Mapping the unassimilable: The Balkan other as meme in Val Lewton’s Cat People

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


World War II era Hollywood horror films were sometimes produced and promoted as wartime propaganda, and several featured characters of Eastern European origin as evildoers and monsters intentionally cast as such in a political sense. Certain of producer Val Lewton’s horror films from this period bear a curious thematic relationship to these propaganda films, although they are not considered as straightforward war propaganda. In particular, Cat People presents a bizarre story about a Serbian woman who is a shape-shifting ‘cat woman’. Her strange, irresolvable curse plagues her marriage to an American gentleman, and winds up breaking apart their dubious union. In view of its ethnic and cultural representations, Cat People reproduces long-standing Western European stereotypes about Eastern Europeans by trading in received gothic fantasies. The danger is that the film holds the potential for becoming a popular meme by relaying the demonizing of a Serbian immigrant, certainly an insensitive and reductive portrayal when viewed from a more contemporary and culturally informed perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-118
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cat People
  • cultural memory
  • Eastern Europeans
  • ethnicity
  • ideology
  • meme
  • stereotypes
  • World War II era Hollywood horror films

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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