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Sonic Labor: Female Cine-workers and the First Talkies in Cairo and Bombay

March 4 @ 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm

Talk with Claire Cooley, CHAT Postdoctoral Fellow

About the Talk:

In Cairo and Bombay in the late 1920s, efforts to develop the infrastructure needed to make films with synchronized sound dovetailed with anti-colonial boycotts, strikes, and support of indigenous industries. As resistance to British rule pulsated in and between these colonial capitals, cinema emerged as an important focal point of the nexus of industrial nationalism and economic independence. In this context, female cine-workers and their voices became enmeshed in filmmakers’ efforts to frame cinema as a respectable and serious medium worthy of the state support and investment needed for both industrialization and sound.

In this lecture, Cooley argues that actresses and other female cine-workers involved in the making of the first talkies in Cairo and Bombay were obliged to perform a novel type of film labor — sonic labor. Sonic labor helped to ensure that female cine-workers aligned with gendered expectations of nation, respectability, professionalism, and femininity held by audiences, film stakeholders and other cine-workers. For an actress in front of the camera and microphone, her labor was sonic in the sense that she had to speak and/or sing in a particular way. A female cine-worker who did not work in front of the camera also performed sonic labor in the sense that the inclusion of sound and its accompanying political and industrial dynamics influenced expectations of, and opportunities available to, her. Sonic labor would become crucial means through which an actress and female cine-worker could impart respectability to a medium that was considered crucial to national aspirations.


Register online for a Zoom link.


March 4
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm
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Center for the Humanities at Tufts