Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - American Horror in Cold War Asia: The Exorcist and Film Censorship in 1970s’ India, Israel, and Malaysia

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Kadamba, Lower Ground Floor

In 1975, after years of a near-total-ban on Hollywood in India, it was announced that American films would soon return to Indian screens. One of the first American films to seek clearance from the Indian Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) was 1973’s The Exorcist, a big-budget film about a young girl’s possession by the Devil and the exorcism undertaken to rescue her. A global cultural event, The Exorcist had become infamous for its viral power to move audiences through displays of graphic violence and terrifying visions of satanic evil.


This paper narrates the fascinating histories of institutional film censorship in Cold War Asia by examining three different cases: The Exorcist was repeatedly delayed in Israel, heavily cut in Malaysia, and, banned altogether from the exhibition in India. Drawing on extensive archival research and reports in trade journals, the paper explores the strikingly different reasons stated for withholding the film from public circulation in each of these cases. A map of The Exorcist on the move – and under arrest – across Asia exposes the preoccupations of postcolonial film censorship with popular culture’s depictions of superstition, the power of the Church in the Global South, and reveals the strategic battles over Middle Eastern film exhibition in the Cold War.


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