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Under the Shadow (2016)

Babak Anvari's Under the Shadow explores the horrors of living as a woman within a war-torn Tehran during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Ghouls educate on the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the power of having a flawed female protagonist in a tyrannical and oppressive regime.

Sources in episode:

Babak Anvari interview: Under The Shadow, horror, Statham

Terror in Tehran: Under the Shadow and the Politics of Horror

Iranian Revolution

Under The Shadow is a Babadook for War-Torn Iran

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Oppression of Women in Iran & the 1979 Iranian Revolution

Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

In the film Under the Shadow, the director Babak Anavari created the film from personal experiences. In an interview from Den of Geek titled Babak Anvari interview: Under The Shadow, horror, Statham, written by Sarah Dobbs, Anavari recounts some of his life and what helped inspire the film. Anavari grew up in Iran, and lived there until he was about 18-19 years old. The Iraq-Iran war that the film is centered around happened when he was still a child, similar to the age of Dorsa from the film.

In another article from the Guardian, Terror in Tehran: Under the Shadow and the Politics of Horror, written by Tom Seymour. Anavari recounts his further similarities to the child in the film, Dorsa. His experience, like Dorsa’s, included his father working as a doctor on the frontline, leaving him and his brother in the care of their young mother, Farzaneh. He recounts often feeling afraid, and that this was something passed down to him from his mother. Caused by time spent in basements, as sirens warned of incoming bomb threats. “The war was largely invisible to us, because Tehran wasn’t the frontline,” Anvari says. “We were children, and we didn’t really know what was happening. But I remember sirens wailing and running with my neighbours into the basement of the apartment block. I remember the arguments and rumours that would circulate down there, hearing these distant blasts of Iraqi missiles.” The forced normalcy of distant blasts from Iraqi missiles, and a generational fear of the uncertainty of living in a war-torn country.

In the opening scenes of Under the Shadow we get a clear understanding of what the film is going to be about. It shows archival footage of bombs dropping, people scattering on the streets of Tehran, and moving to some dramatised evocations of Anvari’s earliest memories.

For anyone who doesn’t know the details of the Iraq-Iran war of 1980 and the revolution preluding it I’ll provide some background. I pulled this information from the Britannica, titled Iranian Revolution, written by Janet Afray. Essentially the revolution came after many years of government upheaval created and manipulated by the UK, Russia and the US. Each government group stirred the pot in different directions and caused different leaders to be exiled, and the CIA, and UK intelligence agency joined together at one point to stage a coup. This is to say that it made sense that the revolution of 1979 took place and that there was a long history of protest, and transitioning leadership. The 1979 revolution, which brought together Iranians across many different social groups, has its roots in Iran’s long history. These groups, which included clergy, landowners, intellectuals, and merchants, had previously come together in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905–11.

So the prelude for this is Mohammad Reza Shah, who launched the White Revolution, which was an aggressive push towards modernization, and westernization, that upended the wealth and influence of landowners and clerics, disrupted rural economies, led to rapid urbanization and Westernization, and prompted concerns over democracy and human rights. The result of this effort benefited economically, however these benefits weren’t distributed equally. There was also a push against previous social norms, shifting towards a more western view. Opposition grew against shah’s policies in 1970, as the economy became unstable due to western oil demands. A decade of extraordinary economic growth, heavy government spending, and a boom in oil prices led to high rates of inflation and the stagnation of Iranians’ buying power and standard of living.

The economic situation, coupled with socio political repression by Shah’s regime grew in the 1970s. There were open opposition parties that were against the regime, and protests taking place were often met with censorship, surveillance, harassment, and illegal detention and torture were common. This environment caused many groups to align themselves against Shah and with a more conservatively religious and anti-western front. There’s also the quick and dramatic shift in Iran from a traditional, conservative, and rural society to one that was industrial, modern and urban. This shift spurred revolution, and in 1978, thousands of young madrasah (religious school students) took to streets in protest. This was accompanied by rural Iranian youth, who began protesting the Shah regimes excesses. The Shah at the time had cancer, and was surprised by the seemingly sudden uprising. He considered the protests an international conspiracy against him, which considering previous international intervention, is not a far stretch. The government responded violently to protesters and that only fueled the flame more, uniting the secular left and religious right under the revolutionary rallying cry of Allahu Akbar (“God is Great”). Martial law was eventually declared and troops opened fire on demonstrators in Tehran. Then strikes began to take place, and thousands of protesters erupted in Tehran alone.

A previously exiled leader named Khomeini, coordinated further opposition demanding that Shah’s abdication. While the Shah “vacationed” or arguably fled Iran, Khomeini took his chance. Crowds in excess of one million demonstrated in Tehran, and resulted in Iran’s armed forces declaring neutrality, ousting the Shah regime.

This change in regime resulted in a quick shift back to conservative social values. The Family Protection Act, which previously guaranteed certain rights to married women was voided. Mosque-based revolutionary bands known as Komitehs, patrolled the streets to enforce Islamic codes of dress a