Saturday, April 1, 2023

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"The Oscars showed me how free American women can be"

Along with the billions watching the Oscars, there will be unknown tens of thousands in Iran attempting to see the ceremony with secret satellite dishes and spotty internet connections.

They and millions of Iranians around the globe will be rooting for Iranian director Cyrus Neshvad’s The Red Suitcase nominated for Best Live Action Short, an often overlooked category. The 18-minute film tells the story of a 16-year-old Iranian girl landing at Luxembourg Airport with a red suitcase trying to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man.

Since the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022, there have been continuous protests in Iran, many led by women and girls seeking freedom. The government has cracked down, with hundreds killed by security forces and thousands jailed.

During Neshvad’s time in Los Angeles in preparation for the Oscars, he met directors and actors who have inspired his work, including Stephen Spielberg, who he’s called a hero of his.

Many Iranians, especially Iran’s massive young population—around 60 percent of its 86 million people are under 30 years old—have access to and may feel connected with America’s entertainment industry, amplifying their yearning for freedom and equality.

My love of American entertainment began in 1978, at my seventh birthday, when my parents bought me a mini projector that played three black and white short films: Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Mickey Mouse.

We lived in Tehran and I didn’t speak any English but watched those movies hundreds of times, giggling at the gaffs between Laurel and Hardy, the struggles of Charlie Chaplin and the adventures of Minnie and Mickey.

Prior to the Iranian Revolution, many Iranian families we knew enrolled their children in the American school in Tehran. I envied those kids. My European-learning parents sent me to a French school with stern teachers who rapped my knuckles for being too opinionated or speaking up without permission.

Even though American television programs showed a world completely foreign to my own, from a young age I was mesmerized by shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I love Lucy other Laverne and Shirley. The independence, humor and sense of adventure of those wonderful female characters made me yearn to be part of their world.

My very name, Rebecca, was from Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of the same name, which won 11 Oscars in 1941 including Best Picture, and which was one of my father’s favorites.

But my love of American films was about more than the magic of Hollywood. I wanted what those women had that I didn’t: freedom, power, and the opportunity to go anywhere and do anything. Like Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the strong, smart and fearless leader kicking butt in alienand Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in star Warsfighting against the evil empire side by side with her male counterparts!

My mother says I was American before I knew what America was.

When I was eight, dozens of relatives gathered at our home to talk about the money my grandfather would leave his children. After some time, the decision was made that my mom and aunts would get significantly less than my uncle.

Hearing this as I eavesdropped out of sight, I burst into the room to declare that it was not fair the women got less, much to my mother’s consternation.

It was, in part, because of the otherworldly tales of freedom, equality and prosperity American movies showed me that I came to this country over 35 years ago. And it’s those same possibilities and opportunities that the people of Iran, some as young as eight years old, are fighting for—the chance to live a life of freedom and self-determination.

I’ll be watching the Oscars on Sunday, like I have every year for most of my life, with an appreciation for an industry that has produced movies that have inspired me and millions of other immigrants from around the world, to dream, to hope , and to go beyond anything we thought possible.

Rebecca Morrison is a lawyer, writer and painter living in the Washington DC area with her husband and two boys.

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at

Along with the billions watching the Oscars, there will be unknown tens of thousands in Iran attempting to see the ceremony with secret satellite dishes and spotty internet connections.

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