Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Cyrus Nowrasteh, the director and co-writer of The Stoning of Soroya M., currently in release in select theaters across the country.
FP: Cyrus Nowrasteh, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Nowrasteh: Thanks for having me, Jamie.
FP: Tell us what your new film is about and what inspired you to direct and co-write it.
Nowrasteh: My wife Betsy (who is also a screenwriter) and I read the book by journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, portrayed by Jim Caviezel in the film, and immediately knew this was a story that had to be a movie. It is a true story that is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. No one has ever done a story about stoning, which continues to happen in Iran, and is written into the Iranian Penal Code. So we felt it was too powerful and too important to ignore.
FP: This film is very much reflective of the turmoil and repression that caused demonstrators in Iran to recently risk their lives in opposition to the regime, yes?
Nowrasteh: When we witness the murder of Iranian women like Neda, and the murder of hundreds of demonstrators on the streets of Tehran, it’s not hard to realize that our story is quite relevant.
FP: Attending this movie is also a statement, yes?
Nowrasteh: Many Iranian-Americans have told me that they are going to see the movie as an act of defiance toward the Iranian regime which banned it in March of this year when the Iranian government heard the film was coming out. At some screenings groups of Iranians have risen once the lights come up and said in unison: “Down with the dictatorship!” Americans are also seeing this film as an act of defiance toward the Iranian government, and as an act of support for the demonstrators.
FP: What are some reactions you have received to the film? I’m sure they come from different quarters. What criticisms have surprised you? Which ones are unfair and wrong? Which ones upset you?
Nowrasteh: Although Amnesty International has supported the film and hosted a major screening in London, one member of their group named Elise Auerbach attacked the film. This is a woman who has failed repeatedly to effect any action in Iran, and she attacks a film that exposes the very human rights crimes she pretends to condemn. Especially when, within days of the film’s release, women were being battered and killed on the streets of Iran. It’s truly amazing. Some of the statements she released are word-and-phrase the same propaganda released by the government thugs and Ayatollahs who smashed the uprising.
By contrast, many Iranian women’s groups and scholars have stepped up. People like Dr. Simin Redjali and Manda Zand Ervin have spread the word to their databases and women’s organizations. Ms. Ervin wrote in the Washington Times an op-ed where she insisted that the US Congress, the White House, the United Nations, and the European Parliament must see this film. Coming from a woman who was a delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, that’s very gratifying. Also, Irshad Manji, a Muslim activist for women’s rights and Muslim reform has come out on behalf of the film. Also, Nonie Darwish (author of Cruel and Usual Punishment) and Wafa Sultan (author of the upcoming A God Who Hates), have praised the film and urged people to see it.
FP: Why does stoning continue to happen in Iran? On what theology/teaching is this law in the Iranian Penal Code based?
Nowrasteh: The Iranian Penal Code is based on Islamic Law -- that is, 7th Century Law now being applied to the 21st Century. This law is imposed upon the Iranian people by the Islamic Clergy and the Supreme Council i.e. the theocratic dictatorship that rules Iran. The people are showing their dissatisfaction with this archaic system and it is cracking.
FP: Why is there so much silence in the West about this phenomenon? It is incredible that your film is the first to bring peoples’ attention to this reality. Where are the feminists in the West, all the Women’s Studies Departments in academia, etc., that should be morally outraged about this barbaric crime against women and vociferously protesting against it?
Nowrasteh: Feminists have seen the film and voiced their support. Gloria Steinem, Tina Brown, and organizations like Vital Voices have hosted screenings. I don’t know how this has translated to actually putting people in seats to watch the movie. We do know that religious groups have stepped up and bought-out screenings at various theaters. Either way, we appreciate support from all and hope that they continue to focus on the issues the film represents.
One area where we find resistance to the movie’s message is from those who trump women’s rights and human rights in the Middle East with their vision of “multiculturalism”. It’s too sticky an issue due to reasons of political correctness. They’re being polite by not interfering in “cultural” practices like stoning of women. I find this, in its own way, just as dehumanizing a vision of the Third World as the most extreme forms of Colonialism.
FP: What are your own thoughts about what is transpiring in Iran right now?
Nowrasteh: I support those calling for major reform in Iran. Something is boiling up and I hope it succeeds in creating a western-oriented democracy that separates religion and government. This is what so many on the streets of Iran are fighting for. The problem is that those presently in power in Iran will not leave quietly. They will have to be forced out.
FP: What do you hope your film will help achieve?
Nowrasteh: First and foremost I want people to respond to it as a work of art. I want them to never forget this experience as a moving and dramatic motion picture. The fact that it happens to be about an issue critical to what’s going on in Iran becomes secondary if the film doesn’t work as a movie. However, if the film works as drama then it shines the light on the issues even brighter, hence, effecting some action on the issues of stoning and women’s rights in the Middle East.
FP: Cyrus Nowrasteh, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.