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Iranian Queer Cinema

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The idea of Iranian queer cinema may sound impossible or contradictory through the social context of Iran after the 1979 revolution. It is impossible because in Iran homosexuality is simultaneously a religious sin, a legal crime, and a cultural immorality. In post-revolutionary Iran, any type of sexual activity outside a heterosexual marriage is forbidden. Same-sex sexual activities are punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment, or execution.[1] However, in recent years, since the 1990s, a large number of films has produced about non-normative forms of sexuality and gender in Iranian cinema. For instance, Facing Mirrors (2011), directed by Negar Azarbayjani, is the first movie to feature a female-to-male transgender main character that has been written, produced, and screened in Iran.[2]

Talk about Iranian cinema without reference to its political and historical background is incomplete. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, everything about the representation of the female body and heterosexual intimacy suddenly turned upside down. Just a few months after the revolution, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MCIG) enforced a series of limitation on the depiction of feminity and women's body on the screen. Despite heavy state censorship and political repression, Iranian filmmakers have attempted to find ways to subvert the limitations and portray social and political issues. Hamid Naficy, an Iranian film scholar, explains how filmmakers and spectators of Iranian cinema after the 1979 revolution, learned to deal with these regulations:

Mere close-ups of women or two-shots showing a man and a woman along together engaged in simple conversation may be coded by the director and may be decoded by spectators as intimate love scene though the content of the shot itself does not show such intimacy in any obvious way. In this manner, an innocent shot becomes charged with intimacy and sexuality.[3]

The end of the eight-year war with Iraq in 1988, the death of Khomeini in 1989, and the victory of Iranian Reformists in the presidential election of 1997 led to the inclusive reform movement that opened the political climate of Iran and resulted in the emergence of new discourses regarding women’s rights, religion, and democracy.[4] In this new situation, filmmakers dared to talk about the unspeakable social issues such as the abuse of drugs, prostitution, temporary marriage, divorce, social injustice and also mundane love, though of course avoiding showing any direct contact between men and women.[5] Furthermore, Iranian directors by producing a large number of films which feature the practice of the cross-dressing found an opportunity to stage genderqueerness and imply non-normative forms of sexuality. Films like Snow Man (Adam Barfi, 1995) directed by davood Mirbagheri, A girl named Tondar (Dokhtari be name Tondar, 2000), directed by Hamid Reza Ashtianpur, Daughters of the Sun (Dokhtaran-e-Khorshid, 2000) directed by Maryam Shahriar, Baran directed by Majid Majidi are exemplary of a subgenre organized around cross-dressing figures. By staging a queer situation, these films work against the social norms and the roles which were determined by the state and hegemonic culture.

  1. Penketh, Anne (2008-03-06). "Brutal land where homosexuality is punishable by death". The Independent.
  2. "Queering Iranian Cinema". Ajam Media Collective. 2013-05-11.
  3. Naficy, Hamid (1994). Veiled vision/powerful Presence. NY: Syracuse University press. p. 149. Search this book on
  4. Abrahamian, Ervand (2014). A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge University Press. Search this book on
  5. Vanzan, Anna. "The LGBTQ question in Iranian cinema: A proxy discourse?". Dep.

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