Feminism and an Iranian Vampire Western

Nevada Women’s Film Festival features "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night."

Ana Lily Amirpour holding her NWFF Vanguard Award

Last weekend, the Nevada Women’s Film Festival was held mainly at Origen Museum at Springs Preserve, with a panel, screening and afterparty at Downtown’s Eclipse Theaters. Not only does the festival feature women’s accomplishments in the film industry, it also highlights films that fairly represent women. Case and point: the Q&A session with Ana Lily Amirpour following the screening of her film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.

Both writer and director of the film, her 2014 directorial debut, Amirpour has been credited with creating the first Iranian Vampire Western. The title’s girl (we never learn her name) played by Sheila Vand is actually a vampire vigilante. She wears a chador throughout the film—a typical garment Muslim women wear that exposes only their face—which serves as a visual staple not unlike Dracula’s dramatic cape. Filmed in Bakersfield and other parts of California, the film is in Farsi with English subtitles. And if making an Iranian Vampire Western isn’t already going out on a limb, the movie is also in black-and-white.

These decisions have paid off in several nominations and wins in international film festivals. Amirpour is a woman who has made a big splash in an industry where male directors outnumber women nearly 5 to 1.

On top of that, Girl touches on pieces of Iranian and Muslim culture—which also does not get fair representation in Hollywood. The film seems to play on gender and cultural boundaries, and critics have picked up on that.

At the NWFF Q&A held March 25, I asked Amirpour how intentional these feminist and multicultural messages were:

“I don’t entirely know how to answer that question, and I’ve been getting asked it for four years. I don’t really know what it means to be feminist, to tell you the truth. I’m not a person who subscribes to philosophies. I think a lot of things can be interpreted in a lot of ways. For me, personally, categorization in art is completely not useful. It becomes limiting. I think categorization is a natural thing that humans have on planet earth, to figure everything out. So, if the film becomes useful to groups of people in a certain way to understand and interpret and define, fucking mazel tov! Go crazy with it!”

Her answer disarmed me. And that was refreshing. She rejected a label that generously has been attached to her by not only feminist media outlets but also by film critics in general. I certainly find some of the film’s themes lend themselves to feminist and multicultural interpretations. But, as Amirpour stressed, these themes are not so much political statements as they are the product of her creative mind, its countless influences and the biases and interpretations that each individual takes to the screen.

NWFF aims to support fair representation of women in film, which comes in as many forms as there are women. To explain that, Amirpour revisited a reference from the film: “It’s like that song, ‘Hello,’ by Lionel Richie. I fucking love that song. Do I know who he wrote it about? No. Do I need to? No; it’s mine, and mine alone. Because once a piece of art exists, it’s yours. You’re right … everybody’s right. It’s there for you, and it no longer is for me.”