Seduced ‘outsiders’ versus sceptical ‘insiders’?: Slumdog Millionaire through its re/viewers.
Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 7
Amidst continued debates about the commercial success and ‘hybrid’ style of Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Danny Boyle 2008), this paper reports on a six-month international study of its audiences and reception. The data gathered include 25 half-hour qualitative interviews with randomly selected international viewers and 15 in-depth qualitative questionnaires (administered over the internet) in the Spring and Summer of 2009. While the film had no overt pretensions to being an ethnographic account of life in Indian slums, many of its re/viewers experienced it as having an implicit political agenda and used criteria from ethnography or social science to evaluate, understand and comment on its qualities and their reactions to it. This style of response raises theoretical questions about the textuality, meaning and reception of internationally circulated media products in an apparently globalised arena: how do diverse re/viewer’s pre-existing worldviews, ideological standpoints and intersecting identities inflect their responses? Are some re/viewers more likely to judge the visual and other cinematic pleasures offered by the film positively because of particular configurations of knowledge and identity? What role should anthropological notions of ‘insider knowledge’ and ‘outsider gaze’ play in academic discussions of viewers’ rhetorical analyses? National, class and ethnic affiliations were called upon implicitly by interviewees to attest to or problematise the authenticity of particular sequences and readings. However, experiences of gender, international economic and cultural texts, child poverty and globalisation were also overtly referenced. In its analysis of these reflexive commentaries, this paper draws on critiques of ethnographic film, which are useful in undermining or reinforcing anxieties around representation, class politics, nation and authenticity. It also suggests that while moral and social judgments are implicit in many responses to the film, straightforward assertions of ‘insider’ knowledge in the making and reception of such cinema may be inadequately nuanced when it comes to understanding the impact of complex international cultural products. The full text of the article can be directly downloaded from the website at http://www.participations.org/Volume%207/Issue%201/banaji.htm
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