The Aghdashloo controversy
January 27, 2005
If there was nobody to play the role of Zahak, can Kaveh have
a story to tell? If the bird could sing but did not, would
there still not be song?
Four issues bear understanding when reacting to the Aghdashloo
controversy -- her portrayal of the wife of a terrorist from
Iran. First, there is the craft that the actress pursues -- she likes
to perform and be good at her trade. Maybe, just maybe, the outrage
directed at her is not at the script but her convincing portrayal
of the character. The show was also about family relations,
assimilation and all sorts of other subplots.
The second point to be made is regarding the politics of the actress.
She said on Charlie Rose that she is a human rights activist
for people in Iran. Perhaps her acceptance of the role in question
fit the politics she espouses by making the Iranian regime look
bad. Many people of Iranian origin in this country and elsewhere
have taken it upon themselves to do just that -- some have even
gone as far as to invite a US military strike against Iran. The
rage directed against the actress, therefore, may well be a reaction
to her politics, and her portrayal of a character that makes it
all the more easy for the gullible and under-informed American
public to accept a strike on Iran.
Third, she needs to earn a living -- if a typecasting
job is all she can get then that has to be. Unless some of her
detractors are willing to support her and finance high-end and
correct roles for her, she needs to survive in any manner she can.
Fourth, nor can one direct any objection to the scriptwriters
or producers. Scripts are written for a specific purpose and
sometimes they are designed to be a vehicle for a product or an
idea. To each his own. If there are people, producers and scriptwriters who
like to see Iran wiped off the face of the earth, then they
will not cast a terrorist from Sweden, but one from Iran, and who
better to play the role than an Iranian actress?
The specific fingering of a country and people as the villain --
such as in this case -- stems also from the political limitations
on the producers and scriptwriters. Islam-bashing is not encouraged
anymore because of the backlash that it produces across the board.
Nor is it advised to portray an Arab terrorist because relations
with the Arabs are delicate and Arab governments and Arab-Americans
have a bunch of lobbying organizations dedicated to neutralizing
the ill-effects of movies and shows that portray Arabs in negative
light. So the producer and scriptwriter are left with making a
real-life enemy country, like Iran, the heavy and source of terroristic
The place to counter the negative portrayals is before scripts
are written not after they been produced. That requires
an expertise and action plan to influence scriptwriters and producers
away from Iran-bashing or help produce programming that show Iran
and Iranians in a better light.
Ultimately, the decision of an actor to participate
in productions that are either unflattering to Iran and Iranians
or is not promotive
of Iranian national interest is the performer's choice. If freedom
should be for anything it should be for individual liberty
and freedom of lawful self-expression.
Guive Mirfendereski practices law in Massachusetts (JD, Boston
College Law School, 1988). His latest book is A
Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea: Treaties, Diaries, and Other
Stories (New York and London: Palgrave 2001)
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