Today I’m going to discuss two films that deal with women’s issues in the Muslim world, specifically Iran. The first film, Ten, was directed by Amas Kiarostami (2002). Shot from only two camera angles, this film centers on Mania Akbari, a newly divorced woman who has a job giving people rides in Tehran. Through out the film, Mania has ten separate conversations with her passengers, including her own son. Eventually—through the conversations—the film gives a clear idea of the hardships that come from being female in Iran. The second film, Not Without My Daughter, is a true story, based on Betty Mahmoody’s book of the same name. Directed by Brian Gilbert (1991), the movie also attempts to make a comment on female oppression by showing how Betty Mahmoody, a white American woman, struggled against male authority while visiting her Iranian husband’s family in Tehran with her daughter.
Actually, I saw Not Without My Daughter before I saw Ten. I saw it quite early in my undergraduate years—before I took a semester-long course about the history of Islam and learned enough about the Islamic community to see just how narrow minded Americans are when it comes to understanding and depicting Muslims. My first reaction after watching Not Without My Daughter was—oh my God, I’m so glad that I live in America. After all, I could never live in such a place like Iran, where husbands beat their wives at will; where women do not have custody over their children—even if these children aren’t Iranian citizens—instead, custody belongs to husbands entirely. No, I could not live in Iran, where sure, I as an American woman could leave the country whenever I wish, but my child could not unless my husband gave his permission. I could not live in Iran, where I must dress like all the other Iranian women by covering my face completely. Oh and I must make sure to watch that veil—if it falls a tiny fraction of an inch, I could get arrested. I could not live in Iran, the country in which the only way to escape the country—with my child—as a woman is by a long journey marked by me hiding my identity and doing everything I can to outsmart the guards at the checkpoints. It is only when I see the American flag at the end of this journey that I can sigh with relief. Ah, I am in America. I am home baby. I am home.
That’s the basic message that I got after watching Not Without My Daughter. Those are the things that happened to Betty Mahmoody during her visit to Iran, and while it is clear that the filmmaker wanted to use her struggles to show what life is like for women in Iran, it is also clear that the filmmaker chose to depict the streets and culture of Iran as so hostile and primitive that nobody could possibly want to live there.
Ten, in contrast, takes viewers directly to those streets and gives the voices of the diverse group of people who walk them a chance to be heard. After watching Ten, I felt enlightened. I realized that Iran is not the bad place it is often made out to be, despite its history of oppression against women. For one thing, neither Mania nor most of the women she picked up had their veils completely covering their faces. Secondly, Ten gives us hope that one day women will be able to break out of their oppression. Even though Mania had to prove that her husband was a drug addict in order to divorce him, the fact that she was able to get a divorce in order to free herself and live her own life signifies shows that women do have some rights.
In all, Not Without my Daughter is a film to assure Americans that there is no better place for women to live than in the land of free and the home of the brave. Ten tells it like it is and, as aforementioned, does not let go of the hope for women in Iran.