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The film industry’s disparity between female and male directors is no secret. When browsing your favorite film blog, you’re likely to find an article that addresses the topic, in some form or fashion. Popular points of discussion include smaller budgets for female directors and a general lack of recognition. Luckily, Brooklyn-based theater, Videology, contributes to the convo with phenomenal programming. Currently in its fourth month, Independent Women is a monthly screening series bringing you underrated, overlooked, “Why haven’t I seen this?!” films directed by women. This month, they’re bringing you the critically-acclaimed, Academy Award nominated feature, Persepolis.

One of the most memorable images in Persepolis, ten years removed, is young Marji donning a jacket that reads “Punk is Not Ded.” In the spirit of rebelliousness, Marji finds whatever ways she can to set herself against the increasingly harsh dictums pronounced by the Iranian government. And much like Marji herself, Persepolis itself is a rebellion against what the viewer would typically expect from a story about a repressive society; there’s something formally audacious (and distinctively punk) about choosing to make Persepolis an animated film.

Even graphic novels like its source material (Persepolis) that you’d think would lend themselves particularly well to animation adaptations, are, more often than not, turned into live-action features. Prominent graphic novel adaptations (of the non-superhero variety) like Blue is the Warmest Color, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and From Hell are all live-action. So, the obvious choice would’ve been to do the same with Persepolis. And that version would’ve been pretty damn good. There have to be at least a few alternate universes where the film exists as a very good live-action drama, but we should be happy we don’t live in any of them.

Making Persepolis animated (not to mention, largely black-and-white) was a bold decision. There’s nothing particularly fantastical about the story and such realism isn’t often found in mainstream animated films. However, that bold decision is what has made the film endure. For one thing, it makes the movie more universal. The city of Tehran, as depicted, is largely faceless. It could be any city, reminding the viewer that while this is a story about a specific form of repression, it’s also about repression in a more general sense. This animation style, while still distinctive and beautiful, has a way of rendering the foreign as less foreign. As Satrapi herself put it around the time of the film’s release: “With live-action, it would have turned into a story of people living in a distant land who don’t look like us. At best, it would have been an exotic story, and at worst, a ‘third-world’ story.”

Animation also offers narrative possibilities that would be much clumsier in live-action. Persepolis is full of digressions and time jumps that might have come across as awkward if attempted in a non-animated fashion. For example, early on, Marji’s father, in order to explain the current political situation, tells her the story of the first Shah of Iran. The film seamlessly shows these events as described and just as seamlessly brings us back to Marji sitting with her father. It’s the kind of sequence that really only works in animation. These digressions (whether they provide context to Iran, Marji’s family, or simply her life in general) make the movie feel much richer and more lived-in. Animation gives the film more freedom to tell its story, which in turn, heightens its impact.  

There’s also the simple fact that Persepolis’s style gives it a hell of a personality. Satrapi is aware that the story could easily become overly serious. Luckily, she doesn’t fall into that trap. The film uses animation to illustrate Satrapi’s sense of isolation, in both Iran and Europe, to absurd and comic extents. Bad boyfriends (seen above) are depicted with the ridiculous disdain they deserve. Animation brings the viewer into Satrapi’s head much more than traditional live-action film ever could. This is especially important in adapting a work that’s so personal. And just like Satrapi’s graphic memoir of the same name, Persepolis manages to be both silly and serious, often at the same time. There’s a sense of fun that, at first, might feel at odds with the material itself. But, that makes everything feel a bit more subversive –  what better way to say “screw you” to oppression than by being a little goofy at its expense?  

Make yourself heard!