A Prince from Outer Space: Zeki Müren (feature documentary in production) unpacks the mythology of Turkey’s first pop star and legendary queer icon, and chases the star’s ghost into the present, to a contemporary Turkey in-crisis.
In 1951, Müren emerged as a state-sponsored radio star and quickly became the young Turkish Republic’s golden boy. He recorded hundreds of albums which turned his voice into a national institution. In his movies, he played a sentimental musician (also named Zeki Müren), affirming his star myth through the magic of cinema. In the mid 1950s, he began performing in ‘gazino’ nightclubs, a venue that would soon become synonymous with his name. In these shows, Müren transitioned from a serious musician into a crossdressing performer. He executed his coming out so well that by the time he wore a minidress and 12-inch boots, the Turkey’s conservative public had long been in love with him and he had already established indispensable relationships with the state institutions and the entertainment industry.
Müren defied a conservative society with his gender non-conforming stage persona, yet he never uttered the words of a revolutionary. He rendered himself untouchable by employing a populist attitude, as he always aligned himself with the dominant ideology of the time and the popular sentiments of the public. By using his position as a powerful pop star, he skillfully negotiated competing values within Turkey’s society. He was traditional and modern, a militarist yet conciliatory, religious and an iconoclast, camp and intimate, and many more contradictions all at once. After Müren died on live television in 1996, ninety-thousand people from all walks of life attended his state funeral. It was soon revealed that he had left half of his money to the military veterans organization, and this generous act defined his legacy as a nationalist — the undisputed quality of a model Turkish citizen.
Even though Zeki Müren’s popularity has never faded after his death, in the past couple of years, his name started appearing more and more frequently in Turkey’s cultural scene, news, and social justice movements. His image manifested itself as a symbol of resistance in the Gezi Protests (2013) and the following Pride Parades; young artists and musicians have been using his work as inspiration; his picture even popped up as an unofficial candidate in a voting ballot in 2014 presidential elections! He has been dead for twenty years, so why has he kept coming back in different shapes and forms? And why has this revival been concentrated in the past five or so years?
A Prince from Outer Space: Zeki Müren is a multi-dimensional portrait of Zeki Müren that includes his rise as a pop star and his death, as well as his ghosts that haunt the society today. Müren’s story goes hand-in-hand with Turkey’s troubled history between 1950 and today. Through interviews with Müren’s fans and friends, historians, sociologists, musicians, and artists, images and footage from the star’s substantial archives, documentation of his apparitions in contemporary Turkey, and hundreds of messages received by Zeki Müren Hotline, A Prince from Outer Space: Zeki Müren investigates the star’s mythology and legacy. In addition, the film offers a unique lens on the country that gave birth to him.