The Kiss That Sent Iran Crazy and an Actress to Be Flogged in Public
Hatami pecked the director of the Cannes Film Festival and was quickly
denounced as a sinner by hardliners at home. No matter how far or high
she goes, Hatami can’t escape Islamic fundamentalism.
by Shima Sharabi
Leila Hatami, the first Iranian woman to sit on the jury of the
Cannes film festival, is long practiced in the art of appearing on the
international stage without offending hardliners in her home country.
has never appeared in public without some form of head covering, be it a
hat or elegantly arranged headscarf, and has even walked the red carpet
of major festivals wearing a simple shaw or manteau-like dress. In
Cannes this week she observed the Islamic Republic’s dress code as well,
her sleeves reaching her wrists, her collar high, and a shawl over her
hair arranged like a hat.
Despite her modest appearance, intended
to preserve her ability to act and work freely in Iran, photographs of
her greeting the octogenarian festival director Gilles Jacob have sent
Iranian conservative politics into a tailspin. Hardline media have
roared their disapproval and prominent conservative politicians have
A few days later, a group of female Iranian students
wrote to Tehran’s minister of culture and media, Al Jannati. “We ask
actress Leila Hatami be sentenced to one to ten years imprisonment and
flogging,” the petition read. “We refer you to article 638 of Islamic
Penal Code, which deems punishment for those who commit a sin in public.
Leila Hatami, who is a beloved public personality in our Islamic
nation, did not observe the proper Islamic attire and intentionally, and
with full knowledge of her actions, volunteered to kiss a foreign
non-Muslim man.” The group signed the petition the “Student Sisters of
“Leila Hatami kisses a strange man” ran the caption
that many hardline media outlets used to accompany the pictures. The
hardline newspaper Kayhan accused Hatami of mocking her country’s
culture and used the occasion to recycle the old news about Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Oscar-winning A Separation, shaking hands with Angelina Jolie.
The first official reaction was a quiet scolding from Deputy
Minister of Islamic Culture Hossein Noushabadi, who told the Iranian
parliament’s website that “Iranian women, artists and non-artists, have
always been a symbol of chastity and purity. The inappropriate things
that happened at the Cannes festival are not in line with our religious
“We ask actress Leila Hatami be sentenced to one to ten years imprisonment and flogging,” the petition read.
reached Noushabadi for comments, but he declined to speak to
non-domestic media. In his published remarks, he also spoke on behalf of
70 million Iranians, noting: “The Iranian nation would not tolerate the
presence of artists in international festivals if our social and moral
values are ignored.”
Early Saturday, Hatami issued a letter of apology
to Iran's cinema organization, according to Iran's state-owned Islamic
Republic News Agency. "I am so sorry for hurting the feelings of some
people," she wrote, adding that Jacob had forgotten Islamic rules of
behavior, "which comes with old age."
"My pre-emptive action of hand shaking was fruitless," Hatami said, explaining the kiss.
"In my eyes, he is certainly like an old grandfather who was also my host."
Laleh Eftekhari, one of the handful of women in Iran’s parliament,
told IranWire that “such behavior is utterly inappropriate. Our artists
must be good role models for Muslim women and not behave like
Westerners.” The Ministry of Culture, she said, “must clarify its
position vis-à-vis these artists who do not respect the place of Iranian
women outside the country.”
Eftekhari vowed to raise the matter
with the parliament’s Cultural Commission. “Such behavior demeans the
blood of our martyrs,” she said. “These people have benefited from the
resources of the system but they have brought it shame.”
hardline establishment has been deeply exercised in recent years by what
it deems the salacious and inappropriate behavior of Iranian film
people on the international stage. When Asghar Farhadi shook hands with
Angelina Jolie two years ago at the Golden Globes awards hardline
Fars News Agency, which is associated with the
Revolutionary Guards, wrote that “with his action, Farhadi showed that
he knows nothing about the diplomatic relations of the Islamic Republic
and the authorities at the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance did
not teach him anything.”
The conservative movie director Farajolah
Salahshdor joined the outrage and wrote Farhadi a scathing open letter,
asking “why would a director from the Islamic Republic not understand
the international rules of Iran and shake hands with a notorious Zionist
woman who makes movies against Islam and Iran?”
For a time Niki Karimi, the actor and director, served as the bête noire of the hardline media. She embraced the 86-year-old actor Ezzatolah Entezami
at a ceremony and smiled at the cameras, and further offended
fundamentalist sensibitlies when she appeared at an Abu Dhabi film
festival with some leg showing. Aslani, head of the women’s corps of the
paramilitary Basij, asked that Karimi’s pictures be banned from the
media. Bulletin News, a hardline site, published photos of Karimi but
gave her a zero for conduct.
The authorities banned the publication of pictures of another Iranian actress, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya,
when she appeared at the Cannes film festival without a headdress.
Kayhan called her a “seditionist” because she was a supporter of the
Green Movement and also reported that a 1990s video taken at a private
party sometimes showed her dancing—“a clear offense to the martyrs.”
the report the authorities banned Motamed-Ayra from working for a
period. In 2012 she appeared in France to receive the Henri Langlois
prize for best actress at the Vincennes International Festival, and
earned herself another suspension by allowing the presenter to kiss her
on the cheek. It was only in January of this year that the Rouhani
government permitted her to work once again.
Perhaps Gilles Jacob
did not anticipate the world of trouble he would create for Leila
Hatami when he brought his face forward, but it’s clear she did. A video
from the opening ceremonies of the festival shows Hatami’s discomfort
clearly. She is standing on the red carpet next to other jury members
when Jacob enters and proceeds to greet each one in the European manner.
Each jury member steps forward, embrace Jacob and kisses him on the
cheek. Hatami is standing behind the others and when it is her turn she
extends her hand but Jacob puts his hand on her shoulder and lowers his
head toward hers.
Hatami hesitates briefly and then does the
same, like many Iranian actors and directors who have faced such moments
in the past, choosing civility over professional expedience. The
isolation and uncertainty is clear in her eyes, and the conflict she
faces displayed in her expression. A womn recognized by the world of
film, presiding as judge at Cannes, is still forced to fear the Islamic
fundamentalists back home.This post originally appeared on Iran Wire.