The true face of women:

A missing link in Iranian cinema


The Iranian cinema is today very much in the forefront of world cinema. Over the last decade there has not been a year in which Iranian films have not won trophies in one or other international film festival. Abbas Kia-Rostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf are familiar names to serious film buffs.  Even Iranian female film directors have to some extent come to international notice, unlike other Islamic countries, and despite the anti-women strictures of the Islamic Republic. The Iranian cinema has currently at least five highly productive women directors. Films such as the Banuye Ordibehesht (Lady of May) directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Apple by the 17-year old Samira Makhmalbaf are only the best known examples abroad.

One might legitimately ask: how can such films and such directors come out of such a reactionary and anti-woman regime? Some of the reasons can be summarised below.

A transient atmosphere of freedom, lasting a few years, followed the fall of the Shah’s regime in February 1979. In these years the youth, and in particular the students, who had been totally deprived of an open atmosphere during the monarchic dictatorship experienced a rapid and phenomenal development in many social and political matters. These were not normal political times. Such an atmosphere left its effects on culture and with the exceptional attraction of the cinema for the Iranian people, in this art form too. You can see the Iranian’s passion for the cinema graphically in Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Salam Cinema, which he made to commemorate the centenary of the birth of the cinema. Indeed Makhmalbaf himself is a prime example of this generation. At the time of the revolution he was a deeply religious and energetic 25-year old, who simply because he was trusted by the regime, was given the opportunity to make over 90 films without even going to a film school. Most of these are not fit to be shown, but the very art of the cinema transformed a fanatical and dogmatic, though talented, youth into a good and thoughtful filmmaker. The same man announced in his film Nassereddin-Shah, film actor that the cinema is a creator of human beings.  

A second reason for the attraction for the cinema, especially among the young, is the almost total absence of other leisure activities. After the Islamic revolution consolidated itself all mixed gatherings were banned. A strict dress code for girls was enforced and even boys had restrictions. They were forbidden some clothes and hairstyles. Pop music, the voice of women, indeed almost any “happy” music could only be listened to in the concealment of the home. The cinema became a window where people could for an hour or so be entertained. Being relatively cheap, it is widely available.

Thirdly, if you look at the age band of these filmmakers, and especially the women, most were aged between 20 and 30 during the revolution. They had therefore experienced both regimes and most had not been under undue religious influence during their formative years. While Samira Makhmalbaf, aged only 17 when she made her Apple, appears an exception, her constant presence alongside her director father cannot be ignored. In fact the profound rejection of many of the values of the “Islamic revolution” by the generation born during or after that revolution is a topic requiring a separate paper.

Fourthly, the Islamisation of the domain of Iranian cinema after the revolution, or its cleansing as some would like to call it, made it easier for women to enter the cinema by obeying the rules laid down. Moreover, many women film directors, such as Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, who had been trained in the state run radio-television, were expelled after the revolution. With their skills it was natural for them to go into the independent cinema. The anti-women policies of the Islamic regime in its totality, and the fact that women had to bear an unjust burden of pressures, has meant that the women’s movement has been exceptionally active during the last 20 years. The struggle to assert women’s rights had been conducted relentlessly and through countless routes. Women active in writing, translating and publishing for women. Expansion of women film and theatre directors should be seen in this light.

Restrictions can sometimes be the mother of invention. Perhaps the flowering of the Eastern European cinema after the relative thaw following the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is a case in point. Yet one cannot push the analogies too far. The experience of Iran is in many ways unique.

The generation of filmmakers active in Iran have experienced a political and social atmosphere so turbulent and so special that it is in may respects unique. This generation wants to share its unique experiences. Much of what they have to say is new for the rest of the world. Especially if these new experiences and visions are couched in the language of the cinema.

Women present but only as a shadow

The story of Iranian cinema and the picture it paints of women, especially after the revolution, is a complex topic. In this article I will confine myself to the way the Islamic Republic of Iran has dealt with the question of women in the Iranian cinema. The importance and popularity of the cinema in Iran meant from the moment it gained power the Islamic government did everything in it could to bring the cinema under its total control. This of course is not the first time that a government has used all its cunning to make use of this magical giant to shape its own people. All governments, and in particular the dictatorial ones, have approached the cinema from this angle. One need only recall the German cinema at the time of Hitler or the Spanish cinema in Franco’s time. But what that dictatorship does with the question of women in cinema, particularly in an ideological way like the Islamic Republic, may be unique in the history of cinema. For this reason, if for no other, it must be studied.

The first clashes

From the perspective of the Islamic Republic’s rulers, based on their religious interpretation of women, a woman is defined and explained not only just through her sexuality, but with an exaggeration of her sexuality. From this same viewpoint, when men are confronted with the sexual power of women, their sexual instincts are seen as feeble and yielding. The first prescription the Islamic regime wrote on the way women should feature in Islamic cinema came out of this perspective and this definition of women.

Accordingly the leader of the Islamic Republic, ayatollah Khomeini, saw the pre-revolutionary cinema, as nothing other than an epitome of corruption in the service of Western colonialism. “It is the Shah who, in order to corrupt our youth has filled cinemas with colonial programme and wants to bring up our girls and boys with unchastity and ignorant of the dreadful state of the country. The Shah’s cinema is nothing but a centre of prostitution and the educator of self-ignorant puppets ignorant of the disordered condition of the country. The Islamic nation consider these centres as being against the interests of the country” he declared [1]. Previously, in his two books Kashef al-Asrar (discovery of secrets) and Velayate Faqih he had condemned the cinema for its direct link with Westernisation and a source of corruption [2].

Thus the first step of the Islamic regime, on the excuse of fighting corruption, was to hammer the cinema of the Shah’s era with the bludgeon of denunciation and censorship in reaction to the question of women in cinema in particular. The Pasdaran (revolutionary guards) were given orders to arrest and confiscate the possessions of Iranian actors, actresses and filmmakers. Screening of pictures of these actors, and in particular actresses, was banned from the cinema and television.

The next step was to set up a group for inspection, or as they called it to clean up, the cinema from corruption or of films that are in conflict with Islamic decency. This group looked at 2,000 Iranian and foreign films and banned 1,800 of them, and set the censors scissors on the other 200 to make them fit for showing in Iran’s cinemas [3].  It was thus that in the first phase the 98 year-old history of the Iranian cinema was washed clean in the revolutionary bath.

The next phase they struck out to totally control what remained of Iranian cinema. This control was so tight that in the first three years film production came to a virtual standstill. The cinemas were emptied of the cinema going public. But this was not what the rulers wanted. They believed that the cinema could, and should, be turned to a means of implanting their views. There was nothing to be done but for those who were with the government to roll up their sleeves and create their own special religious cinema. Obviously they could not entirely rely on their own forces with their limited knowledge of the cinema. They needed the help of the filmmakers and all the specialist forces in the cinema.

Thus the second part of our story went ahead with the permanent presence of male and female Pasdaran, as well as the censors’ scissors in its various forms both on and behind the scenes. One actress described the scene: These Pasdaran made sure of the correct Islamic relations between all those working on the scene and filming. They ensured total Islamic dress code, no contact between sexes, even hand contact, no smoking or make-up, nor any verbal jokes between men or women on or behind the scenes. They even interfered in the choice of scenes, their mixture, or even the camera angles. This interference became so intrusive that in order to get on with their work, film directors used, wherever possible, members of the same family to portray husband and wife, mother and son, or father and daughter. Otherwise actors and actresses had to get into a “temporary marriage” or else they could not show their feelings and emotions to one another [4].

The pioneers of religious cinema then went on to remove any contact between the sexes on screen, whether relatives or not, and rid themselves once and for all of having to show any physical emotion or feeling. After the banning on of any physical expression of emotion one of our most famous actresses observed in an interview: I was suppose to play the role of a mother whose only son had just returned from the war after a long absence. Since I was not allowed to embrace, smell, let alone kiss him, I had to pretend that I was so excited by seeing him that I became rooted to the spot [5].

In another episode, when an actress needed to be made-up and the male make up artist as well as the actress were both married, the make-up artist had to take the actress’s 6-year old daughter in “temporary marriage” so that the actress, as his mother-in-law, would become related by blood (mahram = people who can socialise because of close kinship) to him and he could touch her face [6].

Gholam-Hossein Saedi, the great Iranian dramatist who died in exile has pictured this tragi-comedy in his last play, Othello in the land of the exotic, where a theatre group tries to stage Shakespeare’s play in the Islamic Republic.

Later the cabinet officially ratified the regulations which were to Islamise the cinema on February 4, 1983. Subsequently the ministry of Islamic Guidance (culture) created the office of censorship (momayezi) whose job was to review and make decisions on films and scenarios. Large sections of these regulations dealt with the question of the image of women on film:

1.   With reference to the above mentioned, Islamic hejab (covering) must be obeyed at all times for women. This means: wearing loose long clothes and trousers in dark colours. Even scarves and chadors (a one-piece cloth covering head-to-toe) must be of dark colour. The hair and neck must be completely covered. Only the face and the hands to the wrist can be visible. When this not impossible, as when showing women in the previous [Shah’s] time, a hat or wig can be used.

2.   It is prohibited to show the made up face of a woman

3.   Close up of a woman’s face is not allowed

4.   It is prohibited to show a variety of clothes throughout a film without a logical explanation.

5.   All physical contact between men and women is prohibited

6.   The use of the chador for negative characters and persons must have a logical excuse.

7.   Hair styles which show dependence or approval of loose and immoral political, cultural or intellectual groups inside and outside the country is not permitted.

8.   The exchange of any joke, talk, conduct, or sign between a male and female individual in a film which suggest a departure from the behavioural purity acceptable to society is banned.

9.   To use young girls is not allowed without permission of the Office of Supervision and Evaluation.

10. Words, signs or signals that directly or indirectly relate to sexual matters are prohibited.

11. The use of a tie, bow tie and anything that denotes foreign culture is not permitted.

12. Smoking a cigarette or pipe or the drinking of alcoholic beverages and the use of narcotic drugs is prohibited.

13. The use of music, which is similar to well-known internal or foreign songs, is not allowed.

14. Propaganda for doctrines that are illegal and counter to the Islamic order is banned.

15. Sharia’ laws and customs, religious beliefs and mandatory religious laws have to be followed and the religiously forbidden be avoided [7].

The downloading of these regulations caused fundamental changes especially in the presence of women in cinema – particularly in films produced after 1983. However in the ensuing 15 years these regulations have gone through various phases, depending on different circumstances.

Phase 1: elimination

Iranian filmmakers found it easier to remove women from cinema rather than confront the censor both at the script stage and during filming. In 25 of the 27 films produced by 1985, the main character is a man [8]. 

Some time later Hojatoleslam Javad Mohaddesi theorised the removal of women from the screen: “Women are personified in the Qur’an as dependent and shadowy figures and women are never the hero of a story and have not been depicted independently and essentially. In the whole of the Qur’an women are referred to by name only. The special Qur’anic procedure is to give women a minor and sexual role in the story. To depict a woman in a story or a play has no aim but to provoke satanic forces, incite passion and increase the appeal of a film” [9]

By removing the image of women from the cinema one function of the cinema, which is to present a holistic picture of society through stories depicting a people, has been eliminated. The most recent example is the Taste of Cherries by Abbas Kiarostami, which won the Pulitzer Prize at Cannes in 1977. On the whole the making of films without a female character saves the filmmaker much headache and heartache in dealing with the religious censor.

Phase 2: diluted image

Filmmaking, however, could not survive without the presence of women. At the very least you lose your audience. A diluted or off-screen presence was a way out. For example in Telesm (The spell) by Dariush Farhang (1986) the whole story is about a powerful princess who had disappeared in the hall of mirrors of her castle. In this way the women is at the centre of the story without having to appear on screen right until the end of the film. Or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Bicycle rider (1987) where a man makes efforts for a woman who, being in hospital, has no physical appearance in the film. Or in the Gozaresh-e yek qatl (Report of a murder) where the voice of the secretary is heard throughout the film, but because the action takes place at the time of the Shah and her portrayal would cause technical and censorial difficulties, her image is totally absent from the screen.

Phase 3: limitations

According to Article 2 of the Regulations for Showing Films and Slides, the general roles that women can portray on screen are as mother, carer of their husbands, children and housework. This means confining women’s roles in the framework of the home. An example of a film made within the limits set by this Article is Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Kharej az mahdudeh (Off limits - 1987). This woman, recognised as a feminist, who happens to be one of the most prolific women directors in Iran, keeps her heroine Ra’na throughout the film in the home. She even lets her husband shop for her groceries [10]. Even now women are usually pictured in these roles.

Phase 4: return to the screen

Naturally the tale of the suppression of the female image and presence of women both in picture and in the script could not go on in its previous form. This was both because of the inner complexity and contradictions of the art of cinema, and also the fact that the cinema must answer the needs and tastes of different people. The Iranian cinema was forced to undergo a number of changes. The main reasons that speeded up these developments are:

1.   The growth of the women’s movement and the consciousness of Iranian women drew them into increasing conflict with a regime, which was imposing endless pressures from various angles on them. In particular, the cultural skirmishes that the women’s movement had with the Islamic regime was able to change the cultural climate to some extent. These conflicts continue to the present, and have become even more acute since the election to the presidency of Khatami last year.

2.   Pressures brought to bear on the government to open up the cultural climate by producers, directors and the audience alike [11]. For example many of the movie houses which showed the regime’s propaganda films were empty while films by directors who in one way or other were in conflict with the regime received an overwhelming positive public reception. Moreover, increasing number of people were using hidden satellite dishes receivers to watch satellite movies.

3.   Fundamentalist proponents of religious film are to some extent confident that they have been successful in their bid to clean up the non-sharia’ presence of women in the cinema. Therefore they are now less suspicious and distrusting of women and cinema. They are relatively confident that they have established their religious cinema.

4.   Khomein’s fatwa in 1987 [12] which released the hand of filmmakers to show women and give them in more important roles in film.


These developments have allowed films where women have an independent role or depict personalities with power and courage. Many of the main roles in films are now given to women.

Most importantly a number of female directors found their way into the cinema. Before the revolution there were only three female directors each with only one film to their credit. Shahla Riahi made Marjan in 1956 [13] Kobra Sa’idi (Shahrzad) made Maryam va Mani and Marva Nabili made Khak sar be mohr in 1978. There are now eight female directors five of whom have produced films almost continuously over the last few years. According to one female director, one reason for their turning to film was that after the revolution women were purged from the radio-television. It was natural for them, with their experience, to move to the independent cinema.

In reality these few women tried very hard to paint a true picture of Iranian women using whatever ruse or symbolic language at their disposal to circumvent the strictures. The central role of women can for example be seen in films such as Tahmineh Milani’s Afsaneh Ah (The legend of Ah - 1990), or Rakhsan Bani-E’tamad’s Nargess (1992) or her Banuy-e Ordibehesht (The lady of May), and Puran Derakhshandeh’s Zaman-e az dast rafteh (Lost time -1989).

Male directors follow suite

The reappearance of women has drawn viewers into the cinema. It has now become fashionable for women to be given significant roles even in films made by male directors. Many of Iran’s leading directors have tried to sympathetically deal with the problems of Iranian women.

For example Rajab Mohammadin’s Bekhatereh hameh chiz (For everything - 1990) women make up all the main roles and many of the subsidiary ones. The doctor, hospital personnel, the manager, and the van driver are all women. The main subject of Madian (the mare - 1985) by Ali Zhegan is lack of choice for women. In Arus-e khuban (Marriage of the blessed - 1989) Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s main character is a woman photographer, who rides a motorbike and accompanied by her fiancé goes out at night to hunt for the hidden truths in society and to take pictures in the alleys and byways of the city.

In Alireza Raisian’s Reyhaneh (1990), the story revolves round the difficulties a divorced woman faces. Ebrahim Mokhtari Zinat (ornament - 1994) the topic is the conflicts and final victory of a nurse with her husband and in-laws. She is forced into this friction in order to keep her responsible job.

Many other directors have tried to portray the abilities of the personality of women in a variety of ways. For example in Bashu qaribeh kuchek (Bashu, the little stranger - 1988) by the prolific veteran Iranian filmmaker Bahram Beiza’i. Or the pioneer of Iranian cinema Dariush Mehrju’i, who not only gives the main role of his films to women, but chooses the name of the heroine of the film as the name of his films such as Sara (1993), Pari ( 1995) and Leila (1997). Mehrju’i also tries to take his heroines out of the shadows of the home and give them jobs and social identities. In Ejareh neshinha (The lodgers - 1986) a women architect supervises the building and the property business. In Hamun (1990) the female character is a painter who also designs clothes and holds exhibitions. Leila, which last year caused a stir, is an educated woman who through intense love for her husband and because she is infertile, takes the road of traditional women and goes after finding a second wife for her husband.

Other Iranian filmmakers have followed similar paths. Perhaps the most significant are Ziafat (Banquet) by Masud Kimia’i,  Ghazal (Gazelle) by Mojtaba Rai’ and Siamak Shayeqi’s Madaram gisu (My mother hair).


But despite all these efforts have Iranian filmmakers succeeded in showing the true face of Iranian woman in cinema? In reality, what conceals the real presence of women, even when they are the heroines of the film, or even where the story line revolves round the life of a woman, are the regulations imposed by the religious censors which severly limit the pictorial depiction of women.

Even as the central figure in a film, the woman is denied the chance to show her real physical feelings even for her child, father, husband, or another female character even if they play the role of her mother or daughter. Where the director is forced to show his or her female character even in the most exciting situations either sitting down or standing still; when the emotions of not only the actress but her opposite male character has to be self-censored what space is left for the director to say all they have to say to the viewers? As one religious film director, a believer in the Islamic Republic, put it: “in cinema we must show women only in a sitting position so that the viewer instead of being deviated by the arousing walk of the woman, concentrates on the hidden ideology within the work of art” [14].

The Iranian filmmakers were forced to concentrate all the feelings and emotions of the actress in her eyes. But our religious censor could not tolerate even this. New  regulations came out defining haram (religiously forbidden) looks and halal (permited) looks! I must here point out that many of these regulations were not always obeyed to the letter.

A halal look

One of the greatest headaches for Iranian filmmakers is how to portray love themes. Since love between men and women is a private affair only between people religiously permitted to be intimate [mahram] it totally vanished from the screen after the revolution until the mid 1981. Yet this state of affairs could not go on. Love stories are of interest to humans and cinemagoers. They came back but since women form one side of heterosexual love, love, with all its sweetness, can cause much heartache for filmmakers.

Since filmmakers were deprived of the depiction of the female body, and any physical contact between the sexes had a total ban, even if they were man and wife in real life, the poor Iranian director was forced to concentrate all love and emotion between two souls in the face, and particularly in the expression of the eyes. But the religious censor was wise to this. They went back to religious texts and the numerous religious problem-solving editions [Towzih al-mas’el], including Ayatollah Khomeini’s [15].

They then announced the regulations for the “looking” and the look. Accordingly in the cinema only one look was permissible: the halal look. This is a sisterly look, never in close up, but a long shot. The haram [prohibited] look was ruled out and the poor directors, actors and acresses left with a real problem. The most burning love can only be portrayed by a look between two players seen from a distance, some polite conversation or at best a love poem.

In Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh (1997), the story is of a girl from the Bakhtiari tribe, who manages to escape with her beloved with all the dangers and difficulties this entailed. Yet the whole of this glorious love has to be condensed in a mid-shot of the girl turning to look across to the mountaintop. The lover is not even shown. We only know of his presence through the neighing of his horse, shown in a vague image in a very long shot.  Finally the man is forced to bring two horses so that any physical contact between the two lovers before their religious marriage, even in our imagination, is ruled out. All the images of the elopement of the girl with her lover are in brief wide long shots showing them escaping on two horses.

Kia-Rostami tackled the issue in a different way. In Under the olive trees the wooing by the boy throughout the whole film is met by total silence and not even a half-glance by the girl. The viewer is drawn into what the girl is thinking, and what her answer will be. When the girl gives her final yes to the boy’s love, Kia-Rostami is forced to place the couple thousands of metres from the camera, and to convey her yielding, and set the viewers anxieties at rest, he suddenly introduces a joyous baroque theme above the beautiful scenery of the olive groves.

There are other restrictions too which censors have officially or semi-offficialy passed on to filmmakers. Women must have a measured and dignified bearing. Since the gait of a woman can raise passions it is best to show her sitting or standing. Tahmineh Milani, a prolific woman director, who has had many disputes with the censors and many of her films have been denied permits said last year “in my view those who wrote these regulations see all things in black and white. They cannot imagine that a woman can speak, be intelligent, be human, head a department, and be educated. Women are given the most isolated, passive and secret shape and this means [they are] nothing. … Women cannot run, can have no close up, must not bend forwards when sitting or getting up, not be made-up. This regulation have also fixed the roles of women: a faithful wife, a concerned nurse, a kind mother … The directive even forbids two women kissing. How can it be that a mother and daughter cannot kiss in critical moments? I cannot imagine a more beautiful scene than a father kissing the forehead of his daughter. In fact kissing is the most beautiful way of expressing emotion. But our policy makers only thought of the erotic aspects of this topic. What has become a tradition in our cinema is [the image] of men embracing and kissing three times each and every morning they meet. If you see men fifty times during a film they kiss [every time], but women…” [16]

In another section she goes on “unfortunately it has become in vogue that they regularly pass down [to us] a singe model, and only [applying] to women. It is as if a woman is a dangerous creature that you constantly have to tell her what to do or not do, to keep society healthy…”

Thus love shared the fate of feeling, affection and a woman’s body, to be suppressed by religious cinema. As a result men and women are turned into beings without sex and feeling, and in the case of women without a body. The ultimate image left of woman in cinema is one which is un-human, one which has lost its real shape and soul, hidden amongst the folds of her dark all-covering clothes. In this way too the most important part of the being and personality not just of women, but men too, is automatically eliminated in Iranian cinema.


Almost two decades have passed since the ayatollahs took over the rule in Iran and nearly a century since Iranian cinema began. Yet despite every effort to impose a model for depicting the image of women on the screen in keeping with its Islamic ideology, through countless regulations, seminars and pressures of various kind the Islamic Republic regime has been unsuccessful.

Seen from another angle the Iranian cinema has experienced the greatest confusion, and chaos in its last 20 years. This chaos has been fanned by continuous changes in those responsible in drawing up directives, and hence in the directives themselves.

Not unnaturally this confusion has also engulfed the filmmakers themselves. They have to juggle between values dictated to them by censors of Islamic Republic’s religious cinema, in order to get their films through the tunnel of the censor’s scissors, and the universal laws of the cinema so as to keep their viewers in the movie houses – not least inside the country. It is a Herculean task.

The cinema is an art form, which because of its complexities, cannot be totally curbed and controlled. However, in real life the highly restrictive regulations of the censors especially as it relates to women, has truly tied the hands of Iranian filmmakers. No amount of wiles and techniques of the art of cinema, no amount of creativity and intelligence, complex techniques, and symbolic language is adequate to let the director really say what they have to say.

The image of women in the Iranian cinema today is in fact that very image that the Islamic Republic forces women to adopt in society: an unreal presence, without sexuality, feelings and body. In a way one can say that in the same way that women are forced into having a dual character, in private and public, and can only reveal their real existence in society with great difficulty, this too has been reflected in the cinema. The screen image of Iranian women is nothing other than the deformed and unreal image imposed on them by the Islamic Republic.

This is how Tahmineh Milani put it in another part of the interview quoted above: “I say openly that I am fearful of the future of girls and boys in society. I am more anxious about the girls, since I see a duality in their being that has no end. I am certain that, as those responsible have said, we have been defeated in the task of educating the youth. I would very much like to make a film on this but I knew that this would not be possible” [16]

Equally commercial

In the end we come to the conclusion that the appearance of this false image of women, not just in Iranian cinema but in Iranian society, has its roots in the viewpoint and approach of the policy makers and in particular the cultural policy makers of the Islamic Republic. How the Islamic faqihs view the subject of women is outside the scope of this article.

But it should be observed here that this viewpoint, and their approach to a creature called woman, especially in the cinema, is from one angle no different from the commercial, popular and cheap-to-please cinema, both before the revolution and also what the commercial world cinema does with womankind. Both systems look at women as sexual object. One removes the pieces, and body and later the physical presence of women from cinema because she is a sexual being. Commercial cinema used this very view of women to use parts of her body as breasts, buttocks, thigh, waist and hair to attract viewers.

These two approaches may appear in opposite, but are in reality two sides of the same coin. Both are the result of the culture of a system of paternalism in society. Both try to present women as a passive, fragmented and separated from her real being.

Naturally I am excepting the enlightened cinema and the good directors. Other-thinking filmmakers have tried to use symbolic language, deeper and more human dialogue to express the deeper emotion of women. Yet the restrictive regulations of the censor is so complex that in the final analysis these filmmakers will not succeed. The final image the viewer sees is unreal and fractured.

The reality is that the cinema is an art that is supposed to show the real life of humans, and people in society should be able to project their common image through the medium of film. Therefore a director, in addition to the skills and techniques of the art, should be able to make their films in total freedom and without the prejudices ad fanaticisms which control the nation’s culture. Our filmmakers in Iran not only have to face all the strictures faced in other dictatorial countries, but also have to manoeuvre the maze of Islamic regulations and especially the strictures relating to the portrayal of the image of women.

Thus, despite heroic efforts by some filmmakers, the image of women in the cinema of the Islamic Republic is a missing link that has been locked up in the censors safe.

Parvaneh Soltani

October 1998

Parvaneh Soltani is an actress and cinema critique at present living abroad.



1.   Quoted from Mohammad Ali Sadat. The spiritual attributes of women. Teheran. Undated.

2.   Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Velayate Faqih. Teheran Amir Kabir 1971 p 292.

3    Hamid Nafisi, Iranian Cinema, section on supervision and control over cinema.

4.   Siqeh. In Shi’i religion a temporary marriage can be arranged from one hour up to 99 years. See Javad Mohaddesi. Religious (maktabi) art page 181, quoted in Hamid Nafisi, ibid.

5.   An interview with a famous actress [who asked to remain anonymous] Nafisi ibid.

6.   On the story of a film that had no religious warrant. Fouqoladeh, Los Angeles October 1983 p 16.

7.   Under the magnifying glass. New laws for not making film under the guise of directives for filmmaking. Free Cinema magazine no 5, page 61

8.   Masoud Pour-Mohammad. Special report: first small stones…. Film Monthly, no 64, May 1985 page 8 Quoted by Nafisi ibid

9.   Javad Mohaddesi. Religious (maktabi) Art, page 181

10. Hamid Nafisi. Faded presence of women. Iranian Cinema

11. Interview with Bahram Beizai’ – referring to an unsigned letter by Iranian filmmakers which was circulated in Europe. Free Cinema, no 1.

12. The views of Imam Khomeini on films, serials, music, and the broadcasting of sport. Keyhan Hava’i. December 20 1987 page 3.

13. Hamid Nafisi’s article on female directors of feature films from the beginning to today.

14. Actresses have been excluded from films. Keyhan (London) September 26 1985.

15. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Towzih al-Masael ya Ezafate Masael-e Jadid (solution of problems or addition of new problems). Taheri, Teheran no date.

16. Tahmineh Milani. Interview in Zanan no 35, Teheran, June 1997.