“Not Without my Daughter” and “Persepolis”

Published: 2021-07-30 11:45:08
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Category: Literature

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The historical backdrop for the two films ‘Not Without My Daughter’ and ‘Persepolis’ involved tensions preceding and during the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s. Reza Shah Pahlavi held power in Iran leading up to the revolutions, and was known for being pro-Axis during World War II. Due to this, Reza Shah was deposed during the Anglo-Russian occupation after the war in favor of his son, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Prime Minister of Iran at the time, Mossadegh fought to nationalize the Iranian oil industry (the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, owned by the British), which then allowed the British to continue to hold power in Iran. Britain then issued an embargo and and blockade that stopped Iranian oil exports and resulted in a significant blow to the Iranian economy. Because of this, a power struggle between the Shah and Mossadegh ensued, and the Shah fled the country. A coup engineered by British and American intelligence overthrew Mossadegh and the Shah returned from exile. With his return, the Shah began to enforce what was called the White Revolution in 1963, a series of changes meant to radically Westernize Iran, which included social and economic modernization. This was met with great opposition by the public, but the Shah was able to continue to enforce his policies and control dissidents with the creation of his secret police, the SAVAK. Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini is forced into exile. Mass demonstrations, protests, riots, and strikes occured because of the Shah’s authoritarian rule. In 1979, the Shah and his family were forced into exile, but the US welcomed the Shah for medical treatment of his cancer. All these events led to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, where 52 American citizens were taken hostage for 444 days. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile and was able to serve as supreme leader from 1979 to 1989 due to his ideas formulated during exile being smuggled into Iran during the Shah’s rule, enforcing policies opposing the Shah’s and working to cut ties with the West. His policies included immediately executing many members of the Shah’s government, making it a requirement for women to wear the veil, and banning Western music and alcohol.

2nd section
The film ‘Not Without My Daughter’ was based on the book by the same name by Betty Mahmoody, a woman who was taken to Iran with her daughter by her husband and was forced to stay, unable to escape. It contains many inaccuracies due to the fact that there were many Islamophobic liberties taken with one woman’s unfortunate story. The entire movie portrayed this woman as being caught in the frightening clutches of Islam, trapped in a foreign country, with her abusive Iranian husband. It was a major misrepresentation of an entire culture and ethnicity. Throughout the movie, the Iranian people as well as the religion of Islam are portrayed in a negative light, showing how ‘extreme and frightening’ the cultural differences were. There was so much hate coming from Betty’s husband’s family, as well as everyone else she seemed to encounter, towards Americans that was overly exaggerated. After becoming familiar with how Iranians live, such as dining cross-legged, Betty often described the Iranian culture as being ‘primitive’. There are a few scenes showing Betty’s husband, Moody, violently beating her, something he never did while they lived in the United States. It was as soon as he got to Iran and began re-dedicating himself to Islam that he became the villain. The only Iranians that were portrayed in a positive light were the ones that assisted Betty and her daughter in their attempt to escape, but the creators of the film emphasized that fact that those people were more exposed to Western ideals.
3rd section
‘Persepolis’, an animated film, focuses on a young girl growing up during the time where the Ayatollah Khomeini comes into power. It is a basic comparison between the evil Iranian government, and the sweet humble family of Marjane Satrapi. Everyone who seemed like an enemy to Marjane was portrayed in the movie as being a dark, scary figure without human-like features. Just like in ‘Not Without My Daughter’, the issues in Iran were very black and white in the films. There was no difference between Iranian people and the Iranian government’s agenda. One of the most exaggerated, inaccurate parts of the film was how immediately something happened that wouldn’t be seen favorably by the Iranian government, there would immediately be a horde of angry policeman on the scene. In real life, things don’t happen that quickly.
4th section
Both films were based off one person’s experience, so neither shows the viewer the whole story. The book ‘Not Without My Daughter’ was written closely after a lot of the major events in Iran were happening, so there was a lot of tension that was expressed in the film’s extra exaggerations as well as obvious islamophobia in the media response to the book and its film. In my opinion, ‘Not Without My Daughter’ is more detrimental to the viewer because it is more distinct and clear with its portrayals opposing Islamic culture. Many people only got their information on Iran from this movie and it’s the reason why so many people remained biased without getting the truth about all sides of the events. However, ‘Persepolis’ is also quite detrimental to the story that the viewer is getting because it tells the story of a young Iranian girl who is also negatively impacted by the Iranian regime, with bias against non-Western Iranians.
5th section
‘Not Without My Daughter’ is accurate in the sense that Betty’s story did happen to many women with Iranian husbands. These American women were essentially powerless in the Iranian society under the Khomeini’s regime so it was often difficult for them to leave against their husband’s wishes. One scene in the film when the Mahmoodys first arrive in Iran, they are instructed to step over a freshly killed lamb. Although this contributed to Betty’s fear and misjudgement, and was probably frightening for her young daughter, this is in fact a sign of respect and welcoming for the Iranian culture. The film was also accurate at the beginning in the American hospital, where Moody often faced prejudice at work due to the Iran-American tensions following the hostage crisis.
6th section
‘Persepolis’ was accurate in showing the civil unrest while Marjane was Iran, with many depictions of bombings and people close to her dying. Also, the Westernization of her family and others around them was evident along with how dangerous it became once the Ayatollah came into power to express their Western attributes. Marjane and her cohorts tried to keep their ‘cool’ exterior even with the risk of being punished by the government, something that many Iranian teens did at that time. There was one scene where Marjane was walking down the street past men who were secretly selling cassette tapes of Western artists such as Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Iron Maiden, and Pink Floyd, and I thought this was interesting and it did show how many people opposed the Ayatollah’s leadership.
7th section
‘Not Without My Daughter’ was originally written by Betty Mahmoody to document her time in Iran and the journey it took for her escape, and the film was then created for economic and political benefit. At the time of its creation there was clear tensions and bias against Iran, and the film just contributed to that even more. This movie, in the period following its release, gave the viewers an excuse to be prejudiced against Iran. Its use in the classroom should be careful; teachers should make sure that their students are mindful of the extreme bias before watching the movie, so that their opinions are not swayed by the negative portrayal of the country. The movie is helpful to show the relationship between the United States and Iran during them with the bias, but it should not be shown for the students to gain factual information about Iranian people. When watching this movie, I was personally quite shocked at the extent of how blatantly prejudiced it was, and I was glad that I was warned beforehand.
The purpose of ‘Persepolis’ was also to tell the story of a person who was witness to the events in Iran during the changes that were happening. It does show a different point of view than we’re used to seeing, from a young girl. It was not as openly one-sided as ‘Not Without My Daughter’, and I think this would be a better film to show to students if it were a choice between the two, because the students would be able to connect more to a teenage lifestyle and see the differences between themselves and Marjane. I also think that an introduction by the teacher would be required as well, to remind students that most stories are one-sided. I enjoyed this movie, mainly because of the artistry that went into creating a black-and-white animation of a serious plot. It was also humorous at times, and that made it feel more like a real situation.

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