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22 May 2023

Hadis to Take to the Screen at Annecy

An Azerbaijani production, Hadis, was chosen from over 3200 others to be shown at the Annecy Festival. The animation is a homage to Hadis Najafi, who was shot dead during the 2022 protests in Iran.

Hadis to Take to the Screen at Annecy

Image: Animafilm Studio/FB 

A movingly thought-provoking Azerbaijani production called Hadis is amongst the 71 short-format movies that will be shown this June at the 2023 Annecy International Animation Film Festival. It has been selected from over 3200 contenders and classed as one of 19 in the “Perspectives” category. Hadis is a highly stylised homage to Hadis Najafi. The real life Hadis was a 22-year-old ethnic Azerbaijani Turk from Iran who was shot dead by security forces on September 21, 2022 while attending protests against the earlier killing in custody of Mahsa Amini. Mahsa herself had been arrested following a tightening of the rules in the Islamic Republic that require women to ‘properly’ cover their hair according to Tehran’s interpretation of Muslim law.   

In the film, the fictional Hadis character ends up in a precarious situation due to having allowed her hair to briefly become publicly visible. Behind the visually captivating surface, a general European audience is therefore likely to see the signalled message of women’s oppression in Iran. However, they might miss the important additional layer that widens this to one of diminished minority rights in general – and of Iran’s side-lining of Azerbaijani Turks in particular. The most conspicuous reference to this is that the film’s Hadis is an Azerbaijani Turk woman living in Miyana (the Azerbaijani-Turkish name for Mianeh[1]) where she says that “I am not myself” in a “country full of prohibitions [where] everything from my femininity to my mother tongue is forbidden.”[2]   

A person holding a cup

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Image: Hadis Najafi 

Resonance with Behrangi’s Ulduz 

Azerbaijanis are likely to find several other more subtle resonances[3]. The swirling crows which create such an atmosphere at the start of the piece are likely to remind local viewers of Ulduz və Qarğalar (Ulduz and the Crows) – an allegorical fairy tale by the Azerbaijani-Iranian writer Samad Behrangi. Indeed, it’s soon apparent that the Hadis of the movie keeps a copy of that very book on her vanity table. In the Behrangi story, the heroine Ulduz is a child who feels trapped by circumstances until much-maligned crows come to her aid. ‘Mother Crow’ is a misunderstood but kindly figure who ends up being beaten to death by Ulduz’ authoritarian step-mother, her last words being “Don’t we have a right to live, too? Why can’t we be friends with whomever we want?”   

In the 1960s, Behrangi had been arguing for the right to be oneself at a time when some perceived the Shah’s regime to be assimilating cultures and westernising Iran at an excessive rate. ‘Crows’ could be read as a metaphor[4] for the black hijab (head-cover) of pious Muslim women, a choice for which Ulduz in Behrangi’s book could be seen to be subtly supporting.     

A person with a mustache

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Samad BehrangiImage: public domain 

In Hadis, the crows are on the ‘other side’. Now they are part of the system that stifles. In the post-1979 Islamic republic the ‘crow’ of hijab has become something that many women feel forced to wear rather than being simply a symbol of piety. Whereas the crows were depicted positively in Behrangi's tale, this story shows that what was once viewed positively can grow to become a symbol of oppression. According to the Azerbaijani Cultural Society of Northern California (ACSNC), the driving force behind the film, this reading misses a more important point:   

“Hadis departs from Ulduz and The Crows by changing the symbology of the crows themselves… In Hadis, the crows are what robs her of her ability to express her Azerbaijani identity authentically and publicly, stifling her very existence and eventually taking it from her.”