Shannon Plumb has shot over 200 short films, which have been exhibited in museums, galleries, and on international screens. She started by shooting herself as various characters, acting out three-minute situations using humor and silence as her vehicles for storytelling. In 2013, her first feature film, Towheads, premiered at MoMA as part of New Directors / New Films. You can see her short films at shannonplumb.com and Towheads is available on Netflix and iTunes. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, director Derek Cianfrance, and their two sons.
A beast rises from the ocean. It heads for land. The beast has five heads and long hair that floats on the wind, and upward to the stars. Its hips are wide as the Mediterranean Sea. Each step forward gives birth to a new wave. The men on the shore are terrified. They watch from a distance. Will it eat them alive? Will they tame it? Will they capture it, tie it up, lock it down? Will they offer it some beef jerky and make friends with it? As the beast hits the shore, it implants footprints into the earth. It stands tall and still, its breasts hovering over the Eastern world. The monster is a woman. Her five heads search for a direction. One head hangs in defeat, one screams from fits of insanity, one smiles seductively and dreams of love, one keeps her eyes closed at all times, one looks into the distance to a long, curvy path. It feels like freedom, so she moves the beast in that direction.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven describes her female protagonists in Mustang as a five-headed monster. They are five sisters who live in Turkey. Their parents are dead. They are growing up under the rule of their grandmother and uncle, under the reign of the extremist brain. The girls range from prepubescent to young teenagers. All are beauties, with long hair and uninhibited gestures. They are wild like mustangs. Their thoughts are free and their passion abundant. They expect a life with modern morals not dinosaur do’s and don’ts. A villager spies them playing on the beach with boys. She spins a tale of sexual arousal and witchy seduction. Their uncle and grandmother yell at the girls, accusing them of “rubbing thighs on the necks of the boys!” In reality, it was just girls on boys’ shoulders playing a toppling game. In that moment, I felt ashamed of being an adult. I saw how easy it is to assume children have thoughts just like grown-ups. But most children are not corrupted yet. We corrupt them ourselves. We don’t make time for innocence anymore. Innocence, once abundant and admired, now is an endangered quality in human beings. It’s getting blown up by religious pride, slaughtered by unregulated guns and desensitized by X-rated Internet images.
The girls are punished for something they didn’t do. I felt as though I was witnessing a regime taking over a country. Bars go up on the windows. Stone walls get taller. “Anything likely to pervert us was banned,” the narrator says. We watch as the elder women of the house go through the girls’ belongings. They take away a revolutionary postcard, clothing that sparkles or color that vibrates, jeans with holes, nylons, makeup. The computers and telephones are unplugged, the cell phones confiscated. The girls are locked in and kept out of school. They are put into “shapeless, shit-colored dresses.” They are taught how to become good wives in what has become a prison, a “wife factory.”
Why is sexuality such a threat to some people? Maybe everyone should walk around naked for a decade. Take away the mystery. Get used to bodies and freedom and feeling alive. Get used to practicing self-control. You don’t have to have sex with something you admire. It’s not asking you for sex.
Young women want to feel soft and pretty, want to smell nice. The littlest girl puts her sister’s bra on, stuffs it with Kleenex and parades around the house with her hands on her hips. The old woman in the kitchen says, “Put your clothes on. What would your uncles say?!” She responds, “It’s just us here. Let me breathe.”
I don’t understand what men are so afraid of. What happened that they needed to cover women, control women? Were women so powerful? Were men so weak? Could they not control themselves? Do men really need someone to bake their beets? Do men really think modesty has to go this far? One day while the family eats together, the radio plays in the background. A man is spouting about women protecting their chastity. “Women must be chaste and pure, know their limits. Where are the girls who blush when you look at them?” Where are the men who respect free women?
There are similarities between Middle Eastern women and American women. They often have men as “bosses.” When in positions of power, women act just like men. They are seduced by the mightiness of authority. They ignore the wishes, the challenges, the dreams of women. They prevent change from happening. They offer opportunity to the men and close the doors to women. It seems women are always protecting the world men have created. In both societies, women have the ability to make change happen. Just like the five-headed monster in Mustang, women are a force when they move together.
Maybe change has to start with the women at home. The mothers and the sons. The mothers have the ability to change things. “Put down the toilet seat, pick up your socks, share with your sister, talk nice to your mother, don’t hit the girls, put that rock down, don’t launch that rocket…” And if Daddy isn’t beating his wife, we might have a chance at a better world. Let’s stop repressing the girls. We’ll begin by teaching the boys. Teaching them how to respect a woman.
My cousin’s grandmother had a couch in the living room. I knew it was beautiful and very special, yet it was wrapped in hard plastic. You could barely see the red flowers that were blooming beneath. The petals looked like smeared blood rather than parts of a grand design. And even though it was lifeless to begin with, I felt this couch couldn’t breathe.
I wanted to rescue the girls in Mustang.
When I was a little girl, I wanted a horse. I wrote to the President and asked how could I get a horse with no money. I received a response about wild mustangs that were being rescued, saying that if I wanted a horse they would capture one for me. Maybe that’s what men thought once. That they needed to rescue these beautiful creatures from the dangers of a war-torn world. If that was the case, that’s very nice. But now we ladies can carry our own flame, fire our own guns, raise good human beings. Just let us breathe. And then come, be by our side.
I realized later that those mustangs belonged where they were. They didn’t need to be rescued. They needed to be left alone and running wild.
Thank you, Deniz, for making this picture. I hope men from all over the world watch your movie and embrace the beauty, the wildness, the strength of the mustang. I hope too they will respect the beast when it’s running wild.