Born To Follow: The Similarities Between Postcolonial And American Travel Narratives

Curator's Note

What is the difference between a movie about motorcycle renegades and one about two Senegalese outcasts on a beat-up bike? Ostensibly, both concern characters taking to the road to escape the trappings of their lives. However, while the American road movie celebrates flight away from the normative, post-colonial cinema dwells on those who run out of necessity. To illustrate this point, let's take a look at two movies: Touki Bouki (1969) and Easy Rider (1973).

Edward Said defines "exile" as “an unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place,” which has resonated for many as a complete destruction of one's sense of home (Said, 137). Stuart Hall went on to note that exilic characters are "individuals without an anchor, without horizon, colourless, stateless, rootless—a race of angels" incapable of having a home (Hall, 395-399). This is the case for Mory in Touki Bouki, shown in the clip dreaming of escape to Paris with his friend, Anta. At the key juncture of the film, Mory is unable to board the boat to France; instead, he runs back to his bike and the automobility he has used to navigate his own transcendental homelessness. However, the bike has been wrecked by a thief; unwanted in Senegal, unwilling to join the colonizers, and now unable to seek anything else, Mory becomes the true exile.

In contrast, the characters in Easy Rider are driven by a sort of voluntary expatriation. Though their long hair and outlandish garb paint Wyatt and Billy as oppositional to some norms of society, the travellers are never seen as misplaced. In stark contrast to the figure of the exile, these travellers wander only through pure geography. No matter how many self-serving dialogues they spout or casually racist rednecks they encounter, Wyatt and Billy are always Americans choosing to put prior generations in the rearview and seek out the Frontier à la Manifest Destiny.

While some would focus on the bold creative spirit this separation demands, I would classify it more as a designation of privilege. Searching for home is the staple of an exile's existence, but to willfully take on the identity of the wandering traveller is, simply put, appropriation.

For more in-depth analysis on a similar topic, feel free to check out my senior thesis titled: OFF THE ROAD: Imperialism And Exploration In The American Road Movie

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