The first time Nazanin Boniadi attended a protest in her native Tehran, Iran, she wasn’t yet born.
“I was in my mother’s uterus,” explained the Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power star while delivering the keynote on Wednesday during the Academy Women’s Luncheon presented by Chanel. “She was 19 and bravely joined the tens of thousands of protestors who opposed the newly forming theocracy. My parents realized the dangers of raising a daughter in a social, political and legal climate that was growing increasingly oppressive, particularly towards women and girls. Although they were granted political asylum in London when I was just three weeks old, the challenges facing women in Iran became ingrained in my psyche.”
Experiencing the Iranian Revolution — at least through the womb — set the stage for a lifetime of activism, and Boniadi said advocating for the women of Iran has been a passion for the last 14 years. But nothing compares to what is happening now in the country in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini, she says. The 22-year-old woman was arrested by the government’s “morality police” for not wearing a hijab, and she died under mysterious circumstances. Since September, protests have rocked Iran as residents have challenged the country’s strict moral codes and pressed for societal change.
“While Iran has become accustomed to uprisings nearly once every decade, no past protests compare in fervor or magnitude to the current protests in whichm for the first time since the inception of the theocracy, people are actively fighting back to defend themselves against the security forces,” explained Boniadi. “But the most unprecedented part of these protests is that they’ve been female-led.”
The role of women — in activism, art, culture, business and beyond — was a popular subject on Wednesday as more than 100 guests took a seat on a breezy rooftop at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles. The celebration centered on the fifth anniversary of the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, a program that supports emerging auteurs.
Many of the bold-faced name guests were dressed by Chanel, a house that has a deep commitment to film, film events and programs, like the Academy’s Gold Fellowship, that center on women, a legacy that can be traced back to house founder, the iconic Gabrielle Chanel.
And while a fashionable lunch on an L.A. rooftop may seem a world away from the uprising in Iran, Boniadi closed her speech with a call to action by requesting that women band together by using their platforms to speak up and speak out.
“I can’t help but feel the urgency of joining in sisterhood with the women of Iran. We are undoubtedly stronger in accomplishing our goals when we’re united on a global level,” said the actress, who encouraged the audience to amplify the voices of the Iranian people on social media by sharing information from credible activists and organizations, showing up to protests and networking with Iranian activists.
She continued: “I’m asking you, our greater artistic community, will you join us in our fight for a free Iran? Because we owe it to ourselves to come together and support our creative freedom and raise our voices.”
With that Boniadi, ended her speech and exited the stage. As she walked back to her seat, Boniadi was greeted by a standing ovation and hugs from Yang and power agent Lorrie Bartlett, her rep at CAA, showing her that the answer to her question was a resounding “yes.”
Jacqueline Stewart, in Chanel, Janet Yang and Chloe Zhao, in Chanel.
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images
Janicza Bravo, Leslie Mann and Tessa Thompson, all wearing Chanel.