Cultural framing

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Case Study

Danto analyzes the “cultural framing” of Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s Academy Award-winning documentary Born into brothels: Calcutta’s red light kids (2004). She critiques how the filmmakers approach the subjects’ beliefs and practices through their own cultural lens—one that matches their Western target audience—rather than being open to new frames. Like Danto, others have also pointed out that the filmmakers ignore the activism and education work already being done by the sex workers in Sonagachi. Thus, the film’s framing reiterates stereotypes of oppressed minority women and children being rescued by white women. On the other hand, Briski did commit to longer-term involvement with the subjects who helped her make the film.

Read the following reviews and news stories following up with the children featured in Born in Brothels:
Scott, A. O. (2004, December 8). Nurturing the talents of children in Calcutta. The New York Times.
Michel, F. (2005, July–August). “Born into brothels” controversy. Against the Current.
Carpentier, M. (2009, February 25). No happy Hollywood endings for Born into brothels star. Jezebel.
Roston, T. (2010, March 29). Doc Soup: What happened to... Avijit from “Born into brothels.” POV’s Documentary Blog.
A photo essay of portraits of some of the sex workers in Sonagachi:
Gillespie, T. & Drury, F. (2015, August 7). Inside Asia’s largest red light district. Daily Mail Online.
Amnesty International, USA has developed a companion curriculum for the documentary with an introduction by Briski.
Kids with Cameras, the foundation started by Briski, was handed over to Heads First Foundation which runs Hope House.

  1. What are the differences in the conceptual frames Scott and Michel use to review the documentary?

  2. What do the articles following up on the subjects suggest about the impact of the documentary on their lives?

  3. What is the conceptual frame used in the photo essay from Daily Mail Online?

  4. Does the curriculum developed by Amnesty International, USA repeat or challenge the cultural framing used by the filmmakers?

© 2017 Taylor & Francis

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