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France’s entertainment industry is continuing to rally behind Iranians protesting the brutal government crackdown that followed the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16.
More than 1,000 working professionals from the world of French cinema, including luminaries like Isabelle Hupert, Lea Seydoux and Thierry Fremaux, had signed an open letter published on Tuesday, urging anyone “shocked” by Amini’s “murder” to “support the protesters loud and clear.” In stark, defiant language, it called for an end to the “insufferable coercion” women face in Iran.
And on Wednesday, 53 female French actresses and musicians cut their hair as part of #HairForFreedom, a widely viewed Instagram video campaign in support of the protestors. A video posted on Instagram begins with Juliette Binoche clipping off several inches of thick brown hair. “For Freedom!” she says in English. Other French stars then followed suit.
The video, spearheaded by a trio of French lawyers, spread rapidly on social media and activist sites supporting the protestors in Iran, where internet use is tightly censored and monitored.
On Sept. 13, Iran’s morality police arrested Amini, an Iranian activist of Kurdish origin, for violating strict religious codes regulating how women wear and cover their hair. She was taken to a morality “re-education center” in Tehran where, according to Iranian authorities, she died of a heart attack three days later. Family and friends dispute this account, saying she had no pre-existing conditions; eye-witnesses and friends say Amini was badly beaten during her arrest, according to media accounts.
The open letter was signed by scores of writers, actors, directors, technicians and festival directors. “We want to collectively express our support for the Iranian women who are presently fighting for their freedom, risking their lives,” the letter states.
The letter goes on to praise the protestors for trying to build “a new era in Iran and all the countries where women are the victims of obscurantism.” Signatories of the open letter included Jacques Audiard, Audrey Diwan, Julia Ducournau, Michel Hazanavicius, Alice Diop and Vincent Maraval.
Now entering their fourth week, the protests rocking Iran have spread to much of the rest of the world, as women from Los Angeles to Sydney are cutting their hair in solidarity with the Iranian dissidents. In some cities, protests have swelled to the tens of thousands, with demonstrators chanting “say her name” and calling for an end to Iran’s brutal theocracy.
Iran’s strict Islamic orthodoxy mandates that Iranian women cover their hair at all times in public. The strict rules are enforced by a vast “morality” bureaucracy and undergird much of the regime’s approach to governance.
As Karim Sadjadpour pointed out in the Washington Post recently, “Compulsory hijab is one of the three remaining ideological pillars of Iran’s theocracy, along with “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” As Sadjapour notes, millions of Iranian women are harangued each year for “improper hijab,” and there are several who are serving prison terms for the offense.
With Amini’s death, however, women’s hair has become a different kind of political cudgel, as protestors around the world adopt the act of defiance. The cutting of one’s locks is an ancient tradition in Iran and across much of the Middle East, immortalized in literature and legend, and often signaling grief, mourning or anger.
With the possible exception of Binoche, who pruned off a large fistful of hair with real abandon, most of the other French actresses were more restrained. If the protests continue to grow, however, that may change, in Iran and elsewhere.
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