sinecine ISSN: 1309-5838

Demolition Movies: The Urban Poor on the Margins of Their Story

This article analyzes how the popular cinema in Turkey, which showed a heightened interest in the gecekondu (slum or squatter house) problem in the late 1970s, tackled the question of representing the poor residents of these areas. The popular films – particularly the ones about the problem of demolition– denied a positive identity and agency to this group. The films positioned the squatters predominantly on the periphery of the narrative, although the gecekondu problem was at the center of the story. They appeared as a blurry crowd lurking behind or on the edges of the screen, unable to step in and be the leading actors of their own story. I argue that in the context of 1970s Turkey, the stereotypical image of the urban poor as a pragmatic or non-ideological (thus ambivalent, immature and unreliable) group was, at least in part, a constructed identity in which all the cultural elite contributed. This surprising collaboration between otherwise hostile ideological positions in constructing and reinforcing such an identity can be seen as a common reaction to the symbolic challenge that the squatters, as a new social formation falling outside or between traditional social categories, posed to all established frameworks of cultural production.

Keywords: Urban poor, cultural representation, identity, gecekondu.