February 28, 2019
The first Iranian-American woman to win an Oscar, Rayka Zehtabchi, says she wants to build on Sunday’s triumph of her documentary about menstruation by producing several films with Iran-related themes.
“I’m very interested in telling Iranian stories as well as women’s stories,” the 25-year-old Los Angeles-based filmmaker told VOA Persian in a Skype interview on Monday. “I was raised in Southern California pretty much my whole life, but the older I get, the more I feel like I connect with and learn about my Iranian culture.”
Zehtabchi won the award for best documentary short at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood for “Period. End of Sentence.” The Netflix-produced film is about women in rural India fighting the stigma surrounding menstruation by manufacturing sanitary pads to enable adolescent girls to stay in school while managing their periods.
Los Angeles high school students inspired the film by raising money to buy pad-making machines for the villagers of Hapur district, 90 kilometers east of the Indian capital, New Delhi. “Just seeing that there are these young people who care so deeply about this cause that is affecting women all over the world, and being a young woman myself, I felt compelled to jump on board,” Zehtabchi said.
Zehtabchi directed the film and shared the Oscar with American producer Melissa Berton.
Iranian-born British-American actress Nazanin Boniadi congratulated Zehtabchi on Twitter for being the first Iranian-American woman to achieve such a feat.
“It didn’t even cross my mind that I’d be the first Iranian-American woman to win an Oscar, but I feel absolutely incredible,” said Zehtabchi, the daughter of Iranian immigrants to the United States. “My dad passed away three years ago from lung cancer, and I wish he could have been there to see it, because he would have been very proud,” she added as her voice filled with emotion.
The filmmaker said one of her next productions will be a narrative feature about her family’s journey to the United States in the early 1990s. “I’m very interested in exploring the immigrant experience and how it could be devastating but also hilarious at times, being a foreigner in a new country and having to learn how to assimilate.”
Zehtabchi said she also is working on feature version of a 2016 short film that marked her directorial debut, “Madaran.” Based on a true story about an Iranian mother who must decide whether to end or spare the life of her only son’s killer at his execution, the original film qualified for Oscar contention in the Live Action Short category that year.
Asked for her message to other young women of Iranian origin who have cheered her success, she said: “You are strong and you are beautiful and you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”