By: Lisa Rand
Happy 50th birthday to illustrator, writer, and director Marjane Satrapi! Born on November 22, 1969, Satrapi gained worldwide acclaim for her autobiographical comic book Persepolis, a tale of growing up in revolutionary Iran.
Originally published in French in four volumes in 2000-2003, the English translation arrived in 2003, with a second volume the following year. Beginning a decade later with a highly-publicized challenge in the Chicago Public Schools, Persepolis faced a series of regular complaints and censorship threats. In 2014 the title landed in the #2 spot on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged materials.
The story in Persepolis includes political history in Iran in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The angle, however, is deeply personal. Satrapi has said, “I’m a person who was born in a certain place, in a certain time, and I can be unsure about everything, but I am not unsure of what I have lived. I know it.” She tells her own experience as a young woman raised in a particular family, and the very personal nature of the writing might be a key to her story’s power.
The story was adapted for film, which Satrapi cowrote and codirected with Vincent Paronnaud. In 2007 the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, among an impressive list of 28 award wins and 55 nominations.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) has written a detailed case study of Persepolis, as well as an excellent study guide for teachers to use in classrooms. Educators interested in using graphic novels in the classroom might appreciate having tools at hand to incorporate Satrapi’s rich works in your lessons. Information professionals and educators need to continuously take courage and stand up for freedom of expression. As Satrapi observes, “When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression.”
Actor Emma Watson interviewed Satrapi in 2016 for the Our Shared Shelf book club in Vogue magazine. During the interview Satrapi said, “The more you forbid something, the more people want to see it. The more you say “Don’t do it!” the more people want to do it.” Here she echoes the voice of advocates for freedom to read who highlight the futility of banning books.
As an artist, Satrapi advocates for freedom, critical thinking, and cultural understanding. “I have lived in a dictatorship. There was a ban on everything! Was I less free in my mind? No, I wasn’t. Did I become a stupid person? No, I didn’t. Because no matter how much they looked at me, they could not get into my mind.”
As Satrapi writes in Persepolis 2: The Return, “Culture and education are the lethal weapons against all kinds of fundamentalism.” Through her outspoken advocacy for peace and personal freedom, she offers an excellent example to free speech advocates everywhere.
Lisa M. Rand is a youth services librarian in southeastern Pennsylvania. She exercises her commitment to equity and access for everyone by serving on the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Pennsylvania Library Association. Lisa has studied at Simmons University and Kent State University. Whenever possible she travels, visiting libraries and walking in the footsteps of favorite fictional characters. Find her on Twitter @lisa_m_rand.