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Decolonising Film Studies

Postcolonial Studies

Postcolonial Studies exposes colonial repercussions and how legacies of the past still linger in our present. It also offers tools for analysing, detecting, questioning, and deconstructing the inherent Eurocentrism, ideologies of progress and civilization, representations, stereotypes and Othering - all of which can be found in many media representations and film.

Drawing from different disciplinary fields such as literature, media, anthropology, politics, philosophy, gender and sociology, Postcolonial Studies critiques empire and its knowledge production. It not only traces the injustices and atrocities committed in the past but also the aftermath of colonialism and seeks to decolonise knowledge production. The prefix “post” thereby marks both the rupture as well as the continuity of colonial structures.

Why postcolonial Studies in European film schools?

The atrocities committed under colonialism bear long-term consequences and continue to effect and shape the postcolonial present. Since its very beginnings, film like other media has been involved in the production of knowledge about the Other producing colonial images of gender, race and class with ideological connotations. Although the atrocities of the colonial past tend to be overlooked in Europe, it is profoundly implicated and entangled in its colonial legacy. 

Decolonising representation and film by bringing a postcolonial perspective to the table empowers omitted perspectives and histories to be included. For film schools, this also requires decolonizing processes in film education. Based on a series of case studies, film professor and filmmaker Jyoti Mistry reflects on what decolonising film education could mean (Mistry, 2021). Her study shows how repressed histories are explored through site-specific projects and how decolonial processes enable these histories to be reclaimed in film practice and make marginal subjectivities visible. 

Decolonising Film Studies

Calls, especially student-led calls, for decolonisation of university and university curriculum, have spread across the world in the last six years (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2016; Robinson, 2016; Muldoon, 2019), although scholars, like Stokes (2019), advise universities against the move. In a paper presentation on decolonising the politics of curriculum, Choat & Ramgotra (2019) observe that since the 1960s, university students have organised and taken part in decolonisation protests to advocate that hierarchical university structures of learning and discipline be loosed so as to become more inclusive and broad-based. Different nations and groups have adopted decolonisation to challenge prevailing orders – curriculum, legacies, imperialism, racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, among others. Decolonization has been in existence for quite a long time, mostly in theory than in practice. The first understanding of the term meant the process of attaining independence from the colonialists and attempting to build nations outside the supervision of the colonialists. In recent times, especially following the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ demonstration in South Africa (Chaudhuri, 2016), decolonisation has become relevant in more fields than political democracies. Its many definitions or understandings notwithstanding, decolonization connects to disadvantages hinged on colonial, racial, ethnic, political, cultural, religious, social and other differences. As a process, decolonisation seeks to uncover as well as address these disadvantages, and foster the indigenisation of theories and methodologies. Looking beyond historical temporalities, Mistry (2021) has argued that decolonisation is not bound to time and space. The author thus perceives the prefix ‘de’ as an invitation to ‘unlearn’ or re-evaluate acquired knowledges and structured ways of knowing. From this perspective, decolonisation can be understood as challenging established ‘truth’ which often is defined from a Western standpoint (O’Dowd & Heckenberg, 2020). Decolonisation is important for balancing ‘truths’ by not focusing on and promoting ‘established truth’ from Global North, but embracing ‘truths’ from other regions. It goes beyond simply acknowledging these ‘other’ truths. It requires an eclipsing of the ‘otherness’ of these truths by seamlessly incorporating them into knowledge systems.

Decolonising film studies is a process and according to Karam’s (2018) research into decolonising film studies in Africa, entails different elements which include decolonising the students, the institution, the pedagogy, the mode of assessment, the research output and film as a discipline. Decolonisation, in the context of film studies or education in general will mean, as Mistry (2021) proposes, a shift from established educational or curricular canons, to embracing or introducing new concepts and ideas. Needless to say that these concepts and ideas should be driven by indigenous thoughts, histories and cultures. This, as Mistry argues, brings about social and historical visibility for cultures which have remained on the margins where Western epistemological structures have been privileged and favoured. She further relates decolonisation to diversity and inclusion, maintaining that decolonisation goes beyond curricular adjustments. Karam however opines that decolonisation of film studies demands more than inclusion and diversity, proposing that to decolonise film studies in Africa, there is need for an inversion of positionality. For the author, African films and film theories would occupy the centre while Western films and film theories occupy the marginal position. This approach is rather radical, but Karam argues that decolonisation is not just about knowing, but about disrupting, transforming and creating a new order.

By decolonising film studies, teachers are consciously reflecting on what counts as ‘authoritative knowledge’ in film studies, consciously attempting to determine whose and what knowledge matters, what should be taught to the students and how this should be taught to them. Decolonising film studies is important for decentralizing knowledge production as well as embracing other knowledge systems in the field, thereby enriching and diversifying, rather than limiting knowledge produced. It is a rise in the consciousness of existence of a variety of ways of learning and teaching film. Through the acceptance of this variety, emerging film economies are empowered.

Adaptable practical steps to decolonising film studies

  •         Film educators have called for a decolonisation of the curriculum (Charles, 2019) as a practical way to decolonise film studies. Believing that the curriculum is largely influenced by western standards of knowledge production, decolonising the curriculum dismantles or disconnects the influence of colonial legacies through knowledge produced and knowledge acquired. A curriculum, Chaudhuri (2016) asserts, determines what knowledge needs valuing. Decolonising curriculum requires a re-examination of its content, the narratives it projects as well as sources it recommends towards knowledge making. So, decolonise your film studies curriculum.
  •         Ensure that the materials or sources, e.g. recommended texts, as well as film texts, are diverse, offering different perspectives from different film economies across the globe. In many texts, cinemas of Africa are often missing. Centralize your film economy, but do not isolate it. Be inclusive and diverse in accordance with the diversity of your students (refer to Dovey’s (2020) experience teaching film to a diverse class)
  •         As cinemas from certain regions, e.g. the Global South, are often missing in texts written in the Global North, ensure that textbooks, journals and film texts from these regions are consulted.
  •         Consult colleagues who specialise in research of films from the remotest regions, if possible, invite them as guests in your lecture. Invite filmmakers from different film economies whose films are being studied to a Q&A session with the students.
  •         Proposing approach to decolonising genre cinema studies, Shamash (2022) shares that as they teach film, they include “participatory and collective exercise to establish group guidelines at the beginning of each course. Such guidelines are used to create a respectful and inclusive class culture that is open to hearing and sharing diverse opinions, histories and experiences on topics related to colonial legacies, patriarchy, White supremacy and representations of race on screen” (pg.41).
  •         Be willing to allow students research into films from diverse regions, make presentations on them and critique them based on the films’ style and the style they are used to. Decolonisation, in whatever form, begins with learning to deconstruct oneself and look inward to one’s roots and identity (Minto & Friedberg, 2019). Be liberal with them.
  •         It is important to raise questions of diversity, inclusion, coloniality as you teach, encouraging students to discuss film contents based on what they know and what they have researched about the region of the film
  •         For a truly decolonised film studies, it is important to encourage the students to lead or contribute to conversations around the various film cultures they consume or connect with in the course of learning. Decolonising film studies starts with everyone, including the students, whose perspectives could contribute to rebalancing Eurocentric positionalities.
  •         Encourage the students to be diversified in their approach to sourcing materials on new or foreign film cultures. In other words, do not limit them to academic sources while attempting to learn and speak about another film culture.
  •         Jyoti Mistry and Lizelle Bisschoff’s (2022) editorial on decolonising film education will make a valuable resource as they share personal experiences with attempts at decolonising film studies


Charles, E. (2019) “Decolonizing the Curriculum”. Insights 32 (1): 24. DOI:

Chaudhuri, A. (2016) “The real meaning of Rhodes Must Fall,” The Guardian, March 16, 2016, Accessed 06/10/2022.

Choat. S. & Ramgotra, M. (2019) Decolonising the Politics Curriculum: Obstacles, Opportunities and Debates. Paper presentation at The European Consortium for Political Research, Wroclaw.

Dovey, L. (2020) On Teaching and Being Taught: Reflections on Decolonising Pedagogy. Parse. Issue 11, pg. 1-20.

Karam, B. (2018) ‘An-Other’-Centred Film Curricula: Decolonising Film Studies in Africa. In Mutsvairo, B. (ed) The Palgrave Handbook on Media and Communication Research in Africa. Pp. 111-128.

 Minto, F. & Friedberg, J. (2019) To Decolonise the Curriculum, we Have to Decolonise Ourselves. WONKHE. [Online] Accessed 06/10/2022.

Mistry, J. (2021) Decolonizing Processes in Film Education. Film Education Journal. 4(1):1-13. DOI: 10.14324/FEJ.04.1.01.

Mistry, J. & Bisschoff, L (2022) Editorial: Decolonising Film Education. Film Education Journal. 5(1):1-9.

Muldoon, J. (2019) Academics: It’s Time to get Behind Decolonising the Curriculum. The Guardian. [Online] Accessed 08/10/2022.

 Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. (2016) ‘Rhodes must fall’: South African Universities as a site of Struggle. Tabula Rasa. 25:195-224.

 O’Dowd, M. & Heckenberg, R. (2020) Explainer: What is Decolonisation? The Conversation. [Online] Accessed 04/10/2022

Robinson, Y. (2016) Oxford’s Cecil Rhodes Statue must fall – it stands in the way of inclusivity. The Guardian. [Online] Accessed 08/10/2022.

Shamash, S. (2022) A Decolonising Approach to Genre Cinema Studies. Film Education Journal. 5(1):41-54.

Stokes, D. (2019) Universities should resist calls to ‘decolonise the curriculum’. The Spectator. [Online] Accessed 08/10/2022.

Useful Links and Resources

Postcolonial Studies Blog @ Emory website:

Decolonizing African Cinema: A History - Film Programme by the Africa Institute, in collaboration with the June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive: 

Journal on Postcolonial Perspectives in Game Studies:

Reflections on Creating Film Toolkits to Decolonise Academia and the Film Industry:

Ezinne Ezepue

University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Ezinne Ezepue is a lecturer of film at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She has a BA (Nigeria) in Theatre & Film Studies, MA (Birmingham) in Film & TV and a PhD (Birmingham) in Media Studies. She has researched Nollywood extensively and is published in books and journals. She is currently researching African storytelling and how folk narratives can be harnessed for sustainable development. Her interest in film stems from the medium’s potential to inspire and model a new identity and unseat stereotypes. Ezinne is interested in stories that are authentically African. In addition to being an African film scholar and critic, Ezinne has critical interest in documentary filmmaking.




Louise Adams

future film education, ifs internationale filmschule köln

Louise Adams is the project manager of the project and is involved in the research groups. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in media and cultural studies and completed study and research stays in Germany, Greece, Spain, Austria, France and Namibia. She was awarded the prix d'excellence of the FGU (Franco-German University) for her intercultural competence, social commitment and academic achievements. Her research interests include cultural and commemorative practices, postcolonial & gender studies, film and visual culture. As associate for international affairs at the ifs internationale filmschule köln, she oversees and advises international students, coordinates student and staff exchange programmes and manages cooperation with international partner schools and organisations.