Pussy Riot: Feminist Punk Icons on Film

Grafite_para_Pussy_RiotI spent the night with Pussy Riot.

Granted, they were on the big screen, and I was sitting in Arkansas at the Little Rock Film Festival. Yet, the documentary, Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer, transported me to Russia and into the lives of the three members of the feminist punk rock collective who wear neon balaclavas, tights and skimpy dresses.

Pussy Riot has become renowned in their native country, and globally, because of their opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. Three members – Maria Alyokhina, 24, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22 – were arrested in 2012 for “hooliganism” after they overtook the pulpit of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral chanting, “Mother Mary, drive Putin away” for 40 seconds.

On Wednesday, Alyokhina – aka Masha – declared a hunger strike after a judge refused to allow her to attend a hearing where she was seeking release on parole. The hearing was postponed until Thursday.

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer, which premieres June 10 on HBO, unveils the story of these three fiery women over the course of six months as they prepare for trial amid international media attention. It’s a shocking documentary, showing the women sitting shackled in a glass box as if they were insects in a lab experiment, and a stark reminder that Russia remains with Cold War elements.

But the trio aren’t just overnight feminist icons. They are young women with families, friends and vibrant lives.

With her bobbed hair and a wicked smile, Nadezhda, aka Nadia, is portrayed as the ringleader of Pussy Riot. But Nadia’s reputation preceded itself even before she was arrested. She engaged in on-camera sex for an art collective that has since become a YouTube sensation.

Her father said in the film that he was an early supporter of the group, and even helped to write lyrics for their punk mantras against the Putin government. Her husband, Peter, has lobbied for her release relentlessly but to no avail.

Because of Nadia’s fiery, almost irreverent, attitude toward Putin and the government, she was called a demon and a witch by church leaders. Undoubtedly, church leaders want her burned at the stake.

Last month, Nadia, the mother of a small daughter, was denied parole. She is currently in the K-14 women’s penal colony in the Republic of Mordovia.

Masha, a political activist, is also a mother of a five-year-old son. Her own mother said in the film that her favorite word as a child was “unjust” and always defended the wronged even as a little girl. She also liked the Spice Girls as a teenager especially Victoria Beckham. Now, Masha is held in a remote Russian prison in the Ural Mountains where one of the film directors, Maxim Pozdorovkin, told the crowd in Little Rock that she has had conflicts with her fellow inmates.

A glimmer of hope: one Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, aka Katia, is now free. She was released last fall after her lawyer argued she didn’t perform because her guitar never left its case. Some argue she kicked her friends to the curb. Others have said that she was released to splinter Pussy Riot.

Still, two Pussy Riot members remain imprisoned, and they serve as a stark reminder of continued female repression in a male-dominated world.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for Reuters, TakePart, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons License

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