Banned Books Week Project- Screening of the Banned movie “Stoning of Soraya” Raising a voice of a woman
During the Banned Books weeks we screened a banned movie absed on a true story in Iran called “The stoning of Soraya”. It was a resounding success as we showed it to over hundred students in my university. After exploring different aspects of censorship in class, my team comprising of five dynamic group of students were determined enough to draw plans to screen a movie on a controversial topic, most unlikely to be spoken of in Asian geographical boundaries; gender violence. It was indeed a tough decision we had to make after several meetings at the library and dorms till midnight, before finalizing this movie that resembled women rights violations. Finally we decided to put up a show about a woman, for the women, by women. How could a journalist reveal the facts about the heartbreaking story of an innocent woman named Soraya who is the victim of social brutality in a male-dominant society? Stranded in a remote Iranian village, a journalist named Sahebjam is approached by Zahra, a woman with a harrowing tale to tell about her niece, Soraya. Her last and only hope for justice lies in the hands of the journalist, who must escape with the story and his life in order to communicate the violence to the world. We wanted to give the audience a sense of curiosity, and an explicit sophisticated message we felt that it would be great for audience to apply their critical thinking skills to interpret the messages in vividly expressed in the movie. If women fears and violations considered taboo in a society can be a norm in some other society or region and if this is taken as the basis for censoring this film then virtually everything we know of would be censored. We wanted to shed light upon an issue we felt a sense of urgency and appear complicated for many in the years to come.
Opportunities are rare for the women to become active participants in decision making and change. The banned books week project offered by the Banned book class that marveled at the capacity of women and their enthusiasm to address issues that affect them provided us the unique platform to bring out the importance of freedom of speech and thought and the negativity of censorship. All these involved a lot of effort, time and commitment. We were all successful enough to balance our home work assignments along with this project which was indeed challenging to us. Our team motto was that if we want to change something we want to see around us we needed to be the change we want to create. This was a difficult initial step to make because when we ourselves watched this movie we were hesitant to screen it due to its strong religious views, then we realized that we were censoring ourselves and suppressing the truth and reality from the real world, which was wrong especially from students who are trying to empower women at different levels. After all we will be censoring a woman’s voice. We knew that we cannot change everyone’s attitude, behavior and perceptions instantly at the end of the movie and wandered how the students might take the hidden message of the movie because we had to collectively look at things as a whole and not solely on one aspect. However, we succeeded in doing so, because there was an overwhelming crowd at the movie night and a strong response both positive and negative which was interesting to us.
We as a team felt the urgency to conduct a discussion before and after the movie on women rights and censorship people use in order to avoid attention towards their issues. Some students declared that our PowerPoint presentation was very informative and helped them to get the best out of the movie. We approached the professors to hold an interactive session that highlighted the issues women faced in communities around the world. It was very informative as many came up with their own tragic stories and ideas to address this issue effectively.
This movie extensively offers its viewers the opportunity to talk about their feelings about women and the difficult roles they have to play in a society and whether or not these women feel the pressure to conform to such rigid standards set by the authorities of certain states or the public. We realized from the discussion session that some felt like they watched a didactic retelling of life’s important lessons that we cannot hide from ourselves. We learnt the different roles women were assigned to in a conservative, male dominated, under developed context. Women are in rigid religious and political trappings, created only to undermine a woman’s ability and role. Men are defined by their job roles, military, kinship or rank, while women are defined solely by their gender roles as Wives, servants. It looks like that certain societies granted the man more liberty in terms of family, religious and social lives, whereas the women were deprived of the basic rights or freedom that the man was accessible to; devotion, education, decision making, remarriage, sexuality, attire or reproduction.
History is full of examples when great ideas related to films were mocked at by the society as dangerous when they first appear but then everyone gets to like them after some time. This movie being banned in several countries five years ago is reduced to a very limited number as the data reveals. This tells the positive effects on how people accept the morality and hidden messages of movies and take immediate steps to ensure the rights of minority groups and how once a censored subject becomes a social norm as time passes by. Women’s rights are more spoken of in western contexts than Asian. We as a team were liberal here and understood the creativity and the final product that is there and not just ban it because of couple of scenes or lines that is opposing to a few people’s spiritual or regional sentiments. We wanted our peers to be liberal and acknowledge the creativity that one can derive from a talented pool of people in the country and their message to them. Lecturing or spoon feeding students on the values and benefits of freedom of speech and thought will not help any of us on the long run of achieving liberty on these limited areas. One should realize on her own about the benefits one can receive by being opened minded and neutral and this can be done by achieving inner liberty and exercising freedom of speech. This was exactly what we put into practice by taking a huge step to screen a movie that resembles a true story of a woman’s rights being violated and allowing the audience to develop their ideas about the film by their own by us remaining neutral. We wanted more and more women to come up with initiatives to address this issue widespread globally.
Even though this film will enjoy a limited release in many countries due to the reality which people often fear to tolerate, I urge movie goers to see this movie for the charming woman who is held accountable for a crime which she never performed all because of one man’s hidden desires. Even though I fear that the people most in need of hearing the subtle underlying message will not watch it. What we wanted to show was that censorship can often be used in a negative way that can hide the truth and reality. We being women used the banned books week project to highlight the discrimination of women that is spread globally. Screening movie as such we are enlightening the livelihoods of a women and giving a voice to their unheard tears and sorrows who are voiceless and whose rights are often violated. I learnt that even screening a banned movie or censored objects are not always going to generate positive responses, because of attitudes and diverse backgrounds people relate to. We can also say that the more something is censored the more we are provoked by curiosity to gain access to it, just as we did to screen this movie.