Can technology itself be racist? Lili rests in a film studio, as male camera technicians calibrate film equipment to the white porcelain standard.

In a TV studio, a girl named Lili is asked to serve as a ‘China Girl’. China Girls, used in cinema history since the 1920’s, are women with Caucasian skin who are filmed alongside a colour-chart in order to adjust the colours of the film. Their porcelain white skin is used as a reference for the colour grading of camera and printing, ultimately excluding people who do not conform to this implicit norm.

Nobody knows for sure why they are called China girls, as they never actually are Chinese. Perhaps because sometimes, when a live model was lacking, porcelain dolls were used for the task. If the film tonality is adjusted to the white complexion, other skin colors look unnaturally dark. Black actors appearing next to white actors need to wear insanely thick layers of make-up, otherwise they will appear pitch black with only white patches of teeth and eyeballs. For this very reason, Jean-Luc Godard famously refused to use Kodak film stock when working in Mozambique.

Can technology itself be racist? An van. Dienderen contends that the medium itself should be examined from its technical aspect, because it matters what we consider a norm, be it in the skin color, the gender relations involved in the film process or an average beauty standard.

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Director: An van. Dienderen
Director of Photography: Léo Lefèvre
Producers: Elektrischer Schnellseher, coproduced by Contour 7, argos, VAF (Flemish film fund)
Cast: Maaike Neuville


Year: 2015
Length: 12 min
Language: English
Country: Belgium

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about an

Filmmaker An van. Dienderen works at the intersection between documentary, anthropology and visual arts. While exploring various documentary strategies and the anthropological relation between self and other, she also investigates the medium of film in a self-reflective way. She investigates the opposition of fact and fiction, imagination and observation, representation and experience, using the importance of the image in our multicultural society as a point of departure. Her work shows the absurd, poetic, and often touching stories that these oppositions can hold in everyday life. (Source Contour7)

She graduated in audiovisual arts (Sint-Lukas, Brussels), obtained a PhD in Comparative Cultural Sciences (Ghent University), and was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. She made several documentaries screened worldwide, awarded with (inter)national prizes. Films include Visitors of the Night (’98), Site (’00), Tu ne verras pas Verapaz (’02), The Ephemerist (’05) Patrasche, a Dog of Flanders – Made in Japan (’08), Cherry Blossoms (’12), Letter Home (’15) and Lili (’15). She regularly publishes on visual/performative anthropology, is a lecturer and artistic researcher at the School of Arts Ghent, and initiated the international art workspace SoundImageCulture  and productioncompany Elektrischer schnellseher. Her work has been shown on the Margaret Mead Film and Video festival (New York), FID Marseille, DocFest Sheffield, Belluard Festival (Fribourg), DMZ Korea International documentary festival, International Short film Festival Oberhausen, FIDOCS, Festival Internacional de Documentales de Santiago, International Filmfestival Rotterdam, etc and is represented by argos