Orientalism and Film

According to Edward Said, Orientalism is a style or thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Occident’, meaning the East and West (Said, 2001, p.1992). It is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the US (AANM, 2011). However, the term ‘Orient’ has garnered a more widespread understanding where we are not just referring to the Arabian culture specifically, but rather the Orient as a western term for the Far East (China, India, Japan), the Near East (Greece, Balkans) and the Middle East (Persian Gulf, Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Israel, Afghanistan).

The notion of Orientalism implies viewing these cultures as exotic, inferior and a little uncouth compared to the Western world, which is why there has been the long-standing fiction that the east and the west are two completely separate entities that represent two different ideals. Orientalism has long existed dating back to the European Enlightenment period and the Colonization of Arabia. The Arab world was and still is often painted as an exotic and mysterious place of sand, harems and belly dancers (AANM, 2011). It is this ideology of the eastern world that the western world has essentially perpetuated, that has permeated into our society and way of thinking.

Many of us are likely to associate these ideas with these cultures, ie. the Disney movie ‘Aladdin’ in which the western stereotypes of the Arabian culture are significantly highlighted. However like Said explains, the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies and myths (Said, 2001, p.1992). Orientalism is recognized as more of a process whereby the west has consciously orientalized the orient in such a way that the heterogeneity of these countries are placed into this western created category ‘oriental’ thus characterizing their exotic difference and inferiority to the west, which has permitted westerns to make generalizations and strategically place all cultures into a monolithic racialising fantasy (Teo, 2013, p.2).

One film in particular in which Orientalism is certainly not absent is the Blockbuster Hollywood film ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. The story loosely follows an American woman’s quest to find herself and happiness by venturing to Italy, India and Bali. It is from the beginning of the film that viewers are instantly hit with the stereotypes the movie foreshadows about finding balance and reconnecting with spirituality that can only be achieved in the east. From here we see the woman traveling to India to visit a guru’s ashram and a medicine/meditation man in Bali.

(‘Eat, Pray, Love’ screen caps)

What the film does is fail to provide the audience with new knowledge about these cultures, instead relying on the preexisting stereotypes. This film and many other orientalist films are not properly representing the East and instead falling back on the existing notion of the East as a place of timeless, otherworldly and incomprehensible, waiting to be discovered by Westerners. So while Orientalism is essentially a created theory of dominance and nothing more than a fake fantasy that extends to films, we need to be able to get beyond the point where the East is no longer subject to the West’s exploitation of pre-existing ideas.


 Arab American National Museum (AANM), 2011, ‘What is Orientalism’, Arab American National Museum, viewed 4th April 2016, http://www.arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism

Mask, M, 2010, ‘Eat, Pray, Love, Leave: Orientalism Still Big Onscreen, National Public Radio, viewed 4th April 2016, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129254808

Said, E, 2001, ‘From Orientalism’, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, W.W. Norton, New York, pp. 1991-1993.

Teo, H, 2013, ‘Orientalism: An Overview’, Australian Humanities Review, 54, pp.1-20, viewed 5th April 2016, http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-May-2013/teo.html

OpenStreetMap = the Wikipedia of Maps

Maps are necessary; they essentially represent the world in a more comprehensible way. Mapping has always had a preeminent means of recording and communicating information about location and spatial characteristics of the natural world, society and culture (Lambert, Ysebaert & Zanin, 2013). However, for most people, the use of maps mostly extends to navigation and google maps as the answer. The problem with this is that when one company takes monopoly over one industry, they take monopoly over the information you’re given and shape it (Wroclawski, 2014).

Openstreetmap is one example of a relatively new mapping program launched in 2004 that places emphasis on local knowledge in generating data from roads and trails to cafes and slums across the globe and is one that is steadily growing, having registered half a million members by 2011 (Neis & Zipf, 2012). The platform uses aerial imagery, GPS devices, and low-tech field maps and is built and driven by a community of mappers (Openstreetmap, 2016). For many Openstreetmap may be foreign because of the domination of google maps that is programed onto almost every technological device, however, it is openstreetmaps that offers something far more inclusive.

The benefit of Openstreetmap lies in its ability to show what google maps doesn’t. Because it is a free, editable map, viewers are given access to disaster prone areas, rural landscapes and communities that have been previously excluded from most mapping software largely because of lack of knowledge or difficulty in GPS access. Openstreetmaps has been particularly praised for its ability to show areas such as slums and disaster hit that have required rescue teams and food and supply access. One particular example was ‘Project Haiti’, which highlighted the significance of Openstreetmaps after the 2010 earthquake. Within 48 hours, Openstreetmaps had provided high resolution images of the area post earthquake, and after the first month 600 people had contributed information to Openstreetmap. Openstreetmap became the default map for rescue teams and humanitarian mapping non-government organizations, including the United Nations (HOT, 2011).

Below is a sequence of maps that demonstrates the work of the contributors behind Openstreetmaps and the effect in which they had on Haiti and the global aid effort.


OSM at the time of the earthquake


OSM after a couple of days


OSM after some months

Openstreetmaps interest to not only promote equity through showing even the smallest scale locations but also in its ability to maintain privacy makes it unmatched. While Google is spending $1 billion annually on maintaining maps, the multi billion-dollar industry also sells much of its data back to third parties (Sawers, 2014). Openstreetmaps however, being a non-for-profit, free service that is essentially helping with the promotion from small businesses to communities, doesn’t reveal any personal information such as current location and also gives the data earned back to the community for the benefit of other products and services (Sawers, 2014).

All in all, there is no doubt that Openstreetmap has become the more equitable choice of maps in properly representing communities, it is one that prides itself on respecting people, communities and privacy.


Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team (HOT), 2011, ‘Haiti’, Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team (HOT), viewed 2 April 2016, https://hotosm.org/projects/haiti-2

Lambert, N, Ysebaert, R & Zanin, C, 2013, ‘Mapping Guide- Cartography in ESPON’, ESPON 2013 Database, viewed 2 April 2016, https://www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/ToolsandMaps/MappingGuide/MAPPING_GUIDE_EXTERNAL.pdf

Neis, P, Zipf, A, 2012, ‘Analyzing the contributor Activity of a Volunteered Geogrpahic Information Project- The Case of Openstretmap’, International Journal of Geo-Information (ISPRS), vol.1, no.2, p.146, viewed 2 April 2016, http://www.mdpi.com/2220-9964/1/2/146/htm

Openstreetmap, 2016, ‘About Openstreetmaps’, Openstreetmap, viewed 2 April 2016, http://api06.dev.openstreetmap.org/about

Sawers, P, 2014, ‘The rise of Openstreetmap: a quest to conquer Google’s mapping empire’, The Next Web, viewed 2 April 2016, http://thenextweb.com/insider/2014/02/28/openstreetmap/#gref

Wroclawski, S, 2014, ‘Why the World Needs Openstreetmap’, Emacsen.net, viewed 2 April 2016, http://blog.emacsen.net/blog/2014/01/04/why-the-world-needs-openstreetmap/