Women's issues and identity in Modern Iran: An erudite and insider analysis based on Iranian cinema

I am a great admirer of Iranian cinema. When I discovered this cinema, I was overwhelmed by the level of technical perfection, creative narration, humanist perspective and artistic productivity of an industry having endured radical political transformations, a long and bloody war, censorship and sometimes cultural isolation and which was able to regenerate itself in a way that forces our admiration.
'The taste of Cherry', 'The wind will carry us', 'Ten', 'Where is the friend's house' are works of internationally renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Jean-Luc Godard said of Kiarostami: 'Cinema starts with D.W.Griffith and ends with Kiarostami.'
There are also the Makhmalbaf, father and daughter with 'Gabbeh', 'Kandahar' and 'The blackboard'. I am citing here a tiny portion of Iranian cinema, those movies who were able to reach us in the west.
In a country that have been going through fundamental and brutal transformations for the last thirty years, the film industry, instead of becoming, under the tight control of the state, the reflection of the political and religious power and its structure, turned out to be the catalyser of a chain of dialogue and compromise between the civil society and the state, thanks to the prolific and untamed creativity of its members and to the cultural vitality of Iranian society. The Iranian cinema became, in the process, so much intertwined with Iranian society, contributing to its evolution while documenting it at the same time. It is no wonder then that a careful study of Iranian cinema yielded surprising results about women's issues in Iran and their evolution during the last thirty years.

We are told today that women living in traditional Mulsim societies need the protection of the West, that they need our ready made ideologies in order to emancipate their self and our ill thought wars in order to access modernity. My friend, Najmeh Khalili Mahani, not only proves the contrary with her admirable essay on women in Iranian cinema, but she also proves that a society is capable of transforming itself from the inside, no matter the circumstances, by initiating a cultural dialogue between its different components, a dialogue in which art plays a major role.

The essay is well documented and worth reading.

''In the West, the media-driven portrait of Iranian women after the 1970’s Revolution is often blurred with over-simplifications that render their image bleakly oppressed, chained by Islamic fundamentalism, and scarred with violations of the rights and body. Yet, under the iron rule of the mullahs, an Iranian woman receives the Nobel peace prize; two Iranian females become the first Muslim women to conquer Everest; a woman becomes the national car-racing champion amongst both men and women challengers in Iran; women occupy over 60% of the capacity of higher education centers; the feminist non-governmental organizations grow by over 400%; [1] the international prize for technological innovation in Geneva goes to a provincial Iranian girl; and presidential candidates herald women’s issues in the election campaign. [2] Patriarchy in Iran is not fundamentally different from that in non-Islamic societies, but the religious dogma is bound to raise higher the bar of challenge for attaining equality for women’s right.''

''The right to participation in public sphere and the political process is at the heart of the Iranian women’s movement since the beginning. The politics of “veiling,” however, have been the centerpieces of not only religious but also secular legislative debates. The forced unveiling of women during Reza Shah’s regiment of modernity set back the women’s movement by as much as did the forced veiling of women during Khomeini’s regiment of Islamic rule. From the long history of struggle for the right to dress, however, Iranian women have inherited skills for negotiation, resistance and survival. Today, in spite of cultural and constitutional inequalities that cripple the women’s movement, it is they who push the wheels of democracy and (even post-) modernity. ''

And she concludes:
''Whether feminist or humanist, whether popular or repertory, whether box-office hit or totally banned from the silver screen, the Iranian cinema has succeeded in taking advantage of the paradoxical nature of Islamic Republic’s quest for Islamic Modernism and become the outlet of expression for a generation who has experienced revolution, war and reform, all condensed in less that 30 years. The cinema in Iran is among many of other slumbering institutions that are awakening to the voices of the ‘second gender.’ Yet, in the vast emptiness of the visual field of the representation of feminine diversity, the voices of cinematic women, whether behind or in front of the camera, echo perpetually with that which is awakened and that which is awakening. Although journalism is the brave frontrunner of reform in Iran, it is the primacy of the visual affect that accelerates the efficacy of the text. Here, we glimpsed at the image of progress made by women of Iranian cinema: from perdition to resurrection to revolution. This progress is owed in part to the readiness of the spectators for change and in part to the artists who have taken risks and have pushed the envelope of the viewer’s imagination and expectations beyond tradition and taboo. And from beneath the ‘hijab,’ which is meant to obscure a vision of femininity, the Iranian women are painting a striking figure of their identity that flickers through the darkness of the cinema theater and perhaps into the darkness beyond.''

Read the entire article


Richard said...


It seems that while I've been awol you've been working your socks off.

The only problem is that now I'm home again, I've soooo much to catch up on. But don't please slow down on my account. Heh.

Sophia said...

Hello Richard,
What a wonderful expression is this: 'working my socks off', I am going to serve to to my husband next time.
I hope you are reloaded. I saw your pictures from Turkey, beautiful, I read also the incident with the belt vendor. I was i n Turkey just before you were there but not sailing, just visitng Istanbul and attending a conference.
See you on your blog...

Haider Droubi said...


Richard said...

Hi, Sophia. I've still not ever made it to Istanbul, though I hope that one day I will. We've flown right over it several times, and even from around 29,000 feet it is quite easily recognisable.

Since March 29th 2006