MUSTANG was released in 2015 to much critical acclaim, and box office success. Director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven was born in Turkey, but lived with her diplomat family in Paris, for most of her life. Having a one foot in repressive Turkish culture and the other in liberal French culture her film spotlights the difficulties of being a woman in the repressive rural Islamic culture, far from cosmopolitan Istanbul.
The story of four orphaned teenage sisters guided by their grandmother through conservative Islamic cultural taboos on women. The grandmother is comparatively liberal, with little fear of boys, and lets the girls enjoy modern clothes and trappings like computers and telephones. They seem happy, well adjusted, and love the progressive female teacher at their co-ed school.
But then a veiled village crone sees them innocently playing on the beach with a group of boys. She reports to the grandmother that the girls are out of control, and embarrassing the family because there is no man to discipline them.
The girls’ uncle comes to live with them to keep them in line. He is a typical conservative Islamic male who believes women should stay in the home and do all the work, while the men hang out on the patio, drinking, playing cards, and watching football on TV. Females are not welcome in their conservative Islamic world, except as laborers and breeding stock.
The girls’ situation deteriorates, as they begin losing their freedoms. The uncle throws out their computers, phones, and colorful modern clothes. He forbids them to leave the house—even to go to school. They resist, and eventually he installs bars on the windows and doors, and a spiked fence around the yard.
However, he is really a lecher, who begins having sex with at least one of the girls. The grandmother knows what is going on, but is too afraid to say anything. Her solution is to marry the girls to the first interested boys and get them away from the uncle. As a girl, she had gone through the same thing, and that was her mother’s solution too. One wonders how many generations this solution has been applied.
The film then becomes a study in the dark side of conservative Islam. I have had some experience with that world, and its victims, both male and female. Basically, the women are driven insane due to the hypocritical culture whose foundation is based on a wide array of lies. Regarding religious observance, many Islamists portray themselves as pure and pious, but they do not go to the mosque, they do not say their prayers, and they see Mullah’s as lazy freeloaders with questionable sexual morals.
They make a huge deal over virginity, but that’s a lie. Plenty of sexual unmarried and extra-marital intercourse occurs. Women preserve their “virginity” with anal intercourse. Those who experience pre-marital vaginal intercourse, bring a vial of chicken blood to pour on their legs and bedsheets, on their wedding night. In the morning, when they hang bloody sheets out their bedroom window, to prove their virginity, the neighbors are comforted that the sanctity of female virginity has been preserved, even though they all know it is probably a fraud.
A local doctor “certifies the virginity” of one sister, even though she admits to him she was not. He promises to say nothing, thus preserving the sham in his own way.
The story does not represent all of Turkey’s Islamic culture, but pointedly takes place in a rural town. Modern Istanbul is presented as a refuge for women, with greater opportunities, and less hypocrisy.
In recent years, Turkish politics, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has taken a sharp turn to the right and rejection of progressive, democratic Western culture is popular. MUSTANG is a strong statement against the professed purity and goodness of the resurgent conservative Islamism. It says that women must be empowered, and honesty be valued over deception in religion and society powered by corrupt men, to create a just, productive culture.
Because of this attitude, this film was made in France, not Turkey. It was funded primarily by
French interests, and submitted as France’s entry into the 2015 Academy Awards. France has suffered greatly from conservative Islamic violence in recent years, and MUSTANG is their message that something is deeply wrong in the conservative Islamic message and actions.