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Movie's Spotlight on Stoning Death Brings Abuse Out of Shadows

By Ronald Kessler   |   Friday, 19 Jun 2009 10:29 AM

Several men in a small town in Iran pick up stones and tap them together in a drumbeat as they crowd around a young woman who has been buried to her waist. Her father denounces her and throws the first stone. Then her husband and her two sons pelt her with stones.

When the woman, Soraya, is soaked with her own blood and appears dead, her husband, Ali, stoops to peer at her. Noticing a slight eye movement, he takes a large stone and throws it at her head. Finally, Soraya is dead.

This is the true story depicted in the movie “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” which hits select theaters June 26.

Based on a nonfiction book by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, the film shows how village elders ordered Soraya’s stoning under Islamic Shariah law based on trumped-up charges that she engaged in adultery.

Her husband had fabricated the charges because he wanted to marry a 14-year-old girl but didn't want to support two households.

Stephen McEveety, producer of “The Passion of the Christ,” was hooked when he saw the script.

“There’s abuse going on all over the world,” he told me at a reception at the Agraria restaurant in Washington after a screening of the film. “But this is the worst case.”

Yet, as McEveety points out, the movie also depicts the courage of Soraya’s aunt Zahra, who defended her, risking her own life to denounce those who falsely accused her niece.

“Nobody stands up for this woman except for her aunt,” McEveety said. “But all it takes is one person to stand up and do what’s right.”

Soraya’s aunt, played by the Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, told the book author about the 1986 episode to make sure the story got out.

Her “whole desire, after being unable to prevent this stoning, was to make sure the world found out about it, and here we are, a Hollywood film company, telling the whole world about this story,” McEveety said.

Although Iran’s head of judiciary has declared moratoriums twice on execution by stoning, the practice of meting out such barbaric sentences continues, as it has in a number of other counties with large Muslim populations.

Even though we can guess the outcome, every minute of the movie is gripping. It speaks to us on a number of levels, bringing to mind a panoply of thoughts:

  • How can men be so cruel and evil?

  • How can mob hysteria and intimidation so completely replace human decency?

  • How can women’s rights be so totally subjugated?

  • And finally, how can so many Americans seem ungrateful for the freedom we have?

    Because of the broad range of issues the movie raises, conservatives such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and liberals like Human Rights Watch are supporting efforts to publicize it.

    The movie, as directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, is not a screed against the Islamic religion. Although it exposes violence rooted in religious fervor, the heroine, Zahra, is a Muslim who tells Ali that “God is watching” as he concocts lies. As she helps the journalist escape with her story recorded on a cassette, she shouts “God is great!” to nearby villagers in Kupayeh.

    McEveety, who produced the film through his Mpower Pictures, scheduled the movie to come out just after the Iranian presidential election. Given the upheaval in Iran since that election, the timing turned out to be brilliant. Shows such as CNN’s "Larry King Live" have been scrambling for interviews with the charming and articulate star Aghdashloo.

    But the movie’s message transcends politics. McEveety wants people who watch the movie to search their souls and stand up against injustice wherever they see it.

    “For me, it’s about victims and the abuse of women, which doesn’t only happen in Iran, but in our own back yards,” he says.

    As McEveety observes with some understatement, this is a “tough film.” That’s why it will not be distributed as widely as most commercial films. But “The Stoning of Soraya M.” is as powerful and important a film as any I have seen.

    Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
    e-mail. Go here now.

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