Seventeen years ago, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis was released. In four volumes (two in the English translation), the autobiographical story told the tale of Satrapi growing up in Iran after the Islamic revolution, going to school in Vienna, and returning to Iran for college, before moving to Paris as an adult. It was a fascinating coming-of-age narrative that dealt with the complicated nature of growing up in a changing political climate, and adjusting to culture shock. It is equally an interesting depiction of a young girl who is interested in politics and the world around her—one who is rebellious, aware, and eager to learn more when she can. In no way is she perfect—she’s only human, after all—but her humanity makes her a fully-realized female hero, something that is rather rare in literature. Yes, Persepolis is a memoir, and as such, the main character benefits from having a real life to draw from. But because of the comic structure to the graphic novel, she comes across to readers as her own entity.
Persepolis became a hit, and in 2007 Satrapi expanded on what she could do with the story creatively by adapting it to the big screen, also directing. That, too, received rave reviews, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
This is an incredibly long and detailed way to explain that Satrapi knows how to craft nuanced stories about women, making her the perfect director for her next project: a film about Marie Curie. Is this the first film about the Nobel Prize-winning scientist? No. Films about Curie have been made since 1943. Is it the first one written and directed by a woman? Also no. Marie Curie, a German film released just last year, was directed by Marie Noelle (who shares a co-writing credit with Andrea Stoll). But this will be the first version based off a graphic novel—specifically, Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout (which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2011).
Yesterday, Deadline reported that Satrapi is attach to direct Radioactive, and leaving the graphic novel adaptation aspect aside, it’s already shaping up to be well within her wheelhouse, specifically in that it will take into consideration the historical and cultural climate that the Curies were working in, a contextualization that will hopefully keep the film from being a “two scientists/lovers beat the odds” narrative.
Deadline quotes Satrapi as seeing the film as “not just a biopic about this exceptional woman. It tells the story of radioactivity from its discovery until today, the humanist approach of the Curie couple with their discovery, the cynicism of some about its use, and the effect it has had on our world until today.” There are many factors at play here, but considering she pulled it off beautifully not once, but twice with Persepolis, it’s a safe bet that Satrapi is going to give us another beautifully layered piece about a real woman.
In a larger context, this will be the second film in recent years that pays tribute to real women in the sciences, the first being Hidden Figures, which is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year. Although Figures was directed by a man, it was based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, and adapted to the screen by Allison Schroeder (who co-wrote with director Theodore Melfi). Figures has already been highlighted as a great way to inspire young girls (especially young black girls) to realize their dreams and pursue careers in math and science.
What we should also applaud are women such as Satrapi, Redniss, Noelle, Shetterly, and Schroeder, and other women in the arts for telling the stories of women in maths and sciences. It highlights the options women have when it comes to their careers, and the variety of fields they can go into, including movie making and authoring comic books. It’s quite positive to think that girls growing up right now will have a plethora of role models to look to, both on screen and behind the scenes.
Radioactive does not yet have a cast, but it is set to film in the fall.