Women's journey in Turkish cinema
EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Thanks to the rising popularity of TV shows in recent decades, veteran female actors find it easier to obtain roles that show their versatility. There are probably more female directors and writers in Turkey than in Hollywood. Some of them are on a continuous streak in winning awards.This week we celebrate Women’s Day. A brief look at Turkish cinema will show you that there is a rich selection of roles for female actors, showing women as complicated, multi-dimensional characters. Some of the comediennes are able, on their own, to drive a movie to box office success.
Thanks to the rising popularity of TV shows in recent decades, veteran female actors find it easier to obtain roles that show their versatility. There are probably more female directors and writers in Turkey than in Hollywood. Some of them are on a continuous streak in winning awards here and abroad. To celebrate Women’s Day, let’s take a brief look at how women found their voice in Turkish cinema in the last century. When cinema eased its way into the freshly-founded Turkish Republic in early 20th century, women were, in fact, nonexistent. For a brief period of time when the Ottoman Empire was about to be transformed into modern Turkey, Muslim women weren’t allowed to be part of this new sacrilegious art form. Until the 1920s, female characters were played by men, and later by non-Muslim women, mostly Armenian or Russian. The first woman who dared to kiss a man on screen was a minority, Madame Kalitea. Then came Afife Jale, the first Turkish (hence Muslim) woman to pursue acting on stage in 1920.
While Jale bravely strutted her stuff on stage, others followed in her steps, acting both on stage and on screen. 1923 to 1939 was the period of Muhsin Ertuğrul, a period of a one-man show when Ertuğrul was the only director with 29 movies. He introduced the very first female actors to Turkish cinema.
Among these women were Feriha Tevfik, who won the first Miss Turkey title after a beauty contest initiated by Atatürk; Semiha Berksoy, an opera singer who played and sang in the first sound movie; and İsmet Sırrı, who was the first actress in Turkey’s very first box office success “Ankara Postası” (The Ankara Post).
One-dimensional roles for women
There were the female actors, and then came the female star, Cahide Sonku. Having been compared to international movie icons like Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Marlene Dietrich, Sonku became a legend in the 1930s. Her onscreen persona of the beautiful heartbreaker, coupled with her off-screen image as the irresistible woman whose shoes were used as wine glasses, she became the ultimate movie icon of her period. Cahide Sonku was also the first female screenwriter and director with 1951’s “Vatan ve Namık Kemal” (Namık Kemal and the Motherland), as well as the first leading female character with her role in “Bataklı Damın Kızı Aysel.”
The next decades would confine women to one-dimensional roles where women were either good or bad. The sacrificing mother, untouched virgin, femme fatale and the seductress were some of the cardboard female characters Turkish cinema got a load of during that period. When movies wandered into rural Turkey, honor and virtue became the driving forces to put women into their places. If a woman lost her “purity,” she was either killed or found herself in a brothel.
Until the late 1970s, female actors were typecast in these one-dimensional roles. Neriman Köksal was the blond femme fatale and the home-breaker, Hülya Koçyiğit was the heroine of the tragic love stories, Muhterem Nur was the weak woman doomed to despair, Belgin Doruk was the bourgeois sweetheart, Fatma Girik was the tough street girl and Filiz Akın was the naive romantic with her blond European look. There was one name, however, that stood out among these female actors, cementing her name as the legend of Turkish cinema to date, Türkan Şoray. With her slightly parted lips and big, dreamy eyes, she soon shone among other female actors. Thanks to a set of rules, nicknamed the Şoray Rules, Şoray took control of her career and earned the name “The Sultan” by making demands to her filmmakers. She honed her craft in diverse roles while maintaining her dignity despite risky roles. Şoray even directed four films in the 1970s and 1980s, including the classic “Yılanı Öldürseler.”
It was Müjde Ar in the 1980s who connected the split halves of women, playing multi-dimensional women who were in charge of their lives and their sexuality.
She wasn’t afraid of nudity but refrained from being objectified. She gave back dignity to the
“fallen” women of cinema.