Ar, Müjde (1954–)
Müjde Ar is one of the veterans and leading actresses of Turkish cinema. Ar's breakthrough came with her performance in Yavuz Turgul's Fahriye Abla (1984, Sister Fahriye), as it marks the liberation of female sexuality in mainstream cinema. She became a cult figure within Turkish society and is referred to as the intellectual sexual woman. Her portrayal of liberated, amoral, modern, independent, and revolting characters changed the stereotype about women in Turkish culture. Hence, Ar's film career and personal devotion to act in challenging film roles is closely linked to her own feminist endeavors to change the moral fabric of her time. Ar received several major film awards in Turkey and continues to be involved with cinema to enhance the quality of film as an art form within Turkish society. At the same time, she is often compared to Jane Fonda because of her tireless activism to publicly speak out on political, social, and environmental issues.
Born as Kamile Suat Ebrem on 21 June 1954 in Istanbul, Turkey, Ar is the oldest daughter of songwriter and theater performer Aysel Gürel, and newspaper reporter Vedat Akin. Her parents divorced when Ar and her sister Mehtap were very young. In an interview with the newspaper Radikal, Ar describes her childhood as difficult and painful. The family lived in poor conditions. Ar, so she explains in the interview, had at times a tense relationship with her mother who, as a single parent, had to provide for her daughters through hard work at the theater. When her mother went to work, Ar says she had no one to leave the children behind with. In retrospect, Ar states that she understands now her mother's strict and sometimes abusive behavior toward her daughters:
"The reason is migration. We are migrants from Bulgaria and migration has always been part of our family's past and identity. But migration is characteristic of the Ottoman period too. The immigrants had always heard rumors of killing, hanging, slaughter and other crimes that were passed on through oral stories that expressed fear and anxiety. These were nothing but stories…. Then I recognized that the reason for my mother's strict demands toward her children derive from this anxiety. Since my childhood I have heard phrases in my mother's language but could never give meaning to them. I never saw any connection to history" (Radikal. 12 October, 2000).
Ar's acting career began when she was eight and attended the Oralogğlu Theater in Istanbul. She said that she always was passionate about reading and literature. Although financially unstable, her family was intellectually active and encouraged education. Ar successfully graduated from high school and attended the University of Istanbul where she studied for a master's degree in German language and literature. However, she interrupted her studies at age twenty, worked as a model, took drama classes, and when she was 21 married TV director Samim Degğer. Her role in Halit Refig's film series Așk-i Memnu (1974) that was broadcast on Turkish TV made her known to a broader Turkish audience. She then turned to cinema with her role in Babacan in 1975. Until the early 1980s, she played in twenty-eight melodramas and romantic comedies. However, by the end of the 1970s, Ar portrayed more and more rebellious female characters through which issues such as gender politics, hierarchy, female obedience, and male dominance were addressed. Noticeably, her portrayal of real-life female characters changed the cinematic representation of women to such an extent that it affected the box office and won back female audiences to the movie theaters.
Ar is also an intellectual activist dedicated to the promotion of cinema. She was one of the founders and presidents of the Turkish Foundation of Cinema and Audiovisual Culture (Türkiye Sinema ve Audiovisuel Kültür Vakfi, or short TÜRSAK), established in 1991, and as of 2007 consists of 275 members. This autonomous, nonprofit organization hosts yearly international environmental film festivals in Turkey and sets as its goal to spread the concept of cinema as an art form and contribute to the cultural enrichment of the Turkish public. At its earlier stages, Ar was involved in reinforcing and enhancing the study of film in Turkey's educational system. She also helped win the collaboration of the government and various private institutions to advance the art of cinema within Turkey.
Name: Müjde Ar (born Kamile Suat Ebrem)
Birth: 1954, Istanbul, Turkey
Family: First husband, Samin Degğer; second husband, Ercan Karakas (m. 2005)
Education: University of Istanbul, incomplete M.A. studies, German language and literature
- 1974: Appears in Așk-i Memnu
- 1975: Appears in Batsin bu Dünya
- 1976: Appears in Tosun Pașa; Magğlup edilemeyenler; Adali Kiz; and Öyle Olsun
- 1977: Appears in Vahși Sevgili; Tatli Kaçik; Sarmașdolaș; Nehir; and Gülen Gözler
- 1978: Appears in Töre; and Kibar Feyzo
- 1979: Appears in Lanet; and Așki ben mi yarattim
- 1981: Appears in Feryada gücüm yok; and Ah güzel Istanbul
- 1982: Appears in Çirkinler de sever; and Șalvar davasi
- 1983: Appears in Așk adasi; and Aile kadini
- 1984: Appears in Fahriye Abla
- 1985: Appears in Adi Vasfiye
- 1986: Appears in Kupa kizi; Asilacak kadin; and Aaah Belinda
- 1987: Appears in Teyzem; and Afife jale
- 1988: Appears in Kaçamak
- 1989: Appears in Arabesk
- 1994: Appears in Yolcu
- 1998: Appears in Agğir Roman
- 2000: Appears in Karakolda ayna var; and Dar alanda kisa paslasmalar
- 2002: Appears in Komser Șekspir
- 2003: Appears in Serseri așiklar
- 2005: Appears in Egğreti gelin
- 2006: Appears in Kuș dili
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Ömer Kavur's Ah Güzel Istanbul (1981, Oh, Beautiful Istanbul) marks a turn in Turkish cinema as it is not only Ar's first role in which she acts nude and portrays female sexuality but also foregrounds a new image of the Turkish woman in cinema per se. The film is based on a story by the author Füruzan and depicts the life of the prostitute Cevahir, who suffers societal ostracism. A truck driver, played by Kadir Inanir, falls in love with her and decides to marry her, despite her past and social background. However, the film's end, as film historian Agah Özgüç argues, denies such a happy ending because of contemporary Turkish cinema's reluctance to present its audience with such a daring proposition. As Özgüç further explains, female star icons of the Yeșilçam period, the so-called Turkish Hollywood, predominantly appeared in either stereotypical roles or complied with dominant notions of Turkish viewers who had certain expectations of its female film stars. The reason for such a portrayal is connected to the most productive Yeșilçam years, during which the film industry systematically typecast women. As filmmaker Yilmaz explains within this context:
Those heroines lacked a psyche and they could never become characters. They represented certain masks similar to the masks worn in many traditions of Eastern art, such as the Kabuki theatre of Japan. The same can also be said for the heroes of that period. What is played with masks in the Eastern cultures was done live. For instance, if you look at the women characters of the period, Fatma Girik plays the 'manly' woman; Filiz Akin is the educated bourgeois girl; Hülya Koçyigğit represents the oppressed woman of our society; Türkan Șoray is the woman with sexuality who is also oppressed. Each of these types is as if created from a mask (Yilmaz, p. 143).
Within this context, Ar stands as a symbol for the sexual revolution in Turkish culture, as she is the pioneer of the sexual liberation of female characters and actresses in Turkish cinema. Ar's realistic and delicate portrayal of self-conscious female characters posed also the question of how women can escape and liberate themselves from structures of patriarchy and male dominance. Conversely, Ar's performance demonstrated that she no longer was willing to be the symbolic Other to men, nor to accept roles of passive, obedient women who need to be protected by men. Unlike her predecessors, she gave identity and sexuality to women and broke out of women's film as a leading rebellious actress who demonstrated that women can live economically independent from men in society. This meaning, so illustrates Özgüç, is brought to its extreme in Yuvuz Turgul's Fahriye Abla (1984, Sister Fahriye), Kartal Tibet's Șalvar Davasi (1983, The Baggy Trousers Case), Șeref Gören's Gizli Duygular (1984, Secret Emotions), Atif Yilmaz's Adi Vasfiye (1985, A Woman Called Vasfiye), and Yilmaz's Aaahhh Belinda (1986).
In Asilacak Kadin (1987, A Woman to be Hanged) by Bașar Sabuncu, for example, Ar plays the role of a young woman named Melek who is sold as a servant to a wealthy family after her guardian dies. Melek becomes the victim of the perverted sexual fantasies of the household's master who is much older than Melek. After his wife dies, he forces Melek to have sex with other younger men. The film addresses issues of masculinity and voyeurism, and is an open critique of power structures embedded within the bourgeoisie. Sabuncu's controversial film was banned from the theaters after its release because of its open depiction of sexuality and noncompliance with moral codes.
Similarly, the film Adi Vasfiye (1985, A Woman Called Vasfiye), directed by Yilmaz and which brought the director the Best Film Award of the year, portrays the life of a disillusioned male author who is fascinated and seduced by the images of a singer. The drama centers on the life of Ar's character, who is idealized and yet exploited by men at the same time. The filmmaker Yilmaz remembers as follows:
Müjde Ar is memorable with many roles but especially as Vasfiye, a young woman with sexuality. She calls the doctor who is already infatuated by her pretending she is sick. When he says 'Will you undress please?' She asks with an innocent expression, 'Completely?' Müjde Ar's character is very different than all the weeping willows, the prostitutes, the vamps, the masks…. She is real although she does not have much chance either to change her destiny. I suppose it took longer for Turkish cinema to liberate women totally (Yilmaz, 146).
The above-portrayed evolution of Turkish cinema exemplifies the problems female actresses faced in a society that was Western-oriented yet deeply connected with Islam. Especially, the era following the military coup in 1980 reflected the rapid changes in the political, social, and economic arenas that affected the experience of women on different levels in reality. Paradoxically, the coup, as Gönül Dönmez-Colin points out, was of benefit for cinema. "The absence of the pressure to be politically engaged liberated the artists, and urban problems of the individual surfaced" (Dönmez-Colin, p. 11). Within this context, the focus shifted from male heroes to female heroines, and women's issues were addressed in cinema. In this sense, Ar's influence within Turkish cinema is unquestionably also connected to the innovation in Turkish cinema, as well as the feminist movement that gained ground during this time. Experienced and insightful film directors such as Yilmaz, Gören, and Zeki Ökten dealt with the question of how sexual relations could be visualized in cinema. Women had long repressed fantasies and desires because of the conservative ideas of a Muslim society and seemed to be starved to see a part of their lives on the screen.
One of Müjde Ar's contemporaries is Turkish film icon Türkan Șoray (1945–), the sultan of Turkish cinema, who was born on 28 June 1945 and began her film career in the 1960s. Her career evolved over time but her real breakthrough came with her role in Aci Hayat (1964), for which she received the first film award for best actress.
In the past, cinematic images of women all lacked representations of intimate love and sex. Although these films aimed for a social critique, women were obeying chauvinistic attitudes and were unable to break with inherent cultural taboos on the silver screen. As an actor, Ar personified the young, courageous, and defiant woman. She presented these urban female characters in cinema through which themes such as social class, widowhood, infertility, birth control, and even lesbianism were addressed.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
The changing imagery of women in Turkish films documents indirectly the development of a new feminist movement on an international and national level. During the difficult days of Yeșilçam cinema, the popular Turkish film industry struggled to obtain high box-office numbers and produced more soft-porn films in the 1980s and early 1990s, which lacked sophistication in technique, style, and narrative form. This cinema exploited sexuality and the presented images of women were problematic, as they became mere sexual objects for the visual gratification of its male spectators. Ar worked with a new generation of filmmakers such as Yilmaz who broke away from Yeșilçam conventions and gave women's issues a new distinction in cinema. Women searching for their true identity become a common theme in the cinema of Yilmaz and this young generation of film directors.
As have many of her female predecessors, Ar played in many women-centered films with much more realistic characters and stories. What distinguishes her from other Turkish female stars of her time is her nuanced understanding of the political situation after the military coup in 1980. Ar's change of direction in her acting career is closely linked to her political engagement to deal with social issues concerning Turkey's current reality. Her determination to identify social problems is purposefully reflected in her characters through which a new stubborn and self-confident female identity is tunneled. Female stars such as Hülya Kocigğit and Türkan Șoray renewed themselves on the screen and became more radical performers to present issues regarding female identity and sexuality in films such as Yilmaz's Mine (1982), Gören's Firar (1984), and Ayca Engin's Bez Bebek (1988). Ar not only changed the perception of Turkish women in cinema but also paved the way for future actresses to act in a vast array of female roles detached from societal oppositions. Her roles of self-conscious and contradictory characters such as prostitutes introduced controversial themes to the Turkish audience. This type of representation de facto challenged cultural values and interfered with the demeaning portrayal of women in cinema. The changing demographics are exemplified through Ar's body as she idealized the notion that a woman's sexuality is the natural outcome of her love and sensibility. In the early twenty-first century, Ar's involvement in politics as well as her contributions to the promotion of Turkish cinema singles her out from other female contemporaries of her time.
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Evren, Burcak. "Yeșilçam Kadinlari." 10 June 2005. Available from http://www.turksinemasi.com.
Özgüç, Agah. 100 filmde baslangicdan günümüze Türk sinemasi. Ankara: Bilgi Yayinevi, 1993.
Özgüç, Agah. Türk Sinemasinda Cinselligin Tarihi. Istanbul: Antrakt Yayinlari, 1994.
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"Turkish Foundation of Cinema & Audiovisual Culture." Available from http://www.tursak.org.tr/english.htm.
"Türkiye Sinemaśnda 'Kad́n Duyarĺĺgğ́' ve Müjde Ar." Feminisite. Available from http://www.feminisite.net.
As long as Turkey does not reach the point at which it can sell films to the world, swim within these nets and reach world standards, nothing can be achieved in Turkey.
"ÇOÇUKLUGUNLA TANIșMIș." RADIKAL. 12 OCTOBER 2000. AVAILABLE FROM HTTP://WWW.RADIKAL.COM.TR.