Oscar winners Cotillard, Binoche chop off hair in solidarity with Iran protesters

Oscar-winning actors Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche, as well as other French stars of screen and music, filmed themselves chopping off locks of their hair in a video posted Wednesday in support of protesters in Iran.

Protests sparked by death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini

French actor Juliette Binoche cuts her hair in a video posted to Instagram. Binoche and other French entertainers cut their hair in support of protesters following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being detained by Iran's morality police. (J. Collet Vlaneck/Instagram/CBC)

Oscar-winning actors Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche, as well as other French stars of screen and music, filmed themselves chopping off locks of their hair in a video posted Wednesday in support of protesters in Iran.

The weeks-long civil uprising was sparked by the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who died in custody of the Islamic Republic's morality police in mid-September.

Amini was arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, revealing too much of her hair and violating the regime's strict dress code. In an act of defiance, protesters are cutting their hair in solidarity with the young woman.

"For freedom," Binoche said as she hacked a large handful of hair off the top of her head with a pair of scissors, before brandishing it in front of the camera.

For weeks, dozens of cities across Iran have been engulfed by protests critical of the government. The ongoing unrest is the country's most sustained in more than a decade, with Amini's death a catalyst for public rage against political repression, an ailing economy and global isolation.

At least 130 people have died in Iran during the violent confrontations between authorities and protesters, according to human rights groups.

The protests have spread to Iran's universities and high schools, as well as abroad to countries all over the world, including Canada and France.

'Their courage and their dignity obliges us'

The video of Cotillard, Binoche and dozens of other women cutting off locks of their hair, hashtagged HairForFreedom, was released on an Instagram account called "soutienfemmesiran" — which translates as "support women in Iran."

"These women, these men are asking for our support. Their courage and their dignity obliges us," said a post with the video. "We have decided to respond to the appeal made to us by cutting — us, too — some of these locks."

"Mahsa Amini was abused by the morality police until death followed. All she stood accused of was wearing her veil in an inappropriate manner. She died for having a few locks of her hair exposed," read the text.

Some of the other women who took part included actors Isabelle Huppert, Charlotte Rampling and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was also filmed cutting off a lock of hair from the head of her mother, singer Jane Birkin.

This highly symbolic gesture also echoes Iranian history and folklore in which for women, chopping their hair is a sign of protest. The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), a national epic of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between 977 and 1010 A.D., refers to a princess chopping her hair to protest the death of her husband, which she saw as unfair.

"Women cutting their hair is an ancient Persian tradition also found in The Shahnameh, when the fury is stronger than the power of the oppressor," Shara Atashi, an Iranian writer based in Wales, posted on Twitter.

"For women to cut their hair in Iran is a form of protest ... a symbol to stand against the mandatory hijab," said Dorna Javan, an Iranian political scientist based in France who specializes in Iran. Such a visual gesture is a way for women across the world to rally around the Iranian women's plight, she added.

Javan described it as a "benevolent gesture" and called for more robust political action from the international community to support Iranian protesters.

"We can't reduce the fight of Iranian women for their rights — which dates back to the second half of the 19th century — to the gesture of cutting their hair," she said. "But these viral videos are a way to give an international impact to their fight."

High-profile protests, arrests

Other high-profile protests have occurred this week. In Strasbourg, France, a Swedish member of the European Parliament snipped off her ponytail during a European Union assembly on Tuesday evening.

"Until Iran is free, our fury will be bigger than the oppressors. Until the women of Iran are free, we are going to stand with you," said Abir Al-Sahlani, who was born in Iraq, Iran's western neighbour.

WATCH | Member of European Parliament cuts her hair: 

Swedish politician cuts hair in solidarity with Iranian demonstrators

4 months ago
Duration 0:54
Abir Al-Sahlani, a Swedish member of the European Parliament, cut off her ponytail during a speech in the EU assembly, an act of solidarity with anti-government demonstrators in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

As she flexed the scissors, she said, "Jin, Jiyan, Azadi" — a Kurdish slogan meaning "Woman, Life, Freedom" that has become a rallying cry for Iranian women and their allies since Amini's death.

A popular Iranian artist, Shervin Hajipour, was allegedly arrested in late September for releasing a protest song called Baraye, according to The Guardian.

The song, with lyrics composed from tweets about Amini, quickly went viral after Hajipour posted it on social media. It received more than 40 million views in less than 48 hours before it was taken down.

With files from Reuters and CBC's John McHutchion