Radioactive: Director Marjane Satrapi’s Take on Madame Curie Movie, Rosamund Pike, and Sexism (Women in Film)

Radioactive Director Marjane Satrapi on Scientist Madame Curie, Rosamund Pike as Star, and Sexism in Hollywood

Marjane Satrapi Radioactive Director
Courtesy of Laurie Sparham/Amazon Studios

Marie Curie’s barrier-breaking work as a physicist and chemist has inspired countless movies, plays and books over the years. But Marjane Satrapi, the director of Radioactive, a new film about Curie’s life and career, wasn’t interested in telling a conventional story of birth-to-death hagiography. 

Read our review of the 1943 biopic Madame Curie, starring the noble Greer Garson

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Satrapi, Oscar nominated for her 2007 animated film “Persepolis,” has made a movie that’s equally engaged with the consequences of Curie’s pioneering work in isolating radioactive isotopes and her discovery of polonium and radium.

Radioactive as a biopic?

Marjane Satrapi: I don’t think it’s a biopic. That would be saying we’re telling her story from beginning to end. It’s as much a biopic of her as it is a biopic of radioactivity. It’s not just about Marie Curie, this great woman. It’s about the aftermath of her discovery of radium. If it was a straight biopic, I’d have never done it.

Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie

MS: She’s very beautiful and studios don’t see the brain that is inside her head. She’s striking as a woman. The first time I saw her I thought she’s a star, she’s a goddess. But what is inside is more beautiful than the outside. She has lots and lots of capacity. When I met her for the first time she had this fire in her eyes and this intelligence. After that, I knew the only person who could play Marie was Rosamund.

Hollywood and Female Filmmakers 

MS: Beyond a certain budget, they don’t trust women directors. We can make smaller films, but bigger films — it’s “Oh, she doesn’t know how to handle it.” Of course we can handle it. It’s 5,000 years of culture. We cannot change it in five years. It will take time.

Half of the population of the world are women, but half of the movies are not about women. Women are always depicted in relation to men — they’re somebody’s wife or mother or lover. People say, “Oh, Marie Curie is tricky.” But she’s a genius, and if she was a man, people would just say, “Oh, he’s brilliant.” Women are just expected to be nice and very feminine

Experiencing sexism?

As a director, if I become angry, they tell me, “Don’t become emotional.” They act like I’m being hysterical. People will ask, “Are you having your period?” — as if it’s a hormonal problem. And I say, “It’s not that; I’m allowed to be pissed.”  I say, “No, it’s not hormones. I’m just angry, and if you want, I can punch you in your face to show you how angry I am.” Society has decided that women act in a certain way. We always have to excuse ourselves for certain behavior and talk in a certain way. This is why Marie Curie is so modern. She was never part of a feminist movement, but she is a feminist. By her actions, she shows that she’s the equal of men. Most of the time she was much better than them.