More than three decades of hostile relations between Iran and the West have meant that images about Iran and Iranian women circulate in a charged political environment. In this geopolitical context, Iranian women filmmakers have often found receptive audiences abroad who turn to documentaries as sites to reveal the truths of contemporary Iran. The enthusiasm for these works, however, also exerts pressures on filmmakers to adhere to familiar narratives about Iran and Iranian women or risk losing their audiences. Focusing on Nahid Sarvestani's Prostitution behind the Veil (2004) and Mahvash Sheikholeslami's Where Do I Belong? (2007), this article examines two tendencies in recent Iranian documentary. The former film exemplifies the prevalent trend of repeating troubling but familiar tropes about Islam and Muslim women, while the latter is an example of attempts to provide a more nuanced picture of Iran's social and political problems. Placing these films in the broader context of the history of nonfiction films in Iran, the article also draws from both feminist scholarship on representations of the Muslim world and longstanding debates within documentary studies to show the high stakes of producing films about Iran and to suggest that documentary works by and about Iranian women should be more rigorously interrogated for their ethical and political implications.
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