Persepolis and the Iranian Revolution
Dean K. Myers THL 357 Research Project 2,421 words Persepolis and the Iranian Revolution Persepolis was made in 2007. The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name. Persepolis is directed by Marjane Satrapi. The story is derived from her own personal experiences growing up during the Iranian Revolution (also called the Islamic Revolution) in Tehran, Iran. Included will be an in-depth analysis of the factors that caused the Revolution as well as an accounting of conditions in Iran during that era. A brief comparison of the current situation within Iran and how it is connected to the Iranian Revolution is also necessary.
Persepolis is loosely based on the life of Satrapi. Lauded over by celebrated critics known for their analytical reviews, like Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, Stephen Holden of the New York Times, and David Ansen of Newsweek, who stated Persepolis “Isn’t like any animated film you’ve ever seen. ” I concur with his sentiment. Also, Persepolis won four awards, including the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Freedom of Expression Award given by the National Board of Review, and the Best Animated Feature Award presented by both the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Interestingly it was also a nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film by the Golden Globes, and an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature. This broad range of categories is what initially enticed me to consider this as a possible research project. What kind of film can garner this much attention, not to mention win and be nominated for such a variety of awards? Persepolis truly fits this bill. The animation, all done by hand, gives it a timeless quality which will make this a treasure for generations to come, or at least those concerned with history.
Even though animated, this movie is the polar opposite of a Disney film. There is no happy ending. Most surprising about this film is the exacting detail and the connection to factual events. The story of this young girl glides smoothly through the transitive stages of life in Iran during the Revolution. Knowing nothing about the Iranian Revolution, anybody can watch this film and have a working knowledge, not only of the outcomes of the Revolution, but specific transitions from one stage to the next. The audience learrs the impact of the events that shaped this girl’s life and thinking.
One must keep in mind the Iranian Revolution was particularly harsh to all women, a characteristic of Fundamental Islamic movements. This film gives her a particularly singular insight most Muslim women from the era simply do not have the chance to present. A movie like this is not typically made, considering the format (animation) and the subject matter. Growing up during the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979, Marjane Satrapi understands all too well the hardships suffered by the Iranian people. Her story is that of the singular existence of her own life as shaped by the events of the Revolution.
To understand Satrapi’s story, one must understand the background of Iran. The movie begins a few years before the Pre-Iranian Revolution era, before the collapse of the royal monarchy of the Shah. For hundreds of years before the Revolution, the Pahlavi family held the throne in Iran. The Shii Ulama, however, has always held influence among Iranians, especially the disenfranchised uneducated classes. Since the reign of the Safavid dynasty in 1501, Shii clerics have widely given judgment on all matters covered by Sharia law. Many matters fall under the heading of what the Western World deems political.
Sharia law, and the Shii clerics in Iran, have long been against Western imposition. According to Nikki Keddie in the Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic they have used their collective power to start war with Russia in 1826, ended economic concessions held by a British subject in 1872, broken a British tobacco monopoly in 1891, and led a constitutional revolution against the Shah in 1905. Protests have also been a key component in their fight against Western aggression, with the first events occurring in 1963. (Keddie 7) Later evidence will show that protests continue to be an effective tool in the rejection of oppression.
This Sharia-based influence gained ultimate momentum going into the Iranian Revolution. In Islam: The Straight Path, Esposito gives four reasons for this religious resurgence. Ironically, these reasons parallel many of the factors leading to the downfall of the Shah’s reign. The first is a crisis experienced by Iranians caused by “loss of identity, and lack of self-esteem. ” (pg 160) The Shah’s 1974 economic plan meant to raise Iran’s prosperity due to the influx of capital created by the oil boom. Instead in 1978, following four years of economic prosperity, an economic downturn was experienced by Iran.
This caused construction and other similar industries to lay off many workers in the cities. The now-unemployed workers, many of them moving from rural areas, were left to fend for themselves. Oil profits and the nepotism of the Shah towards his favored constituents continued to widen the gap between the rich and the poor as well. This ignited the ire of the Iranian people. The second is the Iranian disillusionment with Muslim leaders and their Western-inspired system of government (Esposito, 160). For years the Shah was deemed a puppet of Western government.
Britain was the main player during the first half of the 20th century, with America holding that title in the last half. There is indeed evidence of this, dating back to 1941, when a British-Russian coalition of troops placed the Pahlavi family back in control after being deposed. In 1953, the United States and Britain conspired to help the Shah regain power after a democratic election prompted his ouster. The Pahlavi family’s dedication to modernization through Western channels included the disregard of many sentiments held by the Shii Ulama. Islamic law separating the sexes was set aside.
Laws concerning traditional Muslim attire, including the hijab (veil) worn by women, were struck down. Women were allowed to vote and equality in marriage. Also, religious minorities were allowed to hold government office. Alcoholic drink was condemned by the Shii Ulama (Wiki Islamic Revolution). Their evidence was found within the Quran. “With intoxicants and gambling, Satan seeks only to incite enmity and hatred, and to stop you remembering God and prayer. Will you not give them up? ” (Quran 5:91) This did not stop the Shah from allowing alcohol, however.
Some might say the most crippling blow was when the Shah lost the support of the modernized middle class. The segment of society including business leaders (bazaaris) (Keddie 6), had welcomed the Shah’s advancement of Western ideals. Mainly through despotic rule (and all it implies) and the creation of the Rastakhiz as the only political party within Iran, replete with required membership and dues, did the Shah sever his once ambient ties with the middle class. This caused many of the educated well-to-do to leave the country. Coupled with descent within his military set the course for the Iranian monarch.
The Shah had trampled on three major components of life in Iran. Rational economic and political directives were set aside, as well as Islamic doctrine through the Shah’s heavy-handed tactics aimed at controlling all in the country. Also important to note is the mass corruption that occurred during the Shah’s reign. The Shah’s dream of democracy, while worthy of recognition, was a fruitless labor with monarchical rule in effect. The Shah’s posturing to Western interests did little but stoke the flames of revolution held by the majority opposition. The lines between state money and family money were blurred.
His family’s economic wealth had grown exponentially while the majority of his countrymen were in dire straits. (Wiki, Causes of the Iranian Revolution) Other contentious points of the Shah’s reign angered many Iranians. In 1976, the Shah changed the Iranian calendar to mark the first year, a date that coincided with Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina. He changed the date of the first year to parallel the birth of the Persian ruler Cyrus, thus flaunting Islamic tradition. In one day the Iranian calendar changed from 1355 to 2535 (Wiki Iranian Revolution Causes).
The Shah was well known for gross human rights violations. Any enemies (perceived or real) were deemed political prisoners and many were executed. Protests throughout Iran were handled by the Shah’s security forces through violent confrontation, leading to more murders. The third is the “newfound sense of pride and power” directly resulting from the Iranian Revolution. (Esposito 160) “God will admit those who believe and do good deeds to Gardens graced with flowing streams; the disbelievers may take their fill of pleasure in this world, and eat as cattle do, but the Fire will be their home. (Quran47:11) The Fundamentalist Muslims used the power gained in the overthrow of the Shah’s government to expound their ideas of reform. One idea involved all men growing beards (a staple of all Fundamental Islamists). Bans that had been in place during the Shah’s reign prohibited hijab and other traditional Islamic attire (covered in class), as well as the separation of the sexes, were reinstituted by Khomeini’s government. Persepolis reaffirms this sentiment on the separation of sexes. Many instances in the movie are aimed directly at what Satrapi feels is nothing more than ideology with no foundational root.
Many of the run-ins with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (the authoritative domestic arm of the new Iranian government) center on the problems encountered due to separation. In one scene, Satrapi’s father mentions that when he and her mother were dating they held hands walking down the street. Satrapi’s father concedes this is no longer the Iran he used to know, and directs his daughter to no longer talk with a boy she likes, for fear of reprisal from the powers that be. During the movie, Satrapi is constantly chided by officials for her hijab not being wrapped tightly enough.
The reinforcement of the ideals of Khomeini and his ilk are evident throughout the movie. Keddie in her book mimics these ideals of Khomeini, that women must understand their position in society. Khomeini wishes women to be subservient to men, a sentiment echoed by most (if not all) Fundamentalist Muslims (Keddie 131). The fourth is the need to establish a more traditional Islamic identity. (Esposito 160). “We sent Our messengers with clear signs, the Scripture and the Balance, so that people could uphold justice. ” (Quran 57:25) A jurist such as Khomeini would have validated his actions to lead the people of Iran through verses like this.
History is rife with examples of leaders twisting such text to prove a divine assertion of their claim to power. Europeans have called it “divine right. ” Chinese dynastic rulers called it a “mandate of heaven. ” In Iran, Khomeini rallied supporters behind him through sentiment such as this. Whether Khomeini agreed with it or not, one thing is clear. The people of Iran were ready to embrace him as their leader. Khomeini did in fact try to install a government with him as a loosely-regarded “spiritual leader” at first, installing a leader other than himself.
He however, was the one behind the scenes pulling the strings. Ironically, many of the same atrocities cited as reasoning behind the Shah’s overthrow are similar to those now being perpetrated by those in power. This situation, whether intended or otherwise, is similar to the current situation in Iran, where the Fundamentalist clerics are behind the scenes, controlling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is the puppet being guided by the same ruling party in power when Khomeini was leader. Ahmadinejad is in fact controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his group.
Ahmadinejad is merely the political face of those ruling. Similar to the Iranian Revolution, protests are widespread, occurring throughout Iran and the world. Surprisingly, there was even a protest held in Goose Lake, Iowa (Wiki, Iranian election protests). These protests took place between June, 2009 and March, 2010. In Iran, there were 30 confirmed deaths, with as many as 200 plus unconfirmed. They took place in response to the alleged election fraud perpetrated by the ruling party. Keep in mind this is the same party that rallied to overthrow the Shah’s government.
Supreme Leader Khamenei has called Ahmadinejad’s win “a divine assessment. “ (wiki, Iranian election protests) Civil rights organizations have been extremely vocal of the various violations of human rights taking place in suppression of dissent within Iran. Prisoners have been tortured and executed, The widespread use of technology has made many of these events easier to track. In the end the Iranian revolution causes tumult of many political and socioeconomic factors. In terms of the Iranian Revolution, looking at the facts and reasoning skews the reality of what really counts.
The existence of a single life is most important. Accounting for this, we can see that all factors mentioned concerning the Iranian Revolution are indeed tied to the big picture scenario. Yet we must not lose sight of the fact that the big-picture springs forth from the human experience of people living their singular lives. Persepolis, and the story of Marjane teach us of the very real debt paid by the innocent. Sadness and despair impart throughout her story, leading to a woman who is unordinary strong and reticent in the face of danger. None of this needed to occur, however.
How immeasurably better would her life have been if she had grown up in a nurturing environment, free of distrust and filled with compassion? The whole sordid affair of the Iranian Revolution, act one and act two (currently in the works), remind us of one brutal truth, one that followed on a personal level cancels out the necessity for such pain. Humanity without grace leads to gruesome consequence. Works Cited 1. Abdel Haleem, M. A. S. The Quran: A New Translation. New York: 2008. Oxford University Press. 5:91, 47:11,57:25. Print. 2. Coughlin, Con. Endgame for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. 9 Feb 2010. 30 April 2010. . 3. Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path-Revised 3rd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print. 4. Keddie, Nikki R. Hooglund, Eric J. The Iranian revolution and the Islamic Republic. Syracuse, N. Y: Syracuse University Press, 1986. 6,7,131. Print. 5. Persepolis. Dir. Satrapi, Marjane. Perf. Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve. DVD. Sony Picture Classics. 2007. 6. Iranian Election Protests. Wikipedia, 3 May 2010. 3 May 2010. 7. Background and Causes of the Iranian Revolution. Wikipedia. 8 April 2010. 30 April 2010. .