Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history’s wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the past 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.
In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women’s rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, cinema... And so the list goes on.
This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. The articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
IranWire readers are invited to send in suggestions for how we might expand the series. Contact IranWire via email ([email protected]), on Facebook, or by tweeting us.
* * *
Golshifteh Farahani was born in 1983 in Iran. Her family is well respected in the acting world - her father Behzad Farahani is an actor and theater director and her mother Fahimeh Rahimnia is an actress. However she never had any plans to pursue acting herself. From the age of five, she had piano lessons and went on to train as a concert pianist at the School of Music in Tehran. When she graduated, she planned to go to Vienna to pursue a musical career but after starring in her first film at 14 years old, she never did.
Her first role was working for renowned movie director Dariush Mehrjui as the lead in his new film “The Pear Tree,” which was a wistful drama about a man reflecting on a past, lost love.
Both her mother and father were opposed to her turning to acting as they wanted her to pursue music. However after her sister Shaghayegh, also an actress, brought her to the attention of director Dariush Mehrjui, there was no turning back.
Golshifteh’s life changed drastically after her first movie appearance. For her role in the movie, she won Crystal Roc for Best Actress at the International Section of the 1997 Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran. The film also won a Sliver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival in 1998 and so she quickly became a highly sought-after actress and her plans for Vienna were left behind.
Then in 2006, she starred in “Half Moon,” a film by Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi. The story is set in Kurdistan and was partly inspired by Mozart’s Requiem. In the film, which is banned in Iran, Farahani plays a singer. This role then brought her to the attention of Ridley Scott who asked her to play in his 2008 film “Body of Lies,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. After filming was finished, she went back to Iran but as soon as the trailer was released, there was uproar from hardliners and conservatives. In the film, Farahani features alongside Leonardo DiCaprio without the hejab.
Hossein Saffar Harandi, the Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance at the time, said on TV of the incident, “Nobody should step over legal lines. If somebody tramples the law, that person is going to be trampled on.”
Following this, when she tried to travel abroad to go to the premiere of “Body of Lies,” her passport was taken and she was banned from leaving Iran. Intelligence Ministry agents interrogated her a number of times about her actions.
Her final film in Iran was in 2009 and was called “About Elly,” which was directed by highly-acclaimed Asghar Farhadi. “About Elly” got good reviews and received awards, such as the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin film festival, Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival and Best Actor and Best Director Awards at the Iranian Fajr Film Festival. However the movie was banned before general release in Iran.
Eventually, Golshifteh’s travel ban was lifted and she was able to leave Iran for the US. “I didn’t decide to emigrate,” she told an interviewer. “I was driven out. My only salvation was to act. It came and lifted me up.”
Six years on from leaving Iran, her films are still highly criticized by Iranian hardliners but she continues to act unabated. She has now played in 11 films and also does theater. She also continues to play the piano.
Then in 2012, Farahani appeared in a short black-and-white film with 30 other "young hopefuls" of French cinema in order to promote the Césars, the so-called "French Oscars" – which nominated her for her role in the comedy “If You Die, I'll Kill You.” In the short promo, each actor took off an item of clothing in front of the camera as a sign they were committing their "body and soul" to the art of film. Farahani chose to bare her right breast.
The Guardian wrote about the incident stating, “What followed in Iran was little short of a cultural earthquake. It was a catastrophe. A taboo of unimaginable proportions had been shattered, and not by some publicity-hungry provocateur, but by the most loved and admired actor in the country. Farahani may have only been another 29-year-old hopeful in France, but in Iran she became a star the moment she appeared in Dariush Mehrjui's The Pear Tree at 14. Eighteen films later there is more than a little of Garbo, Jeanne Moreau and Irene Papas about her: a rare beauty and intelligence married to a burning emotional honesty in a country where truth of any kind is hard to come by.”
While Golshifteh said, “I don't know exactly how many tens of millions of people typed my name into Google the next day, I don't want to know. For the first time in my life I appreciated being a woman. Paris is a city that liberates you as a woman from all your sins that you think you are guilty of, it washes away all of that and you are free.”
Golshifteh’s most recent project is the latest installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” which is set to be released in 2017.
Also in the series:
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Jinous Nemat Mahmoudi
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Simin Behbahani
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Forough Farrokhzad
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Parvin Etesami
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Farokhru Parsa
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Jamileh Sadeghi
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Fatemeh Daneshvar
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Fatemeh Moghimi
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Googoosh
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Sima Bina
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Tahereh Qurratu'l-Ayn
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Farah Pahlavi
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Pardis Sabeti
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Mahsa Vahdat
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Maryam Mirzakhani
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Fatemeh Karroubi
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Shirin Ebadi
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Mehrangiz Kar
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Narges Mohammadi
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Zahra Rahnavard
50 Iranian Women You Should Known: Leila Hatami
To read more stories like this, sign up to our weekly email.