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Sundance London Women Directors: Meet Marjane Satrapi (The Voices)

Women and Hollywood By Kate Wilson | Women and Hollywood April 30, 2014 at 12:00PM

"I have worked with some technicians who have tried to fool me because I'm a woman, and I've had to go to them directly to say, 'Don't give me this shit. Let's not compare who's got the bigger one, because I don't even have one but I will win.'"
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Still from "The Voices"
Still from "The Voices"

Marjane Satrapis's fourth feature film, The Voices, stars Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton and was included in the Sundance London program this past weekend. She came to our attention in 2007 with Persepolis, the cinematic adaptation of her incredibly revelatory and personal graphic novels.

I wonder if we can go back to your film Persepolis, an extraordinary film that you wrote and directed -- a very personal film. Can you tell us a little about how the opportunity to make the film arose?

Well, I never wanted to be a movie director -- I really didn't even dream about it. I have been a cinephile all my life and I always can go to see any film and I'll always enjoy it. It just so happened that a friend of mine wanted to become a producer and he proposed that we make Persepolis, which I thought was a very bad idea. Why on earth would I think spend four years writing a book and then continue working on the same narrative for a film? But at the same time I thought that I'd be able to do something new.

Why not just take the chance and do it? The curiosity of finding out and the fear of finding out, really, made me say yes and do it. Today I can give you 250 good reasons to make Persepolis, but at the time I could find none. If you give a beautiful toy to a child and say, "Play with it!," the child will not say no -- they'll play! So I played.

But I was not convinced intellectually that Persepolis was a good idea -- adaptations do not always work and it's even more difficult when someone adapts their own work. I was so afraid of making the worst movie in the world -- I worked so hard and was so careful that it turned out okay, not so bad. 

I always thought I was a solitary person who was happy making comics in the corner, but I found out that I liked working with all these other people. The crew are not technicians -- they bring their heart and soul, their dreams and their poetry, whatever they have, and they give it all to you. Then it's everybody's project and you have to share it.

Making a film is the most vain thing in the world. For two years we talk about it and about ourselves -- over and over again. All for 90 minutes of spectacle. But, at the same time, the film is the poetry of 150 people who have put all of their energy into making this vain dream become true, which is why I love to make films. 

As the female leader of this crew of 150 people, did you have any role models from whom you could learn how to be a director?

Being a woman has never been a handicap for me. In comic books there are not so many women -- the cartoonists are men, animators are men, filmmakers are men -- lots and lots of men. But it has never been a handicap for me because I don't think I care about being a woman when I work.

I only think of myself as a woman when I am in the arms of my lover -- this is the moment that I'm a woman and the rest of the time I really forget about it. I think that if I forget about it, other people will forget about it too.

But, I have to say, I have worked with some technicians who have tried to fool me because I'm a woman, and I've had to go to them directly to say, "Don't give me this shit. Let's not compare who's got the bigger one, because I don't even have one but I will win." This is something that could get me down, but I confront people directly.

I come from a very patriarchal cultural in which my parents refused to tell me that I had to do anything because I was a girl. Until I had boobs, I didn't really know that there was a difference. My parents were always talking to me about doing whatever I wanted to do if I worked hard. At no time did I have to behave in a certain way because I was a girl. I think family and culture are so important. I lived under a dictatorship and I knew that your rights were not given to you -- you had to take them and you have to fight for them. If there is something I want, I will not cry about it. If I have to fight for it in order to have it, I'll fight. Fighting is not so bad. 

That's why it is difficult for me to figure out what it might be like for me if I'd been brought up to be a beautiful little girl -- that didn't happen to me. My mother always told me, "Don't invest in your face. Invest in your brain." As a child I thought she was telling me that my looks were a lost cause, that I shouldn't try to be beautiful and should just try to be smart. Many years later, I asked my mother, "Did you really think I was so ugly?" She said, "What are you talking about?!"

I guess your parents invested in you as an individual, helping you become confident in yourself to make the choices you wanted to make and reaching your goals.

Yes, exactly. When I was 21 years old I was married for the first time. My mother was pissed off. She said, "Do you think my dream for you was to get married? First, you must be independent, you must earn your own money and do something with your life. Then you can marry any asshole you want, I don't care. But please become someone first." I am so happy that I was brought up by these parents. I was never treated differently because I was a girl. My mother told me to stick up for myself, to fight back. I used to fight in the streets and I didn't have any fear. 

There are still fights to be fought, I imagine. Have you had to fight to make the films you want to make? Particularly in the commercial world of Hollywood and films with movie stars? 

Yes, I fight. I fight for the stars too, you know. I have to fight for them and with them if I am going to make the films I want to make.

This article is related to: Sundance London, Marjane Satrapi, Interviews, Women Directors, The Voices


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