Is the Central Asian Screen Postcolonial?

Seth Graham, University of Washington

Anglophone cultural scholars have largely neglected the newly sovereign, former Soviet “colonies” of Central Asia. While the region has attracted substantial attention from the social sciences (especially since September 2001), there is to date precious little written in English on cultural production in the former republics, and virtually nothing on cinema. During the same, post-Soviet decade, the late-twentieth-century critical perspective known as postcolonial studies has flourished, and has continued to elaborate the distinctive features of many “new” national cinemas outside the Western tradition.

To what extent are postcolonial cultural paradigms productively applicable to the new Central Asian nations, and (as David Chioni Moore asks) to the Soviet sphere in general? What has been the role of cinema in the new nations’ efforts to define themselves as cultural entities? Can we detect in Central Asian cinema something analogous to what Ashish Rjadhyaksha calls the “nationalist reconstruction agendas” (415) that informed the development of the New Cinema movements in former colonies in Africa, Latin America, and Asia beginning in the 1950s? In addressing these and other questions, my preliminary conclusion is that theories of postcoloniality are useful in illuminating aspects of Central Asian cinema especially (perhaps only) if the term is conceived broadly as a reference not simply to “the period since decolonization” but to the entire span of history beginning with the rise of the modern imperialist system itself. Such a purview allows for examination of the history of the region’s cinemas since their inception in the Soviet period, while at the same time avoiding distracting overemphasis on the Soviet/post-Soviet temporal (and geopolitical) divide. Still, the influence of that divide has been formidable. The most cursory survey of Central Asian cinema and cinematic practice since the end of Soviet censorship reveals each nation’s continued search for a usable past, and a viable film industry. Each of the five countries has seen an ongoing dialogue between the tropes of emerging nationhood and the multiple filmic languages now at the disposal of filmmakers (including the languages of Soviet cinema, Western cinema, and “Third Cinema”).

I shall cite examples and show clips from several films, including Rashid Nugmanov’s The Needle (Kazakhstan, 1988), Dzhamshed Usmonov’s Flight of the Bee (Tajikistan, 1998), Aktan Abdykalykov’s Beshkempir (Kyrgyzstan, 1998) and Bus Stop (2000), Usman Saparov’s Little Angel, Bring Me Joy (Turkmenistan, 1993), and Ali Khamraev’s Bo Ba Bu (Uzbekistan, 1998).


Moore, David Chioni. “Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique.” PMLA 116.1 (Jan. 2001): 111-28.

Rjadhyaksha, Ashish. “Realism, Modernism, and Post-colonial Theory.” The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. Ed. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 413-25.