Oscar-bound short lifts veil on Iranian women rejecting male domination

Short movies nominated for an Oscar often don’t get wide public attention. But when one is about an Iranian girl seeking freedom from male domination by taking off her veil, interest is sure to spike.

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That is the premise of The Red Suitcase, a 17-minute film about the protests that have been raging in Iran since September of last year. It will be shown at the Oscar ceremony on March 12 in Los Angeles.

It is set in the airport of Luxembourg and tells the story of a 16-year-old Iranian girl who just got here from Tehran and is afraid to take off her veil in order to avoid a bad fate that is decided by men.

The Oscar nomination is an opportunity for Iranian-born Luxembourgish-born director Cyrus Neshvad to highlight the damage that the Islamic regime’s “virus” is causing to Iran’s “beautiful body.”

He stated to AFP, “Once we get this virus out, the body will be flourishing again.”

The September 16 death in custody of a young Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, who was detained for wearing the headscarf incorrectly as required by the country’s religious rulers, sparked the protests in Iran.

They have since spread to become one of the most significant public oppositions to the hardline Islamic theocrats who came to power in 1979.

The regime has responded by arresting and executing protesters, but it has also turned against those who show support, like the country’s athletes and filmmakers.

“Take your hijab off” For Neshvad, The Red Suitcase was filmed a year before the current Iranian uprising began, not during it.

However, it is rooted in the mistreatment of his family, who practice the Bahai religion and are routinely persecuted in Iran, as well as the long-standing mistreatment of Iranian women and girls before Amini’s death brought them to the attention of the entire world.

The director, in his 40s, stated, “For me, it was about a woman, which are the women in Iran being under domination of the man.”

According to him, “if a woman wants to do something, or go visit something, the man (her father or husband) must consent, write the paper, and sign it.” This is the case in Iran.

It was a moment of “courage” for the girl in his film to take off her veil—not only to rebel against a path that was forced upon her but also to inspire those who were watching.

“It will be a message that says, Neshvad said, “Follow me, like me, take off your hijab, refuse this dominance, and let’s be free, at least have the free will to decide.”

Nawelle Evad, a 22-year-old Iranian actress, used a dialogue coach to deliver the few required Farsi lines.

However, as a French-Algerian, she was familiar with the West’s discussion of women and Islamic headscarves.

She stated to AFP in Paris, where she currently resides, “I had a Muslim upbringing and I used to wear it.”

However, she remarked, “it was never an obligation” for her to wear one.

And even for her character in the film, when she takes off her headscarf, she says, “It’s not of her will, it’s despite herself that she removes it – I think there are many women in Iran and elsewhere, where the headscarf is an extension of themselves.”

Criticism directed at West as well. In the movie, however, her character ultimately “chooses herself” by removing the headscarf.

“The doubts that anyone, in any country, in any culture, faces—what do I choose for myself—that’s what I find so beautiful about this film. Do I heed my family’s advice? Do I make my own decisions?”

Guillaume Levil, Neshvad’s French scriptwriter, also suggested that the film’s sexualized airport ads show that the West can also be criticized for exploiting women and their public image.

The director stated that the movie’s final image, a commercial featuring a blonde model with a lot of curly hair, represented both social norms.

He stated, “With the camera on her face, the closer we go, slowly we see that she’s not happy, and when we are very, very close, we see that (she) is even frightened.”

I wanted to finish the movie with this. Therefore, to have both sides, not just one side.

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