US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is The Stoning of Soraya M. a Catholic movie?

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The Stoning of Soraya M., which came out in selected cities this past weekend, was produced by Catholic Stephen McEveety, who also produced The Passion of the Christ. It’s based on a true story from a book by the same name, about a woman who is unjustly stoned in a small Iranian village. Speaking at the Catholic Media Convention last month, McEveety said, “I did this movie because Christ is all over it but you’d never know it.”

The idea that a movie about the misinterpretation and misuse of Islam in Iran is a “Catholic” movie made a few editors I met at the convention wary. How would the Muslim population that the church dialogues with take that? What will the public take away from this film?

Surveying some reviews from around the country, it seems this film is an important one to see. Still, it's important to remember that it doesn't reflect all of Islam.

Many have been critical of the New York Time’s review, which says that the movie “thoroughly blurs the line between high-minded outrage and lurid torture-porn.” “As The Passion of the Christ showed, the stimulation of blood lust in the guise of moral righteousness has its appeal,” it continues.

Though generally positive, the San Jose Mercury News also thought the Passion connection was suspect. “The film's credits have enough The Passion of the Christ and American Carol ties to make one question the filmmakers' motives.” 

That's no good, but others didn't think the movie was too critical of Islam. The Houston Chronicle notes that the movie “isn’t a film against Islam or religion in general: A clear distinction is made between Allah’s more vicious followers and the mercy of Allah himself.”

Meanwhile the L.A. Times says the film reflects on extremism in general: “Islam happens to be the religion here, but what happens in the course of this important and uncompromising film recalls evils perpetrated in the name of Christianity and other organized religions as well.”

It's also important to note that Lead actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is Iranian and felt born to tell this story. She told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she’s not worried about reinforcing the prejudice that Iranians are barbaric: "Of course there is always the fear of getting people confused. . . . But at the end of the day, when I think about that woman sitting in her cell waiting to die, I'd rather go with that woman than worry about image."

A highly debated blog post at Amnesty International has urged caution over the movie, noting that the story is from 1980's and doesn't reflect all of the work being done within Iran to stop the practice.

I hope that we hear more and more from Iranians themselves on this and all issues, but I don't think that precludes us from supporting their efforts on behalf of human rights.