De-orientalizing Dune: Storyworld-Building Between Frank Herbert’s Novel and Denis Villeneuve’s Film

Yosr DRIDI


Abstract:

In Dune (1965), Frank Herbert builds an SF universe that, although futuristic, remains geopolitically reminiscent of our historical world, with ethnically and culturally identifiable characters. For all his storyworld-building efforts, Herbert’s representation of the desert planet Arrakis and his Arab/Musliminspired characterization of the Fremen have often been accused of romantic Orientalism at best and white-saviorism at worst. Recently, Denis Villeneuve released his film adaptation of (part of) the novel, Dune: Part One (2021), which has rekindled the debate on SF orientalism and stimulated new discussions on the interpretation of those problematical representational and thematic issues for a cinema-savvy and race-conscious 21st century audience. This paper proposes to determine the extent to which Herbert’s SF orientalism survived in Villeneuve’s adaptation. Accordingly, I will compare the aesthetic literary and cinematic representations of space and characters and discern their thematic implications. Ultimately, Villeneuve’s film will be assessed as an attempt at contemporizing and de-orientalizing its literary source through controversial politics of casting and politically-correct screenplay modifications, hence adapting the novel to the silver screen, the film to the contemporary spectator, and the cinematic product to the Hollywood film industry.

Keywords: science-fiction, orientalism, cinematic adaptation, storyworld-building

DOI: 10.24193/ekphrasis.28.2

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