Film & Media

Iranian Films About Children and Young People                                                       compiled by Gabriele Ross

These films are not rated, but the first four are appropriate for High School only. The films are available on video and DVD from many mainstream rental stores but also can be bought at reasonable prices at . All are in Farsi with English subtitles.


Animated film based on M. Satrapi’s audio-biographical graphic novels. Addresses war, oppression, immigration, identity and coming of age. Won numerous prizes including Academy Award nomination.

2007, 95 minutes

Director: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud


Tongue in cheek story of young women who disguise themselves as men in order to be allowed into a soccer game in the stadium in Tehran.

2006, 93 minutes

Director: Jafar Panahi

No One Knows About Persian Cats

The film follows two young musicians (Ashkan and Negar) as they form a band and prepare to leave Iran. The pair befriends a man named Nader, an underground music enthusiast and producer who helps them travel around Tehran and its surrounding areas in order to meet other underground musicians possibly interested in forming a band and later leaving the country. The film highlights many of the legal and cultural challenges independent musicians and generally the Iranian youth face in Iran's severely confined government. It stars real musicians such as Rana Farhan, Hichkas, The Yellow Dogs Bandand Shervin Najafian. 

2009, 106 minutes

Director: Bahman Ghobadi

Baran (Rain) 
An Afghan girl disguises herself as a boy in order to land a job on a construction site in Iran. The story becomes complicated when an Iranian worker discovers the secret and pursues a romantic relationship with “Baran.”Best picture Montreal Film Festival and best Director 19th Fajr International Film Festival2001, 96 minutesDirector: Majid Majidi 

Bashu – The Little Stranger

A young boy from war-torn Khuzestan in Southern Iran is displaced to Gilan in the North of the country – a region where he stands out by ethnicity, language and appearance.1985, 115 minutesDirector: Bahram Beizai 


A young woman rebelliously pursues her love for a horseman. Surreal colorful setting (“gabbeh” is a carpet weaving style) and innovative modern adaptation of traditional Iranian music.1997, 75 minutesDirector: Mohsen Makmalbaf 

Children of Heaven

A brother and sister from a poor Iranian family try to hide the loss of a pair of shoes from their parents. Best Foreign Language Film 1998, three major prizes at Montreal Film Festival1997, 90 minutesDirector: Majid Majidi 

The Color of Paradise

The struggle of a gifted blind boy whose father who cannot accept his disability.1999, 90 minutesDirector: Majid Majidi 

The White Balloon

A young girl attempts to buy a goldfish for Iranian New Year and finds herself on a wondrous journey through the streets of Tehran. Co-winner of the Critic’s Prize at Cannes in 1995 and winner Camera d’Or.1995, 85 minutes

Director: Jafar Panahi, Script by Abbas Kiarostami

Teaching Media Literacy by Analyzing the Portrayal of Muslims and/or People from the Middle East

By Gabriele Ross for Mercy Corps

In times of social, political or economic upheaval and periods prior to or during war, public images of “the enemy” or “the other” are constructed by private interest groups, government agencies and the mainstream media. These images and stereotypes are designed to scapegoat particular groups and generate unity in times of crisis, as well as fulfill the needs of individuals to define and separate their own (good) identity in contrast to the (evil) image of the other. This “image making” follows predictable patterns that have not changed significantly during the last decades. Much of it was developed in pre-WW II Germany, where there actually is a term for it: “Feindbilder” (the image of the enemy). Techniques used in the anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews now re-appear in the portrayal of Arabs and Muslims. Those include repeatedly showing certain facial features such as large noses and small eyes in cartoons, taking photos from an unfavorable angle, and attributing certain negative character flaws to an entire group of people. An example of the latter is the claim that Muslims do not value life and therefore areprone to violence.

The power of the “image” can be illustrated with the post-9/11 attacks on Indian Sikhs living in the US. The reality (Sikhs do not share any religious or national characteristics of those responsible for the attacks) is replaced by irrational reactions to clues triggered by the image (Osama Bin Laden wears a beard and aturban and so do Sikhs).“Mythmaking” is often outrageous, but the myth is repeated until it becomes believable to large percentages of the population. In Germany in the late 19th century, the fictitious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, which helped fuel Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, were circulated until they were taken for reality. In 1990, Hill and Knowlton,a Washington-based public relations firm, invented the myth of Iraqi soldiers ripping 300 babies out of incubators during the invasion of Kuwait. Originally created on contract for the government of Kuwait, the lie was repeated in front of the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus Committee on October 10, by a supposed 15 year-old witness, who later turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador and who had been in Washington at the time of the alleged incident. From there the fabricated story entered the news media all over the world and was commonly cited as one justification for US military intervention.

War reporting itself is often censored and blatantly biased. In recent conflicts many reports focused on technological aspects of weapons, not on their impact on people. Vocabulary such as “casualties,” “friendly fire,” and “smart bombs” is rarely questioned. Emphasis on phrases such as “smart bombs” leaves the impression that civilian deaths are avoided in modern warfare, while the opposite is true. Only 8% of the 142,000 tons of bombs dropped during the first Gulf War were of the “smart” variety; the overwhelming majority were indiscriminate carpet bombs. In fact, civilian casualties have dramatically increased since World War I, when 14% of war casualties were civilians. In armed conflicts of the 1990s, 90% of casualties were civilians.

Classroom Activity
Level: High School


  • To teach media literacy through the images of Arabs and Muslims in film and news coverage
  • To promote critical thinking about such images Materials

Background reading “Portrayal of the Enemy in Times of Crisis” (s.a.)

Lesson Procedure
1. The current enmification of Muslims and/or people from the Middle East in the news media builds on years and years of prior myth and enemy making in the entertainment industry. In April 2004 Children Now found that 46% of all Middle Eastern characters on prime time TV were criminals, compared to 5% of White characters (Children Now, 2004). Have students discuss films of the genre that includes “Black Hawk Down,” “The Siege,” “True Lies,” “Rules of Engagement” and “Not Without My Daughter.” While not all of these films are not specifically about Iranians, their portrayal of Muslims represents similar stereotypes. Because of their violent and sexual content it may not be possible or advisable to show these films in public schools, or require students to watch them. However, regardless of ratings, many teens will have watched, or are at least may be familiar with them.Those who have seen the films can provide a brief verbal summary to those who have not. It may be possible to show short clips of the films. Several of these films are produced with direct assistance by the Department of Defense. Children’s films are no exception. The new Dreamworks version of “Sinbad” omits any reference to the story’s Arab origin. In the Disney version of Aladdin the anglicized “good” heroes Aladdin, Princess Jasmine and the Sultan battle dark-skinned “evil” Arabs with huge hooked noses. The original opening song had the following lyrics:

“Oh I come from a land,
From a faraway place,
Where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear,
If they don’t like your face,
It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”

Use these guide questions to reflect on media images.

  • What is the ethnicity of heroes and villains? What are their skin colors? Whichcultural/ethnic group is portrayed more sympathetically?
  • Compare how Muslim Eastern and non-Muslim Western women are portrayed.What are relevant sexual themes? How are cross-cultural sexual encounters presented? Is there a stated or underlying threat of abduction? Are children present?
  • How do elements of the films convey a certain message and establish “other-ness”? Through music? Tone of voice? Dress? Use of foreign language? Are writings and exchanges in Arabic or Farsi not translated and therefore in-comprehensible? Lighting and special effects? Sets and landscapes? Are there stereotypical endless tracts of desert filled with camels? What about props?Weapons?
  • How are religious practices portrayed? Is Muslim prayer somehow connected with violence? Do Muslim people of faith seem merely devoted or “fanatical?”
  • Are Muslim characters in the film portrayed as individuals with names and complex personalities when compared with non-Muslim Westerners? Are Muslims portrayed as being from diverse communities or rather as one large anonymous mass of “otherness”? Does it matter that the first three of the above mentioned films are produced with assistance of the US Department of Defense and the Marine Corps? What could be the purpose of such cooperation?
  • What film characters are reserved for Arabs and/or Muslim men? The terrorist? The savage? The villain? The seducer and kidnapper of women? The oil sheikh?
  • Can you think of movies that portray Muslims as something other than terrorists, oil monopolists or villains?

2. Examine written and TV news stories in the same light, using these questions:

  • Are the terms “Arab” and “Muslim” used interchangeably and why is that problematic? (Most of the world’s 1.2 million Muslims are not of Arab descent, and not all Arabs are Muslims) What is the “look” of Arabs and/or Muslims predominately used in the media? Does the report say anything about the diversity among Arabs and Muslims?
  • Are people referred to by their full names or in a way that makes them real individuals rather than anonymous “others”?
  • How are the terms “extremist,” “terrorist” and “fundamentalist” used? Are these terms defined? Are other “loaded,” often-repeated terms used?
  • How are victims portrayed? Do non-Western victims have identities through the use of names and faces? If even mentioned, do non-Western “casualties” seem realistic? Are some victims portrayed as more “innocent” than others?
  • What is the source of “facts” and details included? Is the source named or does a term such as “official sources” make it impossible to validate the information? Is the journalist researching independent sources or simply repeating government policy/press information?
  • Why in a democratic society is freedom of information and news from diversesources important?
  • If “experts,” are quoted what qualifies them as such? Are their views objectiveand balanced? Do people from the featured culture have a voice or are others speaking for them?
  • Can you detect patterns of “us” versus “them” thinking? Who are “we” and who are “they?” What is the effect of this polarization and over-generalization?
  • Do the pictures illustrate the stories? Do they offer an accurate portrayal of “them?”

3. To conclude, have students read the handout “Portrayal of The Enemy in Times of Crisis”. Note that images of the enemy are constructed in many different ways by government sources as well as by the media. Unfortunately, these constructs often do not differentiate between war combatants and civilians. Furthermore, sometimes the constructs live on long after wars have ended.

Further Resources

Said, Edward. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World . Random House, 1996.

Shaheen, Jack G. The TV Arab: Arab and Muslim Stereotypes in American Popular Culture . Georgetown University, 1997.

Shaheen, Jack G. Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People . Interlink PublishingGroup, 2001. Also available as film.

Lee, Martin and Solomon, Norman. Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media . Carol Publishing Group, 1991.

Hobbs, Renee. Media Literacy Skills: Interpreting Tragedy, Social Education. Vol. 65 No. 7,Nov/Dec 2001:
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):

Northwest Media Literacy Center, 1509 SW Sunset Blvd. Suite 2D, Portland, OR 97201,(503)452-7333.

Project ‘Look Sharp’ Media Construction of the Middle East curriculum:

Jonathan Friedlander at the University of California assembles a rich archive of American Orientalism:

Lesson Extensions
The organizations and resources below provide strategies for humanizing people who are innocent victims.

Teaching Tolerance is an education project of the Southern Poverty Law Center (Montgomery, Alabama). Their website features lesson plans, activity ideas, linkages to other related websites and advice on addressing hate groups. http://www.teachingtoler...

Rethinking Schools: “War, Terrorism and our Classroom” Special http://www.rethinkingsch...

Submitted by Admin on Mon, 02/25/2008 - 10:42am.