By Women's Voices Now
“Where was this film made?” our translator Ece whispered. “The accent is strange…”
As the opening scene of "In the Morning" progressed, the serious subject matter of honor killing and rape was met with a couple of stifled laughs at the accent of the “Turkish” people in the film. We were intrigued.
On the first day of our conference at the Göztepe Campus of Marmara University (on the Asian side of Istanbul), we screened the only two short films we have from Turkey: "In the Morning" and "Saturday Mothers of Turkey." It happens that Turkish nationals made neither film– an important detail we learned (only in hindsight) was worth mentioning before showing the films. After the films were presented and the speakers gave their presentations, we received some challenging questions and responses from the audience. One that inspired the most discussion – even amongst those of us who stuck around after the conference was over – was a critique from a journalist in attendance.
From beneath her headscarf, her eyes appeared serious; she spoke pointedly about how, as Turks, they are aware of the issues, of honor killings – but where were the voices of the women? Personally, she had come to hear something different from an organization called Women’s Voices Now. She expected to hear from the women themselves, and not be presented with films regarding the issues facing women that are already part of the Turkish discourse on women’s rights issues.
"In the Morning," a film based on the 2003 murder of a young woman of Turkey who, after being raped, became pregnant and whose family delegated her younger brother to kill her to restore the family’s honor, truly does not focus on the voice of the murdered girl. Rather, it mostly tells the story of those who decided her fate – her male relatives. We immediately understood the journalist’s point. Again, she emphasized, she attended the conference to hear the voices of women, the issues she already knew. The journalist found the film lacking in complexity. Professors and audience members seemed to agree. So what was the point of presenting the film, indeed?
Yet, here was a short movie that won nine film festival awards, had screenings before members of the U.S. Congress and again before members of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
In fact, film critics in the West raved:
“Themes of horror and revenge have rarely been as brilliantly explored…a bold and important film.”
~ Daniel Wilbe, Film Threat
“COMPELLING … illustrates the issue of sexual assault without engaging in hyperbolic melodrama. … addresses critical issues that intersect with sexual assault including cultural values, sexism, family norms, the role of governments, and how the culture of violence facilitates sexual violence… an excellent educational tool. I recommend it without hesitation.”
~ Abigail Sims, Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women
“A compelling short film that demonstrates the power of short films to inform us about the plight of women around the world.”
~ Lois Vossen, Independent Lens Series, Producer & Co-curator
But, was this perhaps the first time such an acclaimed film had been screened in front of an audience of men and women of Turkey – the very people the film is supposed to represent?
The conflicting responses raised a lot of questions and fostered deep and difficult discussion – a valuable learning experience for us. How were the perspectives of our audience members and viewers in the States so different? How did this film, yes, produced in the U.S., but one that won so much recognition, not even have a recognizable Turkish accent to a Turkish audience? Why did some of the Turkish women feel that this film, which told the true story of a victim in the country, not accurately represent them, though they readily say honor killings are a continuing reality faced by women in Turkey?
As a young organization, we have much to learn from both our film submissions and the people and societies they aim to portray. As a women’s rights organization striving to accurately represent women’s voices in Muslim-majority societies, and not just what we think those voices are, or need them to be to fulfill our analysis of the Muslim World, the global tour is the most substantial way that we can get to the bottom of the disconnect. Spending a week in Turkey affords us the opportunity to have meaningful and significant exchanges with the women (and the men) of this country in which, together, we break down complex feelings, identities, perceptions, assumptions, reactions, and stereotypes about each other. Women’s voices in Muslim-majority societies - really DO differ from place to place. Acknowledging, understanding, and integrating these differences into the operations and presentations of Women’s Voices Now is absolutely crucial to our success. If we are sincerely trying to support the empowerment of women whose voices speak out for a more just, peaceful, and pleasant world for all races, religions, colors, and creeds, then we have to be honest in our evaluation of our work and really listen to what the women we meet are saying, and vice versa. In those moments of true understanding through open and honest sharing, we get a glimpse of better days to come and hope our counterparts in Turkey feel the same way too.