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Resistance and reinvention: Representations of the belly dancing body in Raja Amari’s Satin rouge/Red Satin (2002)

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During the French colonial era, belly dancers were defined in terms of their somatic alterity and their bodies were constructed as sites of degradation, lasciviousness, exoticisation and eroticisation. Though belly dancers remain key signifiers of eastern exoticism in both eastern and western societies today, a number of feminist critics and practitioners have (re)claimed the belly dancing body as a space of agency and empowerment (Keft-Kennedy 2005; Moe 2008). This paper argues that Raja Amari’s film, Satin rouge/Red Satin (2002b), contributes to such debates through its unusual focus on a Tunisian housewife and mother’s (sexual) liberation through belly dancing and her body. Through close analyses of key sequences in the film, I argue that Amari (re)conceptualises the belly dancing body as the primary means by which her protagonist is able to resist the restrictive roles of mother, housewife and widow imposed upon her by dominant Tunisian society. Reading the film alongside Reason and Reynolds’ (2012) work on ‘kinesthetic empathy’, I illustrate how Amari draws the spectator into an empathic kinesthetic relationship with her heroine that undermines the distance necessary for visual objectification and opens up new, more ethical ways of representing the belly dancing body. This paper concludes that Amari’s film resists dominant orientalist images of Maghrebi femininity and reinvents the belly dancing body as a symbol of (female) agency and power.
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Keywords: Orientalism; Tunisia; belly dance; femininity; kinesthetic empathy; objectification

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Chester

Publication date: March 1, 2016

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  • The Journal of African Cinemas will explore the interactions of visual and verbal narratives in African film. It recognizes the shifting paradigms that have defined and continue to define African cinemas. Identity and perception are interrogated in relation to their positions within diverse African film languages. The editors are seeking papers that expound on the identity or identities of Africa and its peoples represented in film.
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