With an arresting narrative that scrutinises the polemical politics of contemporary Turkey, Mustang highlights the devastating effects that creeping conservatism has on the everyday lives of women. The film has an unashamedly feminist tone that resonates with the ongoing battles for women’s rights throughout the country, frequently led by socio-politically engaged secularists – often fearlessly determined women influenced by the republican values of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his vision for Turkish independence.
The film premiered at Cannes 2015, where it won the Europa Cinemas Label Award and later the Lux Prize in acknowledgement of its cross-cultural, European sensibility and maturity as a Franco-Turkish co-production. It was also a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony, from France, earlier this year. Given the stifling, sexist climate of the film industry – where just 7 per cent of directorial roles are offered to women – this is some achievement. The critical and commercial success of Mustang, which grossed £3 million from its modest £1 million budget, speaks to the demand across borders for equal representation of women on screen.
Erguven wields an explorative lens on the tumultuous journey of five young sisters who are forced to navigate themselves through the painfully unpracticed and unpredictable routes of human growth. They have the added pressure of ‘performing’ womanhood (a confused conflation between patriarchally preconditioned, traditionalist ideas of women as maternal, inferior figures and the desire to experience sexually liberating ideals of female emancipation) against the backdrop of a small conservative village.
The film begins as the sisters are finishing a school term. Rather than enduring the dense humidity of a bus ride back home in the sweltering heat, they take a detour along the beach, diving into the open waters of the sea. Upon arriving home, their büyükanne (grandmother) accuses them of ‘rubbing up against boys’ necks’ – a villager had witnessed them play a game in which they wrestled one another into the sea while sitting on the shoulders of their male friends, and subsequently informed the family of the girls’ perverse immorality.
This is one of a few semi-autobiographical moments within the film that Erguven uses cathartically, as if to alter the realities of her own experiences. Indeed, the filmmaker recalls being chastised for playing the same game as a young girl, and stoically surrendering to the reprimand that followed. However, through the creation of her characters, she rebels against the voices that had sought to suppress her. This is made clear when one of the sisters, Nur – in a fantastic, feminist rage – begins smashing chairs against a wall while shouting: ‘These chairs touched our arseholes! That’s disgusting!’ It is an invigorating scene that serves to expose the absurdity of patriarchal rule and the containment, control and surveying of women’s bodies for the (masturbatory) pleasure and power of men.
In another scene that calls attention to the growing dominance of conservatism throughout Turkey, the remaining three sisters – after Sonay and Selma have been dutifully married off – are at the dinner table with their büyükanne and uncle. In the background we hear the chauvinist bark of President Erdoan on the television: ‘Women should be chaste and pure, know their limits, and mustn’t laugh openly in public. Women must guard their chastity! Where are the girls who blush when you look at them?’
The inclusion of this disturbing speech from Erdoan maps out the toxic spread of conservative ideology since the rise of his party, the AKP, and their subsequent established influence, which is in stark contrast to secular visions of the country. It also reminds us of the role of the state in reinforcing patriarchy in the home, both through discourse and legislation.
While in the early 20th century, Ataturk extricated Turkey from religious law, in favour of a secular code to encourage equality between men and women (albeit not without its legislative problems and limitations), Erdoan now preaches nonsensical, biologically determinist notions. Women are, of course, inferior to men, he insists, because of our inherent duty to let them impregnate us, reproduce and serve under the male-dominated household.
Erdguven is steadfast in her condemnation of such backward and devastatingly dangerous logic in one scene especially. Ece, suffering sexual abuse at the self-righteous whim of her uncle, begins to crack silent jokes to her remaining, beloved sisters. Holding three fingers up, she whispers across the table to them, ‘Can you read between the lines?’
As the sisters’ laughter gets louder, their uncle – anxious to retain power – orders Ece to leave the table. It is a subtle, yet intensely provocative scene that, while highlighting the grotesque subjugation of women and the continuing effects of governmental oppression on the rights of women especially, conveys the strength of women and girls to defy, outsmart and undermine such pernicious authority: to tear it down together. The scene ends with a resounding act of defiance and protest against the treatment of her body by her uncle (a figure of patriarchal rule), as Ece harnesses control – however harrowingly – over her own fate.
Erguven describes the close relationship between Mustang’s protagonists as an ‘organic’ and perfect distribution of one self – ‘one body moving together and breathing together’ and a ‘little monster of femininity, who loses one piece after another . . . assesses wounds, recomposes and strikes back’. It is a succinct metaphor for an intersectional feminist ideology that transcends imposing borders. Mustang reminds us that in a world that seems increasingly withered and torn, sisterly solidarity constitutes the route to a revolutionary movement, founded on the rights of women.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant