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New book explores relationship between women and Turkish cinema

Fri, 30 Nov 2012

The rise of feminism and its relationship with Turkish cinema following the country's military coup is explored in a new book by an academic at the University of East Anglia.

Dr Eylem Atakav, who was born in Turkey a few months before the coup in 1980, argues that the enforced depoliticisation that followed was actually responsible for the rise of the feminist movement and uniting feminism and film in the subsequent years.

Dr Atakav’s parents were heavily involved with leftist political activism until the military intervention of September 12 1980.  What followed was a period of immense change during which there were no political parties and democracy was temporarily suspended.

As a result, Turkish cinema went through a period of change in the 1980s, with overtly political or social realist films being censored, banned or destroyed. In their attempt to avoid the ‘political’, filmmakers chose to focus on women, and this happened in parallel to the emergence of the women’s movement.

“The feminist movement was able to flourish precisely because it was not perceived as political or politically significant,” explained Dr Atakav, whose book Women and Turkish Cinema: Gender Politics, Cultural Identity and Representation, is published by Routledge.

“Indeed, in the repressive and depoliticised atmosphere of the post-coup period, the first social movement that emerged and articulated its demands was the women’s movement. It was also the first democratic opposition to the military regime,” she added.

“In the 1980s women were, for the first time, raising their own independent voices through campaigns, festivals, demonstrations, publications of journals and the formation of consciousness-raising groups. In the films of the 1980s there was an increased tendency to focus on the individual, on women’s issues and lives, in order to avoid the overtly political. The entrance of sophisticated characters and a focus on the individual informed the shift in representations of women in cinema.”

Women’s lives and issues became prominent in Turkish cinema and this led to the production of an extensive body of films offering the point of view of a female character and focusing on women’s issues.

However, while women contributed significantly to the formation of a liberal, democratic state, they were unable to transform the traditional patriarchal society, even in films.

“The overall cinematic style, codes and conventions remained overwhelmingly traditional,” said Dr Atakav. “Despite occasional appearances to the contrary, films continued to objectify women; to present them as having a limited range of choices in a patriarchal society; and to remain ambivalent about whether women are ultimately capable of exercising independence.

“Women’s films of the 1980s empower women by representing them as strong and rebellious characters, and by dealing with women’s issues, but at the same time they marginalise and objectify women with their cinematic style.”

Dr Atakav is a lecturer in film and television studies at UEA. She is the editor of Directory of World Cinema: Turkey (2012) and on the editorial board of Sine/Cine: Journal of Film Studies. She teaches Women, Islam and Media; Women and Film; and World Cinemas modules in the School of Film, Television and Media Studies. Her current research interests are on the representation of ‘honour’-based violence in the media.

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