The Stoning of Soraya M.
What do you do in the face of injustice toward another? Do you immediately look away, not wanting to see or hear because it's too uncomfortable? Do you observe the injustice, silently thank God it's not impacting you, then proceed as usual? Do you speak out against the wrongdoing? Do you fight the injustice lawfully? Unlawfully?
This is a question nearly all the main characters in The Stoning of Soraya M. have to grapple with at some point in the film. How they respond is at turns unthinkable, disappointing, relatable, and inspiring.
The Stoning exists thanks to the response of one person in this inspired-by-true-events story, a man who happened into this disturbing scenario quite by mistake. In the late 1980s, French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (James Caviezel) got stranded in a remote Iranian village when his car broke down. While waiting for repairs, he was approached by Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a local woman insistent on telling him a story about a recent local conspiracy.
"Voices of women do not matter here," Zahra explained, "I want you to take my voice with you." (Which he eventually did via the 1990 international bestselling book The Stoning of Soraya M., upon which this movie is based.)
Skeptical, Freidoune got out his tape recorder, pressed play, and listened as Zahra shared about her niece Soraya (Mozhan Marno). Soraya was married for 20 years to an abusive man, Ali (Navid Negahban), who wanted out of their marriage so he could wed a 14-year-old girl. If he requested a divorce for such reasons, Ali would have to pay support to his wife and two daughters (he planned to take their two sons with him). But, if he found another way out of the marriage, he would be free to do as he pleased without the financial burden. So Ali falsely accused Soraya of having an affair with Hashem (Parviz Sayyad), the local widower she'd been caring for.
But Ali could not ensure her guilty verdict alone. He needed help from the local religious leader, the Mullah (Ali Pourtash), who helped maintain Islamic Law. He needed the mayor, Ebrahim (David Diaan), to be willing to hear the case. And he needed the widower to substantiate the false accusations. How Ali wielded power with each man and how they responded and even participated in this injustice is frustrating and sobering.
But not as frustrating and sobering as the fact that many women in that culture had (and still have) absolutely no power—not even over their own fate. Under Islamic law if a man accuses his wife, she must prove her innocence. If she accuses her husband, she must prove his guilt. "It's a man's world," Ali instructed his sons, further turning them against their own mother.
At times Ali is portrayed so unsympathetically he almost seems like a caricature. He most assuredly is an evil man, but the danger is prompting Western minds that already find these events difficult to fathom to wonder if perhaps parts of the story are ramped up for emotional manipulation. Though it could be argued that if even a fraction of this story is true, it's still disturbing. And that the realities of Islamic law and other documented cases of death by stoning (mentioned in the film's closing credits) provide that fraction of truth.