Hitting limited theaters this weekend is the true and eye-opening story of a modern-day woman who was tragically stoned to death in Iran after she was falsely accused and deemed guilty of adultery.
Produced by the man behind “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ” and based on the book of the same name, “The Stoning of Soraya M.” was inspired by true events that took place in 1986 and comes out as the current strife plaguing a deeply divided Iran has caught the world's attention.
On Friday, foreign ministers from Group of Eight countries said they deplored post-election violence in Iran and urged Tehran authorities to ensure that the outcome of Iran's disputed election reflects the will of the Iranian people.
"We express our solidarity with those who have suffered repression while peacefully demonstrating and urge Iran to respect human rights, including freedom of expression," the ministers said in a statement.
Though 98 percent of Iran's population is Muslim (89 percent Shia, 9 percent Sunni), the current situation has revealed an Iran that is more diverse than much of the world has known it to be - especially among those who tend to see current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the face of the Islamic republic.
And, as "The Stoning of Soraya M." does, the crisis in Iran reveals that in times where people believe there to be grave injustices, someone is sure to stand up and cry out.
“’The Stoning of Soraya M.’ is a very universal story to me,” says producer Steve McEveety, who worked for many years at Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions.
The story of Soraya centers around her aunt, Zahara, played by Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, who reveals Soraya's tragic story to a French journalist that happens to become stranded in her village after his car breaks down.
In her effort to reveal Soraya’s story to people beyond her village, Zahara carefully yet boldly approaches the journalist, played by Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”), and tells of the scheming, lies and deceit that ultimately led to Soraya’s stoning just the day before he arrived.
“At its heart, this movie is a human drama filled with tension, peril and hope – but it is also a true story that I felt strongly had to be told, a story the whole world needs to know,” says director Cyrus Nowrasteh, who is best known for his involvement in the controversial docudrama “The Path to 9/11.”
Though some might feel the movie is critical of Islamic law – which allows stoning as a form of punishment – and therefore of Islam, producer McEveety says many have found the film to be very pro-Muslim, if anything.
“Soraya is a wonderful example of a nebulous Muslim person. She chooses her god. She chooses her faith. She’s respectful. She’s honest. She’s serving. She’s heroic in terms of accepting the injustice done to her. And her last words, her last acknowledgments on earth are to her god,” he says.
“I think it depends on who you think is representing the Muslim world in this movie. I don’t think it’s the mullah in this movie or the mayor. I think it’s Soraya, myself,” adds McEveety, who is Catholic.
The producer also notes that while stoning is allowed under Islamic law, its practice is ultimately up to the country’s government.
Currently, six out of fifty-two Muslim-majority countries in the world use stoning as a legally-sanctioned form of punishment – Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In Nigeria, where Christians are mostly in the south and Muslims are mostly in the north, about one-third of the country’s 36 states permit stoning.
“I think you’re going to find it more a part of the government laws of various countries, not a Muslim law,” McEveety notes.
Though the movie's promoters hope "The Stoning of Soraya M." will help shed light on the existence of stoning practices in modern-day societies, they also note that the story of corruption and injustice goes beyond the issue of stoning; it stands for thousands of untold tales around the world – from Africa to Asia, from Europe to America, wherever people are battling prejudice and injustice.
“There’s a lot of abuse internationally that happens, particularly to women,” says McEveety.
Going one step further, the producer also says he hopes that the message that viewers will take in as they watch "The Stoning of Soraya M." is the broader one concerning how people treat one another.
“What the movie ended up actually doing, which I found incredible, was it shines the light on the abuser, more than the victim,” he says.
“We’re all guilty of abuse a little bit,” McEveety adds, specifically noting mental abuse. “This film is like moving a mirror to them (the audience).”
“People may not realize it, but they’re not always too kind,” he notes.
Starting Friday, “The Stoning of Soraya M.” will be showing in limited theaters across the nation. The movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was the runner-up for the Audience Choice Award. It was also selected as the second runner-up for the Cadillac People's Choice Award.
The author of The Stoning of Soraya M., French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, died at his home in France last year at the age of 75 just before a scheduled trip to take part in the production of the film adaptation.
As a journalist, Sahebjam was the first to report on the crimes of the Islamic Republic of Iran against the Bahá'í faith community in Iran as well as the illegal use of children in the Iranian Army during the eight year Iran-Iraq War.
Though Sahebjam's novel, which was published in 1995, gained him international recognition, Sahebjam continued to work for French newspapers like Le Monde and Le Telegramme as well as the French news channel LCI.
Among his last articles was one covering the conflict in Iraq, where he had recently visited for the French daily Le Telegraph.
On the Web:
List of theaters showing ‘The Stoning Of Soraya M.’ at www.thestoning.com/theaters/
Christian Post reporter Eric Young contributed to this article.