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Are we who we watch? : Adapting multiculturalism as national heritage in Australian feature film–1992 to 2017


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McCarthy, CL ORCID: 0000-0001-9365-6559 2020 , 'Are we who we watch? : Adapting multiculturalism as national heritage in Australian feature film–1992 to 2017', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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In the 1970s Australia embarked on two nation-building projects. One was a new cultural policy called “multiculturalism”, the other, public funding for a “national” film industry. As film rose in prominence as a national storyteller from the 1990s onwards, multicultural narratives became a way of re-imagining Australia on screen as culturally diverse. While there is extensive research into the history of migration and the success or failure of Australian multicultural policy, little has been said about its representation in film as a source of national heritage.
To address this gap, this thesis responds to three key questions:
1. How has multiculturalism been creatively interpreted in Australian film? What genres, character tropes, and settings have been deployed?
2. What kinds of (multi)cultural heritage narratives has this produced in feature films released between 1992 and 2017?
3. What does this tell us about the adaptation of visual portrayals of Australian nationhood? And what might this reveal about the representation of migration history in Australia and beyond?
Utilising conceptual frameworks from Australian film criticism, adaptation studies, critical theory, migration studies and heritage studies, this thesis analyses films including Strictly Ballroom (1992), Romper Stomper (1992), Floating Life (1996), Head On (1998), Looking for Alibrandi (2000), The Wog Boy (2000), Lucky Miles (2007), The Combination (2009), Dead Europe (2012), Alex & Eve (2015), Down Under (2016), and Ali’s Wedding (2017). All the examples adapt a prior text, historical moment or event, and offer a new way of “doing adaptation” (Elliott), by analysing the creative interpretation of a national policy framework to film. The thesis analyses how these representations of multicultural identity shape ideas about migration, cultural diversity and nationhood in the social imaginary, and reveals a transnational connection in the ongoing construction of national migration heritage.
In doing so it draws on the ground-breaking work of theorists Julia Kristeva (intertextuality), Gérard Genette (palimpsests), Mikhail Bakhtin (reaccentuation), Jacques Derrida (deconstruction and hauntology), Benedict Anderson (nations as “imagined communities”), and Charles Taylor (social imaginaries), as well as Australian film scholarship and the critical discourse that surrounds Australian multiculturalism. It engages with current debates and perspectives in adaptation studies, film criticism and migration history, and integrates the concept of “intersectionality” (Crenshaw) to analyse how the representation of migrant subjects is inflected by changing assumptions about race, ethnicity, sex/gender, sexuality, age and ability. This thesis represents a significant new contribution to the interdisciplinary fields of film, adaptation, heritage and migration studies, illuminating a range of critical issues with Australian film portrayals of multiculturalism and their implications for Australian nationhood.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:McCarthy, CL
Keywords: multiculturalism, film, Australia, migration, screen, Ellis Island, adaptation, intersectionality
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