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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mustang is a 2015 Turkish feature that touches on many mature subjects concerning five sisters aged 13 to 21. The conflict between strict religious beliefs versus personal freedoms in a Muslim country is foremost, with the availability of education and self-determination at stake for girls. One sister commits suicide to escape. The high-spirited protagonists use language including "s--t" and "boobs," and they speak frankly about sex. The oldest tells the others she's had sex with her boyfriend "the back way" to avoid pregnancy. There is talk of being sullied by promiscuity and rendered "unmarriageable," a terrible fate in the eyes of more conservative family members. Some of the girls escape their imprisonment and rebel against early arranged marriages. After wedding night sex, a girl doesn't bleed and is taken to a doctor to determine if her hymen is still intact. A young girl who has been married off against her will chugs back alcoholic drinks that have been left at her wedding table.
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What's the story?
MUSTANG is set in Turkey, a country that is largely Muslim by population but singularly secular among Muslim nations. Secular and religious factions still wrestle for power and political expression there, and that conflict, where it addresses treatment of women, is at the heart of this story about the fate of five orphaned sisters. Raised in the rural north by their grandmother, at first they attend a coed school, socialize innocently with boys, wear Western clothes, and don't cover their heads in public. But after the girls are observed playing wrestling games in the water at the beach with some boys, their strict uncle complains that the family's reputation will be ruined by their "obscene" behavior. "Instruments of corruption," cell phones and computers, are removed and the girls become virtual prisoners in their house, unable to return to school. The academic curriculum is replaced by a program of cooking, sewing, and domestic skills. "The house became a wife factory," youngest sister, Lale (Gunes Sensoy), narrates. Marriages are quickly arranged before the girls can further sully the uncle's reputation. They are instructed that girls are not only worthless without intact hymens, but also pariahs who bring shame upon their families. Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), the oldest, who has already had sex with her boyfriend "the back way" so as not to get pregnant, agrees to marry the boy. But Selma (Elit Iscan), the next in line, must be forced to marry a stranger. When she doesn't bleed after sex on their wedding night, the in-laws drag her to the doctor for an examination. Lale, displaying courage unusual in someone so young, watches her sisters being forced out and hatches a plan to escape to Istanbul, 600 miles away.
Is it any good?
Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2016, this movie artfully questions the subservient role women have been assigned in some religion-dominated cultures. In so doing director and cowriter Denize Gamze Erguven examines the seeds of domestic violence, too. In a country where the president announced in 2014 that women are not equal to men, women understand that if they deviate from social norms, they face terrible consequences. The ever-present threat of violence, of wondering how far conservative caretakers will go to keep rebellious girls down, creates a sense of impending doom through the movie that may disturb younger viewers.
Director Erguven deftly balances the beauty of the sisters' deep bond against the encroaching and systematic shutdown of their freedom and self-determination. She paints a world where girls' lives are not their own, where the promise of bright, independent women is restricted by threats of ostracism and worse. The casting of non-actors in the key roles of the sisters was astute. Rehearsals designed to teach acting skills also drew the five together into a believable family unit, "one character with five heads," as Erguven has called it. That gives Mustang a compelling, lived-in, nonfictional feel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how kids can cope with overly restrictive parents. One girl in Mustang commits suicide. Do you think she must have seen no other way out? What else could she have done?
The movie depicts the fact that in some parts of the world women's rights are strictly limited. How do you think it would feel if your education and opportunities to live an independent life were taken away from you? What might you do to achieve your freedom?
What do you know about Turkey? How could you learn more?
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