The film The Circle is one of those films that leave a lasting impression on its audience. It pops up casually, again and again, as the viewer continues with his or her life. After all, if the viewer has the luxury of watching a movie at all, her situation is probably much better than those of the women featured in the film…
The images and sounds are equally pitiful and terrifying for the viewer.
In quick summary, the movie begins with a miraculous event- the birth of a child. Unfortunately, the joy never follows because the child is a girl, even though the doctors told the family it would be a boy. Then the viewers meet Arezou and Nargess who have escaped from prison. They try to find their way to what they hope might be a country paradise. Another woman, Pari, is pregnant, but since her husband has been executed, she cannot get approval for an abortion. She is trying desperately to get one anyway. Yet another woman is trying to abandon her young daughter with the hopes that another family will take pity on her and give her a happy home. A prostitute, a luckily remarried woman, and a woman whose husband remarried while she was in prison round out the cast. It should be noted that the cast was not one of Hollywood starts, but of real Middle Eastern women. This lends a feel of authenticity and reality to the film.
All of the women in director Jafar Panahi's film suffer from two things: their gender and their marital status. Single females in Iran are open to torturous and demeaning treatment every day. Their dress, travel, work, and hobbies are all subject to male approval. Their struggles are incomprehensible to women in the western world who alternate between voicing dismay at their plight and conveniently avoiding it. For these reasons. Panahi's film stings so deeply into the cores of viewers everywhere, especially women. Western society cannot understand, let alone justify, these treatments of women.
Fortunately, two Middle Eastern women can provide explanations about the substance of this film as it relates to life for women in Tehran and the Middle East as a whole. Suad Joseph is currently a Professor of Anthropology of Women and Gender Studies and the Director of Middle East/South Asia Studies at the University of California at Davis. She is a native of Lebanon and has spent years researching women, family and children in her native land. Her research focuses on their concepts of self, citizenship and rights. She has written several books on the subject including Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East and Intimate Selving in Arab Families. She is the founder of the Association for Middle East Women Studies and of four American universities in the Middle East.
Shemeem Burney Abbas is a native of Saudi Arabia. She has taught at colleges in both Islamabad and in Texas. She spent the years from 1987 to 1992 at the University of Austin in Texas and then at the Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad from 1992-1999 and then again from 2002-2003. She has given lecture of her article "The Female Voices in Sufi Ritual: An Ethnography of Speaking at the University of Texas, the University of North Carolina, Duke University, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. She currently holds a Ph.D. in English Language.
According to Joseph, in Gender Citizenship in the Middle East, an examination of the legal documents related to citizenship has revealed that citizenship is extremely gendered in all arenas, particularly the political, economic and cultural. Joseph argues that the struggle for women to gain a sense of self and identity through citizenship has been compromised by the nations' struggles for identity themselves. The nations of the Middle East, on ...
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