ISTANBUL -Müjde Arslan, who was born in the southeastern city of Mardin, has experienced the difficulties of being a woman throughout her life. At the age of 28, she shot a documentary film ’Ölüm Elbisesi: Kumalık’ (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy), which features the painful life of women living there
Her fate was the same as other girls in her village. They were destined to be the second or third wife of a very old man, or given to another family in return for a bride given to her family, a practice known as "berdel" in Turkish.
Arslan began a hunger strike when she learned she would not be sent to school again. And when her body was almost spent from starvation, her uncle in prison saved her and secretly enrolled her in school, unbeknownst to her family.
Despite all impositions, Arslan graduated from the Diyarbakır University Faculty of Biology. She then started working as a journalist for Dicle news agency. She was so successful that sometime later she was called to the agency's headquarters in Istanbul. Against the wishes of her family, she left for Istanbul for two weeks, but stayed there for eight years. She started master’s classes at the Marmara University Faculty of Communications Cinema Department. Later on, she went to England for a one-year language course.
When she returned from England, she shot a documentary on women in Mardin. Her starting point was the life story of her aunt, Emine. She named her film "Ölüm Elbisesi: Kumalık" (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy). The first screening of the documentary was April 14 at the ongoing 28th International Istanbul Film Festival.
Tickets for the documentary were sold out days before the screening. It will be shown again at the Flying Broom Women’s Film Festival on May 4 and at the Kurdish Films Week in Hamburg on May 27.
She was not free from struggle in London
At just 28 years old, Arslan’s life has already been wrought with difficulties. "I did not feel at ease even in London," she told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "I had big fights in my inner world there. I came to the West from the far East, where traditions dominate life. I experienced the most difficult ebbs and flows in my life. London was the center of the world and I was a very small piece. I was surrounded by taboos and pressures," she said.
Arslan said she was the most unwanted thing in her family and that her childhood and early youth were full of struggles. "I was like a visitor even in my family environment," she said.
Arslan said she completed her middle school education in a boarding school. There were 1,000 male students and just eight girl students in the school. "I made the most of my freedom at university. I was afraid of even laughing until I went to university. I was too shy."
During her university years, Arslan visited her family only on holidays. She observed the experiences of her aunt Emine. She was given as a "berdel" for her father to get married. Arslan said Emine was only 16 when she was given as the second wife to a 40-year-old man. She was raped and exposed to domestic violence for many years. "Even if Emine returned to her family, they would send her back, Arslan said, adding that she lost her mental health and her body was struck with paralysis.
Arslan said the documentary was based on Emine’s story, adding, "With this story, I wanted to write down in history from Mardin."
Although the source of the documentary is Emine’s life, Arslan did not use her image, she only filmed Emine’s feet. "I didn’t want to cause emotional exploitation. It is more striking the statements of my uncle, who is talking to his other wife next to my aunt lying down in the bed," she said.
Arslan explained the reason why she named the documentary "A Fatal Dress," saying, "Women in Göllük village define what they are going through as a fatal dress. Nothing can explain what they experience better than these two words."