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Essay Nonfiction Theory

Is the trans- in transnational the transin transgender?

By Song Hwee Lim, 2007

It has become increasingly popular, within film and cinema studies, to challenge the framework of national cinema with that of transnational cinema. Transnationalism in cinema can be understood as modes of production and consumption, as well as ideology, genre and aesthetics. It can be argued, however, that transnationalism, while purporting to transcend the national, does not so much displace the nation as reinstate it within a larger, pan-national framework. This essay aims to interrogate the notion of trans- and ask to what extent the prefix trans transcends existing boundaries, whether in relation to the nation or to gender. Mobilising the concept of passing in transgender practice, it argues that the ethnic passing that is increasingly common in popular culture (such as three ethnically-Chinese actresses playing Japanese geishas in the film Memoirs of a Geisha) raises questions about ethnicity, transnational capital, transcultural flows and globalisation at the start of the twenty-first century.

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