Elevate Difference

The Stoning of Soraya M.

The Stoning of Soraya M. is a shocking and heartbreaking story of female oppression. The film, adapted from the 1994 book by the late Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, is based on a true story. Sahebjam learned the story of Soraya M., and started writing her story, just six months after her death.

The film sets a dismal tone from the very beginning as viewers learn about the violent and humiliating marriage in which Soraya is trapped. Soraya stays with her abusive husband because she lacks the financial resources to raise her daughters without him. When Soraya’s husband fails to force her into a divorce that would free him to marry a fourteen-year-old girl, he begins plotting with other men in the village to falsely accuse her of adultery, and subsequently have her stoned.

Viewers will remember the stoning scene for a long time; it begins slowly, but accelerates with violent language directed at Soraya. Many viewers may have a hard time watching the stoning in its entirety, due to the knowledge of Soraya’s complete innocence combined with the brutal manner in which she is treated, even by her own father. However, viewers need to be cognizant of their own privilege in being able to cover their faces and turn away from the violence. Soraya, her hands bound behind her back, had no such luxury, nor do the countless other victims of this type of violence.

Theatergoers may be disturbed to know that the filmmakers drastically modified the stoning scene from the original version in the book to make it viewable by the general public. The stoning is, in fact, portrayed technically incorrect. The custom is to bury a man to his waist for stoning, and a woman to her shoulders. The film portrays Soraya as being buried to her waist.

Anger was my strongest emotion after watching the film. I was angry at the male characters in the film because Soraya was a real woman. I was angry on behalf of other women who are also forced to witness and suffer the same brutality.

While the film is heartbreaking, it does not end without a message of hope. Soraya’s aunt Zahra exclaims that “the world will know” what has been done to her niece, and her hope and desire to tell Soraya’s story is touching. The emotional climax has been building so much by this point that what may otherwise seem clichéd can instead prompt the audience to celebrate the victory along with her—for Zahra successfully told her story to a journalist from outside of the community. The book and the film would not otherwise exist.

Although the film is tragic and ends with only a sliver of hope, people who have viewed the film have already begun to act to ensure that Soraya’s death is not in vain. This summer activists all over the United States will use this film to speak out against similar abuses taking place daily all over the world. One of these activists is Irshad Manji, who is launching a new website that will provide those touched by the film with opportunities to get involved in the efforts all summer long.

Written by: Janice Formichella, June 19th 2009

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