On Female Iranian-American Filmmakers and Representation

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By Kate Metcalfe, Editorial Staff Writer


Thursday, November 13th, Fusion Film Festival launched its year of events with a screening of Appropriate Behavior. I decided to take a look at the main force behind the film, Desiree Akhavan, as well as Ana-Lily Amirpour, and the role their Iranian-American background plays in their filmmaking careers.


Desiree Akhavan, an NYU Tisch alum, writes, directs, and stars in her feature film, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Akhavan’s unapologetic voice earned her several awards and the title “The Iranian Lena Dunham.” Just briefly looking at Akhavan and her work, it’s easy to see the Dunham parallel. Both take total control of their respective projects by assuming multiple roles and offer a fresh take on what it means to fit in. Yet, it would be unfair to merely see Desiree Akhavan as a Lena Dunham knock-off. Her work deserves recognition in its own right for its shrewd revision of the growingly tired tune of a neurotic, young New Yorker trying to find his or her self by incorporating aspects of her Iranian heritage and bisexuality. Working with such personal elements allows Akhavan to take an honest look at identity and address the problems innate to identification in a modern society.


Ana-Lily Amirpour, another writer-director, created the first Iranian vampire western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. The film definitely pays homage to her Iranian heritage given the setting in a fictional Iranian ghost town, the chador-clad vampire protagonist, and stylistic choices reminiscent of Iranian New Wave; however Amirpour denies trying to make any political or cultural statements. In a recent interview with Film Comment, Amirpour said, “I don’t want to shut out any idea. I suppose that when you make a film, whether you set out to or not, you’re making observations.” Looking at A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Amirpour integrates her several observations on cinema and her Iranian-American upbringing to produce a harmonious union of her several cinematic influences and two cultures.


Ultimately, Desiree Akhavan and Ana-Lily Amirpour face a central problem in their film careers: cultural identifiers becoming the story rather than the work. It is impossible for an artist to completely separate him or herself from their work, so drawing parallels between the film and the filmmaker are unavoidable. However, there is a problem when those parallels become the focus, for it runs the danger of oversimplifying the scope of a film and overriding the filmmaker’s original intention.


This being said, representation is important. Filmmakers of different cultural, economic, and gender backgrounds ensure that film in general portrays a realistic and varied view of the world. Given their cultural upbringing and gender, Akhavan and Amirpour bring a different perspective to the film industry, and because of this, should be celebrated as a beneficial addition to the film industry.


Fusion makes promoting women in film, TV, and new media its mission for this very purpose: representation. Film should be reflective of society, so a film industry where women account for 16% of all directors, writers, cinematographers, editors, producers, and executive producers does not rightly reflect anything but a male-dominated field. Female filmmakers of different cultural backgrounds such as Akhavan and Amirpour ensure that film tells more than one type of story as well as affirm the dreams of other aspiring female filmmakers. Fusion strives to rectify inequality within the film industry, and equal representation is the first step.