Not Without My Daughter

(Brian Gilbert, USA, 1991)


With most films, a gap of several years passes between initial idea and eventual public release. History sometimes has a cruel way of intervening in this process, making the finished film strangely anachronistic and obsolete.

This is certainly the case with the new Sally Field vehicle Not Without My Daughter, seen as it was in light of the Gulf War crisis.

The film is a shameless, completely offensive piece of anti-Iranian propaganda. Its hysterical racism is qualified only by the fact that its principal target – the Ayatollah Khomeini – is somewhat removed from the contemporary situation. But this does not really lessen the film's seething, irrational hatred of the religion and culture of the Middle East.

The filmmakers are quick to point out that their intentions are not political. Iran merely provides a dramatic backdrop to a timeless, human story. Betty (Field) is married to an Iranian, Moody (Alfred Molina). Disenchanted by the racism he encounters in America, Moody takes his wife and young daughter to Iran for a family visit. Once there, however, he decides to settle down as a strict Muslim, and quickly transforms into an oppressive, imprisoning ogre.

Director Brian Gilbert uses the same dishonest, manipulative devices popularised by Midnight Express (1978) and many subsequent films about innocent Americans facing fearful, alien cultures.

Although the film pretends to even-handedly compare the value-systems of American and Iranian societies, the argument is blatantly rigged. The Iranian way is chaos, paranoia, violence, cold heartedness and fanatical mob rule; while the American way is individual dignity, kindness and sweet family love.

It's a terrible movie, but certainly a revealing one. Only nine years ago, patriotic militarist fantasies like Who Dares Wins (aka The Final Option, 1982) were presenting feminists as unfeeling, psychotic terrorists. In Not Without My Daughter plucky little Sally Field salutes the American flag while decrying Iran's repression of "women's sexuality".

In a film where sex with a non-American registers as the greatest imaginable horror, that's a pretty amusing spectacle.

© Adrian Martin April 1991

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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