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O is for Orientalism: the dynamics of the sexual tourist gaze in Laurent Cantet’s Vers le sud/Heading South (2005)

Hammond, Charlotte and McGregor, Andrew 2021. O is for Orientalism: the dynamics of the sexual tourist gaze in Laurent Cantet’s Vers le sud/Heading South (2005). Contemporary French Civilization 46 , pp. 27-47. 10.3828/cfc.2021.2

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This article explores the Orientalist dynamics of North/South sexual tourism in Laurent Cantet’s Vers le sud/Heading South (2005). The narrative of the film is structured around the self-interested motivations of three white middle-aged bourgeois Western women who travel from North America to Haiti in the late 1970s in order to explore their sexuality in what they perceive as an island paradise, effectively exiling themselves from the codified social behaviour expected of them in their homeland. The women avail themselves of the pleasures offered by young black Haitian men, often in exchange for money or goods, and fuel one-sided fantasies of romantic love with their local hosts, seemingly oblivious to the Orientalist nature of such an imbalance of social and economic power. The article explores the historical context of the political repression and violence of late-1970s Haiti under the Duvalier regime, as well as the manifestations of spatial politics represented in the film. In its Haitian setting, Vers le sud sheds light on a relatively unfamiliar cultural and social milieu for the Western/Northern audience, with the director keenly aware of the exoticism of the subject matter and the impossibility of the film to maintain its neutrality in a problematic engagement with the Orient/South. The article argues that the privileged position of the film’s protagonists is matched not only by Cantet’s directorial gaze, but also by the intellectual detachment of postcolonial scholars such as the article’s authors, who acknowledge that their engagement with the subject matter risks re-enacting the Orientalist dynamics they seek to expose.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Modern Languages
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
ISSN: 0147-9156
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 3 March 2021
Date of Acceptance: 6 May 2020
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2021 01:30

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