Virtuous Women and Depraved Females: The Image of Women in North Korean Cinema

Benjamin Joinau
Tuesday, April 14, 2015 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
7,000 won (non-member); free for members

North Korean cinema, recognized quite early by the regime as a unique ideological “weapon”, used female figures as central characters of movies far beyond what could be expected in a male-oriented socialist country. More than a quarter of the total North Korean movie production appears to have a woman as a major agent of the narrative. Not only are they major characters, but they are at the very core of the plot: they are catalysts of narration. But what is being told in that cinematographic text? A very complex and event contradictory set of images can be spotted if one looks over the whole period from 1949 to now.

Asked to participate actively in the edification of the new country and in the post-war reconstruction effort, women became essential actors and symbols of the nation-building process. They thus play a complex role of mother, wife, soldier, heroin, metonymic figure of the nation, but also of the errant sinner and depraved female… Is there any rationality in these contradictory images?

It is the instrumentalization of women’s representation through cinema in order to support the political regime’s propaganda which is going to be the main focus of this lecture. In a country like North Korea where the state controls every aspects of the society, mass media products are direct expressions of the official ideology. They offer a unique mirror of the political regime’s imaginary. Therefore what we can see is the relationship between power, cinema and gender in a totalitarian state, along with the silent resistances of the society to the political agenda as they are indirectly revealed by the movies.

Benjamin Joinau holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology specialized in Korean Studies. He is a researcher of the Center of Korean Studies (CRC) at EHESS, Paris, and assistant professor at Hongik University, Seoul. He has been living and working in South Korea since 1994. His Ph.D. thesis analyzed the image of the other in Korean cinema. Beside cinema, he works on different materials like food culture and cityscape in both North and South Koreas. He has published several articles and books in French, English and Korean. He is also the director of the publishing house Atelier des Cahiers ( Personal Website :

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