The Power of Pussy Riot

Masha and Nadya

Masha and Nadya

Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina know how to disarm. The first questioner at yesterday’s screening of Pussy vs. Putin at the Harmony Gold Theater shouted increasingly hostile comments/queries that ended with the clearly largely rhetorical question, “How do you define political prostitution?” It’s a time-honored tactic against women who venture outside of prescribed boundaries: Call them whores. In fact, it’s a charge made against Pussy Riot in the documentary that had just aired: “We are against the propaganda of whoredom.” But rather than taking offense at what seemed like an inquisition, not an inquiry, Nadya seized the moment and made it her own.

“I particularly like your second question,” she responded with enthusiasm, not resentment. “Political prostitution is when thugs are hired by the government to attack two young women who are trying to visit prisoners, as happened to us.”

To be honest, the debut appearance of the two formerly jailed members of Pussy Riot was underwhelming. In my mind, this  was a moment for The Day of the Locusts hysteria, but in actuality, the theater was half empty. Masha and Nadya got a standing ovation when they took the stage after the documentary ended and sat in director’s chairs in front of a black curtain, flanked by Jaka Bizlij, from Cinema for Peace (the event’s host) and Pyotr Verzilov, Nadya’s husband and their interpreter. They were dressed simply, in shirts, skirts, and tights. They are, indeed, beautiful, but what’s most compelling about them is their poised intelligence.

“I was freed in a whole nother country than I was imprisoned in,” Nadya said, discussing Russia’s crackdown on homosexuality in recent years.IMG_3598

“You just need a balaclava, a dress, and something you feel strongly about politically and want to speak out  against… by writing a song about it,” Masha replied when asked how a person could become part of Pussy Riot.

The film was a hodgepodge of clips of Pussy Riot performances and protests, with little editing or narrative thread — but still fascinating. It shows the crucial role digital media have played in documenting and disseminating the artists/activists’ message — everywhere they go, there are cameras.

The main event of Pussy Riot’s LA premiere is tonight, when they speak on a panel at Mack Sennett Studios.

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1 Comment

Filed under Queens of Noise

One response to “The Power of Pussy Riot

  1. Pingback: Pussymania Hits LA | Populism

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