Afterword, Three Years Later: For a New Cinephilia
Nearly a decade ago I wrote a book called The New Cinephilia (Shambu 2014). In the early 2000s, I had been part of the first wave of film blogging, and the book grew out of my experiences in that community. The New Cinephilia attempted to reflect theoretically upon the internet-induced paradigm shift that had reconfigured the forms and nature of film discourse among cinephiles. However, in the months and years after the book’s release, as I cast a backward glance, it hit me with acute embarrassment that the book contained a glaring blind spot. It did not acknowledge or analyze the fact that the landscape of film culture is and always has been grossly uneven.
For over a hundred years since the birth of the cinematic medium, both the making of films and the writing about them has been dominated, globally, by men. In Euro-western culture these men have been overwhelmingly white and heterosexual. The resulting marginalization of women, LGBTQ people, and Black, Indigenous and other people of color is a problem that was mostly ignored by the traditional “old cinephilia.” But especially in the last decade, a rising chorus of cinephile voices, on social media and beyond, have been publicly and pervasively calling out this marginalization. The #MeToo movement, which was founded by activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and exploded in 2017, raised these voices to unprecedented levels of urgency. It was a spirit of solidarity with these demands that drove the manifesto “For a New Cinephilia” (Shambu 2019).
A confession: I half expected that the manifesto would be received as just another rant—during a social media age in which the genre finds daily and ubiquitous expression—and thus, dismissed without a thought. And so, it was a surprise to discover that it found some resonance in film and cinephile culture globally. It was discussed and argued over in classrooms in the USA, Europe, and Brazil; provided the focus for round-table discussions at film festivals; and seeded debate on social media and film websites. An anecdotal observation: over the last three years, as I have tracked the patterns in its reception, I have noticed, time and again, that the vast majority of those who have had the most emotionally charged responses to the manifesto have been (it must be said) … male.
If auteurism and its individualist focus are key to the old cinephilia, some of the most incisive, rewarding, and inspiring texts I have encountered in film culture in recent years have been communally focused—and have been written by women and gender-nonconforming people. The old cinephilia is centripetal. It all too often drives discourse toward a center that is occupied by the auteur. In a contrasting and centrifugal spirit, I want to gather here ten texts that (for me) resonate powerfully with the new cinephilia and gesture toward its rich and fertile future. Because nearly all of them are available in open-access form online, they constitute a scattered, accidental archive that has provided a basis for exciting and productive engagement in online cinephilia communities in recent years:
Erika Balsom and Hila Peleg’s essay on the monumental retrospective they co-curated, “Feminist Worldmaking and the Moving Image” (Balsom and Peleg 2022); Lawrence Carter-Long’s manifesto on disability and film (Carter-Long 2019); Jemma Desai’s book-length paper, “This Work Isn’t for Us,” an analysis of how UK arts policy has systemically marginalized people of color (Desai 2020); Racquel Gates and Michael B. Gillespie’s manifesto “Reclaiming Black Film and Media Studies” and its exhortation to go beyond superficial understandings of the representation of Blackness (Gates and Gillespie 2019); Elena Gorfinkel’s manifesto “Against Lists,” which went viral on social media and launched a flood of conversations on list-making in cinephile culture (Gorfinkel 2019); Cáel Keegan on a new, “use-based” conception of a queer canon (Romano 2022); So Mayer’s “speculative cinephilic” list of the ten greatest films of all time (Mayer 2022); Geneviève Sellier’s classic, iconoclastic and ever-fresh 2008 text on the male-dominated French New Wave and its disturbing ambivalence about women, Masculine Singular (Sellier 2008); Abby Sun’s systemic analysis of film festivals and their labor practices (Sun 2021); Kristen Warner’s invaluable theorization of diversity reduced to its simplest and crudest forms, “plastic representation” (Warner 2019).
Five decades ago, Adrienne Rich urged feminists to reject traditional histories authored by and descended from patriarchal traditions (Rich 1972). She proposed, instead, the practice of “re-vision”: “the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction.” If the “old text” could be, for us, the entire history of cinema, the above writings model re-visionary practices that show us pathways and possibilities to step into. The work of the new cinephilia awaits: there are films to re-view, histories to re-write, a whole world to re-make.
Balsom, Erika, and Hila Peleg. 2022. Feminist Worldmaking and the Moving Image. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Carter-Long, Lawrence. 2019. “Where Have You Gone, Stephen Dwoskin: On Disability Film.” Film Quarterly 72 (3): 26–29.
Desai, Jemma. 2020. “This Work Isn’t For Us.” Heystacks. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://heystacks.com/doc/337/this-work-isnt-for-us–by-jemma-desai.
Gates, Racquel, and Michael B. Gillespie. 2019. “Reclaiming Black Film and Media Studies.” Film Quarterly 72 (3): 13–15.
Mayer, So. 2022. “All Time.” Tinyletter, August 9. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://tinyletter.com/somayer/letters/all-time.
Rich, Adrienne. 1972. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision.” College English 34 (1): 18–30.
Romano, Aja. 2022. “Why We Need a New Queer Canon.” Vox, June 27. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.vox.com/culture/23181998/new-queer-canon-the-matrix-contrapoints-celluloid-closet-history-cael-keegan-interview.
Sellier, Geneviève. 2008. Masculine Singular: French New Wave Cinema. Translated by Kristin Ross. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Shambu, Girish. 2014. The New Cinephilia. Montreal: Caboose Books.
Shambu, Girish. 2019. “For a New Cinephilia.” Film Quarterly 72 (3): 32–34.
Sun, Abby. 2021. “On Criticism.” Woche der Kritik, March. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://wochederkritik.de/en_US/magazine/criticism-abby-sun/.
Warner, Kristen J. 2017. “In the Time of Plastic Representation.” Film Quarterly 71 (2): 32–37. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://filmquarterly.org/2017/12/04/in-the-time-of-plastic-representation/.