Week Two: Development of my Honours Research Question

This week I’ve been working on refining my research area by watching a lot  ( A LOT) of documentaries and reading heaps of reference material. Here are some of my ideas in week two:

Refinement of my research question:

How can the issues surrounding the exploitative practice of mail-order brides be re-contextualized by using a combination of the male perspective and hybrid animation/live action filmmaking processes to create a documentary film?

How can a documentary about mail-order brides written from the male perspective integrate hybrid animation/ live action visual style to expose Australian society as complicit partners in this exploitative practice?

Key areas of focus:

The Male Perspective

Current media portrayal of mail-order brides are usually approached from a victimized female perspective. Portrayal from a female point of view easily gains sympathy from its female audience yet it is not this demographic who are the consumers of the mail order bride trade. Furthermore, the traditional portrayal of Australian male as aggressive, uneducated chauvinists driving this trade sets up a culture of blame which does not inspire action or change amongst the core demographic.

Regardless of whether the aggressive chauvinist archetype is the norm amongst men who participate in this exploitative practice, by researching and presenting the experiences of a range of mixed cultural couples, I will identify positive behaviors and outcomes to model future policies and attitudes of Australian society towards this contentious issue.

Animation in live-action documentary

There is a trend to use animation in hybrid live-action/ animated documentaries to portray an ‘other worldliness’. This may be a fantasy landscape such as Jessica Wu’s ‘In the realms of the unreal’ or as a dysfunctional character that flits between realities in ‘Ryan’ and ‘Grasshopper’.

I will experiment with the aesthetic style to incorporate animated elements in the depiction of the bride. The mail order bride has been described as many things: a sexpot, domestic goddess, queue jumper, social climber and prostitute amongst other stereotypes. To different factions within Australian society, she is an object of derision, pity, predation or anger. The idea that the animated bride is an object which is seen throughout the documentary and can shape-shift to suit the opinions of the interviewees is a constant commentary of the failure to realistically represent this marginalized group.

Updating/ re-contextualising the mail-order bride in contemporary Australian society

In his thesis ‘The representation of Filipino women in Australian film: The case of Mail-order bride’, Larry Marshall argued that the film introduced the characters John and Ruth, two school teachers on rural rotation so that the audience could have a safe vantage point as urban middle class Australians blaming the bride’s mistreatment on the country yokels.

Research needs to be updated to capture the views of a broader cross section of Australian society.

Subjects I’d like to interview include:

Policy makers

Advocacy groups

White Australian males

White Australian females

Asian Australian males and females – raises the issue of cultural pride?

Business owners of online matchmaking websites – raises the issue of ethical responsibility?

In a way, this documentary is less about the experience of the mail order bride and more about how the mail order bride as an object exposes Australian society as complicit partners in an exploitative practice that is anti-feminist, classist and racist.