Category Archives: Publications


Spring 2022

Appreciating Melodrama: Theory and Practice in Indian Cinema and Television

by Piyush Roy

Appreciating Melodrama: Theory and Practice in Indian Cinema and Television seeks to identify and appreciate the continual influence of the ancient Sanskrit drama treatise, the Natyashastra, and its theory of aesthetics, the rasa theory, on the unique narrative attributes of Indian cinema.

This volume of work critically engages with a representative sample of landmark films from 100 years of Indian film history across genres, categories, regions and languages. This is the first time a case study-based rigorous academic review of popular Indian cinema is done using the Indian aesthetic appreciation theory of rasa (affect/emotion). It proposes a theoretical model for film appreciation, especially for content made in the melodramatic genre, and challenges existing First World/Euro-American film criticism canons and notions that privilege cinematic ‘realism’ over other narrative forms, which will generate passionate debates for and against its propositions in future studies and research on films.

This is a valuable academic reference book for students of film and theatre, world cinema and Indian cinema studies, South Asian studies and culture, Indology and the ‘Sociology of Cinema’ studies. It is a must-have reference text in the curriculum of both practical-oriented acting schools, as well as courses and modules focusing on a theoretical study of cinema, such as film criticism and appreciation, and the history of movies and performance studies.

Spring 2022

Deaf Education and the Rise of English Melodrama

by Terry F. Robinson

in Essays in Romanticism


This essay links the prevalence of nonverbal characters in English melodrama to eighteenth-century deaf education and Enlightenment linguistic anthropology. It reveals how Thomas Holcroft’s Deaf and Dumb (1801) and A Tale of Mystery (1802) draw upon the instructional practices of the Abbé de l’Épée, the founder of the first free school for the deaf; upon the origin of language debate; and upon the idea that gestural communication had the power to resolve linguistic conflict. Analyzing these associations advances insight into the rise of English melodrama, complicates notions of its inherent conservatism, and suggests that nonverbal signs, as they were practiced by deaf people and performed by actors on stage, provided one of Romanticism’s most salient points of imagined access to expressive truth—a truth Holcroft believed to be key to social and political reform

Intersectionality in Contemporary Melodrama: Normal People (McDonald/Abrahamson, 2020) and Kissing Candice (McArdle, 2018)

by Zélie Asava

in Austerity and Irish Women’s Writing and Culture, 1980–2020


This chapter explores contemporary screen productions written, directed and led by women, which interrogate questions of race, gender, class and sexuality, probing the socio-political impact of austerity on personal relationships. TV series Normal People (2020) and independent film Kissing Candice (2018) both foreground young, female and minority ethnic characters in their examination of formative experiences, structural inequalities and social membership. While each production reinforces heteronormativity and colourism through a focus on straight, white protagonists and their mixed-race lovers, they also reconceptualise constructions of Irishness, producing a multiracial snapshot of the nation. Utilising melodrama’s potential for exposing the precaritisation produced by neoliberal systems, Normal People and Kissing Candice examine how individual lives are imbricated within systems of power as well as the channels of resistance open to the minoritised individual. Through their protagonists failure to overcome or reform systemic barriers, these narratives offer a critique of the social order and a provocation to reimagine it, refusing the order of narrative closure by allowing more structurally emancipatory semiotics to escape the boundaries of the frame.

‘Damn all White Men and Down with Labor’: Race and Genre in Wilkie Collins & Charles Fechter’s Black and White

by Joshua Gooch

in Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film


This essay examines Wilkie Collins’s theatrical collaborations with actor-stage manager Charles Albert Fechter from 1867 to 1869, paying particular attention to the ways in which Fechter and Collins focused on questions of race and empire. By historicising their 1869 play Black and White in light of the Morant Bay uprising and its discursive appearances in Britain, the essay argues that Collins and Fechter aimed to reinvent the race melodrama using the model of the imperial melodrama. The failure of this ambivalent play, which presents a critique of racial domination for its all-but-white protagonist alongside racist minstrelsy comedy, affected Collins’s subsequent presentation of racialised characters in his work.

Orientalism, deterritorialization and the universe of refugees in the Brazilian Telenovela: The Case of Orphans of a Nation

by Andreza Patricia Almeida, dos Santos, Lucas Martins Néia

in Border Crossings and Mobilities on Screen


This chapter investigates the representation of people with refugee status promoted by Orphans of a Nation ( Órfãos da Terra, Globo, 2019), a Brazilian telenovela based on the story of a Syrian family seeking to settle in Brazil after fleeing from war in their homeland. Drawing on a theoretical discussion on place, culture and identity, the chapter argues that globalisation and the consequent formation of transnational markets expanded the experiences of locality, as the territory of both production and circulation of audio-visual meaning. These reconfigurations are visible in the narratives of contemporary Brazilian telenovelas, which invest in disseminating more hybrid cultural identities as well as in a diversity-based national appeal without overlooking their melodramatic core. Following a review of how the Orient is represented in Brazil-made TV fiction, Santos and Néia demonstrate that, in combining fiction and reality, Orphans of a Nation puts forth less-dichotomous stances on the relation between “us” (Western and Brazilian) and “others” (Eastern and refugees) in spite of resorting to a migration imaginary that has already been consolidated by the media.

Beyond Melodrama: A Jungian Reevaluation of Steinbeck’s East of Eden

by: Carter Davis Johnson

in Steinbeck Review


East of Eden is often criticized as overly symbolic and melodramatic. However, such characterizations overlook Steinbeck’s latent innovations in characterization. Rather than developing stiff allegorical figures, Steinbeck makes creative use of Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes, forming personalities that manifest psychological potentialities and transformations. In this essay, I trace the manifestations of Jungian theory across several characters in East of Eden, contrasting Steinbeck’s use of Jungian archetypes with traditional literary archetypes. Additionally, I outline how this artistic feature also displays Steinbeck’s opposition to the exclusivity of Freudian theory. If the characters and plot are viewed in the entirety of their complex Jungian influences and careful criticism of Freud, the novel is reinvigorated with creative energy that surpasses melodrama.

Winter 2022

Performing Work: Maids, Melodrama, and Imitation of Life as Film Noir

by Gwen Bergner

in Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society


In this article I argue that Douglas Sirk’s maternal melodrama, Imitation of Life (1959), advances an ideology whereby Black women are equated with and consigned to domestic labor. The film features two mother-daughter pairs, one Black and one white. The Black mother, Annie, works as a maid for the white mother. Annie’s light-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane, passes as white to avoid following her mother’s condition. But Annie’s death at the film’s end seems to bring a contrite Sarah Jane back to her subservient place in the white family. I consider Imitation in relation to nineteenth-century traditions of racial melodrama and current theories of Black materialism to trace how US labor practices worked with discursive systems such as the movies to make the “Black maid” ubiquitous and the modifier unnecessary. Moreover, the structural inequality that relegates Black women to service requires them to act as if they are free agents within a rigged system: that is, to perform an imitation of life. However, the Black characters seize agency from a scopic economy of pleasure founded on Black women’s embodied pain and labor. The emotional power of Annie’s funeral, heightened by Mahalia Jackson’s performance as choir soloist, appropriates melodramatic sentimentality and subverts Sirk’s intended irony to convey Annie’s value on a different scale. Sarah Jane’s protest through passing registers despite her capitulation after Annie’s death because Sirk’s technique for criminalizing her backfires. The film weaves elements of noir, including striptease, into the visual register to construct her as a dangerous femme fatale. But Sarah Jane inverts the narrative’s attempt to strip away her whiteness by making Black servitude the costume, not the essence. Thus, she destabilizes the racial binaries asserted by the tragic mulatta conventions. By theorizing Black agency in scripted performance, revealing Imitation’s hybrid genre of melodrama noir, and reconsidering representations of Black women’s labor, this essay contributes to work in Black materialism and Black feminist performance studies.

Colorblind Melodrama: Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls and the Absorption of Black Feminism

by Allison Rose Reed


Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (1975) has become a site of struggle over the reading and redefinition of racism since its original performance and publication in the 1970s. This article situates Tyler Perry’s adaptation of this Black feminist classic within neoliberal multiculturalism’s circuits of value. While Shange’s pairing of two competing registers—the hopelessness of suicide and hopefulness of the rainbow—underlines the text’s complex theorization of collective witnessing, Perry’s For Colored Girls (2010) reduces the rainbow to an empty multicultural symbol. Perry’s controversial cinematic adaptation can be understood as part of the neoliberal incorporation and sanitization of Black feminism. The film’s new narrative arc seemingly offers a righteous critique of the politics of respectability, but does so in order to discipline normatively successful Black women, and overall largely abandons Shange’s vision. Turning up the original’s drama and watering down its social impact, Perry’s Hollywoodization of Shange’s choreopoem capitalizes on the injury, not agency, of Black women, while decontextualizing traumas from the structural conditions that perpetuate them. Moreover, Perry’s rainbow expels queerness from its vision of solidarity and cohesiveness. The film indicates a broader cultural investment in centering diverse bodies while emptying out the Black radical epistemologies such representations make possible. The absorption of Black feminism is enabled by “colorblind melodrama,” or the aesthetics of an official antiracism that offers up narratives of normative exceptionality and spectacularized disposability in order to reaffirm the differential valuation of human life under neoliberal multiculturalism.

Fall 2020

Melodrama Interrupted: Kawashima Yūzō’s Interventions in Genre and Gender

By: Earl Jackson

Kawashima Yūzō(1918-63) directed 51films between 1944 and 1963. Although he began as a “program director” for Shochiku Studios, his subsequent films for Nikkatsu, Toho, and Daiei are among the most innovative and at times daring in popular cinema of those years. Although highly regarded for his complex comedies, Kawashima’s melodramas are not only hallmarks of eloquent filmmaking, but at times venues for formal experimentation. This essay will consider four instances in which the formal experimentation constitutes interventionsin the genre itself, especially in terms of the relation of melodrama to gender.

O’Neill and Camille: Domestic Drama In“The Web” and “Recklessness”

by Thomas F. Connelly


At the start of his career Eugene O’Neill aspired to be a popular playwright. This is at odds with the conventional assessment of O’Neill’s ambitions. Dramas that take their inspiration from popular modes and from cultural nodes outside the canonical texts of playwrights’’ “major “periods are neglected. These earliest plays drawing on popular melodrama and relying on explicitly commercial theatrical inspiration do not fit the established model of O’Neill who insisted he wanted ‘to be an artist” or nothing. “Recklessness” could not find a theatrical production, but was produced as a film. “The Web” draws on popular conventions of “working girl” melodramas.The plays also draw heavily on the influence of adaptations of Dumas’ Camille, which had been a favorite for decades. The generic “domestic drama” in early 20 th century theatre has been limited to conventional households.  These plays offer a somewhat different view. O’Neill is known to have been influenced by Ibsen and Strindberg in his later works, but these plays reveal these influences as present from the start. Finally, they demonstrate that O’Neill had family relationships that had nothing to do with the allegedly autobiography in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. O’Neill intended “Recklessness” as a possible vehicle for his father.O’Neill must be placed firmly in the context of late 19 th and early 20 th century theatre. To continue to regard him as sui generis , hobbles our understanding of American theatre and O’Neill’s genius.

Anne Boleyn on the Nineteenth-Century Stage

by Stephanie Russo


The Victorian theatre was the mass entertainment of its day, and Anne Boleyn’s story was a popular subject, appearing in forms from the melodrama to the burlesque. The Anne of many of these plays is virtuous and faultless, the perfect heroine of Victorian melodrama. The nineteenth century also saw a return to an emphasis on religion, with Henry Hart Milman’s Anne Boleyn: A Dramatic Poem presenting Anne as a saintly Protestant martyr. However, others, such as George Boker’s Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy, represent a far more active and intelligent, if flawed, Anne. Anna Dickinson’s play A Crown of Thorns would also be the first text to posit that Cromwell was always hostile to Anne due to his loyalty to Cardinal Wolsey, anticipating Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

Class injuries and popular cinema in Turkey: arabesk cries

by Özgür Avcı
Arabesk is a trademark of popular culture in Turkey. At its foundation lie injuries of class, emotional wounds that society inflicts on people’s sense of dignity and freedom. Literature on arabesk has long underemphasized this salient fact. A syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis of the narrative structure in thirty melodramas shows that the agony around which arabesk stories unfolds is rooted in class conflict. This study also reveals remarkable parallels between depictions of love in arabesk films from decades ago and the lower classes’ imagination of love today. Thereby, it provides confirmation of the importance of assessing the works of popular culture accurately if we are to better understand the psyche of their target audience in Turkey (and elsewhere in the capitalist world), which is primarily the subaltern segment of society.

The Two Orphans/Orphans of the Storm: Melodrama Stage and Screen

by David Mayer
The origins of D. W. Griffith’s 1921/22 film Orphans of the Storm can be traced through a popular French melodrama Les Deux Orphelines (1874), its performance in translation on the British and American stage, and several earlier film versions. This article charts the ways in which the melodrama was changed and adapted over time and demonstrates Griffith’s indebtedness to nineteenth-century theatrical practices

MELODRAMA OF MIGRATION: Suffering, Performance, and Stardom in Ricardo Lee’s DH: Domestic Helper

by Oscar Tantoco Serquiña Jr

This essay revisits DH: Domestic Helper, a 1992 play from the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) that explores how Philippine labor out-migration ensnares female migrant subjects in states of perennial leave-takings and tentative resettlements abroad. The discussion comprehends the suffering that overseas Filipina workers experience, as well as the agency that they demonstrate through performance in everyday life outside their source country. This essay concludes with an inter-subjective analysis of the very star and ultimate persuasion of PETA’s phenomenal theater production, Nora Aunor, the melodramatic mode of theater making, and the topic of labor out-migration. By putting these issues side by side, this essay discursively intertwines stardom, theater, the domestic, and the diasporic.

Winter 2020 Books/Chapters

in Philosophical Issues in Indian Cinema: Approximate Terms and Concepts
by MK Raghavendra
The aspect of Indian popular cinema to have been studied most extensively by scholars is perhaps its melodrama, and the strategy is usually to regard it in the light of Western studies of the notion. The major difficulty with the strategy is that the term ‘melodrama’ largely loses its significance when applied to Indian popular cinema (at least until the 1990s) because there is little that cannot be described as ‘melodramatic’. While Western texts have something to offer instead of melodrama (realism, for instance) and the term is a useful form of identification, it is necessary to identify individual films that are ‘not melodrama’ before the term can be usefully applied.

Summer 2020

Masks and Melodramas: Theatrical Influences on Film Adaptations of Macbeth

by Anne Hung


This paper presents a comparative analysis of two film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606)—Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015). Specifically, I explore the influence of Japanese Noh theatre in Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and the influence of Victorian melodrama in Kurzel’s Macbeth. In doing so, I aim to present Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a case study of how film adaptations can give new meaning to their source texts by putting them in dialogue with other theatrical traditions.

The Spy Who Ought to Love Me: Se, jie and the Melodrama of Shame Nationalism
by Jason G. Coe

This article examines manifestations of “shame nationalism”—a learned emotional script prevalent in discourses of modern Chinese national identity—in Se, jie (Lust, Caution; Ang Lee, 2007) and its reception. The essay argues that this affectively charged response to perceived national humiliation functions as a form of communal identification that performs and interprets shame as a signal of moral virtue and national devotion. Analyzing performances of shame and humiliation in the film, the article demonstrates how the emotional script for shame nationalism employs the melodramatic mode for its narrativization and dissemination.