Issues in Transnational Film

Deborah Shaw (2013) contends the concept of transnational film studies has developed in response to the” increasing awareness of the limitations of conceptualising film in terms of national cinemas”. Shaw argues that a growing number of films can be considered transnational because they cannot be attributed to a single nation. This includes films that are shot in numerous locations, rely on multinational cast and crew and are funded by a combination of production companies from multiple countries.

The 2010 film “Avatar”, by director James Cameron is an example of a transnational film. (Shaw 2013). Cameron acknowledged the influence of Hindu culture had on Avatar during a 2010 television interview with CNN, stating, “Avatar means, the taking of flesh, the incarnation of a divine being, in the case of the Hindu religion, and although our characters aren’t divine beings, obviously, the idea is that this is actually a fleshly incarnation.” (Karan & Schaefer 2010)

Kavita Karan and David Schaefer (2010) also discuss the significant Indian influences visible in Avatar. The film draws on multiple elements of traditional Indian mythology and Hindu culture, referring to concepts such as reincarnation and worship of nature.

The international cast and crew in Avatar also contribute to the transnational status of the film. Director James Cameron is Canadian, lead actor Sam Worthington is English and Actress CCH Pounder from British Ginuea, just to name a few.

The various international aspects of the film create a piece of culturally hybridized content that is independent of any one nation. So, even though “Avatar” is generally considered as an American film, the various international influences disable the possibility of Avatar being defined as purely American, thus welcoming the idea of Transnationalism. (Ezra & Rowden, 2006)

While transnational films on there own are neither good or bad, creating transnational film can be problematic if filmmakers fail to maintain cultural sensitivity and accuracy when creating content that borrows ideas and values from traditional cultures. Soon after the release of  2009 film Slumdog Millionaire by UK director Danny Boyle there where concerns about the film by members of the Indian diaspora. The concern stemmed from the way the film, which is set in India, is “yet another stereotypical foreign depiction of their nation, accentuating squalor, corruption and impoverished-if-resilient natives.”

There has also been suggestion that Slumdog Millionaire fails to maintain sensitivity because it perpetuates negative stereotypes by focusing much of the action at an Indian call center, the source of widespread anti-Indian political rhetoric in the United States. (Karan & Schaefer, 2010)

Transnational films are making up a large percentage the film industry. Avatar, for example, is the highest grossing film of all time. These transnational films may have positive effects however it is important that filmmakers ensure they are creating transnational films in a sensitive way to avoid insulting or demeaning traditional cultures, as was the case in Slumdog Millionaire.


Ezra, E., & Rowden, T. (2006). Transnational Cinema: The Film Reader. London: Routledge

Magnier, M 2010, ‘Indians Don’t Feel Good About Slumdog Millionaire’, The LA Times, Viewed 04 September 2015 <>

Schaefer, D, Karan, (K 2010), ‘Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema in global film flows’, Global Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 309-316.

Shaw, D (2013)  “Deconstructing and Reconstructing ‘Transnational Cinema’.”Contemporary Hispanic Cinema: Interrogating Transnationalism in Spanish and Latin American Film, pp. 47-65.