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Performer's choice
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 activity.

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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