Issue 9 - 2022 (1)

Coloniality, the Backstage, and the Long Take

Márton Árva (Eötvös Loránd University)

As the school of decolonial thinking has powerfully shown, in spite of the dismantling of formal colonial administrations, the intensification of globalization processes, and the end of the Three Worlds division, the logic and practice of Eurocentric domination that deeply pervades the history of Western Modernity persist to this day (Escobar 2007; Grosfoguel 2002; Mignolo 2011; Quijano 2000; 2007). This is the logic of coloniality, based on a particular epistemological framework and a series of narratives that produce a classification of the world’s population and lay the foundation for the global division of labor, organizing social hierarchies and material realities alike. In the 20th Century, several filmmakers and creative collectives sought to denounce and oppose this logic and the consequent social practices, resulting in such aesthetic formulations as that of Third Cinema, whose most well-known representatives were active in Latin America. However, as Ignacio Sánchez Prado explains, in the 21st Century, overarching neoliberal reforms have not only created a novel kind of sociopolitical environment but also rearranged the filmmaking landscape, creating new commercial imperatives and marginalizing the fervent rhetoric of former political cinema (Sánchez Prado 2014; 2016). In the wake of this, as Laura Podalsky convincingly argued, an ever-growing number of Latin American films started to engage with sociopolitical issues and continuing colonial injustices through a sensory-oriented, affective film rhetoric (Podalsky 2011; 2017).

With this audiovisual essay, I aim at understanding how contemporary films can articulate the devastating logic of coloniality in such an affective manner. Household work is a terrain profoundly infused with colonial patterns of thinking about and organizing work. The films that address this issue often recur to a particular type of long take that follows the protagonist while traversing the domestic space, showing the enormous differences and the social distance that separate the sphere of the worker from that of the employer. This is especially relevant in Anna Muylaert’s 2015 film The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?), which explicitly deals with the division of spaces inside the upper-middle-class home where Val (Regina Casé) works as a live-in-maid.

The sequence in which Val serves canapes to the guests of a birthday party organized by the employers is particularly telling in this regard. It unites the concern with the spatial contrasts that characterize the sphere of the household and the negative affective charge that results from the encounter between people on different sides of the colonial divide. The long take offers an intensive experience of inhabiting a film space, which I approached through Anne Rutherford’s concept of embodied spectatorship that frames the encounter with a cinematic world not merely as a representation, but as a lived experience, involving sensory intensities and sense memories (Rutherford 2006). However, this approach bypasses the social aspects of Val’s stroll through the environment of the home. Hence, I recalled Shiloh Whitney’s formulation that associates domestic work with a place “behind the scenes” (Whitney 2017). This not only links domestic work to a particular social space but also accounts for the most salient colonial legacies of household work, namely, its systematic devaluation and invisibilization.

Framing domestic work as labor happening in “the backstage” allows us to see this sequence as one that synthesizes the sensory intensity of inhabiting a cinematic space and the articulation of inequalities inherent in the coloniality of the social situation. Hence, the audiovisual essay builds on the cinematic trope of “stepping onto the stage” and the corresponding film tool of the long take that emphasizes the embodied experience of such a movement. In order to shed light on The Second Mother’s focus on coloniality, I contrasted the sequence with the well-known long take in Robert Drew’s 1960 documentary film, Primary, which follows John F. Kennedy, still a senator, onto the stage of Milwaukee’s American Serb Hall. The comparison highlights how a cinematic movement “onto the stage” can function as a means to convey the coloniality of power relations in a thoroughly sensory-oriented manner: while Kennedy’s trajectory leads into a space of exceptionality, Val walks on the “affective underside”: what she (and therefore the viewer) encounters is not attention, support, and opportunities, but neglect, disdain, and the paralyzing experience of subalternation. This sequence in The Second Mother, thus, powerfully grasps ideas and feelings related to the coloniality of domestic work, recurring to an affective rhetoric that re-orchestrates the concerns of former anti-colonial political cinema within a contemporary context.

Bibliography

  • Escobar, Arturo (2007) “Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise: The Latin American Modernity/Coloniality Research Program.” Cultural Studies 21 (2–3): 179–210.
  • Grosfoguel, Ramón (2002) “Colonial Difference, Geopolitics of Knowledge, and Global Coloniality in the Modern/Colonial Capitalist World-System.” Review 25 (3): 203–224.
  • Mignolo, Walter D. (2011) The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
  • Podalsky, Laura (2011) The Politics of Affect and Emotion in Contemporary Latin American Cinema: Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Podalsky, Laura (2017) “The Affect Turn” In Juan Poblete (ed.), New Approaches to Latin American Studies: Culture and Power, New York & Oxon: Routledge, 237–254.
  • Quijano, Aníbal (2000) “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America.” Nepantla: Views from South 1 (3): 533–580.
  • Quijano, Aníbal (2007) “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality.” Cultural Studies 21 (2–3): 168–178.
  • Rutherford, Anne (2006) What Makes a Film Tick?: Cinematic Affect, Materiality and Mimetic Innervation. Bern: Peter Lang.
  • Sánchez Prado, Ignacio M. (2014) Screening Neoliberalism: Transforming Mexican Cinema, 1988-2012. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
  • Sánchez Prado, Ignacio M. (2016) “Cine Latinoamericano y Neoliberalismo: Ideología, Deseo, Clase.” Hispanófila 177 (1): 115–125.
  • Whitney, Shiloh (2017) “Byproductive Labor: A Feminist Theory of Affective Labor beyond the Productive–Reproductive Distinction.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 44 (6): 637–660.

How to cite this article: Árva, M. (2022) Coloniality, the Backstage, and the Long Take. Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays, 9(1). ISSN: 2659-4269

Other videoessays in this issue:

Police Force(s)
Edurne Larumbe Villarreal (UPF) & Abraham Roberto Cea Núñez (USC)

Temporal Ghosts | David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story”
Enrique Saunders (University of Reading)

With the Voice Present: "Imperfect" Video-Essays during Quarantine
Michelle Leigh Farrell (Fairfield University)

Student Showcase

Classic and Modern Avant-garde. Surrealism
Elena González Janot, Leire De la Peña Aoiz & Natalia Bermúdez Pérez (UC3M)

The voice in film
Alejandro Torres Almendros (UC3M)

Sitcoms
Santiago Gómez Chacón, Daniel Guijarro Hernanz, David Ildefonso Trabada & Verónica Antoñanzas Martínez (UC3M)