Forough Farrokhzad was an Iranian filmmaker and poet. In her brief life she became a controversial voice and model for modernism and free expression in Iran. Though banned for more than ten years after the Iranian Revolution, Farrokhzad’s legacy has since proven to be widely influential. Some have called her the mother of Iranian cinema, and her volumes of poetry have been widely translated throughout the world.
Farrokhzad was born in Tehran in 1934, the third of seven children, to a military officer. Upon reaching ninth grade, she was enrolled in a girl’s school and taught painting and sewing, before being married to Parviz Shapour. They had a son named Kami. In 1954 they divorced, and because she’d had many affairs, Farrokhzad lost custody of her son and was granted only limited visitation rights.
The following year, The Captive was published, her first collection of poems. Its poems established her voice as confident and unrepressed, in and of itself scandalous in a society as conservative as Iran. Equally distinct was her near total departure from the themes of more traditional Islamic poetry. Though she did admit that her poetry had a feminine quality (“After all, fortunately I am a woman”), she insisted that gender could not play a role in artistic expression.
In total four more collections of her verse would be published: The Wall, Rebellion, Another Birth, and (after her death) Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season. Each volume would express her defiant modernist voice.
In 1958 Farrokhzad would spend nine months in Europe. Upon her return to Iran, she met a filmmaker named Ibrahim Golestan. They fell in love, and Golestan encouraged Farrokhzad in her desire for independence and free expression. Through Golestan, she would be drawn to filmmaking. Her first experience in film was as editor for a documentary called A Fire, about a fire at an oil well in 1958 that lasted for more than two months. Over the next few years she would continue to contribute to films in a variety of roles.
In 1962, Farrokhzad went to Tabriz, Iran to direct The House Is Black, arguably the most significant Iranian film ever made. It is a documentary shot at the Bababaghi Hospice Leper Colony. The House Is Black set a tone for what would become one of Iran’s most distinct stylistic innovations in cinema, an experimental documentary style. During the twelve day shoot, she and her small crew earned the trust of her subjects at the leper colony and captured an intimate portrait of their lives. She became particularly attached to a child living there and would ultimately come to adopt him and take him back to Tehran to live with her mother.
On February 13, 1967, Forough Farrokhzad was killed in a car accident in Tehran. She was only 32 years old. In her tragically short life and career, she had nonetheless changed the course of Iranian culture and feminism, a model for generations to come. Even after she was banned, she would ultimately reemerge. In a society defined in many ways by repression and rejection of modernist values, she sets an example for those fighting for free expression and liberalism.