Posted by: Karina of the Fallen Stars | July 4, 2009

Iran in U.S. Cinema: The Stoning of Soraya M. Now in Theaters

While election protests have yet to pacify in Iran, with many reformists such as presidential canditate Mehdi Karrubi stating that they “will not recognize the legitimacy of the government which has resulted from this process.”, another tide turns abroad. Iranian American director Cyrus Nowrasteh’s independent film The Stoning of Soraya M. is now making its debut in theaters after premiering at the Tornoto Film Festival September of last year. Based on French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s novel and the grisly true events that inspired it, Soraya M. is the story of married woman living in an Iranian village in 1986. She is falsely accused of adultery by her husband who manages to turn the town against his wife after she refused to agree to a divorce. Under this patriarchal system, Soraya is found guilty and sentenced to be stoned to death by her husband, sons, and neighbors. A day after the violent killing, Soraya’s aunt Zahra finds Sahebjam’s broken car near her yard and demands he listen to her story, there upon recounting the events leading up to her niece’s death.

Not suprisingly, the film was banned in Iran. But  Nowrasteh has hope in that many Iranians will see this movie, either through bootleg  copies or the internet: “Clips off Twitter are going to Iran as we speak. There is huge interest over there about the film,” he stated in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. The Stoning of Soraya M couldn’t have arrived in a more timely matter in the post-Neda world of escalating tension. Lead actress Shohreh Aghdashloo agrees, in an interview with the Huffington Post, that, “The film speaks brilliantly for itself. What I’m desperately looking forward to is that people who watch it, who would see it, will do something about it. ” However not all press has been as positive and encouraging….

The Stoning of Soraya M., a true story of religiously sanctioned misogyny and mob violence in an Iranian village, thoroughly blurs the line between high-minded outrage and lurid torture-porn.Not since The Passion of the Christ has a film depicted a public execution in such graphic detail.” – The New York Times

“This is less a movie than a blunt instrument, a bit of political parable, a bit more outrage, and nary a scrap of real drama or finesse. It’s a BBC report dragged to feature length, complete with the flagrantly styled climactic title event… Director Nowrasteh seems to think the only way to save lives is to sensationalize death.” – The Boston Globe

Either way, through criticism or praise, it is evident that The Stoning of Soraya M. is bound to make an impact whether it be on American views of Iranian society or Iranians reevaluating their own. On a deeper note this form of media takes on the purpose to not only inform and entertain, but to also set a climate in an attempt to bring about change and reform to a pre-established system. In addition, this film allows us to examine the role of Sahebjam as a journalist who throws himself in the middle of this chaos, thus no longer acting as an observer. Sahebjam is no longer reporting, he is utilizing the tenets of civic journalism. He investigates and goes so far as to bring Zahra’s voice to places where women’s voices are more than a dust in the wind. Hopefully that voice will not be ignored this time.

The interviews mentioned:

More on the film:,0,2293979.story


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