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One of the movie’s more brilliant scenes: When a Persian envoy comes to King Leonidas and demands submission, the contemporary reference to Islam (which means “submission,” not “peace,” as our own media and government keep insisting) is clear. “Submission?” Leonidas ponders. “Well that’s a bit of a problem,” he replies just before kicking the envoy into a bottomless abyss.
The critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated 2007 Persepolis, adapted from an autobiographical graphic novel, tells the story of a young girl (writer/director Marjan Satrapi) in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and how her world changed for the worse as the Islamists took power. The Iranian authorities branded the animated film ”anti-revolutionary.” An official of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) actually said
Persepolis is potentially more dangerous than productions such as ‘300’, because it depicts some reality, which has however been mixed up with a large dose of the producers’ fantasies.
A more dangerous influence than 300 - quite an achievement. The official dismissed the film’s veracity by saying that “the events of the film take place in its directors’ subconscious minds.” The authorities later allowed a couple of screenings of a censored version of Persepolis for several dozen viewers, explaining that
The aim of this screening is to end the delusions surrounding the film which have been created by the media.
Ah, delusions created by the media. When you can’t make your case with the facts and the historical record, simply label your opponents delusional.
5) The Kingdom
Under the caption “Why the ban? What’s new about Hollywood lies?”, an article on Middle East Online notes that Kuwait and Bahrain banned the 2007 Peter Berg-directed action flick The Kingdom featuring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner. It centers on an FBI team investigating a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia similar to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 Americans. A source at the cinema committee of Kuwait’s information ministry helpfully explained that
The screening of the film has been banned in Kuwait for many reasons, chiefly because it is a false depiction of facts.
No further details about which facts or in what way they were false were forthcoming. Pardon my skepticism, but I suspect it was banned because censors were displeased with its rather accurate portrayal of murderous Islamic terrorists in the film.
4) Body of Lies
This Ridley Scott-directed thriller from 2008 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, about a hunt for an al-Qaida leader, suggested that Iran is complicit in international terrorism and drug trafficking. This naturally displeased the Iranian top dogs, because the truth hurts. But that wasn’t the only thing about this flick that displeased them.
Young Golshifteh Farahani, the first Iranian actress living in Iran to star in a Hollywood film, appeared in the film as DiCaprio’s love interest. Unfortunately, she also appeared without a hijab, contrary to the Iranian authorities’ requirements of her contract; she was temporarily barred from leaving Iran to discuss any future roles in Hollywood, and interrogated by the intelligence service.
It’s ironic that Body of Lies was banned, considering that it’s loaded with the usual Hollywood moral equivalence: the CIA is portrayed as no better than the terrorists. For example, while about to be butchered by jihadists, DiCaprio flashes back to his own involvement in torturing and killing a Muslim suspect. The film even opens with a poem suggesting that Islamic terrorism is nothing more than blowback for U.S. geopolitical meddling – America’s chickens coming home to roost, as Obama’s mentor memorably put it.
3) The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke was robbed of the 2009 Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Wrestler as Randy “the Ram” Robinson, a down-and-out former professional wrestler trying to get his life together outside the ring. How could this low-budget slice-of-white-trash-life movie possibly offend Muslim sensibilities or humiliate Iran, you ask?
One of Randy’s old wrestling nemeses is a character who bills himself as “The Ayatollah” and comes into the ring waving an Iranian flag to rile up the locals. Randy not only defeats the Ayatollah in the staged bout, but in the course of doing so, snaps the Ayatollah’s flagpole in half – thereby earning special condemnation from Iran for this seemingly apolitical, Darren Aronofsky-directed gem.
2) Sex and the City 2
Set in Abu Dhabi but actually shot in Morocco, the further cinematic exploits of New York City’s four unlikeliest sex symbols was banned in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE’s media regulatory body, the National Media Council (NMC), announced that Sex and the City 2 will never be shown there because “the theme of the film does not fit with our cultural values.” I suppose those are the same cultural values that lead the UAE to charge rape victims with crimes and jail women for kissing someone on the cheek in public. Also they don’t like the word “sex” in the title or the film’s presumably salacious content, which is why Abu Dhabi wouldn’t let Sarah Jessica Parker and her cohorts film there in the first place.
The real story here is not the UAE ban but the wave of Western criticism of the film’s “insensitivity” toward Islamic misogyny. Instead of standing in support of freedom and women’s rights, politically correct multicultural apologists like the completely unhinged Roger Ebert denounced the film as insulting “Arab modesty” and ”blatantly anti-Muslim.”
And that makes for an interesting stark contrast with our next film.
1) The Stoning of Soraya M.
Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and co-written by Nowrasteh and wife Betsy, The Stoning of Soraya M. dramatized the real-life story of an Iranian woman falsely accused of adultery and stoned to death in the years following the fundamentalist revolution of 1979. The story highlighted the almost incomprehensible reality that this Draconian punishment still exists in Iran (and elsewhere where sharia is strictly enforced). The worldwide attention the film drew to this horrific practice forced the Iranian leadership to temporarily suspend stoning and reconsider it.
As the country wrestled with revolution in the summer of 2009, bootleg DVDs of The Stoning were being shared secretly by Iranian citizens and shown in private homes throughout Iran, despite official condemnation of the film and the likelihood of being tortured or killed for possessing it. As I wrote at the time:
The Stoning of Soraya M.’s risky popularity is a reminder that the emotional core and storytelling power of such a film can embarrass the powers-that-be and embolden a brutalized populace to resist, even in the face of imprisonment and execution.
That’s the power of film, and that’s why totalitarians fear it.
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