How Marjane Satrapi Went From Comics To The Oscars: 52 Weeks of Directors

by Lauren C. Byrd

Marjane Satrapi is a graphic novelist and filmmaker and uses both of these mediums to tell the story of her homeland, Iran.

Satrapi was born in Rasht, Iran, a city on the Caspian Sea, in 1969. According to Wikipedia, her parents were highly educated members of “an urbanized stratum of Iranian society.” They were politically active and supported Marxist causes against the monarchy of the last Shah. She’s related to the Qajar Dynasty through her maternal grandmother.

Persepolis 1

The Qajar Dynasty was the Persian royal family from 1785 to 1925. They never fully recovered from the occupation of Persia during World War I by Russian, British, and Ottoman troops. In 1921, a commander of the Persian Cossack brigade, Reza Khan, staged a coup d’etat and took control of Persia. Khan then declared himself Shah and led from 1925-1941.

When she was young, Satrapi witnessed the protests against the government, including violence against family friends. Her uncle was a political prisoner and lived in exile before returning to Iran. In 1979, when Satrapi was 10, the Iranian Revolution occurred. The revolution involved the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was supported by the U.S., and its replacement with an Islamic republic under the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“I was lucky to grow up with a father that was a real cinephile,” Satrapi said in an interview with IndieWire. “He would take me to see a film like The Deer Hunter and then I would go and see a Bergman movie. When he remembered that I was a child, and that the The Deer Hunter wasn’t really for children [Laughs] he would take me to see an animated movie like a Disney one. So I saw lots of films like John Ford’s films or Houston’s film. I grew up with American but also with European and other kinds of films.


“I’ll tell you something; nobody will believe it, but the movie Seven Samurai by Kurosawa, I have seen it more than 300 times. At one point my parents had on video, and everyday I came back from school, and every single day I’d watch it and it is 3 hours and 30 minutes. My mom would ask “You are not bored of this film?” but each time I would notice a new thing and I was like “No!” I have an obsessive relationship with some movies that I can watch them over, and over again. I like them so much that I just can’t stop.”

Satrapi’s parents were dismayed by the Muslim fundamentalists who took power due to the revolution. As a teen, Satrapi acted out, breaking modesty codes and buying banned music. Her parents decided they needed to send her abroad in order to protect her from getting arrested. In 1983, she moved to Vienna to study at the Lycee Francais. She spent her high school years there, sleeping on friend’s couches, but also spent two months living on the streets. After contracting pneumonia and ending up in the hospital, she returned to Iran.

Persepolis still

After obtaining a master’s in visual communication from Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Satrapi moved to France. Her career began when she met David Beauchard, a French comics artist who became her mentor. In 2003 and 2004, she published her autobiographical graphic novels, Persepolis and Persepolis 2, which describe her childhood in Iran and adolescence spent in Europe. Later, she published Embroideries, which examines the sex lives of Iranian women. Chicken with Plums tells the story of a celebrated Iranian musician.

“It was really my answer to the world because the two times I left Iran, in 1984 and 1994, I heard so many crazy things about Iran. There are many other realities [to a place] that we never see so that was really to say I will give you another point of view, a very personal one, but this is it. So that was the beginning,” Satrapi said of the graphic novel.

persepolis drawing

Persepolis was adapted into an animated film, which was co-written and directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. The French language version included voice work of Catherine Deneuve, Simon Abkarian, Danielle Darrieux, and Chiara Mastroianni as the Satrapi family. The film debuted at Cannes in 2007 where it won the Special Jury Prize. The English language version included the voices of Gena Rowlands and Sean Penn and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated in 2008, which made Satrapi the first woman to be nominated for the award.

The film is a coming of age story, but it concentrates on the peculiarities of feeling displaced from your homeland. When Marji moves to Vienna for school, she finds herself ashamed for being from Iran, but because she has witnessed so much suffering in her own country, she has a hard time relating to the European friends she meets. Upon finally returning to Iran, she feels out of place there as well, at least at first.


Persepolis also confronts depression and romantic mistakes. Marji, much like Satrapi herself, marries young and after a couple years with her husband, wants a divorce. (Satrapi is now married to Mattias Ripa, a Swiss national, and they make their home in Paris.)

“The point was not to provide a point of view for a woman [from Iran.] The fact is that I’m a woman. If I was not a woman, I would be a man. It is a very personal story, but since I did not want it to become a political or historical or sociological statement, I had to write it in my name and make it personal. It happens that I’m a woman but it’s a human point of view. If there’s one message in this movie it’s that human beings anywhere are the same,” Satrapi said of the film.

satrapi directing

Satrapi continued her partnership with Paronnaud and they directed a live-action adaptation of Satrapi’s Chicken with Plums, which was released in 2011. In 2012, she wrote and directed Gang of the Jotas. In 2014, she directed The Voices, a horror comedy starring Ryan Reynolds, which some critics said was Reynolds’ best role. The Voices was the first film that Satrapi did not write.

“Basically I never thought I would make someone else’s story because I have my own universe and my stories. Once in a while they’d send a script, most of them make me feel that since I’m a woman I have to be interested in the stories that concern women – like handbags,” she remarked in an interview with IndieWire.

Last year, it was announced her next film will be an adaptation of The Extraordinary Journey Of the Fakir Who Got Trapped In An IKEA Wardrobe, a novel by Romain Puertolas, which is about a Muslim who renounces all his worldly possessions and travels from New Delhi to France.

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