The documentary I am Femen is a powerful exploration into the inner workings of the controversial Ukrainian based feminist group Femen. The film chronicles several of the group’s political demonstrations from the initial planning stages to the actual event as well as the political and/or legal repercussions that follow. Writer/director Alain Margot provides viewers with an enlightening portrait of a brave group of women who’ve devoted their lives to activism.
I am Femen begins with members of the Femen group protesting the lack of criminal charges against three men who beat, raped, and then set fire to an 18 year old girl. The women claim that corruption is so rampant in Ukraine that two of the criminals, whose relatives are government officials, will most likely escape prosecution and never be punished. This powerful scene serves as a reminder of all the horrific crimes which are committed against women throughout the world. News reports of so called “honor killings”, bride burnings, and the recent gang rapes in India etc. have become all too common occurrences. The scene also illustrates the fact that despite the important causes behind Femen’s protests the aspect of their activism that garners the most attention (from the public, press, and the government) is that the women are topless. Sex trumps politics.
The filmmaker focuses on Oksana Shachko, one of the central forces behind the group and her role designing costumes and Femen graphic art. The documentary gives viewers the opportunity to get to know her as a headstrong and seemingly fearless activist. Shachko is seen venturing home to visit her mother, taking part in demonstrations, creating original artworks, and voicing her concerns regarding a number of socio-political issues. At one point in the film she states her belief that women are stronger than men, backing up her statement by relating a personal story about her parents. She also makes comments regarding animal abuse, wide spread political corruption in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, as well as her fears regarding being persecuted or killed because of her involvement with Femen.
Perhaps the only flaw in I am Femen is that viewers aren’t given a real sense of these women’s lives apart from their activism. There’s no mention of their personal relationships or other aspects of their lives. They’re shown in terms of being professional protesters. The women’s lives seem rather empty apart from their involvement in the group. Viewers are given little insight into the individual lives or daily struggles of the Femen members apart from their involvement in political demonstrations.
Because Femen’s demonstrations involve topless women one of the central issues addressed in the documentary is the relationship between sex and politics. One of the central members of the group explains that although the public is accustomed to seeing beautiful women’s bodies being used in advertising, porn, and pop culture they’re not used to seeing female nudity that conveys a political message. Despite all the controversy surrounding the topless demonstrations the film includes one ironic shot that seems to hint at the fact that Femen’s use of nudity isn’t as revolutionary as some might think. During a trip to Paris one of the Femen members is shown standing in front of Eugene Delacroix’s 1830 painting, Liberty Leading the People, which prominently features a topless woman proudly hoisting the French flag.
I am Femen is a thought provoking film which delves into topics such as gender inequality, violence, repression, corruption, and the importance of freedom of speech. In a world in which apathy seems to be the norm for most citizens it’s a source of great hope that young women like the members of Femen are willing to take a stand and risk their lives to stand up for what they believe in.