Westernisation of foreign cultures in film

Nothing seems to show the effects of Westernisation more evidently than films. Adopting western elements and conventions in films set in the east is fast becoming a trend that caters not just to western audiences but changing tastes of modern society.


Take Disney’s Mulan: despite its generally positive review in the western world, it was a huge box office flop in China, much to the surprise of Disney. Part of this, as film enthusiasts explain, is due to its inaccuracy and “foreign” influence. Many felt that Mulan, with her more western features and habits, did not look or seem like the heroine they knew.

The main issue was the over-simplification of cultural beliefs: it failed to capture the underlying patriotism of the legend, whereas her Disneyesque disobedience undermines the social and cultural values that surround the original backdrop of the story.

The reason for westernisation is simple and clear: it all comes down to marketing.

By coating films with familiar glosses and placing them within a cultural context that its primary target viewers are accustomed to, the film’s entertainment value is boosted while the characters appear a lot more relatable. This is also owing to the fact that most people are hardwired to gain pleasure from experiencing the lives of others from a distance.

Unfortunately if the representation of a certain culture is not given due recognition or the respect it deserves in films, we are merely given a western perception of the east. Depending on how impressionable people can be, this could propagate social stigma and stereotypes.

In the 2000s, Bollywood saw a spike in the production of westernised films, following the global influence of American popular culture. The cause for concern seems to lie in the mentality that “it is foreign therefore it must be good”.

Some of the criticisms that have arisen include the composition of Hindi songs peppered with fragments of English lyrics (whether they make sense or not) and hybridised choreography that some people believe would lead to the “death” of Bollywood.

Traditionalists likewise interpreted the “MTV urbanite lifestyle” of the characters as a loss of identity and the depiction of sexuality as cultural controversy. Nonetheless, just as this serves to attract a wider international audience, it also feeds the demands of changing demographics.

Youths often perceive westernisation as being associated with modernisation, although whether this is true remains a subject of debate within many different cultures. In India, the developments of the film industry reflect the progress of a society’s changing values.

Whether we believe westernisation to be a step forward or a threat to cultural uniqueness, we cannot deny that it is a global phenomenon that has already been set into motion and cannot be stopped. For films to be successfully marketed in the west, it is assumed that the cultures they present must not be too different to our own. Audiences must understand that whatever appears on the screen is not necessarily a true representation of reality, and certainly not indicative of a culture as a whole.


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December 2021
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