Marjane Satrapi

On Saturday, we went to see a conversation with  Marjane Satrapi as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. I was super exited to hear her since I adored Persepolis. I finally read it last year and I considered it one of the best books that I had read for the year. I saw the movie based on the books several years ago and that was also great. She’s kinda the bees knees all around.

The conversation started with a discussion of the various mediums that she has been working in. In addition to the novels, she has directed four movies and recently had an art show in Paris. She talked about the difficulties and benefits to the movie world. It’s a lot harder because of all the money involved and the time. She described it as a bit narcissistic. But she said there is something amazing about film. In other media, she directly takes what is in her head and applies it to her art. But with film, she’s more of a spectator to it. There is so much more than in her brain that goes into it.

Marjane Satrapi talked a bit about her fourth film, Voices, which will be released in February 2015. It’s about a serial killer who talks to his cat and dog. Ryan Reynolds plays the serial killer. She said that he’s really talented; he just has gotten a bad series of roles due to his appearance. This was a film on the Hollywood Black List, which I had never heard of before. The Black list is composed of films that are really good but no one wants to make. I’m not sure how she managed to get this film off the black list; I don’t know if she is funding it herself. Anyway, she talked about how Voices was the first film that she directed based on someone else’s material  Marjane Satrapi explained that she had to make it hers in order to make the film. But what was so great about it was that she had her own world expanded by this new second world by the writer of the screenplay. She said that letting other people share your ideas was one of the greatest things of all.

Marjane Satrapi talked about her shock at the book ban in Chicago. For those of you unfamiliar, Chicago public schools tried to ban Persepolis last year for depictions of torture and language. It was later removed as part of the 7th grade curriculum. Read about the ban here. The author had been to Chicago several times and was extraordinarily surprised. She found the reasons for the ban to be ridiculous. The torture scenes were not gratuitous; she tried to depict the violence in a meaningful and respectful way.

Marjane Satrapi believes that the real reason for the ban was that the content humanized Iran, which some people did not want. Her book makes the point that people in Iran are like Americans; we have a common humanity. Some people may object at “humanizing” the perceived enemy. I think there is something to that; I don’t buy the ban either. The author talked about a moment in New Mexico. An old lady came up to her and said, ”I’m not afraid of the Axis of Evil anymore.” Marjane Satrapi said, “That’s great. Why?” The old lady commented, “I didn’t imagine people like you existed in Iran. You made me laugh.” The author sees the end of fear and hatred with familiarity and shared experience. I totally concur.

The moderator made a really nice point that it was sadly ironic that people tried to ban a book in Chicago that was about people banning things in Iran. She noted that the author writes in Persepolis about her father smuggling in rock posters, leather jackets while CPS teachers allegedly smuggled the books out of libraries, hid them in their cars to prevent copies from being thrown out. Marjane Satrapi showed tremendous respect to public school teachers in the US, noting that teaching was a vocation here. You didn’t do it for money. She felt that if the teachers think something should be taught, people should listen.

She did show her sense of humor about the ban. At the time, the author looked at the list and saw Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, and other esteemed writers. She decided that perhaps this wasn’t the worst list to be on considering the incredible company.

She also talked about her perceptions of feminism and humanism. Many years ago she said in an interview that she wasn’t a feminist but rather a humanist. Now, she explained that she is a feminist by definition because women are oppressed. She is on the side of the oppressed, no matter what. If men were oppressed, she’d be a masculinist. She also pointed out that patriarchal society has to have buy in from women; they raise and educate the children within the system. Interesting ideas. She explained at the end: “I can’t keep my mouth shut…my vocation is opening my big mouth.”

I can’t wait to read her other books and see some of her films.

That’s all for now!

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