Darlene Machell de Leon Espena


Darlene Machell de Leon Espena (SMU) is an Assistant Professor of Humanities at Singapore Management University (SMU), where has taught courses on International Relations on Film, Film in Southeast Asia, Cultural History of the Cold War in Asia, and Big Questions. She earned her PhD in History (2017) and MSc. in Asian Studies (2012) from Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Her research includes cinema, culture, and politics in postcolonial Southeast Asia, cultural history of the Cold War in Southeast Asia, and cultural discourses on education in Singapore. Before joining SMU in August 2018, she was a Research Fellow at Singapore’s National Institute of Education (NIE). She has held teaching positions at De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Her current book project is entitled “Heralding the Nation: Cinema and Politics in Postcolonial Southeast Asia, 1945-1967.



Darlene is currently working on two interconnected projects on Cold War in Cambodia, probing into the intersections between culture and politics. The first project looks into Cambodian films and examines how images of nationalism, communism, and modernity are captured and reinforced through the cinematic narratives. For this research, her main references are the films of Sihanouk from 1950s to 1980s. The second project explores Khmer classical dance, specifically the performances of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and investigates how these performances became a tool for Cambodian diplomacy during the Cold War. 

1. Espena, D. (2020). “Screening Southeast Asia: Film, Politics, and the Emergence of the Nation in Postwar Southeast Asia.” In Hyesu Park (ed.). Media Culture in Transnational Asia: Convergences and Divergences. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 
2. Espena, D. (2017) “Remembering 1965: Indonesian Cinema and the ‘Battle for History’,” Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia.
3. Espena, D. (2011). “Globalization, Modernity, and Migration: The Changing Visage of Social Imagination.” Comparative Islamic Studies, Vol. 7 No. 1-2, pp.183-208.