You've probably heard about Femen, that female group of “topless warriors” who, with crowned heads of blonde locks and flowers, paint their naked bodies with slogans and carry out public protests. The international activist group was formed in the Ukraine in 2006, in an effort to battle the country’s desperate prostitution problem, stand up for women’s rights, and put an end to patriarchal dictatorship. Sounds cool, right?
Well...maybe. In Ukraine Is Not A Brothel, an award-winning documentary that has only recently become available for streaming in the US, the trials and tribulations of the group are brought to light. And what we see is not always pretty.
The documentary, directed by director Kitty Green, focuses on Inna, Alexandra, Anna, and Oksana, four of Femen's most devoted members. We observe their day-to-day lives surviving as radical activists in the Ukraine—and listen to them explain why they do what they do, watch them plan and execute their protests, and witness the string of consequences that follow their actions wherever they go.
Ukraine Is Not A Brothel's director, Kitty Green
Whether or not you agree that a group of women exposing themselves in public is the most productive way to effect change, Femen's topless protests definitely aren't monkey business. The activities these women participate in are real and dangerous. Ukraine Is Not A Brothel presents the reality of being a woman of Femen, and membership comes at a costly price. Many members of Femen are facing criminal charges and serious jail time. Their families are constantly worried for their safety. Death threats are a regular occurrence in the women's daily lives. Their homes have been broken into and vandalized. They've been assaulted countless times.
So why do they do it? It's a question the film explores, and in doing so exposes a little-known truth: Femen is an extreme anti-man and anti-patriarchy organization monopolized by a single leader—and his name is Victor Sviatsky.
Listening to Sviatsky—who is, inexplicably, sometimes interviewed wearing a bizarre rabbit mask—share his condescending opinion of the group is shockingly mind-blowing, and raises a multitude of questions. Are the women in Femen—many of whom described their reasons for being feminists and participating in the group quite aptly—merely pawns in a game controlled by Sviatsky? Or is it anti-feminist to even consider the idea?
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