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The pontianak, or female vampire, is one of the most popular supernatural creatures in Malay cinema and indeed in Singaporean culture more broadly. The pontianak film first flourishes in the Singapore studio system from 1957-65, animating precolonial beliefs exactly at the time when Malaysia and Singapore were forming as postcolonial nations. This emergence of animism as genre illuminates the importance of cinema in the imaginative processes of decolonization. As a vengeful female spirit, the pontianak has obvious feminist potential, but she troubles other orthodoxies too. In cinema, her manifestations are queer, spectral, non-human. She registers a series of intersecting anxieties: about femininity and modernity; globalization and indigeneity; racial and national identities; and the relationship of Islam to animism. This talk will analyse the pontianak from classical 1950s horror to contemporary film and television, and will consider its manifestations as a way of thinking ‘world cinema’.
Rosalind Galt is Professor of Film Studies at King’s College London. Her research addresses questions of world cinema, film theory, anticolonial aesthetics, and queer and feminist theory. She is the author of Alluring Monsters: the Pontianak and Cinemas of Decolonization (2021), Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image (2011), which won the BAFTSS best book award, and The New European Cinema: Redrawing the Map (2006). She is coauthor with Karl Schoonover of Queer Cinema in the World (2016), which was the recipient of the SCMS Katherine Singer Kovács book award, and coeditor of Global Art Cinema: New Theories and Histories (2010). In 2019-20, she was the recipient of a Lee Kong Chian NUS-Stanford Fellowship on Contemporary Southeast Asia and a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.