I Am Femen
In the United States, we have an usual amount of freedom to protest.
But we don’t really take advantage of it.
Sure, the people of Ferguson have come together to shed light on police brutality. And the Occupy Wall Street movement showed how disenfranchised some young people feel about the New World Order of corporate greed.
In America, we have people who sometimes take to the streets in protest. But we don’t have many actual dissidents – people who have devoted their lives to protest.
The documentary “I Am Femen” gives us an unvarnished, uncensored look at the life of Oksana Shachko: a full-time protestor.
When we meet Oksana, she is 25 years old but she is already a veteran leader of the radical FEMEN organization in her native Ukraine.
As a child, she studied art, focusing on Eastern Orthodox church iconography. Now she uses her remarkable art talents to make her protest events as visually memorable as possible.
You’ve probably seen pictures of FEMEN protestors on the news or the internet. That’s because they usually protest topless with their bodies painted (by Oksana) with artful slogans. There’s a particularly memorable photo of a FEMEN protestor confronting Vladimir Putin where the Russian leader is clearly more interested in the woman’s looks than her political message.
The young women of FEMEN are far more focused and issue-oriented than you’d expect from their public image.
French documentarian Alain Margot follows Oksana on several of her public demonstrations.
Some of the FEMEN causes are clearly and undeniably righteous. We see FEMEN protesting on the roof of the Kiev courthouse where two brutal murderers were set free because their fathers are high government officials.
Some of the FEMEN causes highlight how backward Eastern Europe still is in some ways. We see them protest the fact that the Ukranian government is kicking students out of government housing to make room for profitable brothels.
And some of the FEMEN causes are just plain weird. There’s a scene where they protest outside of the Kiev zoo because they believe that the head zookeeper is secretly poisoning animals in hopes of closing the zoo and selling the land.
Right, wrong, or bizarre, the women of FEMEN are fully dedicated. They fund their organization with profits from the merchandise they sell on www.femen.org. And they are able to travel around Europe with money paid to them by television stations that have learned the unsurprising fact that conflict+breasts=ratings.
Oksana Shachko is a remarkable woman. She doesn’t act like an angry rebel. She seems more like a faithful martyr who is serenely comfortable with her decision to suffer for her cause.
And, boy, does she suffer. Just during the few months of filming, she is imprisoned and interrogated for two weeks in Russian jail and she is taken to a remote forest by a van full of Belarusian thugs to be beaten and humiliated. In the epilogue, Oksana and her FEMEN sisters all flee Ukraine for good after the one male member of the group is tortured by the Kiev secret police.
After watching “I Am FEMEN,” I now understand why there are hardly any full-time dissidents in the United States. 1. It takes superhuman bravery. 2. Things just aren’t as awful here.