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Zar Amir Ebrahimi: “Iranian women have always been brave”

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Girls are dying, 17, 18, 19 year olds are being hanged. No more whatsapp. The Internet access does not work. Whenever I try to talk to my family I get cut off 10 times in a minute. They are in control and I don’t know how they are doing it, I just feel their pain. These are scary times for everyone in Iran, but change is happening and we are making history.

I was born in Tehran just after the revolution at the start of the Iran-Iraq war. What I remember from my childhood are the dark days – very bad times. Everyone knows about the history of Iran and how everything got really dark after the 1979 revolution. The Islamic Republic regime has created an atmosphere of fear for the last 44 years. In school we were taught to lie and think of imaginary enemies. We can’t dance, we can’t party, we can’t drink, we can’t get together with boyfriends and girlfriends and have fun. Fear was always in the background for our friends, family, and co-workers.

We are seeing people coming together again. Iranians have always managed to find some optimism out of gloom. I remember when I was growing up, we had a bomb attack and I asked my father if we could go up to the terrace to watch it. I was amazed by the lights in the sky, I really couldn’t understand. All those nights were full of dance and song – we didn’t stay underground, we didn’t hide, despite the war.

And this new generation is very brave. We did not think that another revolution like this was possible because so many lives were lost in the previous revolution. This is why I am so proud of the people who grew up in Iran today. They want to be more connected to the rest of the world. They only want their freedom back. Now, my parents and my partner are brave. Everyone I see is inspired to leave the fear behind. I am very happy to see that women have reached a point where if they take back control of their bodies, no one can control them – what to wear, where to go, what to do. It is beautiful, but at the same time it is very sad to see all these hangings. It is not easy to open your eyes every day and read bad news about your country and carry on as usual. We Iranians living outside the country are trying our best to echo them.

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I fled to Paris when an explicit tape of mine was leaked and then sold on the streets, ending my career and life as I knew it in Iran. As you can imagine it was scary but choosing to self-deport gave me my femininity back. I became a woman in Paris. For so many years in Iran, I suffered from trying to be accepted in a patriarchal society. The misogyny was always there. Every time I walked down the street, someone would harass and beat me up – a story common to all Iranian women. I miss Iran – a part of your soul is always in your own country and I think it never faded but it was always tainted with fear.

I started my acting career at the age of 18 and became famous very fast, then this video came out and I lost everything overnight. No one listened to me. The man who was involved in the video was free and only I was under pressure. People saw me naked, the same people who saw me covered in hijab last night. Everyone was shocked – Iran is a religious country where everything is censored and forbidden. I was being imprisoned and then killed. I was sentenced to 99 lashes. I remember that I have two options: either you are going to kill yourself or you fight for your rights. You should not be ashamed because it is your body that is one of the most beautiful moments of your life. I chose to defend myself and that motivated me to stay alive. This event was the biggest role played in my life. I would never win their game, I just had to play it the best I could to protect myself and my dignity.

zar emir ebrahimi

it all attracted me holy spider and the character of Rahimi, a journalist who exposes brutal killings of women in the holy city of Mashhad. It was always present inside me. At every step someone or the other stops her, but she continues to put her life in her hands. That was my story too – I had to learn to live a lie but never once did I think I was a victim. So I brought my life experience as an Iranian woman into her character.

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The film is based on the true story of Saeed Hanei, who murdered 16 female sex workers in 2000 and 2001 and was considered a hero by the Iranian public. It was terrible. This was not an isolated incident of murder of women; We had two or three years when we were living in a zone of serial killers ‘cleaning up’ the city around us. Once again there was an atmosphere of panic. I remember going to university and at one point I decided not to go alone anymore. My father or mother would be with me because I had the thought that if I just sat in a taxi or walked on the streets, someone might kill me. It was terrible for us women because society somehow supported their behaviour.

Self-exile gave me back my femininity. i became a lady in paris

In light of the protests and death of Mahsa Amini, it was so important that we made a film like this – we wanted to see a real film of that society just for once. Iranian cinema has always been a window into Iranian society, but it is always a kind of half-truth because all these films are made under the pressure of censorship and control. Filming was difficult and Iran’s Ministry of Culture has since threatened us – saying the film is directed by Salman Rushdie, it’s against our religion and that all actors and crew who worked on the project should be punished . I would wake up in the morning after winning Best Actress at Cannes and see messages like ‘we will find you and we will kill you’ with death threats on Twitter and Instagram.

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Actress Taraneh Alidosti has been imprisoned for three weeks after expressing solidarity with anti-government protests. He said that not taking action is an insult to humanity, with which I agree. She took off her dupatta and that act, for an Iranian actress, means goodbye to your career there. They have taken the passports of filmmakers and actresses so they can’t go as they fear they will come forward and say something against them. He’s out now, but he’s not free. He is still in a prison of sorts. Like many women filmmakers who have raised their voice, they have to face many problems and difficulties.

I want to see the freedom of my country. As for the women, I hope their rights are given back to them – and with less blood. Iranian women are saving our country. They are changing things for themselves. Even men are now fighting for women’s rights, and this is amazing and very important – this demand for freedom is a basic human right for all of us. Iranian women have always been brave. We were always fighting, we just learned to follow the rules. Little by little we took off our scarves, little by little we changed the way we wore things, and little by little we found our way to universities, to administration and to jobs.

We have to risk our lives, otherwise we cannot change this system. It’s going to be a long way to get there but I really hope we can get our freedom back and turn lives around.

‘Holy Spider’ is in theaters now

(tags to translate) Iran

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