Growing up, my mother always used to say to say that she thought the bonds of siblinghood between my sister, Allison, and I, were amplified due to the fact we were born one minute apart.
Being a fraternal twin is something that has affected almost every part of my life, from having a constant playground playmate, someone to share an elementary school birthday cupcake with (we’d always bring home a crumpled mess of crumbs in a wrapper, refusing to eat the whole thing when our sister was waiting, cupcake-less, in another classroom), to having someone to bond over the struggles of getting my first period with.
I do agree with my mom, that the bond between twins can be amplified, yet I know sets of twins and even triplets who are not nearly as close as Allison and I. Other factors have gone into our close bond (which has gotten even closer, somehow, in the past three years since I left for college), including my family relying on each other to get through some insane medical struggles, and having some crazy cats running around our feet in a little blue house, supplying laughter and stress relief.
Yet since I’ve gone away to college, I have noticed a trend of meeting women whose bonds with their sisters – whether there be a one minute, one year, or eleven-year age difference- is incredibly strong, and defies arguments, time zone differences, and so much more.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that just about every week I hear about the bond between sisters from a friend or classmate of mine, and often this bond is further put on display by our millennial generation through platforms like Instagram and Facebook. These are my very favorite kinds of posts on social media, ladies supporting ladies, and celebrating each other’s worth to each other and the world. Especially since being away for college, the technology between Allison and I has become something I’m grateful for every day – on the bad days we send each other dog pictures to make each other smile, on the good ones we reblog around one hundred things from each other’s blogs. Sisters supporting each other, showing the world how unique their bond is, is something I’ve become passionate about witnessing, something that makes me feel alive.
Which is why I find it heartbreaking that accurate portrayals of females in films, both from the US and elsewhere, are so hard to find. Even harder to find, something I’ve barely ever witnessed in film, is an accurate portrayal of sisterhood, and the way it affects our daily lives.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s movie Mustang changed all of that for me.
Mustang is not only the exception, but the answer to a question I didn’t know I was asking – a film where these three things I’m so passionate about (film, sisterhood, and intersectional feminist representation) can be not only found but championed.
I’ll be honest – I could talk about this film all day. Last spring, I wrote a fifteen-page paper on the film for a class about profanity and the male gaze in forms of media, and could have written fifty more pages, easily. The film calls to not only female representation, but to inherent human truths and emotions so rarely found in any form of media. Yet the last thing I would want to do is spoil this creative masterpiece for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet (yes, it’s on Netflix, so you have no excuse not to see it) so instead I’ll highlight why the movie is so important.
The film is the first of female director and screenwriter Ergüven, who grew up in modern-day Turkey, where the story is set. Passionate about exploring her country’s pathway in the past few decades, Ergüven wanted to explore how Turkey has what is considered a very progressive and revolutionary past, yet how the nation has been regressing in the topic of women’s choices in the past decade.
Mustang tells the story of five orphaned teenage sisters being raised by their grandmother and uncle in a small village along the Black Sea. A simple act of play in the first five minutes of the film is misunderstood (an act from Ergüven’s own childhood), and what follows is a crackdown on any Western influence in the girls lives, any outside connection, and a regression to traditional female roles in Turkish society. Mustang focuses greatly on the bond of the five sisters, and the way they interact with the repressive world around them, playing off of and impacting each other as Ergüven described, a “Monster of Femininity, with ten arms and ten legs”.
The bond between the sisters is what makes Mustang the unbelievable piece of art that it is. They fight, they steal each other’s clothing, they rebel, and they comfort each other. It is the scenes like the one where they lay in a piled heap on a bedroom floor, playing with each other’s hair and tickling each other, or the one where they sneak out of the house, pulling each other along, teasingly calling each other names, and boosting each other up and over barriers that make my chest ache with the realness of it all.
These traits, these actions of sisters are universal – the comfort we take, as human beings, in each other’s touch, the comical nature of childhood, the seriousness of bonding over familial issues that no one else quite understands. The bonds between the sisters are something I truly believe you could find in any culture, with any language present, and even find remnants in just about every time period. The five sisters in the film, and our hearts beat as one, we are connected in a way, and Mustang reveals this to the viewer, shows how intersectional and timeless, heartbreaking yet unbreakable sisterhood and female love can be.
In Mustang, not once is a cast member, a young actress, sexualized, because even the oldest sisters, seeking boyfriends and adventure, are seen through the eyes of the youngest sister, Lale. Scenes with a sexual, and sometimes possibly disturbing nature are never glamorized or unnecessarily shown for shock value. Ergüven fights against this by having Lale tell the story and see her sisters and the world around her. The sisters all triumph, in some way, even in the darkest of times, because through Lale’s love and admiration of them all, they live on and succeed – even beyond the end credits.
In my opinion, the sisters, these five amazingly strong female protagonists, represent not just one family’s story, but the story and struggle of all women, and what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century. The bond between the five sisters guides the course of the film, and the audience’s reactions to its various themes, including repression, sexual abuse, feminism, sexuality and sexualization, and voyeurism.
Through a distinct, unapologetic, and rare female gaze in cinema, Ergüven asks: Who is the modern Turkish female? What does it mean to be a female? How does the world see us? And most importantly – how do we see the world?
Mustang not only fights against the traditional male-centric view and gaze of cinema and its tendency to view females, even children, as sex objects, but (re)claims voyeurism as a female familial action instead of a male sexual one, and through dialogue and cinematography creates a feminist film that in my mind, has no precedent in American or international cinema.
Mustang, simply put, gives me hope, through its “Monster of Femininity”- it proves that females can be written not only accurately, but that interpersonal female relationships, a huge part of every woman’s life, can be given justice when done though a talented female filmmaker’s eyes.
So let the “Monster of Femininity” rage on, in all females, and sisters alike.
Lauren is a cinema studies student in her final year of university (and is more than a little stunned at that fact). Based in Boston, she spends her time drinking earl grey tea, pretending she knows how to take photographs, and over-analyzing every movie she sees (with a few impassioned arguments in defense of her favorite fictional characters, here and there). Sunbeams, falling leaves, watching old movies, and Harry Potter make her happy (and she hopes you have beautiful things that make you happy too). You can find her on twitter (@labackus) and instagram.