Orientalism Within India and the World.

The orientalist view is very interesting to me, particularly how it affects the same people that the view is based on. Obviously there has been a false interpretation of South Asia and the Middle East conveyed to the western world that changes the way we perceive those areas, but that false interpretation also seems to affect the people who are the object of the orientalist view. This stems from the earliest form of British colonization in India and other parts of the orient.

This concept is illustrated very well by Roy’s ” God of Small Things” with the family because they are Indian, but they have British ties. Typically, we think about the orientalist view exclusively from the perspective of the western world, but we rarely think about how this view has affected the way Indian people view their relationship with Britain and the rest of the west. From the way it is portrayed in GOST, it seems like the British superiority view is perpetuated by the Indian people themselves. Because they have been conditioned to do things the western way when they were colonized so long ago, some are still set in these ways. An example of this is explicitly touched upon by Mammachi and Baby Kochamma. Both are Syrian-Christian, which is completely influenced by British missions and imperialism, and seem to cherish western values over traditional Indian ones. They encourage Ammu to marry a British person and forbid her from being with a touchable. The influence of British colonialism is so deeply rooted in India’s current culture and government, that it has even convinced the people at the bottom of the caste system that that is how it should be.

Orientalism is a word to describes a specific instance in history when colonialism affected the way the entire world views a specific place. However, the concept can be applied in a lot of different instances. It shows how we view any place that we have heard about, but are limited to our presumptions and internalized stereotypes. To me, a privileged person living in an an upper-middle class neighborhood, I have somewhat of an orientalist view on neighborhoods in Chicago that I’ve been told to avoid. I hear of stereotypes and less than credible stories to paint a picture in my head of what it is like, but to someone who lives there it might be completely wrong or distorted. I think it is important get a full story on something before you make judgments about it, and also try to be understanding of how systems of power can change the way we perceive others and how we perceive ourselves.

Women Taking Over Power

King Lear sees women in power and demonstrates women using their position to their advantage. What I think is most interesting about the shift in power is how unexpected it is from the characters in the play. Even though the power is directly handed to the daughters, people do not see them as a threat because they are women. This allows them to act cruelly and nobody suspects them. Part of what makes their strategy so good is that they play into the role men expect them to be in. Regan and Goneril are the perfect examples of this. They use their innocent relationship with their father to pinpoint and expose his mental weaknesses. They maintain the image of innocence with not only their father, but the people around him, for a short amount of time. This helps them capitalize on their fathers deranged state and smoothly transfer the position of power to them without much resistance.

When Edmund comes into power through the manipulation of his father and brother, Regan and Goneril saw him as a potential threat. As a woman in their current time period, people were much more likely to stand with a man as a leader due to the way women were viewed. They knew this and decided to both act on the situation, by both flirting with him and trying to play to him. However, Goneril and Regan both understood that the one who married him would have a large advantage over the other kingdom. This unspoken understanding provoked a competitive and greedy relationship between the two sisters and was eventually led to their downfall.

Overall, Goneril and Regan’s unique and genius rise made the play as a whole and presents the largest theme in the play: power is taken by who has the drive and cruelty to take it.

African Orientalism

Though I was born in the US, my parents made sure I was proud of where we were from.

We crossed the North Atlantic Ocean once in a Blue Moon to visit Néné, the matriarch of our family, and my hundreds of aunts and cousins in Conakry, Guinea. The first time we visited, I remember the surprise of my expectations for Guinea conflicting with my preconceived notions about the place immediately upon exiting the airport.

The stark contrast of what my expectation of west Africa was compared to the reality of the country made me question when are how my misconceptions had first formed. My image of my country had been supplemented by stories from my father, images around our house, and most influentially Guinean and French media portrayals.

How Africa has been defined has always been a product of its interactions with foreigners. Even as Pan-Africans, we who have close roots to the continent still identify more with our individual clans like, Susu, Malinké, or Bantu, than with the identity of “African”, as this is how Africans themselves differentiated each other far before European cartography dividend the continent into arbitrary countries based on colonial rule at the Berlin Conference. Even the etymology of the word “Africa” can be traced to the Amazigh and Greco-Roman languages.

All this is to say that it is important not to forget the way the European/Western gaze still determines how those who’ve never perceive Africa.

Modern Day Non-Orientalism

Orientalism refers to the Western imitation or depiction of certain characteristics and aspects of Middle Easten and Asian cultures. The publication of Edward Said’s book “Orientalism” brought widespread awareness to the term; which he recognizes as the West’s prejudiced interpretation of the East. In, “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” the main character, Ugyen travels to a small village called Lunana. However in the movie, the people that live in the village like the class leader Pem Zam, actually live in Lunana. There were no certain stereotypes or different depictions of the outside world or specifically Lunana.

Ugyen found such comfort with the people and the village itself that there was no need for him to linger and hold on tight to his past self (i.e. his iPod). He truly ended up caring for everyone in Lunana and it shows when he moves to Australia and sings the yak herder song perfectly. The creators of this movie were able to steer away from the stereotypes and I wish more movies did the same.

Orientalism in Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones is an iconic movie series with the premise of a professor with a duty to find and preserve ancient relics found all over the world. Most of the relics are found around the middle east, and some are in India as well. This is not about the relics, however, rather its about the surrounding environment and how the locals of the countries that Jones visits are portrayed. There is in fact a high contrast within the movies; from the “civilized” western universities to the “Exotic” middle eastern palaces, which is also the case for the people that Jones encounters.

In the movies, there are two things that stand out about the locals that Jones meets.: Their stereotyped personality and the poor choice of cuisine that the directors choose to represent them. In “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, almost every single non-British person that Jones encounters always seems to be senseless in their actions, whether it be a crippling addiction towards acquiring wealth/power, or extremely predatory behavior towards Jones’ lover. It seems that the producers almost had this as the main instructions for the actors, because it became noticeable how repetitive this behavior was. As for the food, you can see people eating some of the most gut-wrenching and unappetizing things to ever lay your eyes on. The dinner scene in the same movie featured many snakes and insects, as well as monkey brains, which the server claimed as “traditional Indian cuisine”. These things were done mainly in order to dehumanize the unfamiliar so that Jones would seem like more of a liberator of the relics he acquires.

A Note on Orientalism in Lunana

Edward Said describes Orientalism as a built-in system or method by which, the West not only socially constructed and actually produced the Orient, but controlled and managed it through a a series of power relations, working through the tropes, images, and representations of literature, art, visual. In other words it is the imperialist and colonialist outlook on the east by the west.

It can be argued that “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” is trying to be vocal on the idea of orientalism. Unlike most movies of this nature, the teacher or “savior” or person with power would be of different nationality or one group (typically the have not’s/ not white or western) is portrayed as evil. However, in this movie both the children/villagers and Ugyen, the protagonist, are both Bhutanese. What differentiates Ugyen from the children and villagers is that fact that he is more “modernized.” This idea of “advanced” society and tradition society is also seen through what Australia means to Ugyen. Although Ugyen goes to Australia at the end of the movie, the fact that he sings the yak herders song shows that the movie is going against this western idea of the east (that maybe all easterners want to be like them but just can’t). Also, the cast of the film is basically all “amateur” actors, with actual Lunana villagers and other Bhutanese people. This goes against the idea of Orientalism because the film takes the actual perspective and thoughts of the people the film is about to portray an accurate representation of that group.


 


 

Orientalism In WW88

When connecting Orientalism to real life the first thing I think of is Hollywood movies. More specifically superhero movies. The first movie that comes to mind is how the theory of Orientalism connects to Wonder Woman 1984. Edward W. Said is someone who is known for diving deep into Orientalism.  He argues that Orientalism is “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction between ‘the Orient’ and ‘the Occident’. In this way, Orientalism tends to rely on binary opposition and stereotypes between the West and the East that most of the time is misleading and destructive. WW84 shows perfectly how little has really changed when it comes to Hollywood’s treatment of other countries and other cultures. Specifically those of the Middle East and North Africa. WW84 indulges a view of Middle East and North Africa, that bears little resemblance to its myriad and unique identities, in the 1980s or now. A clear example of this is in Wonder Woman 1984 is how the movie tells the story of Wonder Woman fighting against a supervillain. But what was disappointing was a sequence in which the villain meets with an overthrown Egyptian King who wishes to return to power and kick the “heathens” out of his land. The villain helps him, but the guy already sold his oil to the Saudis. Then the villain raises a wall, cutting off the poorest people of Egypt from their water sources. After that scene, we are shown Arab children playing in the road as military vehicles race towards them; their nearby parents do nothing, requiring Wonder Woman to save them. And in one brief moment, an Iraqi official asks the villain for help because the Soviets were backing Iran. This is filled and I mean filled with historical inaccuracies. And some insensitive depictions of Middle Eastern people. This showed a lazy, sort of Orientalism by Hollywood. The film’s creators needed a foreign locale to show off the villain’s powers. They wanted people the hero could save. And they wanted a foreign conflict for the villain to get involved in. So they turned to the Middle East. This is the disappointed truth of Hollywood but a sad one as it never seems to get better. 

Orientalism In Marvel!

Typically, we look past the idea of Orientalism when it relates to the movies that we all know and love, and those are the classic Marvel superhero movies, yet there are quite a few examples of Orientalism shown in these movies that a lot of people don’t notice. Marvel Studios recently announced that they are developing a film with Shang-Chi, or Master of Kung Fu, as the protagonist. While many are excited for Marvel Studio’s first Asian-led movie, others are concerned that the studio’s choice of character was a stereotypical martial artist who happens to be the son of Fu Manchu, the offensive and racist fictional villain popular during the twentieth century. When adding a Asian character to a Marvel film, the producers usually add a stereotypical Asian fighter who has a strength of Martial arts. Some examples of this in past films include the characters like Wolverine and Katana. Both of these characters were introduced in the early stages of marvel and are pictured in many comic books where they are seen as Asian fighters who have mastered street fighting rather than other white superheroes who have more of a power and doesn’t necessary stereotype them as street fighters. It often goes unnoticed due to the popularity of Marvel, as well as the kid like persona that Marvel brings. When westerners are played in these type of action movies, there are often characterized as the villain and as a mean viscous fighter. Whereas the Eastern characters are usually the hero’s and are the people who have the superpowers. As we move forward in the future, I hope that Marvel can shy away from these stereotypes and switch things up and go in a different direction.

How King Lear Portrays a Loss of Power as a Loss of Sanity.

Throughout his play, Shakespeare’s King Lear shows multiple scenes of acute loss of power in an individual, weather its Edgar being forced out by a false accusation from Edmund, or Lear giving up his kingdom to his daughters, just to be shunted by them in the next act. These examples do not complete the list of power struggles, but are great examples of men so dependent on the power they hold, when they lose that power, they lose grasp on themselves. Take Lear for example, the moment he realizes that he holds no power or status over his daughters or the dukes, he almost instantly starts acting out of control, weather its begging to let him stay or insulting every person that lays eyes on him. Lear in this case firmly believes he can still get what he wants because he was the one that gave the power he held to his daughters. Lear’s hope quickly fades, however, as he is kicked out of Cornwall’s estate and sent to fend for himself in for the storm. From there, the hole that his loss of power formed becomes much more apparent.

Lear begins scene II of act III by challenging the storm to hit him with everything you got, in which he is half pretending to hold power over the storm, whilst being torn apart by it. When Lear continues by emphasizing that he does not need the cruel hospitality of his daughters, and even refuses basic shelter, it becomes clear that his void of power has escalated into his own self deprecation, in which he believes that he is nothing without the power that he once held, and is going mad over it. later in the act, Lear begins to talk like the fool, as if its his destiny for a powerless man like him to become the new fool. Its not just a loss of power that causes Lear to end up like this, but rather his dependency on power in order to give him his conciseness.

Orientalism Through the Lens of Lunana

There are a number of instances in Lunana that exhibit orientalism, both directly and indirectly. One major example is the teacher, Ugyen, bringing more modern, new teachings and materials to the classrooms of the remote village. Not only does he bring his phone and headphones, but he has new notebooks, pencils, and other teaching materials shipped. The children of this town have never seen any of there thing before, and this sort of embodies the relationship between the educated city man and the uneducated people from the village. In addition, Orientalism can be seen in the scene where Ugyen is teaching the children the ABCs. He says “C is for Car,” and the children tell him they do not know what a car is, as they have never seen one. This demonstrates an orientalist lens that the movie has, because it portrays the village as unaccustomed to modern practices like driving a car. This makes Ugyen almost a colonist who goes into an uneducated, remote area and has to teach the “natives” common practices.

Although Orientalism is present in this movie, I would argue that it is not an overarching theme, but a mild undertone in the film. Ugyen also learns from the people of the village, and about their practices, which seem foreign to him at first, but he eventually becomes accustomed to. These include collecting yak dung, singing the songs to nature, and even using an outhouse. In traditional orientalism, the colonist teaches the “natives” or the uneducated. In this film however, both parties teach each other, resulting in enlightenment for both the “colonist”(Ugyen) and the “natives” (villagers). I greatly enjoyed this film, and the message that it gave on orientalism, that everyone has something new to learn, and it’s important to keep an open mind in life.

Orientalism in 1910’s Fashion

The Edwardian dress in the late 1890’s-1914 refers to the style of clothing in that time period and the beginning of World War I. This time period was also called the Gilded Era and women’s fashion had a new opulence and elegance. The most notable change in fashion during this time period was the shift in corsets from a Victorian hourglass to an s-shaped corset.

One specific designer at the time period, Paul Poiret, was said to be the creator of modern fashion shapes and designs. His clothing designs were specifically inspired by classicism, Orientalism, and Art Nouveau. His styles were said to be comfortable freeing women from the constriction of corsets and relied on draping to create the feminine effect.

He specifically showed Orientalism in his designs through turbans and and jeweled slippers, providing a more “exotic” dress for Edwardian women. The war however quickly ended this fashion period due to lack of resources and money.

Gowns inspired by the orient complete with oriental parasol and coolie lampshade inspired hat.” source: https://fashion-era.com/orientalism_in_dress.htm
Fur was another example of Orientalism and appeared on outerwear such as the coats in the images paired with long columnar dresses.

Orientalism in the Orient

Although Lunana takes place in the “Orient” the ideas of orientalism can still be seen throughout the movie. The idea of orientalism is the western lens on the Middle/far east and the way that the people live and think. Long story short it is racism towards people of the orient meant to fit a western perspective. Prime western examples of orientalism are movies like Aladdin, where the “bad guys” are portrayed as large dark men with big noses and mean faces. While this isn’t as extreme in Lunana we can see the main character, a boy obsessed with his phone and modern music move to a little town with no internet and little electricity. He is originally unhappy and wishes to leave, not wanting to teach and seeming at a loss without his technology. As he lives in Lunana he becomes “Enlightened” by the wise secluded mountain people and is educated by those who live with less. While it is hard to truly argue that Lunana is a truly Orientalist movie as it was created in the “Orient” it seems to have been influenced by many stories that stem from an orientalist perspective and come from the Western World.

The Effects of Ignorance

According to Edward Said’s Orientalism theory, western culture promotes a mindset where aspects of Middle Eastern cultures are perceived as strange or inhumane. Specifically Europeans and Americans contribute to this trend, as they are largely disconnected from Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. Ironically, these are the areas of the word where knowledge and awareness of surroundings are said to be highest. Proper information about these cultures is scarce in America and Europe, which pushes the foreign culture even further away, contribution to Orientalist mindsets.

The consequences of such a mindset are clearly represented in daily events. The ignorance toward other cultures has disadvantages that negatively effect relations between countries. In situations of foreign affairs, militaries act in response to the unknown, to protect their country. Ignorance is the primary reason for a majority of negative relations between countries. America’s portrayal of Middle eastern countries in the media after the events of 9/11 are an example of this. For some, the sight of anyone representing similar Middle Eastern cultures triggers a sense of threat. This fear is reflected in the political debates regarding immigration laws over recent years in America. Ignorance of the culture causes some Americans to generalize everyone of those cultures, and exclude them from their definition of an ‘American’. This is just one of the many issues that can and do arise from Orientalist mindsets in modern day.

To move beyond this burden, it will be most beneficial to incorporate knowledge of foreign cultures into daily activities in America and Europe. As it is, there is little representation of these cultures in positions of power, which makes it difficult to spread information about it. If people and artifacts of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures are shown and represented as much as American and European national achievements in every day life and politics, the world will be a much more educated and peaceful place.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: A Look at Locational Decisions Made in Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

Throughout the film, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, the main character, teacher Ugyen Dorji often contemplates which setting he wants to be in, and which one is the most fulfilling for him. At the start of the movie, Dorji starts his story in a bustling city in Bhutan. One of the very first things we learn about our protagonist is that he is attempting to secure a visa to move to Australia. However, in Bhutan, you have to spend five years working for the government in order to maintain citizenship status and Dorji has only completed four years. He tells his governmental boss that he does not find joy in the profession of teaching and wishes to leave the country to pursue his dream of becoming a singer, another major theme found throughout the film. Instead of allowing him to leave, the secretary states he just finish his final year of service and, since he cannot seem to do his job in the city, has to teach in the most rural, isolated school in the world in the city of Lunana. Lunana is so remote that it takes several days of hiking to reach, and none of the kids there know what a car is. The community only really knows one another, no one else.

The entire lead-up and journey to Lunana is filled with discontent and complaining from Dorji. He is upset at having to leave his familiar city life, his friends, and his girlfriend. He is unfit for the hike to Lunana and disrespects customs and traditions he deems as strange, a possible (though not likely) nod to the concept of Orientalism. He feels on the outside of this society as well as feeling a sense of superiority to them. That is, until he meets the children he will be teaching and sees the lack of space and materials dedicated to their education. He starts to come around to the village, forming connections, and getting supplies to help enhance the school to the best of his ability. He truly begins to immerse himself in the culture, learning more every day about their routines, practices, songs, and most importantly, the connections they have with yaks. In the middle of his stay in Lunana, he learns that his visa to Australia has been approved and he is able to leave once his service year is finished.

The winter quickly approaches, and so are the last few days of Dorji’s stay in Lunana. When he learns he must soon leave, he is immediately distraught. He says that the children still need him and that there is so much he has not been able to teach them yet. Everyone in the village urges him to return the following year after the harsh winter has come to a close. He stays in Lunana for as long as possible until being told he must leave, or he will be stranded there. I truly believe that if he intended to return to Luanan he simply would have remained there through the winter. He wanted to teach and help for as long as possible, but he never intended to remain there, or even return. Once he left, that would be the last time they saw him.

The film ends with a scene of Dorji signing in a bar in Sydney, Australia. He has left everyone behind once again, but this time to follow his heart and attempt to actualize his lifelong dream. He does stop mid-song and sit in silence for a minute before singing a song taught to him in Lunana about the yaks and their significance. The film does not let the audience know if he ever did make his way back to the village of Lunana, which I think was the perfect way to end it. Either way, Dorji would have had regrets about his decision. It is important for him to see all of his aspirations through, which would make the return to Lunana that much more meaningful. If he left Australia for Lunana, it would show what an immense, life-changing impact that experience had for him that he was willing to leave his dreams for it. However, the opposite is also completely understandable. It would be uncharacteristic for him to sacrifice so much to return and teach in the village. I think that they needed one another to learn a lesson, but I am not entirely sure if I think he ever returned. Humans need to go on journeys and experience life in order to grow and learn what is bes for them, and every step he has taken, Dorji has done that.

Orientalism in Disney

Disney has very little diversity when it comes to its movies and tv shows. On the rare occasion where Disney produces a film with Asian or Middle Eastern characters or themes, they manage to represent them in a way that is stereotypical and offensive. Some prime examples are Aladdin and Mulan.

The original story of Aladdin is from a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales called A Thousand and One Nights. The stories began in India then traveled all through Persia and Asia Minor then were finally were written in Cairo. This authentic folk tale turned into a mockery of people from the Middle East when it was turned into a cartoon film. The writers of the movie were white and the characters were voiced by white voice actors as well. They made several stereotypical tropes for the film that included the wealthy, incompetent sheikh (the Sultan); the dark-skinned, perverted villain (Jafar); barbaric commoners; and the hypersexualized and subordinated women of the East (Jasmine). These were all things written and produced by caucasian males which were then given to many other “Caucasians as an authentic” view of the Middle East. These messages are extremely destructive and harmful to promote to viewers who may not have any idea what people from those countries and cultures are like. There were many ways it could’ve been done better because there are ways to appreciate a culture that doesn’t end up appropriating in.

Orientalism in Disney’s Mulan

There are few greater example of the western world’s fascination with exoticizing and exploiting Asian cultures for entertainment than Disney movies. Most of these films are catered to children and meant to be a family fun experience but they perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices about Asian people while also pushing a unilateral and generalized identity.

While Mulan is set in China, the film meshes Japanese and Chinese culture together. In the opening sequences of the film, Mulan is depicted with white powdered makeup typical of a Japanese geisha and she is also wearing a Kimono, a style of clothing not typical in China but instead in Japan.

Despite the sacredness of ancestral rites, the movie uses the Fa family’s ancestors as an object of ridicule. We, the audience, are supposed to find them strange and humorous. Instead of respecting this cultural practice, the film openly mocks it in its portrayal.

In addition, a major theme of the movie is Mulan’s burden of bringing “honor” to her family. The word alone is mentioned 29 times in the movie. It’s the reason she visits the matchmaker in the first place and why her family attempts to force her into marriage. It’s also her motivation behind going to war and risking her life in place of her father. In doing so, the film suggests that sacrificing herself is the only way she can honor her family and make them proud. It suggests that she must do those things at all costs. Her success and good-standing in the movie is judged by her sidekick, Mushu who never fails to tell her which actions do or do not dishonor her family.

This is a common trope in western movies where filmmakers will present the idea that all Asian people live in pursuit of one thing: honor. But honor as an all encompassing value does not exist and it isn’t unique to just one culture. We all have a personal definition of honor we apply to our lives. And yet, when Belle in The Beauty and The Beast takes her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, we called it an act of love.

Not honor. And not 29 times.

Indiana Jones and the Orientalism in his movies

Orientalism is the concept of the western view of the eastern world. This is mainly seen with stereotypes about eastern nations and by describing those civilizations as far away and magical. In the film series, Indiana Jones, there is Orientalism seen in each one of the original three films (in the fourth there isn’t orientalism but there are still stereotypes about Latin American nation so I guess South-Americaism?). Right away in the first movie, this is seen. in the Ark of the Covenant, one of the first locations that Indian Jones goes to is the country of Egypt. Now, even though Egypt in the real world is a very prosperous nation with several large cities and its people have very wide and common access to several high end and modern technologies, Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant still shows the country as being a place where everyone fights with swords and lives in dirty mud huts. In fact, t the beginning of the movie they call Egypt a land of magic and mystery and the perfect place where the Ark would be.

In the second movie, the stereotypes just got worse. The second movie, Temple of Doom, takes place in the country of India. This movie is filled to the brim with stereotypes. Right away we see that the first civilization they encounter is a village filled with sheepherders. These villagers all talk about how they have their children stolen and how there is a mysterious royal family that lives in a palace up on the mountain (they don’t even try to hide the mystical faraway land part). The directors then try to emphasize the separation of reality and further perpetuate stereotypes when some of the food that is served is monkey eye soup. The big wammy, however, is with the cult in the basement of the palace where the priest will rip out the hearts of his victims.

The real cherry on top with Orientalism is with the third movie, The Last Crusade (except not really). In this movie, we get to see how the writers of Indiana Jones portray other foreign countries (other foreign white countries) such as Italy and Germany before it goes back to the middle east with Jordan. If one was to compare the ways that the European countries were described compared to the middle eastern countries, one can clearly see that one is shown as more modern and more civilized while the other is seen as thrid world and more old fashioned. Case and point, in Germany, the characters get around in cars and motorcycles while in Jordan, they get around in camels.

Is It Orientalist?

Keeping in mind that “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” is a Bhutanese film, filmed with Bhutanese actors, by a Bhutanese director, it takes a different approach to search for orientalism in the plot. Unlike a very capitalist-driven society like we have in America, Bhutan is known for measuring its success not numerically, with products produced and sold, but in happiness. The film’s narrative seems very much to be based on this philosophy; forcing Ugyen to adapt and find his own happiness in Lunana. Because of this, it is hard to argue that the film is innately orientalist, at least more than anything else is in an unfortunately Eurocentric world.

For example, Ugyen dreams of being a famous musician in Australia and initially thinks that his transition to Lunana will jeopardize that opportunity. However, he soon realizes that music is valued in a similar, if not even deeper way in Lunana than in the more urban communities he is used to. Even using a critical eye, “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” seems to be a very pure and honest movie, looking to spread a holistic message about community and connection. In some ways Ugyen is a yak for Lunana, but Lunana is a yak for him, being a pivotal part of his life that he will never forget and that will have a larger impact on his future, as we end up seeing when he plays the Yak song in Australia.

Orientalism in Mulan

Everyone knows the critically acclaimed Disney film Mulan. It is highly applauded due to its female hero, which breaks the norm of a standard plot of a Disney film. Despite all of Mulan’s glory, it has tones of orientalism throughout the whole film. Mulan was created after a Chinese folk tale called Ballard of Mulan, however, its animation style seems to portray more Japanese styles than Chinese. For example, when Mulan is being prepared by the matchmaker part of her makeup routine is to cover her face with white powder, however, the white-powered face style comes from the style of Japanese geishas. Not only this, but Mulan is wearing an article of clothing that resembles a Japanese Kimono, despite the film being set during the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty had a traditional type of clothing for women to wear, which was not animated into Mulan. In Mulan there is a warming scene between Mulan and her father under a cherry blossom tree, however, it is commonly known that a cherry blossom tree is a traditional flower in Japan. The mix-ups between Japanese and Chinese cultures show that some westerns see the Asian cultures as one big cohesive one even though Asia is made up of 48 different countries.

Mulan misses the mark on representing the fashion and make-up styles, but it also mocks one of China’s most valued ideals. Mushu is supposed to be an ancestral spirit and he is loved amongst the audience for his comedic personality as he guides Mulan through her troubles. But, in Chinese culture, ancestral worship is a belief that is taken extremely seriously and is not to be mocked. Mulan doing this suggest that Westerns see China’s ancestral traditions as a joke or an idea that is ridiculous. One of the core beliefs of the tradition of ancestral connections stems from the idea of respecting your elders. However, Mushu, the ancestral spirit, is disrespected by Mulan and the cricket which undermines the whole idea of what an ancestral spirit is supposed to be or how it is supposed to be treated. This doesn’t just highlight the lack of knowledge but shows the little respect we have for the Chinese culture.

Disney wanted to include more races and ethnicities in the Disney franchise but its version of different races and cultures is skewed by the eurocentric view westerners have about the world around them.

Leave Your Job and Sing Songs From the Hilltop: Orientalism in “Lunana: a Yak in the Classroom”

Set in the south Asian nation of Bhutan, “Lunana: a Yak in the Classroom” tells the story of Ugyen, a teacher who aspires to move to Australia to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a singer. However, to align with his duties to the Bhutanese government, he must complete his fourth year of mandatory service teaching in Lunana, home to one of the world’s most remote schools.

Right away, I noticed the strong juxtaposition between a city kid like Ugyen and this remote town in the Orient. Ugyen spends essentially the entire journey complaining about its difficulty and pondering how, exactly, people survive in the middle of nowhere. He almost never takes out his headphones, completely disengaged with his natural surroundings and embraced in the material world.

But as he spends more time interacting with Lunana and its people, Ugyen starts to realize that they are not just a bunch of other-worldly “savages” — the people of Lunana value his presence and value teaching him the legends of their culture. For example, the yak is a motif that is a symbol of love and survival — they sing songs about it, they honor the dead with it, they start fires with its dung to cook food. The students of Lunana expose Ugyen to a different, engaging culture, and in return they value his own lessons through his teaching. This moment of realization in Ugyen’s first few days is the catalyst in his decision to stay in Lunana rather than panic and leave at first sight.

Ugyen still struggles to see Lunana outside of the other-worldly orientalist lens — he has nothing to teach the students with, no electricity, and albeit he is learning, there is still a disconnect between the modern world and the orient in several instances — his students do not know what a car is, and after he runs out of teaching supplies, he must have more sent from the nearest civilization. While learning the traditional songs of Lunana, he is told to “leave his job and sing songs from the hilltop.” While the citizens of Lunana imagined the “hilltop” as the physical hilltop that people sing songs from, one cannot help but imagine Australia — where Ugyen planned to go to become a singer before being sent off to Lunana; the place he thought success was the most possible.

When wintertime comes, Ugyen has the ability to fulfill his lifelong dream, but instead of the “it’ll just be a few months” attitude we saw at the beginning of the film, we see him having trouble leaving. In spite of the disconnect, Ugyen did everything he could for his students, and they let him know. The students embrace of Ugyen as their teacher helped him embrace the culture of Lunana, and even as he heads off for the “hilltop” of Australia, he sings the songs of Lunana.

And I know, in this final scene of the film, Ugyen felt he was doing good — the reasons the filmmakers showed the altitude of each place Ugyen visited (Lunana being the highest; Sydney, Australia the lowest) was to demonstrate that Australia isn’t a “hilltop” after all. As Ugyen got further away from civilization, the altitude literally and figuratively increased. “Lunana: a Yak in the Classroom” demonstrates orientalism’s affect on civilization, and how one can somehow become more enlightened by getting away from the modern world.