Summer 2022 Articles

Divine Smells: Odorama, Melodrama, and the Body in John Waters’ Polyester

by Ido Rosen


The comedy Polyester (John Waters, 1981) introduced a new cinematic experience. The screenings were accompanied by the Odorama technique in the form of a ‘scratch and sniff’ card that was handed to viewers in the movie theater. There has yet to be a serious examination of Odorama, which is usually dismissed as nothing more than a gag. This essay shows that Odorama has sophisticated subversive qualities. It confirms scholars’ and critics’ view that Polyester was a turning point in the career of Waters, one of the most important queer filmmakers of all times. The film is frequently seen as his transition from the realm of anarchistic midnight movies to mainstream cinema. This shift was disappointing to many fans, some of whom even considered it betrayal. By contrast, it is argued here that although the film was made by a distinguished auteur, it is also a parody of classic Hollywood melodramas, and playfully adopts the genre’s conventions. Unlike Waters’ previous films, in Polyester the critical ideas are all beneath the surface. It criticizes social norms, middle class values, hypocritical and fraudulent images, ‘conventional’ families, and gender dichotomies in society and their representations in the cinema. However, this is disguised in a borrowed aesthetic, and expressed through a cunning tactic which some audiences and critics missed entirely.

Dreams, Visions and the African Melodrama

A Commentary on the Interface between Cinematography and Pentecostal Epistemology

by Anna Droll

In PentecoStudies


Pentecostal films in Africa have gained the attention of humanitarians concerned with the societal effects of witchcraft preoccupation. As well, they are of interest to anthropologists examining Spirit movements. Humanitarians address the ethical problem perceived in the Pentecostal melodrama and its narratives, while anthropologists and proponents of religious studies focus on the social and technological aspects of Pentecostal filmmaking and the discourses produced by these films within the religious landscape. This essay brings another avenue of exploration. It supplements the anthropological approach by exploring the Pentecostal narratives found at the interface of cinematography and Pentecostal epistemology for their theological substance. It is argued here that the Pentecostal melodrama is not only unique for how it serves as an epistemological technique for “piercing the veil” to expose the true state of things. It is also unique for how its narratives, themselves, are often products of a similar piercing, that is, of the dream or vision experience which visioners experience as the phenomenon of piercing the veil beyond the mundane to the noumenal. Referencing data drawn from recent dream research, this article explores the interpretive processes inherent to Pentecostal mediation of the seen and unseen, the role of prayer in that process and the suggestion that cinematography embodies the liturgical expression of a distinct Pentecostal epistemology.

Between a Pastoral and Melodrama: Frances Burney and the Romantic Stage

by Fran Saggini
This research is part of the Horizon 2020 project called “Opening Romanticism: Reimagining Romantic Drama for New Audiences”(OpeRaNew) ID 892230 within the ERC programme Horizon 2020 MSCA-IF-2019. The PI is Francesca Saggini. See CORDIS website at


It is well known that the neglect of the dramatic works composed by Frances Burney (1752-1840) was largely caused by the unwavering opposition put up by her father, the famed musicologist Charles Burney, who shared the strong anti-theatrical prejudice that characterized the century as a whole. Paradoxically, this critical disregard has partly continued even after the watershed publication of Burney’s Complete Plays (Sabor ed.) in 1995. Although a number of interesting contributions have since reformulated Burney scholarship in terms of comedy (discussing, for instance, the comic elements in Evelina, or the genteel comedies The Witlings and A Busy Day), the tragic component of Burney’s opus remains one of the last frontiers of enquiry. My talk, “Between a Pastoral and Melodrama: Frances Burney and the Romantic Stage”, offers a new dimension to the appraisal of Burney’s dramaturgy by focusing on ‘Hubert De Vere, a Pastoral Tragedy,’ written during Burney’s years at George III’s court (1786-1794). Despite the interest shown by John Philip Kemble, the greatest tragic actor of the age and the manager of Drury Lane Theatre, Hubert De Vere never reached the stage or, more surprisingly, the printed page, preordaining its subsequent critical eclipse.

Inventing the American City: Dion Boucicault, John Brougham, and Transatlantic Urban Melodrama

by Nicholas Daly

in Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film


Two Dublin-born playwrights, Dion Boucicault and John Brougham (9 May 1810–7 June 1880), shadowed each other through the world of nineteenth-century theatre. In recent years, critical attention has often focused on their representations of racial and national identities, with Boucicault’s plantation drama, The Octoroon, and Brougham’s frontier parodies deservedly attracting attention. However, in this essay I want to spotlight their contribution to the local drama, and in particular their staging of urban America within the wider transatlantic context of staging the nineteenth-century city, in such plays as The Poor of New York (1857) and The Lottery of Life (1868). The city as it appears in their work is a place of spectacle, shapeshifting, and sheer illicit fun.

‘Why is it Different with a Hare?’ Game-Law Melodrama on Stage and Screen in Colin Hazlewood’s Waiting for the Verdict

by Stephen Ridgwell

in Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film


Much of Colin Hazlewood’s prolific mid-Victorian output consisted of adaptations. A classic example of Hazlewood’s adaptational practice and an excellent case study in the restlessly intermedial nature of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century popular culture was his 1859 game-law melodrama Waiting for the Verdict. One of Hazlewood’s most successful plays, it was later adapted for the screen by the Edwardian filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon. Tracing his work across different media forms, this article further confirms Hazlewood as a highly skilled adaptor, while offering some viewable evidence of the creative links between theatre and early cinema. The article also suggests that what I term game-law melodrama represented a significant sub-genre variant to the broader one of domestic drama. Game-law melodramas such as Waiting for the Verdict offered picturesque entertainment for largely urban audiences, but they also provided pertinent social comment on a major concern of the day.

Fall 2022

By Matthew Bush

Other Americans traces the US imaginary of Latin America as a land of violence and sensuality. Employing melodrama and affect theory, Other Americans offers exemplary close readings of a wide range of media produced in and about Latin America. What emerges is a lucid conception of Latin American as a collection of negative affects picturing America’s displaced investment in lawlessness.

Summer 2022


Paul, Heike (editor)

Marak, Sarah (editor)

Gerund, Katharina (editor)

Henderson, Marius (editor)

This new go-to reference book for global melodrama assembles contributions by experts from a wide range of disciplines, including cultural studies, film and media studies, gender and queer studies, political science, and postcolonial studies. The melodramas covered in this volume range from early 20th century silent movies to contemporary films, from independent ›arthouse‹ productions to Hollywood blockbusters. The comprehensive overview of global melodramatic film in the Lexicon constitutes a valuable resource for scholars and practitioners of film, teachers, film critics, and anyone who is interested in the past and present of melodramatic film on a global scale. The Lexicon of Global Melodrama includes essays on All That Heaven Allows, Bombay, Casablanca, Die Büchse der Pandora, In the Mood for Love, Nosotros los Pobres, Terra Sonâmbula, and Tokyo Story.


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.