Rosalind GaltJun 6, 2022
The Pontianak and Cinemas of Decolonization
Columbia University Press 2021
In Alluring Monsters: The Pontianak and Cinemas of Decolonization (Columbia University Press, 2021), film scholar Rosalind Galt offers a cinematic exploration of the pontianak, a female vampire ghost whose origins stem back to pre-Islamic animist tradition but who is continues to be feared and revered in Malay cultures to this day. In the 1950s, the pontianak haunted the screens of late colonial Singapore in a series of popular films that combined appeals to indigenous animism with the affective force of the horror genre. Although the pontianak would disappear from view following the breakdown of the studio system, she would once again wreak havoc in postcolonial Southeast Asian film and society from the early 2000s onwards. In this book, Galt explores the enduring appeal of the Pontianak, framing her as an ambivalent agent of gender subversion, a precolonial figure of disturbance within postcolonial cultures, and a haunting presence that sheds light on a range of questions—surrounding race, religion, nationalism, and modernity—in Malaysia and Singapore. As Alluring Monsters demonstrates, the Pontianak has much to tell us about intersecting issues of decolonisation: femininity and modernity; globalisation and indigeneity; racial identities and nation; Islam and animism; and heritage and environmental destruction.
Jules O’Dwyer is Research Fellow in Film Studies and French at the University of Cambridge.