The Western construct of Orientalism has always been a big part of the American film industry, although the way that the Asian culture is represented is almost never accurate. Hollywood has incorporated Orientalism in many of the adventure films, including the one and only Indiana Jones. In Steven Spielberg’s first three Indiana Jones movies, Indiana’s adventures take him all around the Middle East and India. He frequently encounters a stereotypical, fantasy version of the Asian culture, where Indiana’s character is meant to represent someone that the audience can relate to and root for against the differences he comes in contact with.
In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, there is an absurd amount of the Western/Eastern binary. At the dinner scene, the arrangement of absurd food is meant to shock the audience, making them view the Indian culture as barbarians who consume the most inedible meals. The white characters who show disgust once again represent the audience and their disgust.
These movies all have the same thing in common, Indiana Jones becoming a hero after defeating all of the villains and taking power over Asian culture.
One thought on “Orientalism in Indiana Jones”
Several weeks back, Logan also took a look at Temple of Doom. As John said in the comments, this is definitely “peak Orientalism” … It’s like a textbook to Western racism. Check his post and the comments here: https://storypower.criticsandbuilders.com/2020/03/20/orientalism-in-cinema/
It’s funny, though, I was of the age that the Indiana Jones movies were some of my first cinematic experiences. I remember distinctly my Dad taking me to a Star Wars movie in the early 1980s, but it was sold out — so we ended up going to a movie that nobody was really talking about — Raiders of the Lost Ark (the first movie with Indiana Jones). It was actually the very first weekend of its release and the theater was almost empty.
I was blown away. I loved it. The non-stop action. The witty hero. The adventure. It would stand for a long time as the perfect movie in my mind — when you go into a dark theater and just get lost in the fun. I don’t know — I was 10 or 12 at the time — but I didn’t give a single thought to the racial politics. And that’s how it happens. That’s how Orientalism seeps into the DNA of Westerners. It’s literally the very culture that trained us, that defined who were were. It takes a lot of un-learning to break out of that mode of thinking. Still working on it.