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Sema Çakmak
Doctoral candidate, second cohort (2020-2023)

Lubunya: Film Screenings as Spaces of Political Activism and Identity Building in Turkey’s LGBTI+ Community

In the mid ‘90s the two major LGBTI+ organizations in Turkey, Lambda Istanbul and Kaos GL, organized collegiate events at different universities to raise awareness of LGBTI+ issues by exposing multiple discourses of gender and sexuality. Discussions, readings, and most notably the film screenings of foreign-language, American films helped to form a collective identity for the Turkish LGBTI+ community and to mobilize them politically.

The dissertation project examines how these campus film screenings became a tool of political activism. Is it possible for cinematic spaces to turn into political-pedagogical spaces of identity and community building, thus becoming an active part of the political fight for acceptance and equal rights? What problems arise when the western image of LGBTI+ identity is transferred uncritically into a country like Turkey that is torn between modernity and tradition, and heavily heteronormative despite its own history of open discourses about homosexuality? How did this “westernized” LGBTI+ identity have an influence on Turkish queer cinema today? Might there even be a development of a specific Turkish “queerness”/queer identity,” e.g. Lubunca, the Turkish slang of gay people? Can the Queer Film Festival in Turkey Pembe Hayat Kuir Fest, which has been taking place annually since 2011, be considered a continuation of the activist student film screenings?

Fig. 1:
Screenshot from Zenne Dancer (M. Caner Alper, 2011), last accessed July 14, 2020.
Fig. 2:
LGBT campaigners protesting the ban of Gay Pride in Istanbul, The Independent, last accessed July 14, 2020.
Fig. 3:
Popular drag artist TV star Huysuz Virjin putting a traditional chastity belt on a singer, Izlesene, last accessed July 14, 2020.


Sema Çakmak is a PhD candidate in the Graduiertenkolleg “Configurations of Film” at the Goethe University, Frankfurt. She studied theater and media studies, and French studies at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and cinema studies at the University Aix-Marseille. She graduated in the International Program in Audiovisual and Cinema Studies (IMACS) and completed her M.A. at the Goethe University, Frankfurt, the University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, and the University of Liège. Her main research interests are queer cinema, festival studies and political film cultures.