Iranian Americans’ rich political and personal experiences often involve true tales of turmoil, struggle, and perseverance. Such stories, while familiar among Iranian Americans, too often remain unexposed to the wider public. For this reason, growing numbers of Iranian-American leaders of various sectors increasingly engage in efforts to expose broader audiences to Iranian-Americans’ experiences and narratives. In the arts, for example, New York-based Iranian-American film director and writer Ramin Serry has made a strong mark. His award-winning 2002 film Maryam, starring Maz Jobrani, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Shaun Toub, David Ackert, and Mariam Parris not only won critical acclaim, but also has been made available to a global audience, as a new addition to Amazon’s streaming service.
Serry’s film Maryam is a powerful and revealing story that revolves around an Iranian-American teenager, Maryam, living in the United States in the 1970s. Initially, Maryam has little connection to her family’s Iranian background or understanding of what is occurring in her mother country. This changes when her cousin Ali immigrates to the suburbs of New Jersey from Iran, moving in with her and her family. Their relationship evolves and, in parallel, the 1979 hostage crisis ignites a sharp hostility and an overall anti-Iranian sentiment in the United States. Maryam thus is forced to confront her family’s history and the hardships they had experienced, as well as her country’s web of internal and external issues. In the film, we see Maryam experience a dramatic shift in her attitude as she finally begins to understand and embrace her Iranian background.
Highlighting the vital, yet too often overlooked Iranian point of view and depicts the complexities of the time, Maryam is patently politically relevant as it recounts a major turning point in the history of U.S. – Iran relations. It also honors themes of Iranian heritage, culture, community, and identity as Maryam gains a newfound appreciation of her roots and actively defends them. The film skillfully blends these concepts in order to present a relatable narrative and a holistic account of the 1979 crisis and its lasting impact on Iranian-Americans.
The film also displays a profound ignorance and fear within the American perception of Iranians during the 1979 crisis. In an interview NIAC conducted with Serry, he stressed that he hoped to correct these perceptions through his film. “I think these perceptions still exist, which is why Maryam is very relevant today.” As tensions between the U.S. and Iran thaw and are hopefully on the path to being relieved, this movie is more critical to see now than before.
Serry expressed that “When I made Maryam, there were no films about Iranian-Americans. None! I grew up loving The Godfather, partly because of the immigrant story. This inspired me to make a film about the Iranian-American experience.” Maryam exposes an underrepresented narrative that many Iranian-Americans share but realize is often difficult to express. The plot of the film also serves as a parallel to Serry’s personal life. He told us that he, like Maryam, was made aware of the crisis and the revolution from his cousin, Ali, who came from Iran to live with his family in the U.S.
Maryam received acclaim at the St. Louis International Film Festival and the Tiburon International Film Festival, and was also featured in Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival. Serry is grateful for this recognition and says “Ebert’s review championed the film and allowed us to release it in theaters, on DVD, and now for streaming.”
Enjoy Maryam on Amazon today and support Iranian Americans’ active efforts to ensure that our community’s diverse and powerful narratives are truly heard and valued.Back to top