PUNK YOU

Pussy Riot’s Sexy Spike-Heeled Satire Targets Putin and His Prosecutor

In an exclusive interview, the group’s leader talks about the performance artists’ new video launched out of Hollywood.

02.04.16 5:32 PM ET

MOSCOW — Probably it had to happen. That Putin-taunting Russian punk-performance group with the provocatively prurient moniker, Pussy Riot, has gone Hollywood. Or almost.

For sure its lead figures, now out of jail and out in L.A., are in a movie-making fever. They have a slick new music video, “Chaika,” and in an exclusive interview over Skype they tell The Daily Beast their heads already are buzzing with new ideas. Might they be stars? Or directors? Shall we say auteurs?

Last December, a guitarist and record producer, Dave Sitek, offered his help producing a video that would be different from anything the group had done before. “It would shake minds and open them,” said Pussy Riot’s leader, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (whom we’ll call NT for the hip-hop hell of it). So the Russian-American team began to create their little film together. NT played the leading role and also debuted as a director.

The scene is set in a real Russian jail in the Dolgoprudny district on the outskirts of Moscow. But this time Pussy Riot singers, who did more than a year of hard time in a post-Soviet slam for “hooliganism,” are not the prisoners, they are the guards and prosecutors.

“My American friend [Sitek] suggested that this time we do hip-hop, the genre originally rooted in gangster culture,” said NT. “So in the film we have a criminal, the biggest gangster there is in Russia: Prosecutor General Yuri Y. Chaika.”

NT plays a rather special version of Chaika. She wears a tight uniform, fishnet stockings, and patent pink high heels that sharpen her long legs. Over and over she sings Chaika’s rules: “Be loyal to those in power, because power is a gift from God, son. I love Russia. I’m a patriot.”

The words come straight from Chaika’s declarations after members of the Russian opposition investigated him and leveled against him allegations of massive corruption and connections with organized crime.

NT told us two film projects impressed her last year. One was Leviathan, an Oscar-nominated film about a man in a small Russian town struggling against corruption and despair, and opposition activist Alexey Navalny’s investigative documentary about Chaika, detailing the way the prosecutor general dealt with the murderers of 12 people, four of them children, and stole enormous sums of money from the country. “That story was from our real life,” NT told The Daily Beast.

As she looks forward to more movie-making, she says independent producers and Web-based production companies like Netflix are much more attractive to her than mainstream Hollywood. “See, Hollywood is too stiff, their producers are afraid of losing money working with Pussy Riot, so we really enjoyed working with flexible Netflix, who are attracted to acute political issues.”

As a case in point she cited the hit series House of Cards, the Kevin Spacey tour de force about intrigues and outrages in Washington, D.C. Last March, NT and Maria Alyokhina, another leading member of Pussy Riot, had a cameo on the show telling off a fictional Russian president. Netflix also carries the documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.

Indeed, NT’s life has had more spins and loops than a roller coaster over the last five years. She had sex in a Moscow museum and kissed policemen in the subway on camera for her video art projects. Singing/shouting a song (that “Punk Prayer”) against Russian President Vladimir Putin at the main church in Moscow got her and Maria Alyokhina that two-year sentence for “hooliganism.”

On coming out of prison, the Pussy Riot girls launched an important multimedia project called media-zona, an online forum about prison news, human-rights abuses, riots, and law in Russia.

By then, Pussy Riot were world-famous punk political performance artists (“rock band” doesn’t quite sum them up). They got calls from film producers and leading media outlets, as well as letters of support from politicians and movie stars.

NT, a big Quentin Tarantino fan, met with celebrities Uma Thurman and Catherine Deneuve, Kevin Spacey and Spider. But she doesn’t appear to be starstruck. Her main focus of interest now, she says, is Russia’s economic crisis and the pervasive, insidious presence of Putinism. “High officials were connected with serial murderers, but neither Putin, nor the Duma [Russia’s parliament] reacts,” NT told The Daily Beast. “Atrocities in Russia are growing worse by the day.”

Tolokonnikova says she is planning to direct more films and videos in Los Angeles.

“I might be ignorant about some technical details in cinema production, but after spending enough time with filmmakers in studios, I realize that I can do it, I have passion, and I know exactly what result I want to see in my films,” she said.

Whatever that is, it’s a good guess neither Putin nor his lead prosecutor will be pleased.