I didnâ€™t think Marjane Satrapiâ€™s coming-of-age-in-Iran memoir could be much improved by animating it, but having just seen the Oscar-nominated film Persepolis, I realize I was wrong. I described it to a friend interested in viewing it thus: a black-and-white, animated film in French with English subtitles about a young girl growing up in revolutionary Iran. That description sets up a number of obstacles to a mainstream American audience. But Persepolis is absolutely worth watching. About 10 minutes into the film, you forget itâ€™s black and white, you forget itâ€™s animated, and you forget itâ€™s in French. Satrapiâ€™s story is honest and authentic, personal and political, all at once.
The type of story Marjane Satrapiâ€™s weaves about her life is too often told by Western storytellers who canâ€™t help but exoticize, trivialize, and patronize readers in the telling. So many things about her experience reminded me of my own: figuring out how to be a â€œnormalâ€ kid in a fundamentalist culture, grappling with the alienation of being a foreigner, suffering the pain of separation from oneâ€™s family at a young age. So, when I first came across part 1 of Satrapiâ€™s deeply moving graphic novel about her early years, I read it in one sitting. I read part 2 in the book store before I could even finish paying for it.
The women in Persepolis, like the storyteller, are strong-willed, real women who struggle for their rights heroically. Satrapiâ€™s relationship with her smart-talking grandmother is central to the film. Her grandmother teaches her to believe in herself, scolds her when she is selfish, and reminds her to take a principled stand in all things. Itâ€™s an image of Iranian women we rarely see in Western media.
The simple lines of her pen convey volumes about family, society, war, and religion and are a testament to her artistry, both as a story teller, and a graphic artist. It would almost have been too easy to make a traditional film based on her books, complete with actors and location shoots. In translating her graphic novels into an animated film, she chooses to keep her story in a realm that is one step away from reality: just like our own memories.