Brown Cowboys on Film: Race, Heteronormativity and Settler Colonialism
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This dissertation analyzes minority-produced westerns as examples of settler cinemas. Though they are produced by subjects at the margins of settler society, I argue that settler colonialism is, nonetheless, a significant cultural context shaping these films. The dissertation intervenes into existing film studies scholarship, which has tended to frame settler colonialism as the historical context structuring the racial oppression of Native Americans, rather than as a constitutive feature of all forms of racial subjugation. As a result, the connections and investments of other racialized subjects within the dynamics of settler colonialism have received limited attention. Drawing on queer, race and Native American/Indigenous studies, the dissertation develops and deploys an intersectional framework for examining film that illuminates the fraught relationship between racialized minorities, Indigenous peoples and settler colonialism. To make its argument, the dissertation examines three sets of films: black westerns, South Asian diaspora films, and Jackie Chan’s martial arts westerns. In each chapter, I consider how existing film scholarship has read these respective films before offering an alternative interpretation that draws attention to their settler colonial contexts. For example, black westerns have been interpreted in terms of anti-racist historical revisionism; South Asian diasporic films have been analyzed in terms of their liminal position between Hollywood and Bollywood film industries; and Jackie Chan’s western parodies have been interpreted in terms of postmodern mimicry. My own analysis suggests that settler colonialism is exercised through cultural fantasies – which I term heterocolonialities – such as those of property ownership, heterosexual romance, family and “settling down”. I demonstrate that representations of the racialized cowboy in the minority-produced western play an ambiguous function in relation to ongoing colonialism. On the one hand, these representations normalize colonial violence when the heteronormative fantasies underpinning the western genre are left intact. On the other hand, representations of the racialized cowboy pose challenges to colonial violence by drawing attention to the discourses of race and whiteness informing the western genre. This ambiguity highlights the complex ways in which racialized minorities negotiate their position in settler societies, simultaneously challenging and supporting the logics of colonial power.