Annotation: Rony, Fatimah Tobing. 1996. The Third Eye: Race, Cinema and Ethnographic Spectacle

Rony, Fatimah Tobing. 1996. The Third Eye: Race, Cinema and Ethnographic Spectacle. Durham: Duke University Press.

The experience of the “third eye” refers to the experience of seeing the Self through the objectifying lens of “Ethnographic” film. With the third eye, one sees the Self pictured as a “landscape, a museum display, an ethnographic spectacle” (17). This experience also addresses what Frantz Fanon writes about the dilemma of the non-white child: brought up on representations of its fellow non-whites as the Other in popular culture, yet realizing that s/he cannot forever identify with the white explorer from whose point of view these representations are made. The term “Ethnographic Cinema” is used by the author to describe “the broad and variegated field of cinema which situates indigenous peoples in a displaced temporal realm” (8). Scientific and popular films both exemplify fascinating cannibalism – the mix of fascination with, and horror about, the racialized Other. Cannibalism here does not refer to the peoples labelled as “Savages,” but to those consumers of both popular and scientific media. The author dissects three films/film practices, which represent three different modes of Ethnographic representation. First, Felix Regnault’s scientific/positivist films are examples of how Western Africans were “literally written into film as racialized bodies” (15). These films are concerned with the “inscription” of the gestures of the Others as “similar” to the other Savages, and inferior to the whites. Second, Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, a paradigm of lyrical and romantic ethnography, which used a “taxidermic” portrayal of “vanishing” cultures – the dead are thus “redeemed” by bringing them back to life (195). Third, Merian Cooper’s King Kong shows the Other as a monster, and thus “foreshadows the fear of the postcolonial Other as monster” (15). The author wishes to show how ethnographic film moves across and between the genres of science/art, and reality/fantasy (16). She writes that today the indigenous filmmaker employs strategies of open resistance, recontextualization of archival images, parody, and selective representation of their own culture. These can be contrasted with the observational cinema of Mead, Marshall, Gardner, Asch, etc. As the author writes, the third eye sometimes winks at us (215).


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