'Ethos' Examines Divides Between Rich, Poor And Secular, Religious

Dec 28, 2020
Originally published on December 28, 2020 4:15 am
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Turkish television is known for its soap operas that air around the region. But this year, a Turkish miniseries streaming on Netflix takes a deeper look at the divides in Turkey - rich and poor, secular and religious. Here's NPR's Peter Kenyon.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The English title for the miniseries is "Ethos." And in the first episode, we meet Meryem, a young headscarf-wearing woman from a religious family. It's her first visit to a therapist, and she's not sure how to proceed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ETHOS")

OYKU KARAYEL: (As Meryem, speaking Turkish).

DEFNE KAYALAR: (As Peri, speaking Turkish).

KARAYEL: (As Meryem, speaking Turkish).

KENYON: At first, a nervous Meryem talks about everything but the reason for her visit - where can she catch a bus home, she has to take care of her niece. But eventually, she reveals her problem - inexplicable fainting spells that doctors can't find a cause for.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ETHOS")

KARAYEL: (As Peri, speaking Turkish).

KENYON: Peri, the therapist, sits stiffly at attention throughout this first visit, and she seems almost as uncomfortable as the young woman in front of her. Then we see Peri in a role reversal. She's in the office of another therapist trying to explain how shocked she was and how resentful she felt about the young religious woman who was seeking her help.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ETHOS")

KAYALAR: (As Peri, through interpreter) She's so smart, talkative, so pretty and so young and has a face like a painting. But me, I can't do it. I listen to the girl, but I feel a feeling inside me that I can't explain. Like, I - anger. Anger.

KENYON: "Ethos" isn't the first work to take on religious, class and racial prejudice in Turkey. Such themes have been explored by authors Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak and others. But journalist and Turkish academic Kenan Behzat Sharpe says this look at the divide between the pious and more secular people of Turkey seems to have struck a chord among viewers. He says the rise to power of the ruling Justice and Development Party, led by pious Muslims, has brought the divide into sharper focus for Western-oriented professionals, such as the character of the therapist Peri.

KENAN BEHZAT SHARPE: So a character like Peri from a very young age has had this upbringing that women who wear the headscarf are ignorant. And she's unable to really see the person across from her as a person because, in some ways, for her, all headscarved women are the same. And she's aware of it but can't quite overcome this prejudice.

KENYON: Sharpe finds this a refreshing change from previous Netflix productions of Turkish programs, which leaned heavily on teen dramas or Ottoman-themed superhero shows. Istanbul viewers are largely impressed with "Ethos." Thirty-six-year-old Magda Kouriya (ph) says she loved the main character, Meryem, and especially her therapist.

MAGDA KOURIYA: The one conversation that I found very, very interesting was between the two psychiatrists.

KENYON: She says she enjoyed watching the therapist Peri switch from impassively listening to Meryem to having her own emotions spill out as she discussed her own prejudice with another therapist.

KOURIYA: And then when she went to her own therapy and she was, like, devastated and revealing all her real self and how much she was sick and tired of being judgmental or racist, you know, all these things, you kind of get angry with her, but then you already understand her inner fight.

KENYON: Critic Kenan Sharpe says he hopes the success of "Ethos" will encourage more productions that take a deeper look into Turkish society.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRAMEWORKS' "ALL DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.