Encounters with Cultural Difference: Cosmopolitanism and Exoticism in Tanna (Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, 2015) and Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015)
Abstract: This essay aims to critically reassess and, ultimately, rehabilitate exoticism, understood as a particular mode of cultural representation and a highly contested discourse on cultural difference, by bringing it into dialogue with cosmopolitanism. It offers a theoretical exploration of exoticism and cosmopolitanism alongside associated critical frameworks, such as the contact zone, autoethnography, authenticity and cultural translation, and brings them to bear on two award-winning films that aptly illustrate a new type of exoticism in contemporary world cinema. Using Tanna (Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, 2015) and Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015), both made in collaboration with Indigenous communities, as case studies, this essay proposes that exoticism is inflected by cosmopolitan, rather than colonial and imperialist, sensibilities. It therefore differs profoundly from its precursors, which are premised on white supremacist assumptions about the Other which legitimised colonial expansion and the subjugation of the subaltern. By contrast, the new type of exoticism challenges and decentres Western values and systems of knowledge and aligns itself with the ethico-political agendas of cosmopolitanism, notably the promotion of crosscultural dialogue, an ecological awareness and the empowerment of hitherto marginalised communities.