Artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat (Women Without Men) draws from personal experiences with her latest movie, a film-within-a-film. An Iranian woman filmmaker—living in exile while directing a lavish biopic about the legendary Egyptian superstar, Oum Kulthum—deals with a temperamental lead actress and hostility from men on the set. Meanwhile, she is distracted by calls home to Iran about a family crisis. The film addresses the all-too-familiar challenges women artists face in a creative space where male colleagues question their capabilities.
“Neshat juxtaposes the life of the singer, and Oum Kulthum’s real life personal choice to remain single and childless to honor her career, with a film where she explores the stumbling blocks that a woman filmmaker in the Arab world faces, when, as an outsider herself she decides to make a film about an iconic figure. Sound familiar? Yes, the concept is brilliant and the resulting film poses a series of questions, questions that if we sat down to truly ponder, might offer us the answers to a better world.” —Huffington Post
Shirin Neshat said that the son of Abbas Kiarostami was the first person who suggested she make a film on the singer. But a biopic was not her idea, so she decided to make a “portrait of an artist trying to make a portrait of an artist. And, more importantly, a portrait of a Middle Eastern female artist looking at an iconic Middle Eastern female artist. And, of course, one is a minuscule artist, while the other is the grandest of the century. I think that, like Women Without Men, where we were trying to pursue the plight of each one of the four characters, yet also treat the country of Iran as almost a fifth female character; what I’m trying to say is that, with this film, we’re trying to tell Oum Kulthum’s story, but we’re also trying to speak about more than that. We’re trying to look at Egypt’s modern history, trying to look at a contemporary woman’s challenges, women who didn’t have the freedom Oum Kulthum had to devote everything to her career.”