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Stretching the limits: hybridity as cultural and artistic strategy in contemporary British cinema

By Sarah Barrow


This chapter sets out to explore the theme of cultural and artistic hybridity in contemporary British cinema through an address to three critically-acclaimed and commercially successful films of the 1980s and 1990s: My Beautiful Launderette (Frears 1985); Bhaji on the Beach (Chadha 1993); and East is East (O'Donnell 1999). These films have been celebrated for their colourful portrayals of the ‘rich but often complex experiences of the Asian diaspora’, and ‘have raised vital questions about ethnicity, identity and the cultural politics of difference, while also re-examining notions of ‘Britishness’ and national cinema’ (Malick 1996: 202). The core theme that links this trio of films is the challenge of integration into British society, and the tension of that with family tradition. They question the extent to which ‘progression’ can be measured by how ‘westernised’ each character becomes, the essentialist implication being that East is associated with oppression and West with freedom. Each film ‘mobilises a liminal space to bring together heterogeneous groups’ (King in Higson 1996: 230) a space in which to work through an almost overwhelming range of racial, gender, and generational conflicts. They show how the younger characters in particular react to being marked out as different by older family members, friends, and hostile neighbours, caught at a point of indeterminacy and impossibility in terms of clearly articulating their identity. Some aim steadfastly for assimilation into Western culture, others struggle with the notion of tradition and duty to their Asian culture, yet each lives with the duality of being both ‘Indian’ and ‘British’. Thus these three films are distinctive in that they reject essential racial identity and offer a myriad of fluid, complex and sometimes conflicting identities, challenging the notion of identity as a fixed core (Malick 1996: 211)

Topics: P300 Media studies
Publisher: Universitatsverlag Winter
Year: 2003
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