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Debates about what distinguishes cultural “appreciation” from cultural appropriation–and why we should care–are gaining traction and public awareness in our current moment; from concerns about hairstyle and headwear choices (see: white folks sporting dreadlocks or indigenous headdresses) to the ubiquity of digital blackface, the topic calls attention to the power dynamics and inequities of our cultural landscape. While the conversation is timely, such issues have a long, complicated history. I know this is an enormous topic, and while I don’t have all the answers (wouldn’t that be nice?), I do think that it’s an important issue to talk about and think through in this class.
*Note: If you feel like you need a primer on cultural appropriation and/or appreciation, this (simplified) explanation is a great place to start! (Links to an external site.) There are a lot of other good resources out there, so if you come across one that you think would be helpful in this discussion, please feel free to share it!
Before you begin writing, watch the George Méliès clip below, and please be sure you have watched (at least 40 minutes of) The Adventures of Prince Achmed (or, ideally, the whole film).
Now, I’d like you to reflect on what you’ve seen. Both examples point to a certain “Orientalist” fervor that was common, especially in early twentieth-century Europe, and was a by-product of colonialist politics, among other historical factors.
How do these films feel to you in today’s cultural landscape? Have they aged poorly? Do they feel benign? Do you have any thoughts about Reiniger’s use of the “1,001 Nights”/”Arabian Nights” stories for the basis of her film? Is this cultural appropriation? Cultural appreciation? What, to your mind, is the difference and where do we draw the line?
Does Reiniger’s use of silhouette animation help her avoid problematic racial stereotypes? Why or why not?
Can you think of any contemporary examples from animation where the lines between appropriation and appreciation are similarly blurred (or nonexistent)?
You don’t have to answer these questions specifically, but I’d like you to focus your response around these general issues in relation to Prince Achmed. There are no right or wrong answers here, but please be sure you are using your best judgment and empathy in this discussion. Let’s dig in!
*as always, please be sure to include a question of your own