[26 June 2009]
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
Shohreh Aghdashloo, the Oscar-nominated Iranian-born actress, has been watching events in her native land with something approaching glee.
“This is the most exciting moment in post-revolutionary Iran’s history,” she says. “We are hearing words that we have not heard before, such as ‘transparency,’ ‘the rule of law,’ and we’re hearing them out in the open. Whenever I see the pictures on the news or hear, on the phone, from friends in Iran, all I can think of is, Is Iran at the dawn of its democracy?”
Aghdashloo, 57, an Oscar nominee for “House of Sand and Fog,” left Iran during the 1979 revolution. But it is much on her mind and in her heart these days. She has a starring role in a movie set in Iran, about an infamous side of Islamic states — execution by throwing rocks at someone until they die. “The Stoning of Soraya M.” is based on the 1994 international best seller by a French author telling of a woman falsely accused of adultery, convicted and stoned to death in her village. The movie’s “debut comes even as the world frets about things Iranian in the wake of a disputed election,” The New York Times notes.
In the film, a womanizing husband schemes to rid himself of his wife of 20 years and the mother of his children. He brutishly turns their sons against her and, failing to find a no-cost way of divorcing, falsely accuses her of adultery and strong-arms the local imam into going along with it. She is summarily tried, convicted and stoned to death. Only Soraya’s Aunt Zahra, played by Aghdashloo, speaks out. She corrals a passing French journalist and tells him what her neighbors did to her niece.
Producers and others involved with the film count “The Passion of the Christ,” “American Carol” and “The Path to 9/11” among their credits. Conservative pundits, in particular, have embraced the film’s brutal depiction of life in Iran. “It is a film destined (if not designed) to be used by conservatives to stoke hatred toward the entirety of Islam,” Mark Keizer wrote in Box Office magazine.
But Aghdashloo is circumspect about any agenda that others might attach to the movie. “I want this film to clarify, to clear the air, to look at Islam the way it is and not see the version of it that has been hijacked by fanatics,” she says. “Stoning is not really a part of Islam. Stoning is not sharia, not law. It is categorized under sonat, which means superstitions and traditions. It’s not modern. Of course there are people who are not familiar with the Koran who sincerely believe it’s a part of the religion.
“Stoning has been happening since the Stone Age. It was practiced in early Judaism, in Christianity and other cultures and religions. Those other religions did something about it, and now I think it is time for us to do something about it.
“It’s a double-edged sword to me. I want to talk about injustices in Iran, but at the same time, I care a lot about the Iranian image around the world. But at the end of the day, I think about that woman, sitting alone in her cell, waiting to be stoned, I must stand with her and not worry about Iran’s image.”
Though she finds her share of work in major Hollywood films — an “X-Men” movie, “The Lake House” — Aghdashloo was compelled to make “The Stoning” because of something she saw years ago.
“I had seen a real stoning, a tape smuggled out of Iran by an opposition group and passed around among people I know. It took an hour and a half for them to die, two young men, 18 and 19 years old, stoned to death for being homosexuals.”
Aghdashloo, being Persian, has played her share of terrorists in Hollywood and has had to make her peace with that. She knows her new film will make many uncomfortable. But she is thrilled to have made it, and that it is coming out at this moment in time.
“It could open eyes, educate people who are not familiar with what goes on in Iran, and it could give a voice to voiceless people in rural societies in the Islamic world where so many have perished this way.”