We See Chick Flicks: HBO’s “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer”

Who Are Pussy Riot?
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Pussy Riot
Meet the feminist punk band from Russia. Read More »
Pussy Riot Found Guilty
The three women were sentenced to two years for "hooliganism." Read More »
Madonna Loves Pussy Riot
madonna on pussy riot
Madonna supports the Russian punk band. Read More »
pussy riot hbo
Russia's Feminist Punk Rockers!

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is available on HBO Go and select HBO viewings.

HBO Go and HBO are currently airing a film I’d eagerly been anticipating all year: the Pussy Riot documentary. “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer”  follows the arrest, trial and incarceration of three members of the Russian feminist punk band who made shockwaves around the world last year for one of their public protests.

Pussy Riot formed in response to the third term of President Vladmir Putin. It’s an anonymous collective who stage guerrilla performances/protests while wearing colorful balaclavas over their faces to hide their identities. Their most famous protest was in February 2012, when several members stormed the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savoir — a space where only the church patriarch is allowed — and briefly performed punk music. The women sang about sexism and spoke out against about President Putin (a major no-no) before getting yanked off stage. The protest lasted a mere 40 seconds long.

Russian police arrested three of the women —Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich — and charged them with hooliganism for allegedly inciting religious hatred. Public protests filled the streets of Russia, made up of both supporters and antagonists who condemned the women, in utter seriousness, as witches. Of course, the women were not inciting religious hatred at all: this is just what Russia was able to pin on them for speaking out against Putin. The three plead “not guilty” to the charges, which carried seven years each, likening the performance in the church to numerous other performance-based protests they’ve done throughout the years.

Soon Pussy Riot’s plight traveled out of free speech and feminist activism circles and into the public eye; Madonna got involved, along with Yoko Ono, Sting, Paul McCartney, Bjork, Tegan and Sara, and numerous liberal governments around the globe. Putin eventually released the jailed women in advance of the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia, fearing bad press. Imprisonment inspired the women to become prison justice advocates. You can watch Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina speaking about their work on “The Colbert Report” here.

Using videos from Pussy Riot themselves, interviews with family members, and film from Russian news agencies during the trial, ”Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” is as educational as it is provocative.  Forget about “Twelve Angry Men” — you’ll be on the edge of your seat with this one.

The Verdict: It’s a must-watch for anyone who is interested in feminism, art, social justice movements and protest. It was particularly fascinating to me because I have been blogging about the Pussy Riot saga in real time and I loved how the behind-the-scenes narratives added to the story. There’s great videos of other performance-based protests that members of the collective have done, plus you get to watch videos from Pussy Riot rehearsals.

To be honest, as a Dumb American, I would have appreciated more historical context about Russia. I know that President Putin is a Very Bad Man, but since the film only briefly touches on concepts like “glasnost,” I had little background understanding about why Pussy Riot’s activism is significant beyond free speech and gender equality being important for any society.

Nevertheless, even if you hadn’t heard about Pussy Riot before, the whole film is an invigorating burst of energy for the necessity of social protest. These women are true role models for standing up for what they believe in, with a sense of humor, and defending themselves every single day. Even if I didn’t agree with all of their methods or beliefs, I can’t disagree that Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich are so cool and beyond inspiring.

Learn more about “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” here.

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