This essay discusses the Indonesian art-house film Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017) from a local perspective. Using the ‘oppositional gaze’ and an ‘oppositional reading’, it builds on Stuart Hall’s work on representation by deconstructing and reframing the narrative of the film Marlina and the film production itself. By taking an inter-textual approach, this essay argues that the representation of the island of Sumba, as well as the Sumbanese people in Marlina, are derived from Javanese colonial perceptions of Eastern Indonesia as ‘uncivilised’ and calls for the need for a more critical stance when receiving and discussing films that deal with ethnically diverse and minority-oriented content.
Keywords: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, Sumba, Indonesia, power/knowledge, de/coloniality, subjects, regime of truth, Javanese hegemony, representation, stereotyping
Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Indonesia’s official national motto means ‘Unity in Diversity’.  It aims to signify the unity of the more than 270 million Indonesian people  who consist of 1,340 different ethnicities, speak around 2,500 different languages, adhere to one of the six officially recognised religions,  and inhabit about 6,000 of the more than 17,000 islands that make the Indonesian archipelago – which, by spanning more than 1,900,000 square kilometres, is the largest in the world.  However, Indonesia’s political, economic and cultural axis is centred on the island of Java, where the nation’s capital Jakarta is located. As one of the five largest Indonesian islands, Java is home to almost 152 million people, or 56% of the population.  Around 40% of all Indonesians are ethnic Javanese, making up the largest ethnic group. 
During President Soeharto’s authoritarian New Order regime (1966–1998), discussing ethnicity was deemed a ‘political taboo’ as attention to – and acceptance of – its wide ethnic variety was seen as an effort that could threaten the nation’s integrity.  Under Soeharto, Indonesia was thoroughly centralised, with the areas outside Java regarded as inferior ‘regions’ as opposed to the island of Java, the superior ‘centre’ (a contradistinction that can simultaneously be seen as a continuation of the Dutch colonial administrative system).  Moreover, as Melani Budianta describes, Soeharto’s heavy Javanese expression had shaped the New Order regime’s culture in such a fashion that Javanese hierarchies of state officials were replicated across the nation. The Javanese language had become ‘the unofficial state idioms and jargon’, with Soeharto frequently giving national speeches in Javanese. These Javanese idioms and symbols were employed by Soeharto to buttress his status quo and thereby the legitimacy of the New Order regime as a whole. Soeharto, behaving like ‘a Javanese King’, made sure power was centralised in the capital – and in his hands in particular as the sole decider of meaning, knowledge and truth.  After Soeharto was forced to resign in May 1998, Indonesia started the process of democratisation and decentralisation, but its persistent Java-centric and Jakarta-centric outlook exposes its prevailing bias. 
It has proven difficult to shake off decades of Java-centrism and non-Javanese marginalisation (even for the well-intended). ‘Regional’ neglect is slow in catching up. Today’s unequal economic and infrastructural development outside Java is still a testament to this. One of the most marginalised and underdeveloped provinces is East Nusa Tenggara, or Nusa Tenggara Timur (henceforth NTT). NTT comprises Indonesia’s southernmost area, with the largest islands being Flores, Sumba and (West-)Timor. Ironically, NTT’s most famous inhabitants are not even human; they are the Komodo dragons, native to Komodo Island, located west of Flores. One fictive human NTT native, however, might be well-known: the head-slaying Sumbanese Marlina.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017) is the third production by Jakarta-born filmmaker Mouly Surya (b. 1980). Surya received the synopsis for the film from renowned Indonesian filmmaker Garin Nugroho (b. 1961), who told Indonesian media in 2016 that the idea for the film was based on a true story. When he went to Sumba in 1986 and 2004, he explained, there were several incidents at a marketplace whereby someone was beheaded. Nugroho added that revenge killings were not uncommon on the island. Nugroho said that ‘the person walked to the market and cut off the neck of a seller, then took the head and handed himself over to the police station’.  Having the synopsis ready but feeling he had nothing new to add, he gave it to Surya, curious as to what she – as a female director – would do with the story. Surya admits she was ‘disoriented’ at first and had never been to Sumba ‘but only heard about it’. After visiting Sumba to conduct research and having googled images of Sumba’s nature, she settled on the Western genre and, finally, the narrative.  The title character Marlina is played by seasoned actress Marsha Timothy, for whom the role was specially written  and who joined the film project early, when Surya and her producer/husband Rama Adi were still in the process of scriptwriting. Describing Sumba as ‘a foreign land’, Timothy followed Surya to East-Sumba to observe local women going about their daily lives in Kampung Raja village. Marlina’s character, Surya tells, was inspired specifically by the village’s queen. 
To address the symbolic power exercised through the representational practices in Marlina, this essay seeks to offer an inter-textual, Foucauldian analysis of the film, setting both the film narrative and the film production itself in a broader socio-cultural and geopolitical context, both within Indonesia and internationally. I will first give an outline of Marlina, whereafter I will examine the film by analysing, among others, its knowledge production, de/coloniality, and representation. I approach the film and its production from a local perspective and with an ‘oppositional gaze’ as I am originally from NTT myself.  In addition, in examining the topic, I specifically take the position of what can be called an ‘international local’. By this, I mean that by having lived in Timor, Java (Jakarta), as well as in the West (Europe), I believe I have sufficient knowledge of the socio-cultural structures and unequal power dynamics in all three locales. I use this empiric experience by setting the observations against each other while raising awareness and addressing the need to decolonise (Indonesian) films that deal with ethnic minority-oriented content, such as Marlina.
Marlina: The plot
‘Act I: The Robbery’, the first part of this 93-minute film, begins with wide shots of Sumba’s landscape and a male motorcyclist nearing an isolated house located on a hill. Before the man, Markus, makes his way into the house uninvited, he passes the stonework in the front yard, including two traditional burial markers, though only one has a name stone. Once inside, he notices a traditionally mummified body – wrapped in several traditional Sumbanese kain tenun (weaved cloth) and folded into a foetus position – in the corner of the living room. He asks the homeowner, the widowed Marlina, where her husband is while already knowing that her husband is the mummified body. Despite knowing that Markus knows, Marlina says her husband will be home any moment. Markus sits down on the floor, demands coffee and sirih (betel leaves), and starts playing a tune on his jungga (a Sumbanese string instrument) that he carries around his neck. Marlina, who wears a blue shirt and red kain tenun as sarung, goes to the back of the house, preparing what her ‘guest’ has demanded. Once back in the living room, Markus demands she sit down with him. After claiming that Marlina’s husband’s mummified body is sitting in the corner because she still has financial debts from a previous funeral (her stillborn son Topan), Markus announces that his friends will arrive soon to take her livestock, and ‘if they have time’, gang-rape her. But first, Markus demands, Marlina must cook for them. With poisonous berries covertly mixed in chicken soup, Marlina kills four of Markus’ friends. When Marlina brings Markus – who is sleeping on her bed – his portion, the tampered chicken soup falls out of her hands. Before Marlina can get him a new portion to poison him, too, Markus starts raping the resisting Marlina. Then she feigns consent and rolls Markus over to sit on top. While rolling over, she grabs Markus’ kabeala (Sumbanese machete) from a bedside table, and after a few seconds of seemingly consensual intercourse to lead him on, Marlina slashes Markus’ head off in one stroke. She tries to call the police, but the number is not available. After Marlina has hidden the five dead men in a pantry and burned Markus’ jungga, she falls asleep leaning on her husband’s mummified body’s shoulder.
‘Act II: The Journey’ starts with a close-up of Markus’ decapitated head. The head, together with Sumba’s landscape, seems to play the main lead of the film from now on. Marlina – wearing a pink shirt, red kain tenun as sarung, and a mamuli necklace – stands on the roadside, holding Markus’ head wrapped in a cloth, and waiting for public transport to the nearest village to file a police report. Her 41-weeks-pregnant friend Novi jogs up to her and sees the head but is unfazed by it, especially when Marlina tells her she is taking it to the police station. Novi is deep in a monologue about her pregnancy and mistrusting husband when the public transport truck, filled with people and livestock, arrives. Novi yells her destination to the driver, Paulus, and climbs in, but when Marlina does the same, Paulus spots the head and pulls Marlina off the truck, telling her she cannot board. Marlina pulls the kabeala (from Markus, now hers) and holds it to Paulus’ throat. Marlina orders him to get in and bring her to the police station. The passengers get their livestock and jump out of the truck in annoyance, leaving only Novi, Marlina and Paulus to continue the journey. While Paulus is driving, Marlina keeping the kabeala at his throat, suddenly a traditionally garbed older woman jumps in front of the truck, bringing it to a halt. While Paulus is begging her to wait for the next truck one hour later, the woman, Yohana, climbs in and argues they have already waiting for an hour and that her nephew Ian needs to go to his wedding immediately to deliver his dowry, the two horses he is loading into the truck. After Yohana’s fierce monologue about the dowry and the future in-laws, Paulus gives up, and they continue the journey. During a pit stop, Novi is again holding a deep monologue about her jealous husband and gossiping mother-in-law when Marlina sees Markus’ headless body sitting across her, playing his jungga. She wants to leave immediately, but Novi holds her back, asking her what happened. Marlina confides in her about the rape and the murders. Novi forecasts the police will blame Marlina for what she did ‘even if it was self-defence’ and suggests Marlina comes to church with her ‘to confess her sins’. ‘But I didn’t commit any sins,’ Marlina snaps back. Then they see Paulus and Yohana being attacked by two of Markus’ friends, Franz and Niko, who found out about the murders and are searching for Marlina. To lead them on, Novi tells them she saw Marlina go in another direction, and they get in the truck and drive away – leaving behind Marlina and one dowry horse, which she takes to continue her journey.
‘Act III: The Confession’ opens with Marlina riding the horse, with the head dangling on the side and a headless Markus playing his jungga trailing behind her. When she arrives in town, Marlina has sate ayam (chicken satay) for lunch at a warung (food stall) served by a young girl also named Topan. Marlina leaves the head (now in a small chest) at the warung and goes to the police station, where the officers are initially too involved in a ping pong game to notice her. Eventually, Marlina files a police report for the robbery, but when she tries to report the rape, the officer asks, ‘if he was old and skinny, why did you let him rape you?’. Moreover, to process the robbery report, the police need to investigate her house. But, says the officer, there are no vehicles that day, only two or three days after that. Similarly, to file the rape report, Marlina is required to do a special medical check-up. But they will only have the tools next month, the officer says, adding that they are waiting for the funds. Unless Marlina gets the check-up done by a doctor at her own expense, the police cannot process a rape report. Marlina returns to the warung and breaks down in tears but is comforted by Topan. She stays at Topan’s place for the night, and, after she has changed into a clean blue blouse, she leaves town early in the morning.
The final part, ‘Act IV: The Birth’, starts with Niko digging a grave for Paulus, whose throat was slit by Franz. Novi, Yohana and Ian look on in anguish while Franz sings a song in Sumbanese (the same song Markus sang earlier) while cleaning his bloody kabeala. Novi’s husband Umbu calls, and a scuffle breaks out, giving her, Yohana and Ian the opportunity to flee with the truck. Ian and Yohana drop Novi off at a deserted market on the roadside to meet Umbu and continue their way to Ian’s wedding. Umbu, jealous and suspicious, flies into a baseless rage and leaves Novi battered on the roadside; for Novi, this is the final nail in the coffin, and the end of their engagement seems imminent. Franz witnesses the fight and comes up to Novi, forcing her to lure Marlina back to her home, where Franz and Novi will wait for her to return Markus’ head. Shortly after arriving at Marlina’s house by Franz’s motorcycle, Novi’s water breaks. She takes Marlina’s blue shirt and red sarung off the washing line outside. She finds a sole poisonous berry in the kitchen, giving her an idea. She takes a kabeala of one of the dead men tucked in the pantry and intends to kill Franz but changes her mind when she sees him crying over his dead friends and feels sorry for him. She then changes into Marlina’s clothes and sits down to wait for her while Franz is unwrapping Marlina’s husband’s mummified body and putting the kain tenun around Markus’ corpse. Both then wait. When Marlina arrives home, Franz takes Markus’ head – which he places on Markus’ neck – and kabeala. Marlina and Novi want to leave, but Franz demands Novi cook for him first. While she is cooking, Novi is in great turmoil. Her contractions are getting heavier, and she hears Marlina getting battered and raped by Franz – all the while the Sumbanese song sung by Franz is playing. Finally, she grabs the kabeala, forces the bedroom door open, and chops off Franz’s head mid-rape. Right thereafter, Novi goes into full labour, and the child is born with Marlina’s help. At daybreak, Marlina, Novi and the baby leave on Franz’s motorcycle to an unknown destination, marking the end of the film.
In this section, I seek to deconstruct the film’s discourse as a system of representation and reconstruct it in a broader contextual framework. While connecting this narrower, theoretical discourse with a broader, empirical inter/national discourse, I pose the following two intrinsically linked questions: what knowledge is produced in Marlina, and where does it derive from? What are the consequences of this knowledge production for its subjects?
As Stuart Hall explains, Michel Foucault was concerned with the production of knowledge through discourse – that is, knowledge production through language and practice.  Foucault asserted that ‘not only is knowledge always a form of power, but power is implicated in the questions of whether and in what circumstances knowledge is to be applied or not’. For Foucault, the question of the application and effectiveness of power/knowledge – i.e. the combination of power and discourse – is more important than the question of its ‘truth’. Moreover, Hall continues, ‘[k]nowledge linked to power, not only assumes the authority of “the truth” but has the power to make itself true. All knowledge, once applied in the real world, has real effects, and in that sense at least, “becomes true”’ (italics in original). Importantly, for Foucault, ‘knowledge does not operate in a void’ but is ‘put to work in specific situations, historical contexts and institutional regimes’. The combination of power and discourse – ‘power/knowledge’ – produces a certain conception about a particular matter. For Foucault, one can therefore speak of a ‘discursive formation sustaining a ‘regime of truth’’.  Crucially, for Foucault, knowledge production always intersects ‘with questions of power and the body’ (italics mine). As the object to which the ‘micro-physics of power’ is first and foremost applied, ‘[t]he body is produced within discourse, according to the different discursive formations’ (italic in original). In other words, placed ‘at the centre of the struggles between different formations of power/knowledge’, the ‘[d]ifferent discursive formations and apparatuses divide, classify and inscribe the body differently in their respective regimes of power and “truth”’. 
The concept of ‘de/coloniality’ is embedded in power and knowledge. Nelson Maldonado-Torres explains that ‘coloniality refers to a logic, metaphysics, ontology, and a matrix of power that can continue existing after formal independence and desegregation’. Decoloniality then, ‘refers to efforts at rehumanising the world, to breaking hierarchies of difference that dehumanise subjects and communities and that destroy nature, and to the production of counter-discourses, counter-knowledges, counter-creative acts, and counter-practices that seek to dismantle coloniality and to open up multiple other forms of being in the world’.  De/coloniality – not to be confused with ‘de/colonisation’ – here must therefore be connected to the Javanese hegemony, superiority and privilege during and after Soeharto’s New Order regime. Rather than focusing on borders that demarcate the Indonesian archipelago as an independent nation-state, we must focus on the borders within the archipelago. A useful approach is the ‘trans-archipelagic decolonial feminist trajectory’, put forward by Intan Paramaditha, which addresses two forms of coloniality: first, Western imperial power, that dominates knowledge production; and second, ‘the political and cultural dominance of another West, in this case, Western Indonesia or Java’. Interrogating the (geo)politics of knowledge production, this new trajectory transcends archipelagic borders by being critical of colonialism, capitalism and racism. It poses questions around knowledge production, such as: ‘who produces the knowledge? For whom is the knowledge? And who benefits from it?’ 
Returning to Foucault’s discursive approach to discuss the matter of the subjects, ‘[i]t is discourse, not the subjects who speak it, which produces knowledge’. Hall explains that according to Foucault, ‘[t]he “subject” is produced within discourse. This subject of discourse cannot be outside discourse because it must be subjected to discourse. It must submit to its rules and conventions, to its dispositions of power/knowledge.’ Aside from the subject as bearer or personification of knowledge produced by discourse, or ‘the object through which power is relayed’, discourse simultaneously produces ‘a place for the subject’ – i.e. the viewer/reader who is likewise ‘subjected to’ discourse – from which its specific knowledge and meaning make most sense. For the viewer/reader to do so, according to Foucault, they must locate themselves ‘in the position from which the discourse makes most sense, and thus become its “subjects” by “subjecting” [themselves] to its meanings, power and regulation’. Stated differently, all discourses construct ‘subject-positions’, where the viewer/reader ‘subject themselves to its rules, and hence become the subjects of its power/knowledge’ (italics in original). 
To apply this theoretical framework to Marlina, I suggest we need to start with the conception of the film. I have already mentioned how Nugroho got the idea for the synopsis from witnessing a beheading at a Sumbanese marketplace. This is not the only version of the story, however. Another version says that Nugroho, while in Sumba, saw someone carrying a human head to the police station. It was further stated that the man had been involved in a duel, beheaded his opponent, before turning himself in to the police. This version, too, argued that incidents like this are ‘quite common’ in Sumba.  Whatever the correct version, a few aspects are constant: Nugroho, Sumba, beheadings. Therefore, I argue that the idea for Marlina is not so much based on ‘true events’ but rather on a Javanese colonial fetish. Hall explains that fetishism brings us ‘to the level where what is shown or seen in representation, can only be understood in relation to what cannot be seen, what cannot be shown’.  Recall that during Soeharto’s New Order regime, discussing ethnicity was considered a ‘political taboo’ and the regions considered ‘inferior’ (an idea that still prevails in the Java-centred mindset), and it becomes clear that Markus’ head in Marlina stems from fetishism, i.e. a strategy ‘for both representing and not-representing the tabooed’. We are allowed to look at it because it provides us with an ‘alibi’; in Marlina, it is depicted in the name of ‘entertainment’.  As such, Marlina as the beheader is simply a stereotypical, colonial Javanese fantasy. A Sumbanese female rape victim, Marlina is primarily depicted as a survivor; but as she is ‘trapped by the binary structure of the stereotype, which is split between two extreme opposites’, she is still Sumbanese, and that ‘confirm[s] the fantasy which lies behind or is the ‘deep structure’ of the stereotype’. 
Unbeknownst to the viewing/reading subject, fetish and fantasy are reproduced in the film production’s rhetoric in the media. Both within Indonesia and outside, the preferred meaning of Marlina is countless times ‘anchored’ in the captions. Hall cites Roland Barthes when explaining that it is ‘the caption which selects one out of the many possible meanings from the image, and anchors it with words’. The (preferred) ‘meaning’ of Marlina thus lies in the conjunction of image and text; these two discourses (i.e. that of written language and that of the image) are necessary to produce and ‘fix’ the meaning (italics in original).  A worn-out example is a review for Marlina by Variety’s film critic Maggie Lee.  By coining the arguably obnoxious term ‘Satay Western’ – a label trailing Marlina the way a headless Markus is trailing Marlina – she anchored Marlina exactly where Surya had wanted it, as the director uses the term herself now, too. Calling the film ‘flamingly feminist’, Lee’s written text anchors Marlina as a feminist survival film, blissfully unaware of its roots firmly stuck in coloniality. Doing an oppositional reading, I prefer to call the film ‘flamingly fetishist’.
Lee’s rhetoric (and that of many others), however, focuses on the material world – i.e. the space ‘where things and people exist’ – when discussing Marlina. But this space, argues Hall, should not be confused with ‘the symbolic practices and processes through which representation, meaning and language operate’. Crucially, meaning is not conveyed through the material world, but through the language system we are using to represent our concepts.  A language, Hall explains, is ‘[a]ny sound, word, image or object which functions as a sign, and is organized with other signs into a system which is capable of carrying and expressing meaning’.  Rather than on the sign’s material quality, the meaning depends on its symbolic function. ‘It is because a particular sound or word stands for, symbolises or represents a concept that it can function, in language, as a sign and convey meaning’ (italics in original). 
An example of confusing – conflating, even – the material world with symbolic practices and processes is a news article on Marlina in which the Indonesian journalist poses the outrageous question of ‘whether the Sumbanese are really culturally inured to issues like rape and murder’, clearly harking back to the dehumanising colonial Javanese stereotypes of Sumbanese people I mentioned above.  Another Indonesian journalist has numerous ponderings and assumptions about Marlina’s mummified husband. While his entire article shows a stunning ignorance, his remarks, ‘Also, why didn’t Marlina bury her husband? Poverty can let the dead stay, after all. So I think the Island of Sumba becomes a stand-in for areas where these things happen,’  touches upon a specifically sensitive issue. Timorese independent filmmaker Manuel Alberto Maia argues in his excellent criticism of Marlina – likewise from a local NTT perspective – that Marlina, as a Sumbanese Marapu-follower born as part of the post-1965 generation (i.e. after the 1965 ‘Communist Coup’ and the subsequent ascendance of General Soeharto), must have changed religion and be steadfast in burying her husband.  As Sumba is now predominantly Christian, the Marapu tradition of mummifying the diseased is not important. In fact, due to the stigmatisation of local traditional practices during the New Order and thereafter, it has become illegal. By including the mummy, the film produces a discourse that accords with the Javanese idea of an ‘uncivilised’ Sumba.
Moreover, during the New Order, every Indonesian had to follow, or convert to, one of the five allowed religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism; in 2006, a sixth, Confucianism, was added). Any other beliefs, such as animism or local traditions, were strictly forbidden. It is only since November 2017 that the Indonesian Constitutional Court allowed followers of indigenous faiths to list their religion as pengyahat kepercayaan (‘follower of indigenous faith’) on their national ID cards (much to the vocal dismay of several prominent Indonesian Islamic leaders). In Indonesia, it is mandatory to state your religion on your ID card. If this section is left blank, as it was in the case of indigenous faith followers, it will lead to severe social discrimination. When Marlina was shot in 2016, (practicing) Marapu-faith was still not allowed. Marlina’s mummified husband is thus a gross appropriation of a tradition that itself was the victim of severe stigmatisation for decades – simply for the film’s aesthetics.
Another issue is the sub-plot of Ian’s wedding and the dowry. Depicted in the film as a groom with merely one relative on his way to his wedding by public transport with two horses in tow, Ian’s situation erases Sumba’s elaborate wedding rituals and the importance of the dowry ritual (belis) that brings together two extended families. Maia argues that the responsibility Marlina carries is not simple and warns that cultural authenticity needs to be maintained, as New Order perceptions of ‘Eastern Indonesia’ still make an impression on Indonesian society to this day.  Aside from claiming that this sub-plot is included for aesthetic reasons, I also argue it needs to be set against the highly expensive, lavish wedding norms prevailing in Java. This sub-plot ‘exposes’ Sumbanese wedding rituals as ‘primitive’.
Discourses such as this sadly but inevitably also touch upon skin colour. As NTT continues to be seen as ‘primitive’ and ‘uncivilised’, the colonial notion persists that people are ‘darker’ in ‘underdeveloped’ areas. While across the archipelago, skin tones from Indonesians range from very light to very dark – no matter the island – it was determined by the Marlina production crew that the Sumbanese are ‘dark’. So, it is curious that Timothy – a very light-skinned Indonesian – was cast for this role; they even had it written for her. In a problematic interview, make-up artist Didin Syamsudin enthusiastically explains the Brownface process of Timothy into Marlina while arguing that the Sumbanese are ‘brown’ and Marlina needs to ‘blend in’. 
The character of Marlina was inspired by a real-life Sumbanese queen. Maia also mentioned that he assumed Marlina came from aristocratic circles.  This aspect is also problematic. My ancestors consisted of a collective of local kings and aristocrats in NTT, and it is only from my parents’ generation onwards that social status became achieved rather than ascribed (although the present-day symbolic status is still considerable). Hence, I know first-hand the position and status that comes with it, and to have aspects ‘lent to’ a fantasised murderer is not just appropriation; for this real-life Sumbanese queen, it can be regarded as an act of robbery. Moreover, the fact that Surya constantly repeated this aspect in the media also suggests the expectation that no one would notice the disrespect or speak out against it: another show of Javanese hegemony.
Ironically, Marlina’s most realistic scene is so because of Java-centrism. When the officer at the police station says they have no vehicles available for several days, no tools for a special check-up, and are waiting for funds that will not arrive within a month, he describes Sumba’s actual circumstances as it has been neglected by the state for so long. ‘Java-centrism is violent,’ states one of Selena Soemakno’s interviewees, referring to the lack of resources sent by the central government in Jakarta to the regions.  Overall, however, it is pointed out by several authors that Sumbanese aspects in Marlina are void of meaning. Umi Lestari argues that all things identifiable as Sumbanese ‘are merely accessories’. The kain tenun, jungga, mamuli necklace, architecture, kabeala and so forth are ‘arbitrarily stuck’ to the characters’ bodies and the island’s locales.  Building on Lestari, Soemakno argues that Surya overlooks many cultural components of Sumbanese society. She views the film ‘as an appropriation of the location’ to profit from with her Western genre and states that Surya employs ‘a colonial and patriarchal gaze’.  In addition to his arguments discussed above, Maia criticises that Sumbanese cultural elements in the film seem to be ‘just a display’ and finds it hard to see Marlina as a film set in Sumbanese society as opposed to simply a film shot on location and merely passing through. He argues that several Sumbanese socio-cultural elements are adapted and distorted to fit the Western genre while further stressing that ‘[t]aking Marlina for granted as a description of a Sumba civilisation might need to be rethought given that Indonesia is diverse’. 
Meike Lusye Karolus identifies three discourses in Marlina: that of infrastructure, exoticism, and stereotypes and prejudice. She argues that Surya’s view of Eastern Indonesia is still tied to Orientalist and colonialist ideas that view this region as ‘something exotic, primitive, and uncivilised’. After analysing several forms of representation in Marlina and considering how the non-Sumbanese Surya embeds her perceptions of what it supposedly is to be a Sumbanese woman in the narrative, Karolus concludes that Sumbanese representations in Marlina are influenced by commercial reasons only.  Jofie and Danang are the most scorching in their criticism. Aside from arguing that the singing of a Sumbanese song by Franz and Markus merely covers up the (cultural) shallowness of the film, they specifically question Surya’s position and motive. Underscoring that Surya is a member of the Jakarta middle-class, they state she wants to represent ‘Sumbanese women, who – while living in complexity, ambiguity, and problems – become women’ (italics mine). Jofie and Danang point out the seeming opportunism, that Surya now has a name and reputation thanks to ‘representing’ Sumbanese women. What is more, they say, she also expects esteem for ‘supporting’ Sumbanese women. 
In my view, Surya indeed has predominantly commercial and reputational objectives. Even so, for the (specifically Western) inter/national audience, her personality is very likable and palatable – as any quick Google search for Surya on her inter/national Marlina media tour attests. Although this is positive for Surya, it also neglects – or even prevents – a (however rudimentary) consideration by the inter/national audience of whether the Sumbanese representation in Marlina is accurate. I acknowledge the uninformed position of the inter/national audience. Nevertheless, I also assert that, following Paramaditha, in places like the West and Java colonial structures lie embedded in the socio-cultural subconsciousness that receive Marlina seemingly unquestioned. Building on Hall, Surya and large segments of the inter/national audience share to some degree the same cultural codes or ‘language’ – coloniality – and her choice for the Western genre cleverly ‘speaks’ to this inter/national audience, making the ‘translation’ of the shared codes, the embedded Javanese colonial perceptions of Sumba, in the film easy to instigate and accept.  An added factor is that her being a (non-white) female director making a so-called ‘feminist’ film in a patriarchal nation like Indonesia leads to more praise rather than scrutiny. My suggestion is, then, that it is upon all of us – as the audience at large – to be attentive when receiving and discussing films that deal with ethnically diverse and minority-oriented content, especially when the filmmaker does not belong to the represented group themselves.
In this essay, I have shown that the knowledge produced in Marlina is a continuation of the Javanese colonial perceptions of Sumba. This is a perception derived from decades-long Javanese ethnocentrism during Soeharto’s New Order and has survived well into the post-New Order era. In Marlina, colonial ideas of Sumba have been made easily digestible for the viewing/reading subjects thanks to the choice of the Western genre, but this has simultaneously led to a distortion of Sumbanese culture and society. The consequences of this knowledge production for its subjects, particularly those subjects produced within discourse, are further stereotyping, or, more specifically, what May Adadol Ingawanij calls ‘self-exoticisation’ – i.e. ‘to project for the enticement of the “native” gaze a “native” object of desire as if it were foreign’.  If viewing/reading subjects accept the discourse in Marlina, either because it resonates with their views or because it is too foreign to be familiar with, they have successfully subjected themselves to the discourse’s conventions. The symbolic violence done to Marlina through stereotyping is colonial and patriarchal. Still, at the same time, the stereotyping is indeed what Hall proclaims, as it is ‘part of the maintenance of social and symbolic order’ – a ‘violent hierarchy’.  But in Marlina, Marlina is not the only character subject to this discourse. Whether they are a female rape victim, pregnant, a male mummy, a headless man, or a man in uniform; all the characters’ bodies are highly contested. Their body is Sumbanese, and therefore a battlefield.
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