The Construction of ‘Singapore’ In Singapore Cinema


“The fact that we have this multiracial mix is problematic for our cinema…” (David Lee, Vice Chairman, Singapore Film Society). Supported by excerpts from my documentary on the same topic, this paper will explore how race and language are addressed in Singapore through the incorporation of ‘Multiracialism’ and how filmmakers negotiate these issues in their films in constructing the Singapore identity on screen. Singapore is a heterogeneous society with various ethnic groups. This cultural mix and the constant migration of people make the idea of a unified Singapore identity very challenging. Through promoting ‘Multiracialism’, the Government has tried to construct this unified identity, while maintaining the individual racial and linguistic boundaries of each official racial group. This in itself is at odds with each other and is an ongoing challenge to the present day. One way the Government has maintained the distinctness of each racial group is through implementing various language policies: first in 1966, through promoting bilingualism and later in 1979, through the ‘Speak Mandarin’ campaign to promote Mandarin. These policies have widespread implications and outcomes which have both united and divided the country. The complexity of race and language issues in Singapore has created a cinema with fragmented cultural identity, one that is racially and linguistically divided. While this presents a culturally inauthentic representation of Singapore on screen, a multiracial and multilingual representation that is more reflective of reality is also problematic for both cultural and economic reasons.

Author Information
Jeanine Lim, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Paper Information
Conference: CITY2017
Stream: Media, Film and Communication Studies

This paper is part of the CITY2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon