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Special Features

Iranian Women you Should Know: Tahmineh Milani

September 21, 2015
7 min read
Iranian Women you Should Know: Tahmineh Milani

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.

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Well-respected Iranian filmmaker and screenwriter Tahmineh Milani is a feminist, which is apparent through her movies as they are predominantly about women. Whether about a female student who is in an unhealthy relationship, a mother fighting a powerful father-in-law over the custody of her children, a woman dealing with a philanderer husband or women seeking revenge against hurtful men, women in her films are agents of good, even in the most horrific of situations.

Milani has also made comedies and movies with a philosophical undertone, although women tend to be at the heart of these too. This is what angers Iranian hardliners, who are her most vocal critics and accuse her of bias. In the early days of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, she became influenced by leftist politics, which is what the hardline press refers to every time they want to attack or discredit her. Keyhan newspaper called her an “unprincipled” director and Fars news agency, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, later ridiculed the national broadcasted for inviting her to feature on a television program.

The authorities have censored Milani on a number of occasions with several of her films being banned. Equally, her scripts have been rejected or granted permits after considerable difficulty. Despite these obstacles, she has won praise and numerous awards from international festivals and audiences.

Born in 1960 in Tabriz, the provincial capital of East Azarbaijan, Milani first began studying electrical engineering at the University of Tabriz in the early years of the revolution. However when the state began closing universities to make them more “Islamic,” she moved to Tehran and changed to architecture.

She loved literature and films and rarely missed an opportunity to attend a literary or cultural gathering at the University of Sciences and Technology where she was studying. And it was through these gatherings that she came to know successful Iranian director Masoud Kimiai who hired her in 1982 as assistant director for his film “The Red Line” – she was just 22 years old.

Taking her new opportunity seriously, Milani quickly impressed those around her and rose up in the ranks. As a keen reader, especially regarding social issues, she completed enormous research on scripts and before long she was writing her own. Then in 1989, when she was just 29 years old, she directed her first film “Children of Divorce.” The Fajr Film Festival, Iran’s biggest film festival, awarded this “Best Movie.”

Then in 1991, she made her second film, ‘The Legend of Sigh,” a “philosophical” movie that failed at the box office. Then a year later, she directed a comedy called “What Else Is New?” which was a success.

“If ‘The Legend of Sigh’ had been successful at the box office, it’s possible I would have stuck with the same genre and never have tried anything else,” Milani said in an interview with Etemad at the time.

Then in 1997, when moderate Mohammad Khatami was president, she made a film called “Two Women,” which was the first in a trilogy about women. This received the “Best Script” award at Fajr Film Festival.

The second in the trilogy, which came out in 2001, was “The Hidden Half.” This was about a young female student who joined a Marxist group during the revolution of 1979 but who is forced to hide her past when she gets married and then, eventually, to reveal it.


Arrest and Outcry

However when the film was screened, the authorities arrested Milani and detained her at Evin Prison. Although she was not told the charges against her, it is thought she was accused of “activities against national security,” “abusing the arts as a tool for counter-revolutionary activities”, “supporting counter-revolutionary groups” and “waging war against God,” the last of which carries a death sentence.

After two weeks in prison and following protests by directors such as Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei released her. President Khatami also intervened.

During her time in detention, Milani came to know some of her other cellmates and later incorporated some of their stories into her 2007 film “Settling Scores.” This is about a group of women who are released from prison and rent a house and set out to get revenge on the men around them. By pretending to be prostitutes, they lure men into the house, beat and steal their valuables and then kick them out. It took Milani two years to get the permit to make and distribute this film and yet when it was released, many Iranian critics said it was one of her worst works and criticized it for being “extremely feminist.”

Later in 2003, Milani received the Grand Prix from the Geneva Cinéma Tout Ecran film festival for another one of her films “The Fifth Reaction.” Then in 2005, the Los Angeles Film Festival selected her film “The Unwanted Woman” as “Best Picture.”

In 2014, Milani was invited to a live TV broadcast in Iran to discuss her latest film, “Ceasefire.” However she enraged the hardline press with comments she made during the interview. They claimed she had insulted the Iranian people because she rejected their standpoint that international film awards were “enemy awards.”

“Why do you think the festivals take advantage of us?” Milani said. “I totally reject this. Don’t they have anything better to do than take advantage of us? Why are we making so many enemies?”

The same year - not long after the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance had approved the script for her latest film “Scheherazade, The Woman of One Thousand and One Nights” - she was summoned to the Culture and Media Court to answer questions.

Alongside filmmaking, Milani and her husband Mohammad Nikbeen also act as equal partners in the running of an architectural firm. And Nikbeen has produced several of Milani’s movies and acted in two of them.


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

50 Iranian Women You Should Known: Golshifteh Farahani

50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Susan Taslimi

50 Iranian Women you Should Know: The Khomeini Women

50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Nasrin Moazami

50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Masih Alinejad

50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Lily Amir-Arjomand

50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Effat Tejaratchi


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