Wednesday, January 13, 2016

25 years ago, an Islamophobic film dented the public imagination

On this week in 1991, MGM released Not Without My Daughter, a drama film about a woman and her daughter held captive in Iran. It was hacky, received poor reviews, and generally flopped. It also carried the unusual, regrettable status as being one of the only American films about Iran at the time. For years, it served as one of the few contemporary pop culture depictions of Islam and the Middle East, and as Vulture tells it, that's an bad legacy.

In the film, an Iranian man effectively imprisons his American family in Iran after rediscovering his Islamic faith. Vulture's retrospective goes into the constant harmful portrayal of all these elements, from the vilification of Muslim men to the staging of Iran as an dark place. More troubling is the long-lasting impact of these depictions: reportedly, the film was been regularly shown in schools across the county as a cautionary tale about Iran – and was once even intentionally aired on television before a major soccer match against Iran to fire people up.

Gazelle Emami's article is a potent example of the ripple effect that even seemingly throwaway media can have on our beliefs and ideology. By all accounts, Not Without My Daughter is a forgettable, low-quality movie. But for a while, its charged representation of Iran and Islam was the only representation of Iran and Islam, and that influenced the public's perception.

Not Without My Daughter is available from our collection if you want to see it for yourself (HU DVD 2183). As an alternative, we recommend watching an expression of Iran from Iran itself, like the Academy Award-winning film A Separation (HU DVD 10336).

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