Iran, Cinema, and the Curious Logics of Circulation

Brian Edwards

May 21, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Harris School of Public Policy
1155 E. 60th St.
Room 289B

Brian T. Edwards, Associate Professor at Northwestern University

Cultural diplomacy traditionally assumes that the exchange of cultural products promotes better understanding—and that the primary challenge is getting foreign audiences to engage with creative works from afar. In the digital age, the realities are much more complex.

When the Iranian film A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi, won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards it was cause for celebration in Tehran. But a year later, when Ben Affleck's Argo took home the 2013 Oscar for Best Picture, there was widespread dismay in Iran about the film's representations of Iranians and Iranian history. In both cases, cinema took center stage in the public discussion of US-Iranian relations, and the way both films were circumscribed and overwhelmed by international politics demonstrates the limits of cultural products to communicate in ways that defy those politics.

This discussion, drawn from my research in both Iran and the US, challenges those who argue that cultural products such as film, literature, music and art communicate simply in the 21st century (if they ever did in the 20th). I explain what the "curious logics of circulation" mean to understanding cultural diplomacy in the digital age, tell of my surprising discoveries about Shrek in Tehran, and suggest that the Canadians were more wronged by Argo than the Iranians.

Brian T. Edwards is Associate Professor of English, Comparative Literary Studies, and Middle East and North African Studies at Northwestern University. He is the author of Morocco Bound: Disorienting America's Maghreb, from Casablanca to the Marrakech Express, as well as essays and op-eds in publications including Chicago TribuneForeign PolicyHuffington PostThe BelieverMcSweeney's, and leading scholarly journals. Edwards co-editedGlobalizing American Studies, a collection that provides global perspectives on American history and culture. He is currently completing a book examining the circulation of American cultural products in North Africa and the Middle East.