Holy Spider Star Zar Amir-Ebrahimi on Film in Wake of Iran Protests – The Hollywood Reporter

By Ali Abbasi HOllie Spider Had no prophetic intent.

The Utopia director’s serial-killer drama is inspired by the true story of Saeed Hanai, who murdered prostitutes in the Iranian city of Mashhad, claiming to be acting on God’s behalf to “cleanse” the holy center of their corruption. Zar stars as Amir-Ebrahimi Rahimi, a fictional journalist who investigates murders and realizes that the authorities have little interest in catching the suspect.

At its premiere in Cannes, Holy Spider Abbasi is shocked and appalled in equal measure with his unflinching portrayal of the violent misogyny he sees at the heart of modern Iran. It was already part of the awards conversation when Abbasi, a Copenhagen-based Iranian exile from Denmark – put forward the film as its official entry for the 2023 Oscars.

Then, on September 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody. She was arrested by Iran’s religious police for not wearing her hijab properly. Her death sparked street protests that, despite a brutal retaliation by the authorities, have grown in size and power, representing the most sustained challenge to Iran’s theocratic rule in a generation.

suddenly, Holy Spider Feels totally relevant.

“After the protests, people started watching the movie in a different way,” says Amir-Ebrahimi, “and I started watching it in a different way.”

Amir-Ebrahimi, 41, has first-hand experience of Iran’s religious oppression. A popular TV actress in the early 2000s, her career plummeted after an intimate video of her and her boyfriend leaked online. Fearing for her life and facing possible prison terms and 97 lashes for having sex outside of marriage, she fled the country and now resides in Paris.

The Hollywood Reporter Urgently spoke to Amir-Ibrahimi Holy Spider‘s “feminist message,” how women are leading the fight against Iran’s theocracy, and whether, this time, protests can bring about real change.

Holy Spider Inspired by real murders in Mashhad 20 years ago. But now with protests on the streets of Iran, it feels a new urgency.

i know I am very sad about all these events in Iran. But at the same time, I’m really optimistic and somehow having this film related to the situation is a real opportunity to talk about the conditions of women and men in Iran, to think about what’s really going on. It was so weird: we were at the Toronto Film Festival that day [Mahsa Amini died]. And it’s amazing how people started viewing this film in different ways. Not just the audience. I started looking at it differently. Ali Abbasi always said he didn’t want to make a feminist film, a film about women, but for me, from the beginning, this film was about women, about how women are viewed in Iran. The way Ali shows women without hijab, without scarf, is something you never see in an Iranian film. But inside Holy SpiderWe see their bodies, their hair, their skin and all the different faces of women.

When we screened it at Cannes, there was a lot of criticism about the violence in the film – some said it was “obscenely violent”. Nobody says that anymore. The violence, the brutality, is now happening in front of us, in the streets. If the audience is under the impression that we are somehow exaggerating or projecting our imagination onto the country, events show that it is not true.

Do you see your own character Rahimi differently now?

Rahimi fights for freedom, for the right to speak the truth. And I see it everywhere today. While preparing for this role, I was always looking for Rahimi, for her motivation, for why she risks so much in her fight for truth. I thought it was a fictional character; I didn’t know if I could find Rahimi’s model in the real world, especially in Iran. Now, I see those women taking to the streets, without their headscarves, defiantly fighting for their freedom. As if there are thousands of Rahimis in our streets. It’s really important that the film comes out now in the US, Europe and everywhere else because it’s led us to talk about the situation in Iran. I think, especially in the West, people were silent. No one wanted to see the reality. But now you can’t ignore it. People think these protests will pass quickly like others in the past. But they won’t.

Czar Amir-Ibrahimi (left) in Utopia. Holy SpiderFor this, she won the Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Thank you very much

But there have been big protests in Iran before, that didn’t change things. Why are you confident it will be different this time?

We have had many shows in the last 10 years, that’s true. But they are always changing leaders, changing politicians. This time people don’t want a change of leader, they want a change of regime. This is a new beginning. People have reached a state where they can see that they cannot move forward with this administration and this government. When you see officers killing girls and boys [at the demonstrations], it is clear that the government cannot be trusted. How can you trust a government that kills its own children?

Iranian people are always afraid of having another revolution, because of our revolution [in 1979] Kidnapped by us and everyone was traumatized by the experience. But there is now a younger generation that sees the regime and its patriarchal society as a problem. This is very relevant to our film, which talks about patriarchy, about misogyny, about how the state controls women’s bodies. Now you see in the streets, women and men fighting side by side for women’s rights and human rights, all together. For me, this is really new. The protests started as a struggle for women’s rights. But now we repeat the call: “Women. life Freedom.” People see that fighting for women’s rights means fighting for freedom, for life.

Does that apply to the Iranian film industry as well? There are some very outspoken dissenters, like [imprisoned film director] Zafar Panahi, but many are reluctant to criticize the regime.

They are under a lot of pressure. On the first day, when Mahsa Amini was killed, a lot of actors and directors posted something about it, but the next day, everything calmed down completely. Many have deleted their posts or closed their Instagram accounts. I spoke to a friend from the industry who still lives in Iran and she told me she got a call from the government, from the security services. A lot of people got those calls. He told her to keep quiet and not incite people to take to the streets. I understand that as a celebrity, as a filmmaker, you can be targeted, the authorities can come and arrest you. But at the same time, I see common people risking their lives to take to the streets. So what are you afraid of? Our celebrities, our filmmakers have a voice and are waiting for people to use it, stand with them. I think it’s sad that some people are doing that.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.

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