The politics of the political thrillers:De-Othering Iran in Tehran (Kan, 2021-)

Ghorbankarimi, Maryam and Friedman, Yael (2022) The politics of the political thrillers:De-Othering Iran in Tehran (Kan, 2021-). Transnational Screens (Formerly Transnational Cinemas (2010-2018)), 13 (3). ISSN 2578-5265

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The 21st century resurgence of the political thriller genre and ‘spy narratives’ was informed by two key factors: the geo-politics that developed in the aftermath of 9/11 and the new landscape of film and television production, dominated by global streaming platforms. Israel, despite its small film and television industry, has not only been a notable beneficiary of this new media climate, but instrumental in shaping its new trends. Tehran (Kan, 2021-), the recent political thriller series from Israel to hit the global screens through Apple TV+, offers an illuminating example of the transnationalisation of the genre and its intrinsic tensions. By offering close reading of the series along with discussions on its production context and reception in Israel, Iran and internationally, we demonstrate the complex and shifting relationship at play between the entertainment and the political elements, which typify the genre and its global travel. Revolving around the topical geo-political issue of Iran’s nuclear power, the series’ action-based plot delineates an Israeli military operation to neutralise the Iranian nuclear reactor, while deeper layers of the narrative and the visual representation point to its political aim: countering negative representations of Iran and provoking a critique of Israel’s own forms of oppression and its internal identity crisis. Placing at its centre a young Israeli female agent, whose complexity is rooted in her hybrid identity as an Iranian-Jew and the experience of migration, the series renders visible suppressed histories of Iranian-Jewry’s fractured relationship with Zionism. The hybrid identity position of the series’ key characters serves as a narrative device that ultimately subverts the military operation and undermines the premise of the Israeli-Iranian conflict at large. This, we claim, is the core of the series’ political critique, which despite its potential subversion was largely lost in the reception space. An inverse relationship between marketing and critical reception resulted in depoliticization of the series in national and international reviews, either through the entertainment expectations of the thriller genre, discourse of reconciliation or ridicule.

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Journal Article
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Transnational Screens (Formerly Transnational Cinemas (2010-2018))
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09 Aug 2022 10:45
Last Modified:
09 Sep 2022 08:50