Term paper on The Portrayal of Women from a Feminist View Point in Iranian Cinema as Depicted in the Films of Marzieh Makhmalbah The Day I Became a Woman and Tahmineh Milani The Fifth Reaction


            It is known that women have always been an integral part of Iranian cinema. However, in different times, they were represented in different ways in Iranian films. According to Gönül Dönmez-Colin, “the subject of women has occupied cinema since its invention”(20). Before the Islamic revolution, women were treated badly in the Iranian film industry. They were not allowed to play the leading roles and to act as film directors. However, in post-revolutionary period, the situation has been changed. During the 1990s, the majority of Iranian films have been focused on the participation of women in leading roles. Many films were highly acclaimed at the international film festivals. Gönül Dönmez-Colin states that “today, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to be a filmmaker or an actor is an honorable occupation” (7).

Richard Tapper argues that although today Iranian cinema “has firm and deep roots, pre-dating the revolution, and is grounded in the rich and profound Iranian cultural traditions of drama, poetry and the visual arts that have survived many centuries of political and social change”, the representation of women in films is more open. Of course, the portrayal of women from a feminist view point differs from the representation of women through the eyes of men in Iranian cinema. According to Gönül Dönmez-Colin, “a woman can be understood and expressed primarily by a woman”, that is why it is very important to discuss the opinion of female film directors who make everything possible to explore and solve some of the most important problems of women in Iranian society. The main characters in their films are women of different age groups: teenagers, young unmarried girls, young married women, and, of course, the elderly women who have huge experience in marriage and interpersonal relations.


The film The Day I Became a Woman was directed by Marzieh Makhmalbah, a well-known Iranian drama filmmaker. The film tells three different stories; each of them depicts different stages in the lives of women in Iranian society. The film The Day I Became a Woman was a great success with the public and even won several festival awards at the Venice Film Festival in 2000. Although this film discusses a number of acute issues concerning the role of women in Iranian society, the response of critics to this film was positive (Ebert 157).

In the film The Day I Became a Woman, the main characters are Iranian women who struggle for identity in the Iranian society. All the three situations discussed in the film, are based on the established Iranian traditions, when girls become women and have to wear chadors. According to Jonathan Rosenbaum, this film “presents three allegories about being a woman at three separate stages of life: childhood, young motherhood and old age” (282).  In the first situation, a young girl Hava is told by her mother that on her ninth birthday she will become a woman. Hava should wear chador in the street, and she is not allowed to play with her male friend. In the second situation, the main character is Ahoo, a young married woman who prefers to take part in a cycling race. However, her husband does not allow her to take part in the competitions. He pursues her on horseback, and wants to persuade her to stop cycling race. Then he threatens his wife with divorce. Ahoo is an independent and strong woman who makes a decision to continue cycling race. Her husband insists on divorce, although both the tribal superiors and the members of Ahoo’s family try to stop them. Ahoo wants to prove her rights and to escape the social restrictions of being a woman in Iranian society. In the third situation, the main character is Hoora, an old widow who has inherited a large sum of money. She makes a decision to buy those material possessions that she could not buy while she was married. In this film, the main characters do not discuss their fates, they abide with the established traditions. For example, chador is represented as a symbol of womanhood that indicates the end of innocence for all girls of 9 years old in Iran. The filmmaker discusses the most acute women’s problems. She depicts women of certain age group and the most difficult pressures they are faced in their lives. A young woman has to obey her husband in everything he wants. Only in the third situation, when a woman becomes a widow, she gets freedom of actions. Although Hoora gets freedom, she is at loss what to do in her life. She is lost in the wide world. However, Marzieh Makhmalbah knows what she wants, and want her character to achieve her goals. The film The Day I Became a Woman gives an opportunity to realize the major problems of women in the Iranian society where the established traditions and customs are of great importance and male domination is a normal thing (Ebert 156).

Leave a Reply