No Headscarf, No Entry: Golshifteh Farahani’s Dilemma

No Headscarf, No Entry: Golshifteh Farahani’s Dilemma October 21, 2008

MMW‘s Friday Links last week had within it three links about Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (below), who has appeared in the recent Hollywood film Body of Lies. Apparently, from the news reports, it seems that Farahani has created quite a stir within Iran, or as the LA Times reported some “Middle East-style intrigue”. Middle East-style intrigue? What is Middle East-style intrigue? Are they referring to the issue some Iranians are having with her appearance in an American film? The comment comes across as quite patronizing of Iranian sentiment. So what is this “Middle East-style intrigue” about?

Golshifteh Farahani, as she appeared in Body of Lies. Via
Golshifteh Farahani, as she appeared in Body of Lies. Via IMDB; full credits unavailable.

Initially, the problems occurred with her appearance in an American film. The Daily News reported that Farahani was interrogated by Iranian intelligence many times, only to be finally told by a judge that once they had viewed the film they would decide what to do with her. In August there were even reports of her not being allowed to leave Iran for the Hollywood premiere of the film. As of late, The Daily News reports that a court in Iran is trying to decide whether or not she broke any Iranian laws by acting in the film.

However, eventually she was able to leave Iran and did in fact attend the Hollywood premiere, and, shock of all shocks, she did so without a headscarf (pictured below left). As a result, it seems from The Washington Post and The Daily News, now Farahani fears going back to Iran.

Farahani at the Hollywood premiere. Picture via Getty Images, by Astrid Stawiarz.
Farahani at the Hollywood premiere. Picture via Getty Images, by Astrid Stawiarz.

This is not the first time a prominent Iranian woman has appeared abroad without the headscarf. Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi appeared without a headscarf when she went to Sweden to receive the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 2003, and created controversy then for appearing headscarf-less. However, she was able to return home, suggesting that perhaps returning home may not be a pipe dream for Farahani. A life of exile, as The Daily News predicts, may not be a reality for Farahani.

It seems reaction to Farahani has been mixed in Iran. The Washington Post article tells us that “[o]n the Internet, which is subject to less censorship in Iran than print media, Farahani without a scarf is a hot topic.” It then reports the various comments which are being posted online by both her supporters and her detractors. Among the comments listed in the article the sense one gets is that opposition to Farahani’s attire decision is based in Islamic religiousness. One angry commenter, Mahdavi, is described as a religious student (this is how he describes himself). He is reported as saying “[h]er being without a head scarf means she belongs to the rude and inconsiderate young generation that has no respect for Islamic values.” The other commenters, who support Farahani, are given no religious distinction.

The Washington Post article also points out the report of a pro-government newspaper which criticized not Farahani, but Western media for Farahani’s scarfless appearance, calling it a media conspiracy. Now I do not doubt this claim was made, but I do wish another perspective from another newspaper or magazine had been reported. I did my own search and did not find any articles from Iranian English language newspapers on the issue – supportive or otherwise. Maybe this incident isn’t as big a deal in Iran as it appears to be from the American articles. At this point, it’s important to remember that last we have heard the judge had wanted to view the film before making any decision. We have yet to hear the final decision. They really may not care.

But according to The Daily News it is a big deal. They say “[i]t’s hard to see what would bother them. Farahani plays a nurse who treats DiCaprio’s character, but is wary of his advances, insisting that he first meet her family. She won’t even shake his hand.” What The Daily News forgets is that perhaps it is not what she does in the film but rather the political implications of working in a film of the country that constantly threatens to bomb you. This is the same country that currently has a man, John McCain, running for president who in the recent past sang a song about bombing Iran. A song about bombing people. This may have something to do with their discomfort, along with perhaps Farahani’s removal of the headscarf in the film.

The Daily News also makes the odd conflation of a Saudi Arabian judge’s threat to “execute satellite broadcast providers who import “deviant” Western movies” and Farahani’s fear to return to Iran. Iran and Saudi Arabia are different countries, Daily News. And they don’t see eye to eye. This is yet another example of seeing all Muslims as the same, or perhaps all people “over there” as the same.

Although Farahani’s fear should not be minimized nor trivialized, we also have to keep things in perspective. Being fully aware of Western media’s depiction of Iran’s treatment of women, we cannot be sure that the coverage presented thus far has been fair and has not inflated the issue. Perhaps we need to wait this one out a little and see if the fuss continues and its outcomes.

Now, I haven’t viewed the film yet and would welcome comments from those who have viewed it. Is the upset worth it?

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