The ethnographic spectacle of the ‘other’ Filipinos in early cinema

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Abstract

My paper aims to ask what space characterizes the various constructs of orientalism and othering in the early short films of Thomas Edison. Using Lefebvre's concept that social space “subsumes things produced, and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity” in these early shorts, I will look at three Biograph actualities found at the Library of Congress-American Memory page to show how space is manifested and negotiated onscreen. I will examine Edison's “Filipinos Retreat From Trenches”, “Capture of Trenches at Candaba” and “U.S. Troops and Red Cross in the Trenches Before Caloocan” which were all released in 1899. These reenacted short films were shot during the tumultuous years of the Spanish-American War. In the Biograph shorts, the privileged positions of both Spanish and American forces in relation to the annexation of a foreign land in world history books is indicative of the tendency to de-emphasize the contribution of the native population in the war. Manthia Diawara has said that “space is related to power and powerlessness, insofar as those who occupy the center of the screen are usually more powerful than those in the background or completely absent from the screen.” The spatial hierarchies and spatially situated images in Edison's short films show how historically configured power relations encrypted oppression to its external “others” through the cinematic apparatus.

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