All posts filed under: Film

‘Nikah’: An astonishing portrait of Uyghur life on the edge of erasure

Mukaddas Mijit and Bastien Ehouzan’s Nikah is extraordinary. It is a quiet film, a portrait of a young Uyghur woman and her family living in a Uyghur world in the late 2010s. It is astonishing in its restraint, in the way it remains true to a ground-level view of what it looked and felt like to be on the verge of internment. Nikah is a portrait of the impossible becoming reality. The story on the surface is a simple one. Two daughters in their twenties, Dilber and Rena, are caught between their own ambitions — careers, travel, love — and community pressures to follow gendered norms dictating what young women should do, whom they should get married to, and the life path of a wife and mother. After the younger sister, Rena, is married to a young man in the community, the pressure builds on the older sister, Dilber, to marry as well — or be lost to old age or, more ominously, as whispers imply, be married off to a Han man. In 2017, the Chinese state criminalized …

‘Saved’ By State Terror: Gendered Violence And Propaganda In Xinjiang

The ongoing atrocities targeting Turkic Muslim peoples in Xinjiang are, in many forms, gendered violence. As the “People’s War on Terror” campaign escalates, Han officials and settlers are removing Turkic Muslim men who they perceive as threats to “security” and “safety,” emptying out a clear path for Han settlers to insert their presence onto Uyghur and Kazakh homelands. This comes at the expense of the women who remain. In the state-initiated “Becoming Families” campaign, Han cadres enter native peoples’ homes and scan for any signs of Islamic piety, or wield scissors to cut off women’s long dresses on the streets. Since 2017, the state has begun to attack Muslim-Han marriage taboos as well as Muslim halal practices as forms of “religious extremism.” Interethnic marriage was forced upon many Uyghur women, an approach that went even further than simply encouraging them with money and other incentives in 2014. Several female survivors from the camps recounted experiences of being forced to take unknown medication that stopped their menstrual cycles. The mass-incarceration has also led to a large population of children, whose parents were detained, being taken into orphanages, where …

A Road to Forgetting: Friendship and Memory in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

In the midst of the mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz in the so-called ‘reeducation camps’ in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a Sino-Kazakh coproduction based on the life of Chinese musician Xian Xinghai is close to release. The Composer portrays the friendship between Xian—the mind behind the Yellow River Cantata and On the Taihang Mountains, classic patriotic ‘red’ songs that every middle school student in China learns to sing—and a Kazakh composer named Bakhitzhan Baykadamov. It is not the first time that the life of Xian has been depicted on the silver screen. Previous iterations include a film directed by Wang Hengli in 1994 and a TV drama directed by Duan Guoping in 2005, both of which were entitled Xian Xinghai and mostly depicted his years studying in Paris and his transformation into a ‘people’s musician’ (人民音乐家). Now that Kazakhstan is one of the most strategic partners of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it is not surprising that The Composer focuses instead on Xian’s life in Kazakhstan. The film was originally inspired by Xi Jinping’s 2013 keynote speech at Nazarbayev …

Uyghur Women & Memetjan Semet’s film “Dad, I Love You”

A few weeks ago when talking to a Uyghur acquaintance he told me: “One the biggest problems among Uyghurs today is the rate of divorce. I think it is as high as 70 percent. Most of it is the fault of women. They have misunderstood what women’s equality is all about. They think that it means that they should be equal to men in every way; or that men should be just like them. They try to control men, stop them from going to bars. They order men to do housework, and then spend all of their money. They don’t understand that that is not their place. If they would be encouraging to men, than men would never cheat on them.” When I mentioned this conversation to the filmmaker Memetjan Semet he said: “That’s not true. The main reason people get divorced is because of men. Many men don’t understand just how difficult and stressful women’s work can be. They have to take care of the household, cook, clean and take care of their children. …