Questions for Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi hoped to change the way people saw her country.


Feb. 22, 2008— -- Author and filmmaker Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical "Persepolis" graphic novels about life in Iran after the Islamic Revolution and later in exile are international bestsellers, both translated into 24 languages.

A French language animated film version of "Persepolis" is nominated for an Academy Award in the Animated Feature category, alongside strange bedfellows "Ratatouille" and "Surf's Up." An English language version of "Persepolis," with Sean Penn, Gina Rolands, and Iggy Popp lending their voices is also planned for release.

On the eve of her big weekend, Satrapi spoke to ABC News about her work and what it was like to make her first film.

ABC News: Why did you want to tell this story and what did you want to tell people with it?

Satrapi: I have said this story all my life. I kept on saying the story over and over because I saw so many misunderstandings, so many misjudgments about Iran, so many things that were so far from reality. In 1999 after four years of having left Iran I had enough distance and less anger and it was the right time for me to write the story. In a very surprising way many people found themselves in this story. Many people found that it was part of their own life, which is extremely magical for me because it was from the beginning a very, very personal story.

ABC News: You've said that you didn't want people to think of Iranians as an abstract concept?

Satrapi: Absolutely. We are reduced to some abstract notion, when you call a whole country "axis of evil," or fanatics, or terrorists or whatever, after a while people forget that these are people you are talking about, they are human beings. My point of view when I make a book or I make a movie is to see the humanistic point of view. The point of view of the daily life of normal people.

ABC News: People see a compelling story of women in struggle in your work, but you object to being called a feminist?

Satrapi: I am absolutely not a feminist, I am against stupidity, and if it comes from males or females it doesn't change anything. If it means that women and men, they are equal, then OK, certainly I am a feminist. It happens that I am a woman, so it becomes a "woman coming of age story." I think if I was a man it wouldn't change so much, they never call it a "man coming of age story." It is a human coming of age story, let's go for the humanity and humanism, it's a much better thing than this "womanhood" and "manhood" and I don't know "hermaphrodite-hood, and etc., etc.

ABC News: You often have to defend Iranians, but by the end of your book tour when you when back to France you had to defend Americans to the French and the French to Americans?

Satrapi: All this misjudgment that we have of each other is based on ignorance. The second you get to travel you see that human beings no matter where they come from, they are the same. What you say is completely true, I was defending Iran, then I went back and that was the time of the (2004) election and I was defending Americans in France. The more you know the more complicated it becomes. Of course, for me it is much easier to say "these people they are good, these people they are bad." That makes my life much easier, but the problem is now I know that it is complicated, then I have to be able to express that complexity.

ABC News: Are you a rebel?

Satrapi: I don't think of myself as a rebel, I just say what I think.

ABC News: Do you have any thoughts of being nominated with these computerized animated films?

Satrapi: It's extremely funny to be nominated in this category, at the same time already being nominated in this category, I consider myself as winning something. I have never considered animation as a genre, its just a medium with which we tell a story. If its considered a genre then my movie doesn't have any place in this category. But since we are nominated, that shows that animation is not a genre, that means that I was right.

ABC News: What do you think of the term graphic novel?

Satrapi: I hate this thing, "graphic novel," because "graphic novel" is a term the publisher created for the bourgeoisie. Like instead of saying you are going to read "comics," you are going to read a "graphic novel," like people would be ashamed to say in front of their friends that they read comics. I have made comics, I am a cartoonist and that's it.

ABC News: What do you hope people get out of your work?

Satrapi: What I would say to people is that you can go and see a movie about a place you thought was completely hostile, people that you thought you would never get to understand. It's a story of a life with its ups and downs, its moments of happiness and its moments of despair, its moments of laughter and moments of tears. It is a life's story.

ABC News: Why did you name it "Persepolis"?

Satrapi: I always thought to understand what is happening the current day in a country, it is important to know the historical perspective. Persepolis was the ancient capital of Persia. It reminds people this country that they have this fantasy that it was created in 1979, has a very big history.

ABC News: Did Hollywood approach you?

Satrapi: It was offers like, they wanted to make a series, and then they wanted to make it live action. Just selling the rights of the book to have another version of "Not Without My Daughter" but in which Iranians would be a the nice ones or a little bit nicer, it would be just a disaster for me. So either I had to do it myself or it should not have been done.

ABC News: I don't mean to make you choose between your children, but if you had to say which of the versions of your work, the books or the film, best deliver the message, what would you say?

Satrapi: I enjoyed very much making the book, but I was with myself. I think I enjoyed even more making it with other people, to tell you the truth, because when you have a story this personal and you share it with a team of 90 people, mostly French but there was one girl from England, another from China, from Italy, from Germany, from Canada, and you see that they all embrace the story. If they can understand a story like that and they can make it with me, that means that everything is fine, that there is some hope for the future, that we don't necessarily need to make war.

ABC News: I would bet that nobody starts a comic expecting to become famous and having their story told by Catherine Deneuve and Iggy Popp. What has this experience been like for you?

Satrapi: I think it will take me 10 years to understand what has happened. I think at the Oscars I will finally understand what is happening, and I will enjoy it finally. But all this success came, I was not 21 years old either, which is a good thing. Now I'm 38, which is a good thing that I had to wait a little bit, because if I was 20 and all of this happened I would be in rehab or something right now.

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