The empire and 'human interest': popular empire films, the colonial villain, and the British documentary movement 1926-1939

Grandy, Christine (2014) The empire and 'human interest': popular empire films, the colonial villain, and the British documentary movement 1926-1939. Twentieth Century British History, 25 (4). pp. 509-532. ISSN 0955-2359

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This article examines representations of colonial subjects within two forms of ‘empire films’ of the 1930s: popular ‘entertainment’ empire films widely consumed by audiences in Britain and the colonies, and documentary films about empire produced by the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) and the General Post Office (GPO) film units. These two types of film at first glance seem markedly different, with the one featuring the sensational colonial villain, and the other emphasising a docile and peaceful workforce in the colonies. Yet if we consider these two types of film within a large media landscape intent on courting the ‘human interest’ of audiences between the wars, the particularly racialised boundaries of this term comes into focus. This article examines the seemingly divergent portrayals of colonial subjects across these films and in conjunction with responses of audiences in both England and the colonies, and early discussions at the EMB about the appeal of empire narratives. The appeal and endurance of the figure of the colonial villain in entertainment films and the perspective of documentary producer John Grierson on film, human interest, and empire asks us to consider the state’s role in refashioning empire in this period. This article asks whether the state was truly invested in refashioning a modern empire in the interwar period, as some historians have argued, or if it was content to affirm the limited portrayal of colonial subjects on screen.

Keywords:British empire, Popular culture, Documentary film, Popular film, Interwar, NotOAChecked
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V140 Modern History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
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ID Code:12804
Deposited On:03 Jan 2014 09:36

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