Merve Dizdar made history in Cannes at the weekend after she was named Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Turkish actress to win the award.
She won the prize for her role as Nuray, a teacher in a remote village who has to deal with male harassment at her school, in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest movie Kuru Otlar Üstüne [‘About Dry Grasses’]. The feature film was one of 19 in competition at the 76th Cannes Film Festival.
Dizdar, 36, was clearly surprised when she was named the winner of the prestigious award at Palais des Festivals during the closing ceremony of the festival on Saturday night.
Making an emotional acceptance speech in Turkish, Dizdar dedicated her prize to, “All my sisters who… take action to strengthen the struggle of women, who risk everything and never give up hope no matter what, and all fighting spirits waiting to experience the good days they deserve in Turkiye.”
“My character Nuray is a woman who struggles for her beliefs and existence and has to pay a price for this cause. I would like to work for a long time to get to know and understand her, but unfortunately, being a woman in the geography I live requires knowing the feelings of Nuray by heart since the day I was born,” she added.
Her comments received mixed reaction in Turkiye. While her acting peers, civil society and feminist groups and opposition politicians like Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş congratulated Dizdar, those close to the government, like İbrahim Uslu, the deputy chair of Turkiye’s broadcast watchdog RTÜK, were more critical.
« J’aimerais dédier ce prix à toutes les femmes qui mènent une lutte pour surmonter les difficultés pour exister dans ce monde.»
— France 2 (@France2tv) May 27, 2023
“First you will learn to respect your own country, Merve Dizdar. Then you can expect congratulations from all citizens of this country on your award. There is nothing to be congratulated for the award received by those who do not respect their country,” Uslu tweeted on Saturday.
Önce kendi ülkene saygı duymayı öğreneceksin Merve Dizdar.
Sonra da bu ülkenin tüm vatandaşlarından aldığın ödül için tebrik bekleyebilirsin. Ülkesine saygı duymayanın aldığı ödülün de tebrik edilesi bir yanı yoktur. 🇹🇷
— Dr.İbrahim USLU (@ibrahimuslu55) May 27, 2023
In contrast, the Çağdaş Yaşamı Destekleme Derneği (ÇYDD – Association for the Support of Contemporary Living) tweeted:
“We heartily congratulate #MerveDizdar, our first Turkish actress to win the Palme d’Or at the 76th Cannes Film Festival!
“We will continue to stand by the strong and successful women of our Republic against the patriarchal and misogynistic order.”
76. Cannes Film Festivali’nde Altın Palmiye kazanan ilk Türk kadın oyuncumuz #MerveDizdar’ı yürekten kutluyoruz!
— ÇYDD-Çağdaş Yaşam (@CagdasYasamDD) May 29, 2023
Prize winners at 2023 Cannes Film Festival
French director Justine Triet won the Palme d’Or for her film Anatomy of a Fall, making her the third female director in Cannes’ 76-year history to win its biggest prize.
Palme d’Or: Justine Triet for Anatomy of a Fall
Grand Prix: Jonathan Glazer for The Zone of Interest
Best Actor: Koji Yakusho, Perfect Days
Best Actress: Merve Dizdar, Kuru Otlar Üstüne
Best Director: Tran Anh Hung, The Pot-Au-Feu
Best Screenplay: Yuji Sakamoto, Monster
Jury Prize: Fallen Leaves, dir. Aki Kaurismäki
Camera d’Or: Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell, Dir. Pham Thien An
Short Film Palme d’Or:27, dir. Flóra Anna Buda
Special mention: Fár, dir. Gunnur Martinsdóttir Schlüter
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Main image top, shows Turkish actress Merve Dizdar posing during a photocall after she won the Best Actress award for her part in the film Kuru Otlar Üstüne [‘About Dry Grasses’] during the closing of the 76th edition of Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, May 27, 2023. Photo © Photo by CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock