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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 oldest LGBTI+ organization in Turkey, Lambda Istanbul, 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, North-American films helped to form a collective identity for the Turkish LGBTI+ community and to mobilize them politically. In 2o11, the first queer film festival with an international program was organized in Ankara by the trans* rights organization PembeHayat.

The dissertation project examines how these campus film screenings and the film festival became tools of political activism. Is it possible for film spaces to turn into political-pedagogical spaces of identity and community building, thus becoming an active part of the political struggle 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? Might there even be a development of a “specific Turkish” queerness/queer identity that resists the problematic concept of the “Gay International”, e.g. Lubunca, the Turkish slang of queer people? These questions are explored through the aforementioned student film screenings of LGBTI+ activists and the annual queer activist film festival in Turkey Pembe Hayat KuirFest/Pink Life QueerFest.

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.