To my understanding of Spivak’s piece, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, she discusses the way in which Western academics investigate other cultures, but particularly, in the studies of the most disenfranchised or powerless group of the social hierarchy. Spivak works with postcolonial thought, where she criticizes the work of predominantly white male academic’s depiction of the colonized population and how it lacks a truthful representation of the people because of the “logocentric assumptions” these men have to make based on observations of the “other”. She was concerned about how these dominant intellectuals spoke for the subalterns rather than giving them a voice to speak for themselves.
I think the short film “Semiotics of Islam” by Muslim-American filmmaker Fouzia Najar is a demonstration of how the subaltern can speak, and in turn, attempt to educate the public about their culture and identity. The film is inspired by Martha Rosler’s classic 1975 film, “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” which was a critique on traditional women’s roles during the second wave feminism. In “Semiotics of Islam”, it features an Islamic woman who uses the letters of the alphabet to introduce viewers to common objects and terms from Muslim culture, as if we were at a vocabulary lesson at primary school. The film intercuts with footage of American news outlets such as Fox News that features news broadcasters struggling to use Islamic words and in a falsified or derogatory manner, which then is cleverly juxtaposed to what the word or object actually meant in Muslim culture, illustrating how misunderstood Islam is in American media and culture. Though this film was short, I thought it was very impactful especially how the narrative was set out as if we were being taught a lesson, highlighting the fact that American news outlets who are supposed to be accurate and knowledgeable beings need to be educated at the most elementary level by Muslim people themselves. In terms of Spivak’s question of whether if the subaltern can speak, it also reminded me of Anzaldúa’s piece “Speaking In Tongues,” where she urges the oppressed (specifically Black women) to create texts about themselves so other’s won’t have to inaccurately represent them. I think ‘Semiotics of Islam’ is a great example of how women of colour are taking control of their identity to create accurate representations of themselves in the media.