If you have never seen a stoning (and chances are you haven’t), the award-winning film, “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” showing in Washington, D.C. and New York on June 26, will turn your stomach upside down. Be warned that filmmaker Cyrus Nowrasteh did not leave any details out. But if you think you can’t stomach it, that’s the very reason you need to see it.
The story of Soraya is real. Even though the book that exposed the true story was published over a decade ago, the scourge of stoning and other brutal punishments of women (including whippings, burnings, and beheadings) continues today in many countries around the world.
Due to the secrecy of these executions, accurate statistics are hard to come by. Reports suggest that there have been at least 1,000 women stoned to death, primarily for marital or sexual violations, in Iran, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, and Pakistan during the past 15 years. The United Nations estimates that some 5,000 women each year, including some in the U.S., become victims of so-called “honor killings” in which family members kill a woman who has allegedly brought dishonor on them through such acts as dressing provocatively or engaging in illicit sex.
In “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” Shohreh Aghdashloo (“House of Sand and Fog”) stars in the heroic role of Zahra, an Iranian woman with a burning secret. When a journalist (Jim Caviezel, “The Passion of the Christ”) is stranded in her remote village, she takes a bold chance to reveal what the other villagers have kept hidden.
Zahra tells the story of Soraya (Mozhan Marnò, “Charlie Wilson’s War”) a woman who is in an impossible situation. Soraya’s husband wants to divorce her so he can marry a 14-year-old virgin. Given her options (live in destitute poverty with her children or sanctioned prostitution to provide for them) Soraya refuses to give her husband the divorce. But in her post-Iranian Revolution world, the men rule with an iron fist and the legal system is stacked against her.
Soraya’s husband conspired with the local mullah, himself a former criminal and con man, to accuse Soraya of infidelity. Despite the lack of any real evidence, and without an option to defend herself, the all-male tribunal declared Soraya guilty and ordered her executed under the dictates of ancient law. Soraya was not present in the “court” where her own father, husband, and the village’s men congregated to decide on her fate. The punishment was public stoning.