The pontianak, or female vampire, is one of the most significant supernatural creatures, or hantu, in Malay cinema. A series of pontianak films were among the most successful made in the studio system in Singapore between 1957 and the city-state’s independence in 1965. Although the pontianak appeals to discourses of Malay cultural identity in particular, the films achieved something rare: they were popular across different races in late-colonial Singapore. In the 21st century, the pontianak genre has regained popularity in film and television by returning to the racialized politics of belonging in Malaysia and Singapore. The pontianak registers intersecting anxieties about femininity and modernity, race and nation, local and transnational cultural influences, and Islam in relation to indigenous beliefs. Prof. Galt’s talk will analyze the pontianak in recent Malaysian and Singaporean cinema and explore what the figure tells us about the role of film culture in shaping and contesting ideas of postcolonial Malay identity.
Rosalind Galt is Professor of Film Studies at King’s College London. She studies how geopolitics, cinematic style, history, and sexuality interact. She is the co-author with Karl Schoonover of Queer Cinema in the World (2016); the author of Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image (2010) and The New European Cinema: Redrawing the Map (2006); and co-editor of Global Art Cinema: New Theories and Histories (2010). Her advanced degrees are from Brown University (PhD) and the University of Glasgow (MA with Honours).