The Pontianak Strikes Back: Visions of Malaysian feminism in Digital Spaces

Dr Ana Grgic1

1Monash University Malaysia, Sunway, Malaysia

Horror has a notable tradition in Southeast Asian cinemas, providing ways for filmmakers to articulate and mediate societal repressions and taboos. Notably, the horror genre incorporates narratives and tropes from Southeast Asian folktales and supernatural traditions. One of the most popular figures in Malay cinema is the pontianak, a female vampire who died as a result of childbirth or male violence, and returns to haunt patriarchy. Since the slackening of film censorship in the 2000’s, the Malay pontianak has emerged as a figure of historical turbulence, disturbing gender normativities and narratives of postcolonial national identity (Galt 2019).  This paper focuses on imagined Malaysian gender identities in the digital landscapes of post-GE14 and Multimedia Super Corridor agenda through an analysis of the web-series Marilah Sayang (2019). Endeavouring to enter the SVOD and mobile video streaming, Unifi (Telekom Malaysia), commissioned youth-oriented audiovisual content. Marilah Sayang imagines a cool, urban, internet-savvy, #MeToo era version of the pontianak, negotiating between horror and comedy. While repurposing supernatural narratives from local traditions, the web series’ three protagonists Merah, Hitam and Putih, resemble the trio from the hit ABC TV series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, further stressing transnational movements and cross-cultural influences which shape Malaysian popular entertainment.


Ana Grgić is a Lecturer in Screen Studies at Monash University Malaysia. She works on film history, East European cinema, archives and memory. Her co-edited book Contemporary Balkan Cinema: Transnational Exchanges and Global Circuits a transnational and cross-cultural study of Balkan cinemas’ contemporary trends, is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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