film star of the Malay-Indonesian World

Hanan. David. 2022. “Three kinds of stardom in Indonesia.” In Stardom in South East Asia, edited by Jonathan Driskell. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Barker, Thomas. 2022. “The Indonesian sex bomb: female sexuality in cinema 1970s–90s.” In Stardom in South East Asia edited by Jonathan Driskell. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

5.Film Screening I: Lewat Djam Malam (1954) / Semerah Padi (1956)

6.Reordering Indonesia: framing the (post) New Order through censorship and repression

Sen, Krishna. 1994. “Narrating the nation for the military state.” In Indonesian Cinema: Framing the New Order. London: Zed Books.

Paramaditha, Intan. 2013. “Tracing frictions in The act of killing.” Film Quarterly 67.2: 44-49.

King, Homay. 2013. “Born free? Repetition and fantasy in The Act of Killing.” Film Quarterly 67.2: 30-36.

7.The kampung in the gendered Malay cinematic imagination

Khoo Gaik Cheng. 2011. “What is it to be a man? Violence in the time of modernity.” In Reclaiming Adat: Contemporary Malaysian Film and Literature. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Galt, Rosalind. “Who owns the kampung? Heritage, history, and postcolonial space.” In Alluring Monsters: The Pontianak and Cinemas of Decolonization. Columbia University Press.

8.Pontianak, sundelbolong and other hantu: politics of horror and the supernatural

Izharuddin, Alicia. 2015. “Pain and pleasures of the look: The female gaze in Malaysian horror film.” Asian Cinema 26.2: 135-152.

Galt, Rosalind. 2021. “Animism as form: A Pontianak theory of the forest.” In Alluring Monsters: The Pontianak and Cinemas of Decolonization. Columbia University Press.

Riar Rizaldi. 2020. “Ghost like us.”

9.Cinematic dakwah: Islam in the Malay and Indonesian film

Izharuddin, Alicia. 2017. “Gender, Islam and the nation in New Order Islamic films.” In Gender and Islam in Indonesian Cinema. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.

Martin, Dahlia. 2014. “Gender, Malayness and the ummah: Cultural consumption and Malay-Muslim identity.” Asian Studies Review 38.3: 403-421.

Hoesterey, James B., and Marshall Clark. 2012. “Film Islami: gender, piety and pop culture in post-authoritarian Indonesia.” Asian Studies Review 36.2: 207-226.

10.Independents and the ‘new wave’: Other Malaysias and Indonesias on screen

Cheng, Khoo Gaik. 2007. “Just‐do‐it‐(yourself): Independent filmmaking in Malaysia.” Inter‐Asia Cultural Studies 8.2: 227-247.

Ariel Heryanto. 2014. “Ethnic minority under erasure.” In Identity and Pleasure: The Politics of Indonesian Screen Culture. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.

11. Film Screening II: Perempuan, Isteri & Jalang (1994) / Kuldesak (1998)

12.New vistas: post-authoritarian, feminist and queer visions

Murtagh, Ben. 2022. “‘There’s no place for us here’ Imagining queer spaces in Indonesian cinema.” Indonesia and the Malay World 50.146: 118-138.

Hughes-Freeland, Felicia. 2011. “Women’s creativity in Indonesian cinema.” Indonesia and the Malay World 39.115: 417-444.

13.Group project presentations

Film screenings (subtitled)
Lewat Djam Malam (1954, dir. Usmar Ismail)
Semerah Padi (1956, dirs. P. Ramlee, S. Sudarmaji)
Perempuan, Isteri, dan Jalang (1994, dir. U-Wei Haji Saari)
Kuldesak (1998, dirs. Nan Achnas, Mira Lesmana, Riri Riza, Rizal Mantovani)

By Angry Malay Woman

I like plants.

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