Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Hmollywood Movies: 1.5-Generation Hmong Americans and Transnational Film Production in Thailand

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Hmollywood Movies: 1.5-Generation Hmong Americans and Transnational Film Production in Thailand

Article excerpt

Although transnational cinema--or cinema involving people in two or more nation states--has a long history, scholarship regarding the topic has emerged especially over the last few decades, as indicated by the launch of the journal Transnational Cinema in 2010 and the rapid expansion of literature in the field more generally since the 1990s (Higbee and Lim 2010, p. 7). Crucially, there is considerable plurality within cinematic transnationalism (Hjort 2010), both with regard to geographical scope and in relation to topical interests, which include transnational financial structures in cinema (Villazana 2009), transnational cult cinema (Smith 2017; Hills and Sexton 2017), transnational film acting and performance (Peberdy 2014), art film as transnational cinema (Hobbs 2015), and diaspora cinema (Schlund-Vials 2016; Georgiou 2007; Desai 2004; Marchetti 1998), along with other genres. Although much of the early transnational cinema scholarship was focused on Hollywood, and the influence of Western cinema outside the United States (Peberdy 2014, p. 95; Desai and Dudrah 2008, p. 1), in recent years there has been increased interest in other kinds of transnational film (Higbee and Lim 2010, p. 8), including transnational film linked to particular ethnic groups and parts of Asia, which is the focus here.

This article draws on work on transnational cinema to investigate the production of films by Hmong Americans in collaboration with Hmong in Thailand, with film production centred at a particular place, Khek Noi sub-district, in Khao Kho district, Phetchabun Province. The article examines factors that influence the particular ways that Hmong films are produced in Thailand for Hmong audiences in the United States. It also considers other issues, including those related to politics, economics, marketing and government regulations. Globalization, in this article, is considered to be the interaction of people, states or countries through the growth of the international flow of money, ideas and culture (Appadurai 1996). The purpose of this article is not to investigate any particular film, although some are mentioned, but rather to demonstrate the various reasons why the Hmong film-making industry has emerged in the way it has, with Khek Noi at its centre. Indeed, Khek Noi is a place that many Hmong film-makers agree can suitably be referred to as 'Hmollywood', comparable to other important centres of film-making, such as Hollywood or Bollywood.

Much of the scholarship on diasporic cinema has focused on how films are produced in particular countries (such as India or China) and then exported for the consumption of diasporic audiences living as minorities in other countries (Desai and Dudrah 2008; Marchetti 1998), particularly those in the West. The circumstances of Hmong transnational cinema fundamentally differ, as the Hmong do not dominate any country, and they are in the minority--at least at the national scale--in both the countries where Hmong films are produced (Thailand) and also at the places where the films are primarily consumed (the United States). This creates a complex dynamic, one that is examined in this article. In particular, through considering history, memory, linguistics, culture, economics, regulation and markets as they relate to the Hmong film industry, and how national contexts have affected different Hmong people, the intent is to demonstrate that Hmong film-making is neither simply transnational nor global, nor is it only place-based. Rather, the conditions that have produced the present circumstances are linked to transnational intercultural experiences, globalization, and also particular places--especially Khek Noi. Indeed, Hmong American film-making, like various other kinds of transnational film production, has developed in a particular way, and in relation to certain geographies, ones that will be illuminated in these pages. My goals are to explain the historical circumstances of Hmong transnational film-making, and also to contribute to the literature on transnational cinema through applying a geographical lens to understand the ways that transnational cinema is in some ways affected by transnationalism and globalization, while in other ways it remains crucially place-based. …

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