Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Porochista Khakpour (00:05):

Occasionally people would ask me, “Have you seen it?” And I’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, of course.” And then sometimes they would watch it and then they’d be like, “Wow, this is such a terrible movie. Why doesn’t everyone just ignore it?” Except the era made it so that we couldn’t forget it.

Susie Banikarim (00:19):

I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (00:21):

And I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:22):

And this is in Retrospect where each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Jessica Bennett (00:28):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Susie Banikarim (00:30):

Today we’re talking to bestselling author Porochista Khakpour who is a friend and fellow Iranian. We’re going to talk about the movie Not Without My Daughter. When we were growing up, this was really the only mainstream representation of Iranians and it had a pretty big impact on us.


Porochista, thank you so much for joining us on In Retrospect. I’m so happy to get to have this conversation with you.

Porochista Khakpour (00:53):

Thank you so much for having me. I’m honored.

Susie Banikarim (00:55):

Well, so you and I have been talking about this movie, Not Without My Daughter. I reached out to you because I was like, “Hey, do you have thoughts about this movie? Because I definitely do.” And you were like, “Susie, yes, and I’ve written about it.”

Porochista Khakpour (01:10):


Susie Banikarim (01:10):

So since then I have read the thing you wrote about it for the LA Times many years ago, but this is a movie that looms very large in the Iranian experience because as you wrote, we were pretty invisible in culture. I’d say we’re probably still somewhat invisible in culture.

Porochista Khakpour (01:29):


Susie Banikarim (01:29):

But growing up this was the only representation I remember seeing of Iranian people in pop culture. Is that your memory too?

Porochista Khakpour (01:39):

Yeah, there was very little because I remember the commercial, the day that it aired on television. Because our TV was always on. We had one of those households where the TV was always blaring, so I vividly remember the first commercial I saw for it.

Clips (01:53):

In 1984, Betty Mahmoody’s husband took her and her daughter to Iran to meet his family.

Porochista Khakpour (02:01):

I just remember in our household, we were very excited at first. “Okay, wow, this is clearly something taking place in Iran. This is amazing.” And then halfway through the trailer we were like, “Oh.”

Susie Banikarim (02:13):

Yeah, the trailer is dark.

Clips (02:14):

I don’t know how to say this to you. We’re not going back. We’re staying here. I want us to live in Iran.

Clips (02:19):

What are you crazy? We’re Americans, your daughter’s an American.

Porochista Khakpour (02:25):

Mainly we were excited because of Sally Field.

Susie Banikarim (02:28):


Porochista Khakpour (02:29):


Susie Banikarim (02:29):


Porochista Khakpour (02:29):

I don’t know, she must’ve been huge in Iran because my parents told me a lot about her. I mean she was obviously of a different era than our era, but Sally Field just seemed like the perfect America’s darling. This was shortly after she’d been in Steel Magnolias.

Clips (02:43):

Yes, which is also-

Porochista Khakpour (02:43):

This is like the height-

Susie Banikarim (02:43):

A great movie.

Porochista Khakpour (02:45):

Amazing movie. Sally Field has just had hits mainly, other than Not Without My Daughter. So it’s like she was at the height of her power and so of course we were going to pay attention, first and foremost to a Sally Field movie being on television. And then it was like, “Oh, whoa, Iran.” And I remember for a second we thought she was playing an Iranian woman.

Susie Banikarim (03:06):

Right, because you didn’t know the book.

Porochista Khakpour (03:07):


Susie Banikarim (03:07):

That’s so interesting because I don’t think we were familiar with the book either. And I also was a huge Sally Field fan. I loved Gidget and we should mention we both grew up in California.

Porochista Khakpour (03:17):


Susie Banikarim (03:17):

Although you grew up in LA which is more typical of an Iranian family. My family very consciously decided to live in Northern California. My parents were a little afraid that we would be subsumed by the kind of, I don’t even know how to describe it for people who don’t know it, but there’s this Iranian culture in LA that’s very focused on money and plastic surgery. Which, no shade, I’ve dabbled in all those things, but they were really afraid we would become these stereotypical Iranian girls.


And so I grew up off in the wilderness. Northern California is not the wilderness, but for Iranian people, it kind of felt that way. We didn’t have this huge Iranian community. We had some friends and whatever, but as a result, when the movie came out, I certainly was not aware of the book and so I don’t remember the way you do when I first became aware of it or when I saw it for the first time even. I watched it this week just to remind myself and I don’t know that I had ever seen it from start to finish.

Porochista Khakpour (04:18):

Oh, wow, right.

Susie Banikarim (04:19):

I think I just always caught it on reruns.

Porochista Khakpour (04:21):


Susie Banikarim (04:21):

But I was aware that it existed from a pretty young age and I was aware that everyone was appalled by it.

Porochista Khakpour (04:30):

Yeah. And not just Iranians we should say. I mean it was a flop.

Susie Banikarim (04:34):

It was a flop.

Porochista Khakpour (04:34):

It didn’t do well in the box office at all.

Susie Banikarim (04:36):

It did not do well. Okay, we should describe the movie for people who don’t know what we’re talking about.


This movie is the story of a woman named Betty Mahmoody who is married to a man named Sayyed Mahmoody, who goes by Moody. That’s a little confusing.

Porochista Khakpour (04:52):


Susie Banikarim (04:53):

Their last name is Mahmoody, but his nickname is Moody. So just FYI.

Porochista Khakpour (04:57):


Susie Banikarim (04:57):

And it is based on a true story. And we should say that because what we’re talking about here is not whether or not the story she told was true.

Porochista Khakpour (05:05):


Susie Banikarim (05:06):

I don’t have any way of knowing that and I think there’s some evidence that in fact the story she told was true.

Porochista Khakpour (05:11):


Susie Banikarim (05:12):

But it’s the movie that really had this cultural impact on Iranians in a different way. The book was really popular. It was a bestseller.

Porochista Khakpour (05:19):

I think we were just too young because if we were probably in our 20s or 30s we would’ve probably noticed that it was an international bestseller, but instead like kids, we noticed the movie more.

Susie Banikarim (05:28):


Porochista Khakpour (05:29):

But it was huge and the book was, I think, pretty critically acclaimed even.

Susie Banikarim (05:33):

Yeah, I mean it came out in 1987. The movie doesn’t come out until 1991, so there’s a little bit of a break in between it. And it’s probably worth noting that this period in American history was really the most anti-Iranian period.

Porochista Khakpour (05:45):

Yes, definitely.

Susie Banikarim (05:45):

Anti-Iranian sentiment was very high. For people who don’t know the history, when the Iranian Revolution happens, it starts in ’78 and ends in ’79. Some Iranian students barricade the American Embassy and take hostages. And this becomes a huge national story.

Clips (06:04):

United States Marine Corps guards used tear gas to try to disperse the mob of Islamic students, but that wasn’t enough.

Clips (06:11):

They stormed the embassy, fought the Marine guards for three hours, overpowered them, and took dozens of American hostages.

Clips (06:17):

The hostages, men and women, were blindfolded and herded into the embassy’s basement.

Susie Banikarim (06:22):

These hostages are kept for 444 days while they’re negotiating with America on whether or not they’re going to release these American Embassy workers. And it was such a big story that I actually read that Walter Cronkite would end every show by saying how many days they had been in captivity.

Clips (06:39):

And that’s the way it is. Tuesday, February 19th, 1980, the 108th day of captivity. The 222nd day of captivity. The 285th day of captivity. The 377th day of captivity for American hostages in Iran.

Susie Banikarim (06:54):

And I think for a lot of Americans, it was the first time they’d ever really thought about Iran. I mean Iran was not in the popular culture in the way it became after the axis of evil comments by George Bush.

Porochista Khakpour (07:03):

Right, right.

Susie Banikarim (07:03):

So it was their first exposure to Iran and the idea was that it was this really primitive country and there was a lot of protests in America.

Porochista Khakpour (07:12):


Susie Banikarim (07:12):

And there was a lot of anti-Iranian racism that people experienced. So this movie arrives on the scene when Iranians have kind of been turned into the latest boogieman. America has to have someone.

Porochista Khakpour (07:25):

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (07:26):

The Cold War was kind of waning. I feel like they needed someone new.

Porochista Khakpour (07:29):


Susie Banikarim (07:30):

And the Iranians took that mantle.

Porochista Khakpour (07:31):

The timing was, I think that’s a big part of this. I’ve noticed younger people don’t even know. So much of your experience of the US when you’re Iranian has to do with when you arrived.

Susie Banikarim (07:42):


Porochista Khakpour (07:42):

There were pockets where it was a little easier.

Susie Banikarim (07:45):


Porochista Khakpour (07:45):

Like when I came, where things like that, and then there’s pockets that it got worse. It always ebbs and flows and it has a lot to do with the news cycle and it has a lot to do with US foreign policy and who’s our president and all that stuff.

Susie Banikarim (07:55):

I was a bit oblivious as a child. I don’t know that I even really realized people didn’t like Iranians. I did arrive in this country right after the revolution, so it would’ve been at this height, but we lived in this small town in Northern California. There weren’t a lot of us. And our parents taught us that it was cool that we were Iranian. They were kind of like, “Well, you’re better than these Americans.”

Porochista Khakpour (08:17):


Susie Banikarim (08:17):

“You’re Iranian. That’s something to be proud of.” And I feel really lucky about that because it took a long time for me to realize what I was was supposed to be bad in some way.

Porochista Khakpour (08:26):


Susie Banikarim (08:27):

And then to actually experience discrimination, which obviously eventually I did because I live in America.

Porochista Khakpour (08:33):

But I think I’ve had this experience with a lot of people who lived in Northern California and I think Northern California really could be another state. I mean it to me always seems way more educated, way more culturally sensitive. I wish my parents had decided to go to Northern California first. They didn’t because my aunt was there, my grandma was in Long Beach.

Susie Banikarim (08:50):


Porochista Khakpour (08:50):

Which I mean we weren’t in the Tehrangeles part of LA, so I was still one of very few Iranians in our community. We were in the San Gabriel Valley. But we were still close enough to the real LA Iranian experience that the reason we heard so much anti-Iranianist because people were very aware of Iranians.

Susie Banikarim (09:13):

We should explain, because I feel like you and I just assume everybody knows what Tehrangeles is.

Porochista Khakpour (09:18):

Oh, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (09:19):

But that’s not the case. Will you tell people what that is and then later on we’re going to talk about your new book, which is called Tehrangeles.

Porochista Khakpour (09:27):

Which mistakenly people keep thinking I invented that word, which is amazing. I’m like, “Wow.”

Susie Banikarim (09:31):

You’re like, “Whoa.”

Porochista Khakpour (09:32):

I can’t take credit for that. It’s a portmanteau for just Tehran and Los Angeles and it refers to a part of the west side of LA. It’s very specific. People would probably fight over exactly what areas, but certainly it includes Beverly Hills, parts of Bel Air, parts of Brentwood, even parts of Santa Monica, Westwood.

Susie Banikarim (09:52):

Yes, I was going to say Westwood is what I always remember.

Porochista Khakpour (09:54):


Susie Banikarim (09:54):

And it’s where there are a lot of Iranian shops and Iranian restaurants.

Porochista Khakpour (09:57):

Exactly. There’s a Little Persia plaque now.

Susie Banikarim (10:00):


Porochista Khakpour (10:00):

Which wasn’t there when I was a kid. So it’s very much this particular area and then there’s a whole culture that comes with it and it’s very much what you were describing earlier. It is this culture of very flashy moneyed Iranians. It’s all like upper class or upper middle class and people that are pretending to be very upper class.

Susie Banikarim (10:17):


Porochista Khakpour (10:18):

I often think of it very much like this one scene in Clueless where Alicia Silverstone’s Cher character points out to her friend. She goes, “And that’s the Persian mafia.”

Clips (10:26):

And that’s the Persian mafia. You can’t hang with them unless you own a BMW.

Susie Banikarim (10:29):

That actually by the way is the second time I remember Iranians being mentioned in a movie was in Clueless and being like, “Oh my God.” But it is of course that kind of thing that eventually becomes what I think a lot of people associate with Iranians now in pop culture, Shahs of Sunset, which was a reality show on Bravo for a while.

Clips (10:45):

This season on Shahs of Sunset.

Susie Banikarim (10:48):

It’s like very flashy, lots of gold, very ostentatious, is the vibe.

Clips (10:54):


Susie Banikarim (10:54):

And I think in Iranian culture it’s complicated because on the one hand I don’t want to talk shit about other Iranians, but it is also true that when you grow up Iranian, you have a point of view about what that vibe is.

Clips (11:07):


Susie Banikarim (11:07):

Like that Persian American princess thing.

Clips (11:10):


Susie Banikarim (11:11):

And you and I were both really very much not of that and I think that makes us kind of unusual.

Clips (11:16):


Susie Banikarim (11:16):

But it makes sense that we’re friends.

Porochista Khakpour (11:18):

Totally. Exactly. It also makes sense that we love New York. This place and it’s Iranians are so the antithesis of that energy I feel like, which is still thriving. We should mention too.

Susie Banikarim (11:29):


Porochista Khakpour (11:29):

There’s TikToks that are all about that. They don’t always use the word Tehrangeles but they’re very much referring to that kind of culture and now they’re doing the Gen Z version of that with their Lamborghinis and their makeup.

Susie Banikarim (11:42):

It’s so funny that that’s what’s so associated with Iranian culture because in my mind, Iranian culture is so many other things.

Porochista Khakpour (11:48):


Susie Banikarim (11:49):

That have nothing to do with money. Not everyone from Iran is rich.

Porochista Khakpour (11:52):


Susie Banikarim (11:52):

That’s just a wild stereotype that makes no sense to me.


Let’s go back to the movie and what was happening. This book comes out, then the movie doesn’t come out until a bit later, ’91, but it takes place in ’84.

Porochista Khakpour (12:21):


Susie Banikarim (12:22):

It’s really soon after the revolution. The Iran-Iraq War is raging and for people who don’t know what that is, that was a conflict between Iraq and Iran that went on for many years. And the Iraqi side was very much funded by American intervention, because of the hostage crisis, but also they just felt at that time that Iraq was a more friendly nation.

Porochista Khakpour (12:46):


Susie Banikarim (12:46):

That would not go on to be the case.

Porochista Khakpour (12:48):

Right, right.

Susie Banikarim (12:48):

But when the movie comes out is when that is shifting a bit, because Iraq has just invaded Kuwait. And there’s about to be Operation Desert Storm, which was a short-lived war when we were kids, and that is literally happening right as the movie is coming out. The movie comes out in January on January 11th and less than a week later, the invasion begins.

Clips (13:22):

The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated. We’re seeing bright flashes going off all over the sky.

Susie Banikarim (13:22):

So it’s in that context that we are introduced to the Mahmoody family. And I’m going to just walk us through it and you can tell me your impressions of these scenes as well. But the way the movie starts is that these two have the most idyllic marriage, like the most adorable couple with the most adorable child.

Clips (13:44):

I want to sit on Daddy’s lap.

Clips (13:46):

Well, it’s my turn. You always sit on Daddy lap.

Clips (13:48):

Don’t fight over me girls.

Susie Banikarim (13:49):

This beautiful lush green landscape and he’s a doctor and she’s a stay-at-home mom. And there’s just one little hint that not everything is paradise and it’s that one day they show him at the hospital and other doctors are saying nasty things about Iranians in front of him.

Clips (14:11):

About the Iranians pray themselves right back into the Stone Age.

Clips (14:15):

Soldier gets wounded in the field, just let him die. He’s going to go to paradise anyway, right?

Susie Banikarim (14:18):

And he gets very upset. But even in that he’s presented in this very erudite way. He goes home and listens to classical music to recover from his discrimination. And she’s like, “It’s not okay. I stand with you.”

Clips (14:33):

We moved here to get away from all of that. God, it’s just so awful.

Clips (14:37):

Oh, honey, forget it.

Susie Banikarim (14:39):

And then there is this scene where he’s with his daughter and she tells him that she’s been discriminated against also.

Clips (14:46):

Lucille says I hate Americans because you’re from Iran.

Susie Banikarim (14:49):

And he says to in this infamous line-

Clips (14:53):

I’ve lived in America for 20 years. I’m as American as apple pie. And so are you.

Susie Banikarim (15:01):

So that’s the beginning of the movie. We are presented to this family and this man, he’s American, he’s Iranian, but it’s almost incidental to who he is. And while he is American, he is the perfect husband.

Porochista Khakpour (15:12):

One thing that struck me this time watching it again that kind of cracked me up is the dad is played by Alfred Molina.

Susie Banikarim (15:18):

Right, because they couldn’t find an Iranian actor in LA apparently.

Porochista Khakpour (15:20):

Because they do have other Iranian actors in the film.

Susie Banikarim (15:22):


Porochista Khakpour (15:22):

So it’s just sort of weird it goes to Alfred Molina, who’s I think of Spanish and Italian descent.

Susie Banikarim (15:27):


Porochista Khakpour (15:27):

It struck me this time as so funny because I think of the name of the daughter, which Mahtob. Mahtob is one of the easiest names to say.

Susie Banikarim (15:34):


Porochista Khakpour (15:35):

I’ve heard many, many white Americans be able to say Mahtob very easily.

Susie Banikarim (15:39):


Porochista Khakpour (15:39):

But from the beginning it struck me that they’re just saying the daughter’s name even weird. They’re like “Mahtob, Mahtob.” And I was just like they couldn’t get that right?

Susie Banikarim (15:48):

The other thing I want to say here is that there’s a lot of Farsi spoken in this movie.

Porochista Khakpour (15:51):


Susie Banikarim (15:52):

My Farsi’s not great, but it’s better than this. This is the worst Farsi you’ve ever heard. And it is never translated. It is just presented as this gobbledygook going on in the background.

Porochista Khakpour (16:02):


Susie Banikarim (16:03):

But there’s no captions on screen. It’s just like, “Oh, they speak this foreign scary tongue.”

Clips (16:08):

[foreign language 00:16:10]

Porochista Khakpour (16:13):

I guess they just realized it wouldn’t make a difference because it’s not like they were conveying anything that shows their humanity through the Persian anyway, so they just don’t do it.

Susie Banikarim (16:22):

They clearly had Iranian people working on the film.

Porochista Khakpour (16:24):


Susie Banikarim (16:24):

Someone had to teach him the Farsi he does speak.

Porochista Khakpour (16:27):


Susie Banikarim (16:27):

And if you’re going to go through the trouble of teaching him Farsi and having him say things, I don’t know why you wouldn’t translate them. I mean that part’s so weird to me.

Porochista Khakpour (16:33):

So weird.

Susie Banikarim (16:34):

And they’re living this idyllic life. And then he says to her, “I haven’t been to Iran in 10 years. I would really like to go home.”

Clips (16:43):

Honey, I want to go more than anything. I miss them so much. You’re always talking about how important family is. All I want to do is go for two weeks with you and Mahtob and visit my family.

Susie Banikarim (16:57):

And she’s horrified by the idea that they would go to Iran.

Clips (17:00):


Susie Banikarim (17:00):

Which I guess is fair. I mean there was a war raging there, so that does make sense. But it’s just like the absolute horror with which she responds that I find kind of funny

Clips (17:10):

I can’t go to Iran.

Clips (17:11):

Why not?

Clips (17:11):

I’m not about to take Mahtob to Iran. It’s much too violent.

Clips (17:18):

We’re not going to go sightseeing to the Persian Gulf or anything crazy. We’re going to spend two weeks on vacation with my family.

Clips (17:25):

Moody, there’s too much going on over there.

Susie Banikarim (17:27):

And he swears to her with his hand on the Holy Quran that they will be back in two weeks.

Clips (17:33):

I swear to you on the sacred Quran that you won’t be in any danger.

Susie Banikarim (17:41):

Which I find also weird because if you’re only going for a two-week vacation.

Clips (17:44):

Yeah, right.

Susie Banikarim (17:44):

Why is there so much of a question about whether or not you’re going to come back?

Clips (17:46):


Susie Banikarim (17:47):

You own your home. You have a job.

Porochista Khakpour (17:49):

Yeah, exactly.=

Susie Banikarim (17:50):

But then we get into this thing that you have talked about, which is that essentially this is a horror movie about Iranians.

Porochista Khakpour (17:56):

It really has that structure because Betty Mahmoody’s nightmare in this is that she’s being told that she’s going to go to Iran for two weeks.

Susie Banikarim (18:03):


Porochista Khakpour (18:04):

Shortly after she gets there, he turns into an absolute villain.

Clips (18:10):

You listen to me. You’re in my country now. You are my wife. You do as I say, you understand me?

Porochista Khakpour (18:15):

And we realize he’s kidnapped her.

Clips (18:16):

Yes, he’s kidnapped her.

Porochista Khakpour (18:16):

This is a movie about a kidnapping. And so she’s not going to be able to go back to the US and so she’s just stuck now in Iran. He becomes like a demon. He’s an abuser suddenly

Clips (18:33):

We went for a walk.

Clips (18:33):

You try anything like this again, I’ll kill you.

Porochista Khakpour (18:37):

There’s all these scenes of her praying with her daughter to the Lord because she’s very Christian. She wears a cross.

Clips (18:41):

Lord, hear our prayer.

Clips (18:43):

Dear Lord, hear our prayer.

Clips (18:45):

Please help us leave Iran and get back to America.

Susie Banikarim (18:48):

It really does follow this horror film structure like you’re talking about. It starts with this ominous music. Then there’s the calm before the storm. And now they’re in Iran and it is the storm. Even from the moment they land. Do you remember that scene? I was blown away by re-watching the scene. When they get to the airport, which is represented as a dirt field. They’re never in a structure of any kind. I’m like, “Why is there no airport? I’ve been to the airport.”

Clips (19:12):


Susie Banikarim (19:12):

And then there’s just this huge group, like 100 people all cloaked in black and they’re surrounding her and he immediately starts laughing maniacally. I’m like, “What’s happening in this scene?”

Porochista Khakpour (19:27):

It’s so wild that scene, because of course we know as Iranians, people often come to the airport to see us, some family members, but it’s not 30 family members or a whole village. It’s so weird. And they’re screaming and yelling. They like mob the family, and she’s like, “Oh my gosh, this must be how Iranians are.”

Susie Banikarim (19:45):

At this point they’ve been married for seven years. Their daughter is four. Presumably they have met other Iranian people.

Porochista Khakpour (19:50):


Susie Banikarim (19:51):

I mean, in fact, they reference that some of this family has come to stay with them before.

Porochista Khakpour (19:56):

Right, right.

Susie Banikarim (19:56):

So it’s this bizarre moment that they’re like mauling this poor child who looks terrified off the bat. And then there is the scene that truly scarred me so much as a child. And I need to know how you reacted to the scene. But eventually they get in a car and they go to where they are staying, I guess, where his sister lives. And when they get out of the car, someone is slitting a goat’s throat.

Porochista Khakpour (20:21):

Oh yeah.

Susie Banikarim (20:21):

And blood is gushing. Genuinely, I remember as a child being like, “What is happening? Do people slit goat’s throats in the streets of Tehran?” I remember asking my parents, “Is this a thing that happens?” And of course Betty and her daughter are horrified by this animal being slaughtered in front of them.

Clips (20:41):

Mommy, they’re hurting him, Mommy. They’re hurting him.

Clips (20:44):

Their way of saying welcome. It’s a great honor. They give the meat to the poor. Honey, honey, we have to step over it.

Susie Banikarim (20:49):

Is that something you’ve ever heard of happening in any Iranian family?

Porochista Khakpour (20:53):


Susie Banikarim (20:54):

It’s so crazy.

Porochista Khakpour (20:55):

I think they were trying so hard. There’s several early scenes where it seems like they’re trying to really establish the otherness of Islam in a very concrete way and so they’re really stretching. I kind of feel like the filmmakers got this project and they were like, “Oh, Iran is more Westernized than we realized. Shoot. Let’s amplify these things that will make it look really other to regular Americans.” And there are villages in Iran where they will slaughter an animal in a sort of sacrificial thing, but this thing exists all over the world. I mean, the idea of animals being sacrificed as a homecoming meal or something, sure. In my family, certainly not. And I’m sure-

Susie Banikarim (21:34):

No, nobody slaughtered any goats when they entertained me in Iran.


I’ve been to Iran a number of times. Have you been back since the revolution?

Porochista Khakpour (21:45):

I actually haven’t been back. I was only there for the first few years of my life, but I haven’t been able to go back.

Susie Banikarim (21:50):

I was 18 when I went back the first time. And then I went back again after grad school. And then I wasn’t able to go back because once I became a journalist, it became essentially impossible.

Porochista Khakpour (21:59):


Susie Banikarim (21:59):

But my mom lived there up until recently. She had moved back when I was in college and lived there for 20 years. And it’s not such a backwards country.

Porochista Khakpour (22:07):


Susie Banikarim (22:08):

I mean, of course there are pockets of it that are backwards and it is ruled by an Islamic government so there are some things that feel very backward when you’re there. You have to wear a headscarf and you have to cover up. What’s interesting is I think even though I lived in an Iranian family, and we live nothing like these people, to some degree even when I went at 18, I expected the country to be this very dark, primitive, backwards place because those were the only images I had seen also.

Porochista Khakpour (22:35):


Susie Banikarim (22:36):

But that’s what media had taught me about what my country was. And I remember just being so shocked because a friend of my mom’s had a daughter about my age and she came to pick me up to drive me around. And I got in her car and she had a Guns N’ Roses bumper sticker on the inside of her car. And I just remember being so shocked by that. I was like, “Oh, these are just kids like us.”

Porochista Khakpour (22:56):


Susie Banikarim (22:56):

“These are just normal people.” And then you would go to parties and everyone takes their scarves off and everybody drinks, even though it’s not allowed.

Porochista Khakpour (23:02):


Susie Banikarim (23:03):

It’s actually a pretty sophisticated country. And before the revolution, it was actually considered this very cool place to visit. It was very urban. It is weird to see it depicted in this way, now having been to Iran, but I think the first time I saw it, I had never been so I was like, “Maybe this is what happens.”

Porochista Khakpour (23:22):


Susie Banikarim (23:23):

So we get through this scarring scene about the goat and then it becomes clear that they’re not going back. He tells her that he’s been fired actually from his job, which now that we know he’s an abusive psycho kind of makes sense.

Porochista Khakpour (23:38):

Yeah, right, right.

Susie Banikarim (23:39):

I’m a little curious about what his bedside manner might’ve been like.

Porochista Khakpour (23:42):


Susie Banikarim (23:42):

He takes her and Mahtob’s passports and they are not allowed to leave the apartment. And there are these really weird details about the family. Do you remember that they have no furniture?

Porochista Khakpour (23:54):

Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (23:55):

Why don’t they have any furniture? I’ve never been in an Iranian house with literally no furniture of any kind.

Porochista Khakpour (24:01):


Susie Banikarim (24:01):

Sometimes you eat picnic style, but you don’t get rid of all the furniture. They all sleep in the living room together.

Porochista Khakpour (24:06):


Susie Banikarim (24:06):

As far as I can tell. It’s very weird.

Porochista Khakpour (24:08):

The word primitive comes up a lot in this film.

Susie Banikarim (24:10):

So many times.

Clips (24:12):

It just seems so primitive sometimes.


But we can’t stay here. This is a backward primitive country.

Susie Banikarim (24:19):

To be clear, there are things about the way Iranians force women to live that I also think are backwards.

Porochista Khakpour (24:24):


Susie Banikarim (24:24):

But it’s not such a primitive country, and we’re not going to go through all the back and forth with this because there’s many more scenes that indicate that Iranians are terrible people and this country is just a cesspool.

Porochista Khakpour (24:34):


Susie Banikarim (24:35):

And eventually she realizes that the way she’s going to be able to survive this is that she’s going to have to pretend that she’s bought in and that she wants to stay.

Porochista Khakpour (24:43):


Susie Banikarim (24:44):

And there’s this whole section of the film where she’s essentially convincing him that she’s decided she is into it. He continues to be emotionally and physically abusive. There’s a particularly ugly scene where he beats her in the hallway of his daughter’s school and also hits the daughter. And an important detail here is that part of the reason she cannot leave without her daughter, Not Without My Daughter, is that in Iranian culture, in a divorce the man gets custody. She has no rights to her own daughter in Iran.

Porochista Khakpour (25:15):


Susie Banikarim (25:16):

So she starts to hatch a plan. She’s constantly trying to reach the Swiss Embassy where there’s an American interest division, and eventually she does make friends with a couple Iranians. And that’s also interesting because here are these two Iranian men in this movie that are presented as kind people, but they are both people who love America. “We love America. We’re not real Iranians. We love America.”

Clips (25:42):

You are American?

Clips (25:43):


Clips (25:46):

I like America very much. My son was with University of Texas.

Porochista Khakpour (25:52):

Yeah, they’re supposed to be representing a minority. They’re the antithesis of all the regular Iranians who are primitive. They’re very well-educated. They have libraries.

Susie Banikarim (26:01):


Porochista Khakpour (26:01):

They’re talking about gardens and ancient Persia.

Clips (26:04):

Whenever I think of what’s happening to my country, I try to remember its gardens. In fact, the word paradise is a Persian word.

Porochista Khakpour (26:11):

They’re very affluent and very well-dressed. And it doesn’t seem like they’re Muslim or else they don’t have a close relationship.

Susie Banikarim (26:17):

They’re certainly not outwardly Muslim in any way.

Porochista Khakpour (26:20):

Yes, yes. And so they’re the good Westernized Iranians who are going to rescue her.

Susie Banikarim (26:25):

And they do. They rescue her. And at their own expense.

Porochista Khakpour (26:28):


Susie Banikarim (26:28):

I can’t really tell if he’s a smuggler, but if he is a smuggler, he decides to give her a free ride.

Clips (26:33):

How much will it cost?


When you and your daughter are safely back in America, then if you can, perhaps you will reimburse me.

Susie Banikarim (26:40):

He arranges for her to leave the country and then she makes this really treacherous trip over the hills into Turkey, which I just want to say is actually pretty insane that she does this with what is at that point, I think like a five or 6-year-old child.

Porochista Khakpour (26:54):


Susie Banikarim (26:55):

It is remarkable that they got out of there safely. That is an incredibly dangerous trip. And it is true that the people who are smuggling people out of Iran are not often good characters. They’re not good people.

Porochista Khakpour (27:09):


Susie Banikarim (27:09):

So it is actually remarkable that they make it out safely. And then the final scene of the movie is she is in Turkey, but she sees the American Embassy and there is literally an American flag waving in the wind and she’s like, “Oh my God. USA.” Like, “We’re here.”

Clips (27:29):

We’re home, baby.

Susie Banikarim (27:33):

And that’s how the movie ends.

Clips (27:34):

We’re home.

Clips (27:34):


Susie Banikarim (27:45):

I should mention here, I don’t think you know this about me. But my dad went back to Iran in ’85. And my dad had been the president of Chase Tehran when the revolution happened. So he had been blacklisted. And his best friend had become the Minister of Economics for this short period. So he was put under house arrest. And when my parents left Iran, they made it out through the airport but it was because there just wasn’t any organization yet. And so when I was 10 years old, he decided he wanted to go back to Iran. Really in a way that’s similar to this story, which is he hadn’t been home for a long time. He missed his family. He felt some draw. I mean, in the end, this idea that you can leave your country behind, like if I said to you, “You have to leave New York today and never come back.” You do feel this pull.

Porochista Khakpour (28:37):


Susie Banikarim (28:38):

And in the movie, that pull is presented as insane. But it really made sense to me. I mean, my dad really wanted to go home and see his mom and see his family. And I was very scared as a child. I was 10 when he went. I was really, really scared. And when it came time to leave, he had a perfectly good experience while he was there, but when it came time to leave, they wouldn’t let him leave through the airport. They were basically like, “You have to stay here.” And he ultimately decided to make the trek out of Iran by foot into Pakistan.

Porochista Khakpour (29:11):

Oh wow.

Susie Banikarim (29:12):

There have been times when people have doubted her story, and I just know that that is a real thing that happens pretty regularly because my dad did it. And it’s why I know how dangerous it is. He kept notes through the trip. He had to sew his money into his clothes so that if they searched him, they couldn’t find it so that he would have some money when he arrived in Pakistan. And he was not a citizen, we weren’t citizens, but my dad had always kept his green card because he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to go back if he was a citizen. And he got to the American Embassy in Pakistan, and we were living in England at the time, and he was not allowed to come see us because anti-Iranian sentiment was so great. They were not giving visas to Iranian citizens, even if they had a green card, because of all the hijackings. So we actually had to meet him in Switzerland.

Porochista Khakpour (30:02):

Oh wow.

Susie Banikarim (30:03):

So in many ways, this movie mirrors aspects of my own life, but in a weird, twisted, fun house mirror kind of way. We were on the other side of this, which is he was Iranian, but he was trapped, and he was experiencing the anti-Iranian sentiment that Moody talks about in the film.


And so it is so odd for me to watch it. It’s not that I don’t believe that there’s truth in this version of events. It’s just presented in a way that’s so objectionable to me.

Porochista Khakpour (30:37):


Susie Banikarim (30:38):

And I think wouldn’t matter so much if it wasn’t the only representation.

Porochista Khakpour (30:42):


Susie Banikarim (30:42):

If there was lots of art about Iran, if there was lots of films and TV shows and then there was this one in the mix, I’d be like, “Okay, well that’s one woman’s experience, whatever.”

Porochista Khakpour (30:49):


Susie Banikarim (30:50):

But it’s like for most Americans, that’s the only representation they saw of Iranians their whole life until Shahs of Sunset came on TV.

Porochista Khakpour (30:59):

Yes, yes. It’s so true. Yeah, I think that’s the thing is no one is questioning the validity of the story. Or I guess some people are, but not a lot of people. But I am rooting for her on some level.

Susie Banikarim (31:09):


Porochista Khakpour (31:09):

To get away from your abusive husband. That’s great. Maybe if this was made in a different era, I always wonder, could it have been good? Could they have done a good job of it. I’ve watched it a few times now and every time I watch it, I just have a lot of questions about her own character because we don’t actually learn that much about her. It was only in the aftermath of watching it at some point, I realized that she became evangelical.

Susie Banikarim (31:30):


Porochista Khakpour (31:30):

I mean, her Christianity is a very big part of her identity.

Susie Banikarim (31:34):


Porochista Khakpour (31:34):

And so I wonder if the movie entirely from her POV, where she is even more fanatical than a lot of the Iranians that she’s pointing to here.

Susie Banikarim (31:42):


Porochista Khakpour (31:43):

And so maybe that’s why she sees them as primitive savages perhaps?

Susie Banikarim (31:46):


Porochista Khakpour (31:46):

Because we know that that is part of a type of Christian rhetoric.

Susie Banikarim (31:50):


Porochista Khakpour (31:50):

So maybe if she had felt like she could save these Iranians and convert them to Christianity, could they have had potential in her eyes?

Susie Banikarim (31:57):

So there are a couple things that happened in the aftermath of this movie that I looked into and I am curious if you know about. So one is Mahtob, the daughter, actually wrote her own book.

Porochista Khakpour (32:09):

Yes, I heard about this.

Susie Banikarim (32:10):

Many years later. She wrote her own book in 2015. And she is also very Christian. She talks a lot about her faith. I didn’t read the book, but in the book and in her interviews around that time, she talks a lot about how her faith saved her, how it made it possible for her to forgive her father, although they never had contact again.


And again, I don’t want to be seen in any way like I am doubting the veracity of the events here. But one thing that’s odd is she writes about her time in Iran like she remembers clearly.

Porochista Khakpour (32:39):


Susie Banikarim (32:40):

And she was five years old.

Porochista Khakpour (32:42):


Susie Banikarim (32:43):

So I do find that weird. I left Iran when I was three.

Porochista Khakpour (32:46):


Susie Banikarim (32:46):

And then lived in Paris and came to America when I was four or five. I have very few memories of that time in my life.

Porochista Khakpour (32:53):

Same, same.

Susie Banikarim (32:53):

Like glimpses kind of, right?

Porochista Khakpour (32:55):


Susie Banikarim (32:55):

So there’s a weird thing about that book where it’s like she writes, again based on interviews because I didn’t read the book, she writes sort of extensively about what happened in Iran, seeing her dad hit her mom, about intervening, very detailed descriptions of their time there. So I thought that was a bit odd. But the crazier thing I have to tell you is that there was a documentary made about the father, about Moody.

Porochista Khakpour (33:22):

Oh. I did not know this.

Susie Banikarim (33:24):


Porochista Khakpour (33:24):


Susie Banikarim (33:24):

Okay, so there’s a documentary that was made in 2003, made by an Iranian Finnish director, and it’s called Without My Daughter. Right?

Porochista Khakpour (33:38):

Perfect. Of course it is.

Susie Banikarim (33:40):

And so it’s actually quite hard to find, but I did find some links to it on YouTube and I was like, “I’ll just watch a couple minutes of this. I’m not going to watch this whole documentary that clearly has some weird agenda.” And I ended up watching the whole thing. The whole thing, in parts, in all six parts.

Clips (34:00):

I have been portrayed as a liar, a woman beater, and a kidnapper. I have been denied the right to see my daughter for 15 years or even to talk to her. My sin, my only sin, was that I love my only child, my daughter, Mahtob Mahmoody.

Susie Banikarim (34:21):

It was deranged. It is based on extensive interviews with him, but the action of this documentary is him essentially stalking his daughter.

Porochista Khakpour (34:35):

Oh, no.

Susie Banikarim (34:36):

The premise of the movie is that he is trying to get in touch with Mahtob, who he has not seen since they left Iran. And he is calling her over and over again. So there’s multiple scenes of him being like, “Pick up, pick up. Mahtob, it’s your father. I want to talk to you. Pick up.” There’s one scene where someone answers and he gets off and he’s like, “That was Betty. I know that was Betty.” It is literally you’re watching this very uncomfortable person.


I will say that this movie did not persuade me of his innocence.

Porochista Khakpour (35:08):


Susie Banikarim (35:08):

He does not come off well in this movie. And he is repeatedly reaching out to them. I can’t even imagine how terrifying this must have been for Betty and her daughter to get these messages. There’s a bananas scene where he screens the movie, not his own movie, but Not Without My Daughter to a class of people. And when that scene comes up of him beating his wife in the hallway, he makes a joke about it and laughs. Again, not persuading me that these things did not happen.

Porochista Khakpour (35:38):

Oh my God.

Susie Banikarim (35:38):

You are making me feel like you are a monster.

Porochista Khakpour (35:40):

Oh my God.

Susie Banikarim (35:41):

It is the strangest movie you will ever see. Of course he does not get in touch with her. Oh, there’s another crazy thing I cannot fail to tell you, which is there is a scene where the filmmaker goes to her university where she is currently enrolled and asks someone at that university to give her a videotape of her father besieging her to make contact with him.

Porochista Khakpour (36:04):

Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim (36:04):

They are literally stalking this girl on camera.

Porochista Khakpour (36:08):

Oh my God. That’s wild.

Susie Banikarim (36:09):

It is actually pretty upsetting. I was like, “Who made this movie and why did they think this was a good idea?” The only thing in this movie that’s actually a little bit upsetting from a more normal standpoint is that they interviewed the judge that gave Betty custody and granted her divorce with him in absentia. He was not a party to his own divorce. And that judge turns out to be a virulent racist and anti-Semite who says that if he was in charge of the country, there’d be a lot fewer Iranians on Earth. He would basically kill them all. And then said something really anti-Semitic. So that’s not great. So I don’t know that he would’ve gotten a fair shake even if he hadn’t been a troubled person, but I’m like, “That does not actually persuade me in the context of the fact that this is a movie made entirely about harassing your child who’s made it pretty clear she doesn’t want to have contact with you.”

Porochista Khakpour (37:04):

Oh my God. That’s crazy.

Susie Banikarim (37:07):

So that’s is the aftermath

Porochista Khakpour (37:08):

This movie, it just would’ve been better off if no one talked about it, but I even remember on the 25th anniversary of the film, there was all these articles quoting Iranian Americans.

Susie Banikarim (37:16):


Porochista Khakpour (37:17):

And it might’ve been even around when Mahtob’s book came out. But there were these attempts to revive interest in this film.

Susie Banikarim (37:23):


Porochista Khakpour (37:24):

And so occasionally people would ask me, “Have you seen it? ” And I’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, of course.” And then sometimes they would watch it and then they’d be like, “Wow, this is such a terrible movie. Why doesn’t everyone just ignore it?” Which is a question that makes sense in a way, but except what we’re saying, it’s like the era made it so that we couldn’t forget it.

Susie Banikarim (37:41):


Porochista Khakpour (37:41):

Like this badly made film ended up having a much bigger position in the psyche of our culture than people think because it was the only one really.

Susie Banikarim (37:51):

Honestly, this should have been a Lifetime movie.

Porochista Khakpour (37:52):


Susie Banikarim (37:53):

That’s what it would be now.

Porochista Khakpour (37:54):

Yes, yes.

Susie Banikarim (37:55):

But it just ended up being this significant cultural moment. For Iranians, I don’t know that it was this larger, significant cultural moment. The movie did flop and it was critically panned and it didn’t make much money.

Porochista Khakpour (38:05):

Yeah, thank goodness.

Susie Banikarim (38:06):

Luckily for all of us, it was a flop because I don’t know if I would’ve been able to take it if it was an Oscar movie on top of everything else.

Porochista Khakpour (38:12):

Right. Oh my gosh.

Susie Banikarim (38:15):

Okay. Well, Porochista, I feel like we have really had a moment here about this movie. Thank you so much for talking to me about it. But before you go, I want to spend some time talking about your new book, which I just finished reading last night. It is amazing. It’s so funny and clever and it’s this really sharp satire about a family of Iranian Americans living in, where else but Tehrangeles, which is the name of the book. The book comes out in June, but it’s available for pre-order now. Tell people a little bit about it.

Porochista Khakpour (38:47):

So I have been working on this book for a really long time. It sort of sat with me for a while. When I started it, there wasn’t Shahs of Sunset. It was actually right before.

Susie Banikarim (38:56):


Porochista Khakpour (38:56):

It was in my head about an Iranian American family, the first Iranian American reality TV family at a time of war with Iran, which has always been my big nightmare and continues to be.

Susie Banikarim (39:06):


Porochista Khakpour (39:06):

It’s just a thing that goes in and out of our psyche every few years with geopolitical landscape always being so unstable in regards to the Middle East. So that was all I had at one point, and it was supposed to be my second novel actually. I was having trouble selling my second novel and all these editors were telling me what they wanted my book to be, and they wanted it to be more like these essays I was just churning out at a rapid point at that period. Between 2008 to 2012, I was writing a lot of essays about Iranian American experience for the New York Times and things like that.

Susie Banikarim (39:37):

It was during the personal essay industrial complex era.

Porochista Khakpour (39:40):

Yes. I was just hoping it would help my first book’s book sales. I was much more interested in journalism and then fiction, but not this other thing. So I started writing just for myself a parody of some of the requests the publishers were making, which was just like, “We just want lots of women. Just make it about Iranian American women.” But I also didn’t want to write the trauma porn that is Not Without My Daughter.

Susie Banikarim (39:59):


Porochista Khakpour (39:59):

I was very allergic to that. So I thought, “What about writing about something that I’ve never been able to escape as an LA-based Iranian?” I thought, “Why don’t I write about Tehrangeles?” And so I did write this book with an all-female cast and just like a dad and a cat and a boyfriend that kind of hovers. And then I started getting interested in it. It became this satire, but I was kind of approaching it like a weird experiment for myself.


And so then my second novel got published and then I wrote all these nonfiction books. And so it’s been something I’ve worked on for years, but it wasn’t until the pandemic where I felt like, “Oh wait, this is actually a pandemic story. If I et it during the pandemic, I have a really good structure for it,” especially because just before the pandemic Iranians, always remember this, January 2020, it looked very likely that we were going to go to war with Iran.

Susie Banikarim (40:50):


Porochista Khakpour (40:51):

And it almost felt like the pandemic provided a pause on that plan.

Susie Banikarim (40:55):

It did, yeah.

Porochista Khakpour (40:56):

So that was to me a very perfect setting for it. And during the early pandemic, I was also reading Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series.

Susie Banikarim (41:02):

Oh, yeah.

Porochista Khakpour (41:03):

“I really want this to be a crazy Rich West Asians.” Because what I liked about those books was the satire, and I felt like some people would miss the satire and just think it’s an advertisement for wild rich people.

Susie Banikarim (41:15):

No, it definitely comes through that it’s satire.

Porochista Khakpour (41:16):

Good, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (41:17):

I want to say this because I feel like some people have this too. I’m not someone who’s dying to read a lot of pandemic stuff just because I feel like I just lived it.

Porochista Khakpour (41:25):

Yeah, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (41:25):

But this felt very relatable to me. The pandemic stuff felt very natural to the story. I didn’t feel like I was reliving it in this terrible way.

Porochista Khakpour (41:33):

Right, right.

Susie Banikarim (41:33):

It was a really important plot device. So I can’t recommend the book enough. I also want to say that for people who haven’t read your other books, your nonfiction books are amazing.


I think the thing that you do really well in this book is that even though it’s satire and the characters are in some ways awful, I found myself rooting for them. I sort of love these girls.

Porochista Khakpour (41:53):


Susie Banikarim (41:54):

And I relate it to them. And a thing that I think really comes out in the book is that even in these families where they try so hard to escape their Iranian-ness?

Porochista Khakpour (42:05):


Susie Banikarim (42:05):

There is a generational trauma that is just a current in the family and handed down to each of them. And that is a reality that I think doesn’t get expressed in this way.

Porochista Khakpour (42:17):


Susie Banikarim (42:17):

Because it is so often either trauma porn or maudlin. And to do it in this very comedic way I felt like was really effective and really good.

Porochista Khakpour (42:25):

Thank God.

Susie Banikarim (42:26):

I love this book so much.

Porochista Khakpour (42:27):

Thank you so much because I had to really come to the characters. That was really important for me. So that was when I really felt like it was finally done, where I started to have some affection for them even when they did some of the most horrible things imaginable. That was the challenge. And I feel like it brought to me a sense of peace about some of the aspects of the diaspora that drive me nuts.

Susie Banikarim (42:45):


Porochista Khakpour (42:46):

I didn’t want it to just be like another book making fun of Iranians or hating on Iranians. I just wanted it to be like, “Let’s talk about this thing that we all feel weird about a little bit.” It also helped me to imagine it like a film or a TV series.

Susie Banikarim (42:59):

I really feel like it could be, by the way. That’s one of the things I was thinking when I was reading it. It’s really cinematic in the way you present it. I feel like it could be a really good like HBO series.

Porochista Khakpour (43:07):

It would be really fun if that happened.

Susie Banikarim (43:08):

So if anyone’s listening who is looking to pick up a series, I really think it’s great. And I should mention, I didn’t mention this at the top, that it is one of the Time most anticipated books, it’s getting rave early attention, so everybody should go out and get it. And thank you so much for doing this with me today.

Porochista Khakpour (43:27):

Thank you.

Susie Banikarim (43:27):

I loved this.

Porochista Khakpour (43:27):

This was so fun.

Susie Banikarim (43:27):

It was so fun.

Porochista Khakpour (43:27):


Susie Banikarim (43:34):

Jess, I want to set up our next episode, and I must admit I learned something about you when we were recording this, which is that you in fact attended a Miss America Pageant.

Jessica Bennett (43:45):

Yes. Attended, to be clear, not competed in. But this episode is actually about Vanessa Williams who made history in the 1980s as the first Black Miss America. And we’ll look at everything that came after that.

Clips (43:57):

I hope to do the best job I can, to well represent America, to represent every person in America, no matter what race or creed or color they are.

Susie Banikarim (44:11):

This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a pop culture moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @InRetroPod.

Jessica Bennett (44:24):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram, which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (44:34):

You can also find us on Instagram, @Jessica Bennett and, #SusieBNYC. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club, and This Is 18.

Jessica Bennett (44:43):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart Podcasts and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Emily Marinoff is our producer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (44:58):

Our executive producer from the Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Our mixing engineer is Amanda Rose Smith. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (45:15):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more check out InRetropod.com. See you next week.