National Cinema

Before investigating the constituent elements of "national cinema," the concept of the nation must first be broached. Contrary to its attendant mythology, the nation is not an organic, homogeneous, unitary entity. Through political struggle, the unitary notion of nation is produced culturally, selected into existence from such heterogeneous and conflicting materials as language, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, and sexuality to masquerade as the oneness that is the mythical terrain of the national. For Etienne Balibar, social formations reproduce themselves as nations in part by fabricating a "fictive ethnicity" that stands in for the national ethnic composition (p. 96), while Homi Bhabha views the nation as "an impossible unity" (1990, p. 1). One of the most influential contemporary theorists of nation, Benedict Anderson, maintains that nations are "imagined communities," arguing that the advent of "print-languages laid the bases for national consciousness" by making possible a symbolic gathering of the nation (pp. 6, 44). Adapting Anderson's notion of the nation as a "horizontal comradeship" produced by print culture, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam suggest that the movie audience "is a provisional 'nation' forged by spectatorship" (p. 155). Noting that Anderson's thesis is premised on literacy, Shohat and Stam argue that cinema could play a more assertive role than print culture in fostering group identities, as it, unlike the novel, is not dependent on literacy and is consumed in a public space by a community of spectators (p. 155).

Anderson and Shohat and Stam are gesturing toward the work ideology performs through cultural forms in hailing or recruiting subjects to recognize themselves as members of the national community, as national subjects. In the case of cinema, one of the most infamous examples of this kind of ideological work is found in the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1934), which disciplines its audience members to recognize themselves as subjects of a new National Socialist, Aryan Germany. Here cinema is a component of what Balibar describes as "the network of apparatuses and daily practices" instituting the individual as " homo nationalis from cradle to grave" (p. 90). Implicit in every national cinema, however, is its antination (Rosen, p. 391)—in the case of Nazi Germany, the Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies whose differences from the fictitious heterosexual Aryan nation cast them out of the terrain of the national and into the death camps. Historically, part of cinema's nation-building role has been to document the nation's others as those held at the limit of national belonging, as abject: for example, the African American in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), the Native American in Edward Sherriff Curtis's In the Land of the Headhunters (1914), or the Arab American in James Cameron's True Lies (1994) and Edward Zwick's The Siege (1998).

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