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.
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Fatemeh Motamed Aria has been a powerful influence over Iranian cinema ever since the 1980s. Whether playing a timid, provincial woman, a wealthy aristocrat or a university professor, her acting is powerful and convincing to the point one could assume she was playing herself.
Motamed Aria was born in Iran in October 1961 and began acting when she was 20 years old. Later, she completed a theater degree at the Tehran School of the Arts and took courses in drama and filmmaking at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, an institution founded by Queen Farah the same year Motamed Aria was born. The institute was one of the most successful centers for artistic education, with many of its students going on to become very successful.
After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Fatemeh Motamed Aria became a puppeteer for a popular children’s television show called The Mice School; a few years later, she began playing leading roles in a number of films. Throughout her career, she has won numerous Iranian and international acting awards. In 2011, she received the Best Actress Award at Montréal Film Festival for her role in Here Without Me, an Iranian film that inspired by The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Then in 2012, she won the Prix de Henri-Langlois at the Vincennes International Festival in France.
However, show business has not been her only passion. Over the past 10 years, she has also played an active role in philanthropy. This has involved setting up charity fairs for children with cancer and collecting money for children who are unable to afford education.
During the run up to the disputed 2009 presidential election in Iran, Motamed Aria helped promote gender equality in a campaign video for reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. This led to sharp criticism from hardliners. Fars News Agency, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, published an open letter condemning her support for Mousavi and accusing her of insulting the Iranian people.
The letter also mentioned a video that featured Motamed Aria and several other actresses dancing at a party not wearing the hejab in the early 1990s. At the time, she faced a short-term ban because of it. The ban was again re-instated because of her support for Mousavi during the election. Hardliners accused her of being a “seditionist.”
Then, in autumn 2009, the American Academy of Motion Pictures invited Fatemeh Motamed Aria and a number of actors were invited to the US. Authorities seized her passport at the airport and she was banned from leaving the country.
A year later, the ban was lifted and she was able to appear at the Cannes Film Festival. However, hardliners again condemned her after photographs of her emerged showing her at the festival not wearing hejab. She was banned once again from acting. The ban was then extended further when hardliners discovered that the presenter of the Henri-Langlois Award kissed her during.
Soon after, she was summoned to the prosecutor’s office at Evin Prison for visiting the family of a young man killed in the 2009 election demonstrations and for speeches she had given that voiced support for Mousavi. As punishment, she was ordered to pay a cash fine.
When Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013, things improved for Fatemeh Motamed Aria. The ban against her acting was rescinded and two of her films were shown at Iran’s most important film event, the Fajr Film Festival.
Most recently, in June 2015, her portrait was displayed alongside 15 international figures at a multimedia exhibition called The Transformative Power of Art at the United Nations Exhibit in New York. The exhibition showcased artists that have worked in human rights or to aid humanity.
Fatemeh Motamed Aria is married to screenwriter Ahmad-Ali Hamed. They have a son together.
Despite all the obstacles and difficulties she has faced during her career, she continues to view Iranian cinema with optimism. “Our national cinema has proven that it grows and resists despite all obstacles,” she said in an interview. “We should help to protect and cherish it since it has been the most progressive art reflecting people’s struggles and hopes since the revolution.”
Also in the series:
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