You know Marjane Satrapi as the creator behind her autobiographical comic, Persepolis, about growing up during and after the Iranian Revolution. You may also know her from her other comic works, Embroideries, and Chicken With Plums. If you know more about her, you also know of her work as an illustrator and filmmaker.
What you may not know is that she’s an absolute delight to hear speak, as a diverse (and, I’d like to point out, mostly female) audience at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium last Friday found out. Satrapi, stylishly dressed with adorable wedge shoes (look, I was sitting close enough to notice, OK?) and bright lipstick, was relaxed and animated throughout.
On paper, two women sitting on a stage talking shouldn’t be this entertaining, even if the two women are Satrapi and Iranian author Azar Nafisi. But if anything, the 90-minute interview felt a bit too short. Satrapi can talk, but everything she says is charming, insightful and hilarious.
If there was one theme of the conversation, it was Satrapi’s insistence that people be true to themselves. Far from being a message of “peace and love” (Satrapi laughed about that later, saying she knew that’s what she sounded like she was advocating), her stance was presented as more of a challenge. Prompted by Nafisi, who brought up that Stephen Colbert called her “dangerous,”, Satrapi said that the truth is always subversive and she doesn’t think Persepolis is a particularly mysterious story. It was just “her voice against those voices” — of the Iranian regime, certainly, but also those who think that’s all there is to Iran.
Satrapi then launched into an entertaining rant about how so many people have abandoned pleasure. “Fear makes us stupid” she said, and she’d rather enjoy life while she’s living. So many people, she said, spend all this time taking care of themselves — not drinking, smoking, eating or having sex — when they’re going to die just the same as she is.
She recounted that when she decided to become an artist, it was because she couldn’t think of anything else she wanted to do more. She mentioned with dismay that art students ask her at what point she started making money. It was never about that for her and she doesn’t think it should be about that now.
Nafisi asked about how Persepolis got made, and Satrapi said she didn’t want to do it at first but only relented because she was given money to have a “new experience.” She did say she tried everything she could to get out of it — she wanted to be animated, in black and white, in French — and the producers, to her surprise, said yes to everything. She knew she wanted to be animated because it made it more universal. It was about her experiences growing up, yes, but animation made it more abstract and easier for everyone to related to than if it had been live-action.
Her experiences making Chicken with Plums, though, was different. She said she had trouble getting it financed and what she wanted to do was questioned, including why she wanted it in French if it took place in Iran. She brought up to these people there are plenty of movies in English where people are playing Germans or Austrians and she really didn’t see the difference. Still, she lamented the dearth of creativity of the film industry — no one has a problem making another Transformers movie but a movie like Chinatown, which is one of her favorites, would never be made today.
Asked by Nafisi about her views on the Internet got some laughs since Satrapi said she’s “technologically inept” and she can’t even type. She’s not interested in the Internet and made some good points — out of your 500 Facebook friends who “of these people would come cook you chicken soup when you’re sick?” She said she dislikes that the Internet makes the world a small village and that everyone knows what you’re doing all the time. She said she’d rather live in a “big city.”
Satrapi also joked about how only men should take women’s studies and that she was always confused that women were expected to be modest as to not tempt men. “Where’s the men modesty?” she asked.
As they typical are, the audience questions were a mixed bag, but I liked the woman who asked about the relationship between truth and creativity. Satrapi said that everyone remembers things different and truth is not reality. She also thinks it’s OK to cheat for the sake of the story, recounting that one event in Persepolis that happened when she was 14 in the book actually happened when she was 18. It worked better for the story she was trying to tell at the earlier time.
The last few questions were related, mostly about the power of individual voices. Satrapi said she doesn’t consider herself a spokesperson for Iranian immigrants because she doesn’t want that responsibility — she said it’s hard enough for her to be responsible for herself.
Satrapi said she’s not inclined to trust governments because politics aren’t going to change the world. Instead, she said “all the changes in the world was started with words.” And if there was one summary of everything she said Friday night, that having your own opinions and ideas is “not to be rebellious. It’s just to use the brain.”
And then with characteristic playful charm, Satrapi concluded the evening with a goodbye and a claim she really needed a cigarette.
(Lisner did not allow photos so I respected that, which is why there are none. And as thanks to the people who made this possible for me, you should shop at Big Planet Comics — especially U Street and Bethesda, but shop at them all! — and read the webcomic Sam & Lilah.)