Since its inception 21 years ago under the brilliant leadership of Lawrence W. Reed and others, the Mackinac Center has championed freedom and liberty for all law-abiding peoples. The Iranians' fight for freedom dominates current headlines, and the film "The Stoning of Soraya M.," released June 26, depicts the inherent horrors of a nation where a significant portion of society is treated as second-class citizens. The film's focus is on the repression of women, but the oppression of additional segments of Iran's population has been well-documented elsewhere.
Based on French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's international bestseller of the same name, "The Stoning of Soraya M." tells the true story of an innocent woman stoned to death for adultery because she refuses to grant her husband the divorce he seeks so that he can marry a 14-year-old girl. The story's structure resembles director John Sturges' 1955 classic, "Bad Day at Black Rock," where an outsider chances upon a town with a murderous secret that culminates in a violent climax.
Like the Sturges film, "Soraya M." also presents a powerful social message.
"By dealing with the topic of the lack of liberties and freedom, particularly for women, we can accurately show what the world is like if you don't enjoy what we have here," said producer Stephen McEveety in a phone interview conducted June 10. McEveety added that the film is "a celebration of liberty and freedom - especially in America where we sometimes take them for granted. I believe that it makes you value what you have."
The movie's R-rating is for the brutality of the climactic scene. Potential viewers should be forewarned that the term "stoning" in the title is anything but metaphorical.
"The story that was presented to me blew me away," McEveety said. "You can't underplay what people who are stoned to death go through or else the audience will undervalue the suffering. We tried to depict the violence in a way that showed both our respect for the victim and for the audience. I think the result is a perfect balance, but yes, occasionally some people leave the theater."
McEveety, who also produced "The Passion of the Christ" — which drew critical rebukes for its violence — claimed that despite the stoning, the real cruelty in "Soraya M." is psychological.
"This film has far less violence than 'Passion of the Christ,'" he said. "However, there's psychological abuse in this film that's equally powerful. It's the type that we see and ignore every day in every city and every nation of the world."
This psychological abuse is concomitant with the abridgement of liberties. Despite many restrictions, the men in the small Iranian village enjoy far more freedom than their female counterparts, and the women live in fear for their lives if they draw the ire of their paternalistic mullahs, politicians, husbands and sons. Likewise, men who fall into disfavor are incentivized to perjure themselves or otherwise throw women under the bus to save themselves.
The film's point, however, isn't to depict in a cartoonish manner all men as evil and all women as victims. What it does portray very effectively is the high costs paid by any society arrogant and autocratic enough to abrogate what our founding fathers wisely categorized as an individual's inalienable rights.
For most of us at the Mackinac Center, Independence Day is the highest of secular holidays, a day commemorating our nation's independence from British rule and a celebration of the many freedoms we enjoy as U.S. citizens. It is also a day when we recognize that the struggle for freedom is perpetual, and that many nations yearn for relief from tyranny. Freedom is illusory if each and every person cannot exercise them in the same fashion. "The Stoning of Soraya M." helps viewers realize that the only true freedom is freedom for all.
Bruce Edward Walker is communications manager for the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.