The Middle East, Feminism … and Vampires?
This is not your typical Hollywood vampire love story. Bernadette Calafell and Shadee Abdi were captivated by the story of an Iranian vampire in “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and how the film flips the script on the Middle East, feminism and what it means to be labeled a monster.
In their article Calafell and Abdi describe the film as a, “black and white vampire spaghetti western … [following] the narrative of the Girl, a forlorn chador-wearing feminist-vampire-vigilante in the fictional world of Bad City. In this queer utopia, the Girl preys on immoral men so that she can protect the female residents of Bad City from the violence of patriarchy.”
Calafell, a professor of communication studies, had just finished teaching her Monsters and Pop Culture class — where she asks students to question traditional representations of monsters — when she and her PhD student advisee, Abdi, saw “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” They both knew immediately that they wanted to collaborate on an .
Not only was the film visually striking, but it also presented layers of complexity and meaning, including the representation of an Iranian woman — who happens to be a vampire — being empowered by her chador, a long, loose full-body cloak.
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“She’s kind of a superhero … really trying to do good and fight the patriarchy,” Abdi adds.
As a professor and author, Calafell brought to the joint effort a deep knowledge of monstrosity and queer utopias. Abdi, meanwhile, provided her personal Iranian-American perspective, the ability to translate cultural nuances and Farsi, and her own scholarly expertise on Iranian women and feminism.
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Through this process, Calafell and Abdi were forced to think beyond their preconceived ideas. It pushed them to produce an even stronger article, one that challenges others to question their own perceptions.
“It’s important to me to change the narrative around the Middle East and North Africa in general, and how we perceive it and how it is written about in research. And for me, it’s really important to reframe these conversations in a way that is not demonizing of the region or the culture as a whole. It’s my culture,” Abdi explains.
“The biggest thing I was hoping to accomplish with the article was to get people to shift the popular frame away from Middle Eastern and North African women as victims or lacking agency,” said Calafell. “And, to get people to think about challenging the images of what a vampire could be, that every day monsters could be more than just what they immediately look like.”