The Times has a video feature today on Mustafa, a controversial new Turkish film portraying the life of national hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic, is revered in a way not normally seen outside of countries ending in “-stan.” His image as a war hero, statesman, and ideological guide is unparalleled: imagine rolling George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln into the same superdude. Ataturk’s memory, (neatly cleansed of the troublesome bits), is the cornerstone of what is arguably the most defensively nationalistic country on earth. The thoroughly modern Ataturk adorns literally all denominations of the Turkish Lira.
So along comes journalist Can Dundar, with a film portraying Ataturk as a human being. The movie Kemal is a drinker, a smoker, and a bit of a paranoid, and his staunch secularism is driven as much by personal resentment of his childhood religious education as by ideological commitment. Dundar wanted to rectify an image “devoid of human qualities“; someone far more a hero than a man. Critics have hit the film from all sides, with devout Kemalists worrying it will weaken the image of the nation and the religious community bemoaning their founder’s on-screen taste for raki and women.
Mustafa Akyol, (a strange cat in his own right), noted in the popular nationalistic daily Hurriyet that critics of the film have not actually questioned its veracity. The problem is not that the movie isn’t accurate, but that the accuracy is unacceptable. Amidst all this controversy, Turks are flocking to it.
For more on the film and surrounding hullaballoo, check out both the Times video and the companion article.