Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has banned all foreign films and has even blocked the screening of many movies made by Iranians. Writer Mark Tapson of NewsReal Blog compiled a list of the top ten films most feared by Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.
“We in the West usually take movies for granted and accord them little more significance than mere entertainment,” he explains. “But our Islamic enemies, like the Communists and Nazis before them, fully recognize the cultural power of cinema and work hard to control it.”
The list includes:
Not Without My Daughter (1991), starring Sally Field and Alfred Molina. It was released a few days before the first Gulf War began, and was based on a book that depicts the daring real-life escape from Iran of American citizen Betty Mahmoody and her daughter. The film is one that “that probably no studio exec would dare 'greenlight' today,” Tapson estimates, “thanks to a stultifying Hollywood environment of political correctness.”
The film was banned in Iran “for embarrassing the mullahs and for exposing their oppression and the grim reality of life for women under sharia law,” he writes.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003), banned in Egypt by a 15-member censorship committee because it “tackles the issue of the Creator and his creations, searching the origin of creation and the issue of compulsion and free will. Such religious issues, raised in previous times, caused crises.”
Another reason for the ban was that after the first Matrix film was shown in Egypt, a press campaign began against it, claiming that it promoted Jewish ideas and Zionism.
Alexander (2004), about the life of Alexander the Great, inflamed emotions in Iran “because of its depiction of the embarrassing historical truth” that the young Alexander decimated the Persian army under Darius III and destroyed the royal palace in Persepolis in 330 BCE.
300 (2007) was banned for similar reasons. The movie shows the last stand of a small Spartan force against waves of Persians, explains Tapson, “who are depicted as decadent, arrogant, and imperialistic – the same charges Ahmadinejad and the mullahs level at the U.S. today.”
The Kingdom (2007): Kuwait and Bahrain banned the 2007 Peter Berg-directed action film featuring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, which focuses on an FBI team investigating a terrorist attack against US soldiers in Saudi Arabia. A source at Kuwait’s Information Ministry explained that the "screening of the film has been banned in Kuwait for many reasons, chiefly because it is a false depiction of facts.”
Body of Lies (2008), directed by Ridley Scott and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, told the story of a hunt for an al-Qaeda leader, and suggested that Iran is complicit in international terrorism and drug trafficking.
The Wrestler (2009) with Mickey Rourke was banned because one of the characters is a wrestler who bills himself as “The Ayatollah” and comes into the ring waving an Iranian flag. Rourke's character “not only defeats the Ayatollah in the staged bout, but in the course of doing so, snaps the Ayatollah’s flagpole in half – thereby earning special condemnation from Iran...”
The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008) dramatized the real-life story of an Iranian woman falsely accused of adultery and stoned to death. The worldwide attention that the film drew to its horrific practice of stoning forced the Iranian leadership to temporarily suspend it.
In 2009, as Iranians rebelled against the government in what became known as the 'Green Revolution', bootleg DVDs of the film were being shared secretly by Iranian citizens despite the likelihood of being tortured or killed for possessing it. “That’s the power of film,” writes Tapson, “and that’s why totalitarians fear it.”