I’m grateful to an Iranian student of mine for introducing me to the marvellous and thought provoking 2007 film Persepolis. It is based on a graphic novel and tells the autobiographical story of the Islamic revolution through the eyes of Marjane Satrapi from the age of 9 up till her early 20s.
The title comes from the name for the Persian capital founded in 6 B.C by Darius I and later destroyed by Alexander the Great. Almost the whole movie is a black and white cartoon, a child-like magic realism that is able to address the difficult themes as a kind of modern day fable. Had it been filmed with real actors the images would undoubtedly have had a voyeuristic quality; as a cartoon the bloodshed and violence are given a tragic,universal dimension.
“Tell the truth and feel free” is the subtitle of this Blog, advice that you don’t think of as being necessary when answering the question ‘Where are you from?’ But the film shows that when the answer to this question is ‘Iran’, it triggers a flood or negative reactions with stereotypes about that nation as a centre of fanaticism and terrorism .
When you think of young Iranian women you wouldn’t think any to be mad on Bruce Lee or fans of Punk and Iron Maiden. Marjane’s rebellious spirit comes from her liberal minded parents and direct experience of the oppressive regime she has to live under. Her uncle is executed for opposing the fundamentalists and she follows her mother’s example as an outspoken critic of the enforced wearing of the veil.
For her own protection, her parents send her to Vienna but the experience is an unhappy one and she returns to her homeland. Eventually, however, the rigidity of the regime becomes unbearable and she realises that she must leave permantly. She ‘escapes’ to France where she still lives.
Her story is a valuable alternative view to the common representation of Iranian women as passive individuals lacking in spirit. It is also a reminder that to brand all Iranians as reactionary fundamentalists is as nonsensical as thinking of all Brits in the 1980s as hardline Thatcherites or all present day Italians as loyal followers of Berlusconi’s regime.
Unless we learn to think of countries like Iran as a nation of individuals, the cycle of prejudiuce and intolerance will never end.