Envisioning Southeast Asia

LESSON 7: Southeast Asia, film, and empire

This lesson focuses on the portrayal of history, particularly the history of colonial empires, in films and movies and leads the students into a discussion of how local film industries in Southeast Asia contributed to the development of new national cultures and independence movements.

Subject History / Social Studies
Topic Southeast Asia, film, and empire
Key idea During the colonial period, colonial powers as well as nationalist movements used movies to deliver their respective political messages. Building up on global and local elements, movies played an important role in defining what constitutes the ‘nation’ and an idea of local culture.
Key concepts Colonial powers
Independence movements
Local culture and global cultures
Movie industry
Pop (popular) culture
Level Lower secondary
No. of periods / lessons 2 periods (1 period is approximately 50 minutes)
Facilities needed A/V equipment and Internet access to play the video clips (or hard copy with similar content)
Sources and handouts for distribution
Prerequisite knowledge Students should have some rudimentary familiarity with film, movies and ideas of culture.

Learning objectives
By the end of the lesson, the students will be able to:

  1. Understand the history of empires through
    an accessible topic: film and movies.
  2. Be able to identify key historical facts in the construction of empires, such as which empire governed which nation and the timeline of colonization.
  3. Appreciate the importance of films in
    disseminating political messages, including
    that of local film in creating new ‘national’
    cultures and  independence movements.
  1. Practise listening, watching, and note-taking skills.
  2. Put into practice online research, discussion
    and writing skills.
  3. Develop analytical and critical skills.
  1. Appreciate the debates about local versus
    global culture.
  2. Critically discuss the difference between
    the ‘cultural imperialism’ of Hollywood and the political imperialism of empires as represented by colonial film  production.
  3. Respect the efforts of Southeast Asians to
    adapt and localize international films.


Download the lesson plan for details on the talks and activities suggested below.

Period 1

1. Hook: Trailer of Indochine

Students watch a trailer of the French movie Indochine and reflect on the issue of colonialism.
Watch the trailer

2. Teacher talk: The history of film and empire

This lecture recap the development of the film industry in Southeast Asia, both as for entertainment and political purposes.

3. Group work: Analysis of a colonial movie

Students watch, analyze and discuss a short movie shot in West Indies (Indonesia) in 1912.
Watch the movie

4. Discussion

Students discuss what defines and characterizes colonial movies and their potential impact.

5. Sharing personal experiences

Students discuss several aspects of a movie they recently saw (technology, location, language) and compare them with the movie produced by J.C. Lamster.

6. Conclusion

The teachers concludes that fun and entertainment sectors play a role in spreading messages. Colonial authorities took film seriously as a way to represent local cultures, to define what constituted ‘progress’ and ‘modern life,’ and to control Southeast Asian nations.

7. Suggestions for home extension activity

Students deepen their reflection on recent movies as a homework.

Period 2

8. Teacher talk

This lecture briefly introduces local movie production in Southeast Asia during the colonial period.

9. Group work: Analysis of movie posters

In small groups, students analyze posters from locally-produced movies and identify local and Western elements.

10. Group work: Analysis of the nationalist film Indonesia Calling

Students watch extract from the movie Indonesia Calling. In small groups, they reflect on this movie with the support of a handout.
Watch the movie

11. Conclusion

The teacher highlight the key points of the lesson and discussion (use of movies as tools to support colonialism or nationalism movements, use of both global and local elements in past as well as contemporary movies)

12. Suggested home extension activities

  • Students create a blog to post their reflections online on contemporary Southeast Asian film.
  • Students write a news report/review on a contemporary Southeast Asian film, evaluating how much of the content/style/imagery comes from Hollywood film and how much is distinctly national in character.
  • Students create a poster for their own film that will both reflect local culture together with common themes from Hollywood cinema to appeal to popular