Born in Tabriz, Milani is the acclaimed director of such well-known woman-centered films as Two Women (1999), The Hidden Half (2001), The Fifth Reaction (2003), and The Unwanted Woman (2005). These films have been controversial in Iran, particularly The Hidden Half, which led to her imprisonment in 2001 for counterrevolutionary statements and alleged maligning and misrepresentation of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The film tells the story of a young wife who reveals her past political association with a leftist group to her husband, a judge who is deciding the fate of a woman faced with execution for a similar crime. Milani’s related comments to the media about friends and colleagues from universities who had been dismissed, disappeared, or executed for “supporting factions waging war against God” angered the conservative Revolutionary Council, which demanded her execution. Imprisoned, Milani was released a week later with President Mohammad Khatami’s personal guarantee to the Revolutionary Council of her good citizenship record.
Milani’s outspoken political comments are in keeping with her courageous stance on other social and cultural issues, specifically those impacting Iranian women. In The Fifth Reaction, Milani holds up for careful scrutiny the psychosocial effects of separating a mother from her children in case of widowhood in certain sectors of Iranian society. Niki Karimi plays Fereshteh, a young woman who loses her husband in an accident and is then told by her powerful father-in-law that she is no longer welcome in their house and that the children do not belong to her. Patriarchy’s collusion with economic and gender discrimination is powerfully analyzed in this film. Milani offers a way out for Iranian women caught in such helpless binds by surrounding Fereshteh with some gutsy women friends who help her kidnap her own children.