Steamy Lesbian Drama Circumstance Earns Iranian-American Director Death Threats

circumstanceYou think getting a graphic nude scene by the MPAA is tough? Try making a lesbian coming-of-age movie in Iran. Well, actually, you can’t make a lesbian coming-of-age movie there, because according to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there are no lesbians in Iran.

Iranian-American director Maryam Keshavarz, who grew up dividing her time between Brooklyn and Shiraz, Iran, knows this is bullshit. That’s why she made Circumstance, her new movie that explores Tehran’s underground subculture of dancing, drinking, sex, drugs, and everything else forbidden by the Mullahs, and two 16-year-old girls, wealthy Atafeh and orphaned Shireen, who fall in love in its midst.

“It doesn’t adhere to the rules of Iranian cinema, where women have to have their hair covered,” Keshavarz says about Circumstance. “We even have sex scenes and nudity in the film”.

In Circumstance, our rebellious heroines strip to their underwear for a forbidden swim in the sea, but even more controversial is a nude fantasy sequence where the girls imagine what it would be like to finally get Sapphic and graphic from the safety of a Dubai hotel room.

Women aren’t even allowed to take off their headscarves in front of unrelated males in Iran, let alone film lesbian love scenes, so Keshavarz went to Lebanon to shoot her movie. But homosexuality is illegal in Lebanon too, and in order to pass the government censorship board and get permission to shoot, Keshavarz submitted a script omitting the sexy bits. “We shot those scenes anyway. We just didn’t submit them,” she says.

But as filming went on, rumors started flying around Beruit than Maryam & Co. were filming a porno. On the basis of the rumors, the police decided to visit the set on the last day of shooting, so-skin-cidentally the day they were filming the lesbian scene. Keshavarz told The Daily Beast about the experience:

“It was incredibly tense. We had 10 days of film on the set,” and she feared it might be confiscated before she could get it out of the country to be developed. The officials had been told they were making an American romantic comedy, so the actors were forced to improvise, in English, a scene where they were talking about their boyfriends. “Fortunately, filmmaking is such a tedious process that they left after the second take,” she explains.

The film’s frank exploration of lesbian sexuality has raised feathers even in the Iranian-American community, some of whom (“it’s usually Iranian men in their 50s and 60s,” the director says) have sent her death threats. For her part, Keshavarz is laughing it off.

“Threats in email are funny, because they are always in poor English,”
she says.

Carry on, brave nude warrior!

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