She is a punk-loving, rebellious teenager; one who does not fit into the cultural dichotomy of growing up in pre and post-revolution Iran. She is Persepolis’s young Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis is an animated movie based on Satrapi’s award-winning graphic novel, that walks her eager audience through her coming of age years during the Iranian Revolution, and the country’s changing political environment. Fearing they could not assimilate young Satrapi into Iran’s new regime, due to her outspoken and opinionated nature, her parents sent her to Vienna for her safety. This funny-bone chilling and eccentric narrative shed light on Satrapi’s, and many Middle Easterns’, identity struggle because she leaves her country and family to avoid governmental backlash.
Where it Starts…
Her bizarrely unique and child-spirited personality ironically ensured her inability to belong to any environment. I first watched the movie with a Western audience, and it amazed me that my experiences as a Middle Eastern woman were considered movie-worthy.
Persepolis provides a cultural blending of Iranian, Persian, and Muslim culture in comparison to European and Western culture. The two clash, but the movie also emphasizes how the two often continue to create one another.
We reached a point in Persepolis, where Satrapi, who previously was forced to pirate bootleg versions of punk songs in the streets of Iran because the Islamic Revolution ostracized all things Western, was freely singing a popular American song in her broken English accent. After that, I had tears streaming down my face, awe-shook in wonder at this powerfully emotional moment. But, the audience was laughing in confusion. They were laughing at her accent. There she was, singing “Eye of The Tiger”, in the most obnoxiously un-American way and they were laughing.
I had watched enough to feel enough, and by the time the confused laughter came, I felt a heavy weight in my chest that I couldn’t fully understand. I was in a room full of people who could not fathom the experience enough to be moved to the same tears.
Why Marji is Special
Throughout Persepolis, Marji remembers seeing her family members arrested and executed for their political opinions. Additionally, she remembers her country becoming more conservative, despite the revolution being under the name of democracy and freedom. She remembers hiding alcohol, her punk-rock jacket, and her fierce resentment for what the country she loved had become.
In Persepolis, Marji grew up loving her Nikes, music, movies, etc. She grew up with Westernized ideologies, and growing into adolescence, she did not give up those aspects of her identity. Regardless of everything, she was still very much so Iranian. Can both of those selves exist in such a rapidly changing environment? The answer for Marji, Persepolis’s feisty and modern main character, was no. Iran did not accept this part of herself, and people immediately recognized her as ‘different’. Her nation turns hostile against her ways and almost arrests her for wearing makeup. However, in the Western world, she finds that she does not like how contemporary it is, with the ‘casual sex and drug use’. It is too much of only one part of who she is. They recognize her as different there as well and discriminate against her for being Iranian.
Even after she returns to Iran she finds that she is ‘homesick for a nation that no longer exists. She is homesick for a culture that she can call her own. With the rise of globalization, Middle Eastern youth around the world are having similar identity crises about where we fit in, making Marji’s story an important and relatable one.
For The Middle Easterns Who Don’t Fit In
Persepolis provides an example of that co-existence, something the cross-cultural Middle Eastern community desperately needs. Be it through supporting local businesses, calling out hypocrisy, or advocating for necessary change, I see that coexistence happening in small bursts all throughout the Middle Eastern world. It’s awesome. We’re awesome.
Because of the technological age that we grew up in, we understand things from a Middle Eastern and Western perspective. We all have a collective talent for streaming How I Met Your Mother because it’s not on Egyptian Netflix. There is this craving to teach our mothers “self-love” and how to embrace their Middle Eastern curls. We eat Kunafa stuffed with Nutella for Ramadan, guaranteed to have family members pretend they like the original better. Most importantly, we meet in the middle, and rich culture and history surround us and make us who we are. We just want the best of both worlds, and therefore, Persepolis speaks wonders to this bright heavy weight in our chests from carrying the beauty of our countries around.