How an Indie Film About Turkish Orphans is Germane to the Presidential Election

When “Mustang” opened to a small handful of U.S. theaters last year, critics gushed. But like many independent films, it evaporated at cinemas like an ice cube on a hot stove. When it showed up on Amazon recently, I was ecstatic and planned an evening to watch it with my husband and teen aged daughter. From the opening scene to the end credits, we were totally engrossed. Charmed and repelled. Happy and incredulous. Our hearts broke. The good news is that “Mustang” has a good outcome, although it’s bittersweet. Then a funny thing happened on our way out to get ice cream: We realized this Turkish/French film is soberly relevant to the U.S. presidential election.

The film takes place in a small village in Turkey. At its center are five beautiful and spirited sisters on the last day of school before summer break. As the girls leave the school grounds, they decide to ditch the hot, crowded bus and walk home. On the way, they frolic and gallop, like a group of wild mustangs, with their long, dark hair, blowing in the warm wind. A detour to the beach with a group of boys soon has them in the sparkling, azure water, soaking their school uniforms and their hair, as they chicken fight atop the boys’ shoulders.

Their gleeful fun has extreme consequences when a meddling neighbor in a “shit-colored” dress (Lale’s description), rats the girls out to their strict grandmother before they arrive home. They walk in the door, still giddy with joy, but the mood in the house is anything but mirthful. The sisters are surprised by the reaction to their innocent behavior. Without any discussion or respect to their viewpoints, they are scolded, shamed and physically abused. Meaningful possessions, like makeup and music, and are locked away. They are stripped of phones and electronics to block them from the outside world. They are made to wear those ugly shit-colored dresses. Home becomes a “wife factory” where the sisters learn how to stuff dumplings, sew and do other chores reserved only for females. They are living in a virtual prison, complete with iron grates on the windows and locks on the doors.It is determined that the girls will all be married off, to men they don’t know, whether they want to or not. They are disrespected and have no choice. So the girls are forced to play hostess to strange men that come to over to “approve” them, while serving Turkish coffee they’ve resentfully spit into. In another scene, Lale, an enthusiastic soccer fan, begs her uncle if she can attend a match. It’s out of the question, but that doesn’t crush her spirit. Being the catalyst for much of the action in the film, Lale finds a way to escape to the stadium with her sisters. The scenes are delightful, from climbing through a tunnel to get off their property, to flagging down a ride and cheering in the stands with their long dark hair flowing like wild horses. The girls break loose on other occasions, but afterwards, the house is reinforced with even more iron and steel. As a final blow, the girls are not allowed to return to school (a waste of time anyway, since girls are only good as baby making machines and housekeepers). Their environment is closing in, but the strength of their bond and fiery spirit fortify us. Kinship is reflected in every glorious frame of the film and these sisters make confinement almost seem tolerable. One scene shows all five girls entangled on the floor as they play with each other’s toes before falling asleep. The atmosphere is comforting and warm, despite the cold, dark place in which they’ve been trapped.

Appallingly, the movie reflects how women in many countries are still treated today. (In fact, the film is based on an actual experience by the film’s director, Deniz Gamze Erguven.) There’s no equality for women — no driving, no sex before marriage, severe punishment for not abiding by men’s rules and no continuing education. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Women are second-class citizens with no say. Women are degraded, humiliated and disrespected all the time. Sadly, their suffering is as routine as the setting sun. Girls in progressive, democratic countries who see “Mustang” will be astonished to observe a culture that oppresses women in this day and age. Sadly, traces of this attitude aren’t all that outrageous to some here. Of course, a Donald Trump presidency would not turn America into a small village in Turkey. What it will do is set women way back, undermining much of the progress that has been made. “Mustang” is a must-see movie for anyone who is within spitting distance of voting Republican this year. This important film will break hearts. Most importantly, it can change minds.




Parks and Reckless Messaging — TV show is funny enough without the excess drinking

Bring on more waffles and whipped cream! I'm sure Leslie Knope,  would love that more than anything.

Bring on more waffles and whipped cream! I’m sure Leslie Knope would love that more than anything.

Much to the delight of fans everywhere, NBC-TV has ordered up a sixth season of Parks and Recreation. Come fall, this entertaining and intelligent sitcom will surely attract an even wider audience who admire Leslie Knope and the other strong females of Pawnee, Indiana. Here’s the rub: the show is dominated by women, but it perpetuates a behavior that can be particularly harmful to them. Now that the show is on hiatus, this may be the time to influence the writers and producers of the show to cut down on the excessive drinking scenes. Are you listening Amy Poehler?

Many viewers of Parks and Rec are impressionable young women who admire Leslie, Ann Perkins, April Ludgate and the other females. Often, these characters drink to excess. Most people consider a glass of wine or two to celebrate an event or wind down after a long day totally acceptable. In fictional Pawnee, Leslie and the others get so drunk they can barely function. Women in the real world who get wasted suffer long term health problems and other damaging consequences including unintended pregnancy, sexual assault and accidents. How can we forget the 16-year old intoxicated rape victim in Steubenville? Or the inebriated woman who was raped in New Hampshire by a cab driver? Last year, a drunk California girl was sexually assaulted at a party and later killed herself due to humiliation. These stories, all involving female alchohol abuse, are becoming much too commonplace. While some people understand the dangers of excessive drinking, many young girls do not. It is well documented that teens who drink early are at a higher risk for alcoholism later in life. Females are particularly vulnerable. A recent CDC study reports that one out of five high school girls binge drink, while one and eight women (18+) do the same. About 23,000 women die each year from alcohol abuse and related injuries.

Yes, Parks and Rec is a TV show and can’t alone be blamed for risky behavior. But story lines about getting inebriated are irresponsible. Intentional or not, glamorizing excess alcohol intake sends the wrong message. My 14-year old daughter and I love the show, so I try to work with it. During a commercial break, I’ll warm her about the dangers of intoxication, as well as the importance of drinking responsibly when she’s 21. Hopefully Ann Perkins will cut down on the booze, because she is trying to get pregnant, I tell her.

Some of the cleverest and most entertaining sitcoms have featured someone who drinks. Remember Karen Walker on Will and Grace? And who isn’t amused by Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development? Or Saturday Night Live’s drunk Uncle? These people are usually dismissed as flawed, so they aren’t really setting an example. Ron Swanson’s ocasional shots of Scotch are just part of his rugged persona on Parks and Rec. But to have the female leads drink to the point of slurring their words is gratuitous. The show already has everything — originality, well-timed comedy, great story lines, well-developed characters and an uber-talented cast.

So producers and writers of Parks and Rec — while you’re enjoying the summer, here’s something to think about: Instead of the booze, bring on more waffles and whipped cream! I’m sure Leslie Knope would love that more than anything.