The Transformation of Political Cinema in Turkey since the 1960s: A Change of Discourse

Demoğlu M. E. , Çetin Erus Z.

in: The Oxford Handbook of Turkish Politics, Güneş Murat Tezcür, Editor, Oxford University Press, London , London, 2020

  • Publication Type: Book Chapter / Chapter Research Book
  • Publication Date: 2020
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, London 
  • City: London
  • Editors: Güneş Murat Tezcür, Editor


This chapter analyzes the transformation of political films in Turkey from the 1960s to the late 2010s. With the repression of labor movements after the 1980 military coup and parallel to neoliberal developments around the world, political cinema in Turkey changed dramatically. Earlier films, though in limited numbers, displayed overt political Marxist messages and, similar to radical political film movements of the time, aimed to move the audience to take action against exploitation. In comparison, in the absence of organized movements and under an oppressive political environment for a large part of the four decades since the 1980 military coup, more contemporary films have been political by displaying the lack of solidarity and struggle against that oppression. Accordingly, films with direct political messages aiming to move audiences to action are replaced with those exposing the shortcomings of the system with their portrayal of individuals squeezed in an existentialist impasse. As such, films, even the rare ones that aim to address contemporary sociopolitical issues, are now focused on the state of inability to express one’s self or criticize. The chapter focuses on films of Yılmaz Güney, the most prominent Turkish filmmaker, writings of Young Cinema members in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a leading figure in contemporary Turkish cinema, with a particular focus on Ahlat Ağacı (2018) to analyze the evolution of political filmmaking in Turkey.