Vandenberg eagerly contrasts the ideology of that regime with the cultural awareness of ordinary Iranians, pointing out that the latter are overwhelmingly pro-Western, secular, and opposed to the dictatorial government that has been foisted upon them. The author adds that social media and new ideas have helped to shape the people in this way and that these same things may be much more likely than sanctions or bombing to generate serious change in Iran.

If media can have such an impact within Iran, where the young population must find ways to circumvent extensive censorship and blocks on websites and social media platforms, then it can have a similar impact on foreign awareness of the problems that Iranians face.

Last year, Jon Stewart’s first directorial feature film, Rosewater, presented international audiences with the story of Maziar Bahari, a journalist who was detained and tortured for more than 100 days in the midst of the Green movement that emerged out of protests against the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now the San Francisco Chronicle has reviewed a new feature film that has just released and that presents another true story of the repression suffered by one person at the hands of the Iranian regime. Titled Desert Dancer, the film follows Afshin Ghaffarian as he discovers his talent and passion for dance and opens an underground dance studio despite a nationwide ban on such supposedly Western activities.

Stories like Ghaffarian’s have been told in various small media reports as growth has continued for the practice of opening secret, illegal gathering places for dancing, music, and other forms of artistic self-expression.

In the film and in real life, Ghaffarian fled to France to escape persecution for his activities and his support of the Green movement. This aspect of his story is familiar as well, with many exiled artists being effectively barred from returning to their home country. Four such individuals were featured in an online video released by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on Thursday.

That video concludes with a recording of Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary, in which he declares that Iranians are not banned from returning to their home country but that those who are guilty of cultural offenses will be arrested and prosecuted if they set foot on Iranian soil again. 

This issue is one of several that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised to address, but on which no recognizable action has been taken. Another such issue is the institutionalized discrimination of women in Iranian society, as evidenced by the ban on Iranian women attending public sporting events.

This week, Al Monitor published a feature on this issue, noting that while the regime has been insistent about preserving the ban and has variously detained and prosecuted women to do so, popular opposition to the ban has also been very strong for many years. In light of this activism, and in spite of the lack of action from the Rouhani administration, journalist and activist Saba Sherdoost was quoted by Al Monitor as saying, “with the energy and persistence that I know Iranian women have, I think this discrimination will soon be removed.”