IT’S safe to say that films featuring a bisexual female of Iranian heritage as a lead character is a rarity.

Especially when it’s written and directed by — and stars — a female of Iranian background.

Yet Desiree Akhavan’s film Appropriate Behavior ticks all of the above boxes, and it’s set to be shown at the Sydney Film Festival in June and is also part of a line-up of LGBTI-themed movies on offer at the festival.

Speaking to the Star Observer, Akhavan said her film — whose Sydney screening is the first outside the US, after its world premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival earlier this year — is a comedy about a bisexual woman trying to win back her ex girlfriend and come out to her Iranian parents.

She said the concept of her film came about after some personal experiences.

“As I was writing the script, I was dealing with the breakup of my first serious relationship with a woman as well as the consequences of having recently come out to my family,” she said.

“So while the film is not autobiographical, it’s definitely inspired by my experiences and the themes are very close to my heart.”

Also close to her heart was the fact that she wanted to portray characters of Middle Eastern heritage in a positive light.

“I struggle to see positive Middle Eastern characters represented in mainstream media period, let alone (LGBTI),” said Akhavan, who was born and raised in New York to Iranian immigrants.

She also wanted to be a role model for Iranians and members of the global Persian diaspora who identify as LGBTI, as it was often still taboo to be themselves in their culture. Especially when Iran today enforces imprisonment and even a death penalty for those convicted of homosexual acts.

“I didn’t know of any gay Middle Eastern people when I was coming out and that was particularly scary,” Akhavan said.

“One of the many reasons why it’s important for me to be out and to incorporate that aspect of my life into my work is so that whoever sees it will be exposed to at least one out Iranian.”

With all of this in mind, Akhavan stressed the need to combat stereotypes in films, something that she aspired to do in Appropriate Behavior.

“It’s important for all the reasons any stereotypes should be avoided in mainstream film,” she said.

“On a purely superficial level it’s lazy filmmaking.

“Of course, it also intrinsically effects the way the majority of people view gays and is very damaging in that way.”

Akhavan also believed it was “great” that more Hollywood stars, and those who work behind the scenes, are coming out of the closet. However, she thought that form of celebration went beyond just Hollywood.

“The more people in general who come out and live honest lives, the better it is for the community,” she said.

“People in the public eye coming out obviously changes the game in an even bigger way.

“Bringing the average person closer to identifying with a queer person in the same way they would a Hollywood star is incredibly powerful.”

Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior (Photo: Danielle Lurie)

Desiree Akhavan in Appropriate Behavior (Photo: Danielle Lurie)

Desiree Akhavan on visiting Australia:

“I’m very excited to say I will be coming into town and that it’s going to be my first time in Australia.

“I’m most looking forward to meeting people and trying to get a sense of life in Sydney, a city I have a deep fondness for because I’m obsessed with the teen drama Dance Academy.”


Appropriate Behavior in a nutshell:

The funny and irreverent debut feature from Desiree Akhavan (known for the web series The Slope) has been described as a queer Persian-American Girls.

Akhavan plays Shirin, who’s unable to come out as bisexual to her Iranian family, much to the ire of her ex-girlfriend Maxine. The pressure to be an ideal Persian daughter builds when her brother announces his engagement to the perfect Persian woman.

Shirin’s course of action involves teaching filmmaking to out-of-control six-year-olds, going on a number of unsuccessful dates and pursuing a series of sexual adventures, all the while trying to figure out why things didn’t work with Maxine.

Akhavan has been praised for Lena Dunham-esque frankness in portraying sexuality, love and dating.

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