The Celluloid Looking Glass: Changing Perspectives of Malaya Through Film

Malaya has long been an enigma to the West.

Tales of the peninsula—famously dubbed the Golden Chersonese[1] by Greco-Roman geographer Ptolemy—once set Western imagination aflame with promises of abundant treasure, ancient temples and wild cannibal warriors. By the advent of the 16th century, due to an increase in the number of European travellers, a wildly fantastical image of Malaya grew, fanned by orientalism, and propelled by gross exaggeration in early travel books and engravings. It was therefore unsurprising that 17th-century Dutch travel writer Johan Nieuhof (considered a credible source on the Far East by his contemporaries) wrote of a fanciful and mythical strain of the Malay race in Malacca called the Kakerlakken, who looked like Europeans and were blind in the day but could see at night.[2]

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