In 1979, some Iranian-Americans faced some of the same backlash of
discrimination that some Arab-Americans have suffered after 9-11. MARYAM
explores some of the American reactions while the hard-line Islamic regime in
Iran was holding Americans hostage in 1979. The movie, written and directed
with love and dedication by Ramin Serry, was made long before 9-11, but, because
of the recent terrorist attacks, it now possess a special resonance.
The best part of the picture is the spunky and funny performance by Mariam
Parris as Mary Armin -- her Persian name is Maryam. Mary is a high school
student who resents but loves her strict father, Dr. Armin (Shaun Toub). No
dating is one of his many rules. She is a great kid who chafes under the
restrictions imposed upon her. Mrs. Armin (Shohreh Aghdashloo), her supportive
mother, likes to slip her little suggestions on ways to get around the rules.
One day, her cousin Ali Armin (David Ackert) comes from Iran to live with them
while attending college in the U.S. For a year now, Ali has been a strict
Muslim. He hates the Shah with a passion while worshipping the Ayatollah
Khomeini. The straight-laced Ali and the typical American teen Mary are like
oil and water at first, not knowing how to deal with each other. Eventually he
will be offered and will reluctantly accept the role of her chaperone.
Mary can't understand Ali's feelings toward the Ayatollah. "He calls the U.S.,
'the Great Satan,'" she remarks to him in disgust. "The guy could lighten up a
little." Since Ali believes that his leader has perfection of vision, he can't
understand her flippant remark.
Some of the story concerns Ali and Mary's coping with America's increasing
anger. But other parts deal with more traditional issues of family tensions.
The plot contains a big family secret and even a secret within the secret.
There are a couple of problems with the script. Given the number of different
incidents of discrimination that the Armin family suffers, you start to think of
them less as a real family than as a broad representative of all
Iranian-Americans. The Americans then, as we are today, were rightly upset
about the events in the world. The movie makes the demonstrators against the
Iranian hostage holders look silly and stupid by the movie's choice of archival
footage. But these are minor quibbles. The film is powerful, accessible and
funny. You won't miss its messages, but you'll be entertained as well. Let's
hope we get to see all of these actors again soon, especially Mariam Parris, a
very talented young woman.
MARYAM runs 1:27. It is not rated but might be PG-13 for brief language and
mature themes and would be acceptable for kids around 10 and up.
The film is playing in very limited release now in the United States. In the
Silicon Valley, it currently has no booking scheduled, but the director hopes to
have it released here in the next few months. Look for it.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes