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.