Nude Iranian movie star ignites firestorm
Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani's photo has spurred thousands of reactions on Facebook.
January 20th, 2012
04:03 PM ET

Nude Iranian movie star ignites firestorm

A photo and video of a famous Iranian actress baring her breasts have gone viral this week, igniting a fiery debate among Iranians.

Golshifteh Farahani appears topless, cupping her breasts, in a photo in the French magazine Madame Le Figaro. Also, a video apparently made by a French film academy, features the actress looking directly into a camera as she disrobes. She stands with her breasts uncovered. Soon after the images hit the Web, reaction was swift inside Iran, where Farahani gained fame in state-sponsored movies that forbid the mere touching of hands.

"The fate of an actress, who left her own country and joined Hollywood, has been nothing but immorality," the semi-official Fars News Agency wrote this week. "The actress who once played the role of caring and decent mothers of Iran has now auctioned off her modesty and honor in front of the Western cameras."

Farahani reportedly moved to France shortly after making history in the Iranian film industry by being the first Iranian to star in a Western film. In 2008, she played a nurse in "Body of Lies" with Leonardo DiCaprio.

It's unclear if the actress currently lives in France. Her agency in Paris declined a CNN interview request as Facebook, Twitter and blogs lit up with incendiary remarks about her. Some say Farahani has betrayed Islam and Iran for revealing her body. Other posters are supportive. They cheer her boldness and defend her right to self-expression.

Several Facebook pages have popped up in recent days with notes encouraging visitors to re-post the photo and video. A wall post Thursday appeared on a Facebook page that appears to belong to the actress. The message, carrying Farahani's name, says, "We have to open our mind!!"

Among other comments on Facebook:

"She is really brave, and I am proud of her. She shows what she believes in and it has nothing to do with others."

"Along with me and all my friends, we are really proud of you."

"I'm ashamed to call you an Iranian."

"Good for you Golshifteh dear! For once an Iranian with guts has come out to show we are just like anyone else in this world. You can model and do whatever you like, just like every woman from Los Angeles to Tokyo."

CNN reached Iranians inside the country Thursday night.

None wanted their last name published, saying they feared government reprisal for speaking to Western media. Yasmin, a 22-year-old student from Tehran, called Farahani "irresponsible" for posing nude.

"What did she think? She could pose topless in Paris, and then come back to Tehran, cover up again, and everything will be fine?" Yasmin said. "She should have thought about that before she did it. I understand she is an actress and artist, but she also has an Iranian passport."

Daroush, a 32-year-old English teacher in Shiraz, said he suspects the photo and video were purely publicity stunts to further Farahani's film career. "As an Iranian inside Iran, I knew who Golshifteh Farahani was, but did Americans or Brits?" he asked. "Probably not, but now they know. Smart woman."

Fereshteh, a 56-year-old retired schoolteacher in Tehran, is pleased to see the actress breaking a taboo, even if "her actions are against Iranian culture." Amin, a 34-year-old Web designer in Shiraz, said he didn't understand what all the fuss is about.

"Women in Hollywood pose like this daily," he said. "Why should an Iranian be treated differently? Because we are Muslims? There are Muslims all over the world who are models, actresses, artists that pose like this."

Mohammed, a 40-year-old engineer who lives in the city of Isfahan, said the actress "should be ashamed of herself."

He also said he felt actors and actresses have a tough time working in Iran, and Farahani posing nude will only make their jobs more difficult.

Mary Apick agrees. Three decades ago, Apick was a huge movie star in Iran, winning a best actress award for her role in an Iranian film at the Moscow Film Festival. She said performers in Iran will likely feel more pressure to adhere to the regime's notion of strict Islamic code in both their performances on screen and their personal life.

"They will be scrutinized more, no doubt," she said.

On Thursday, Apick watched the video of Farahani while interviewed her. "I cannot believe what I'm seeing," she said. "She can never go back to Iran. No way. No way on Earth. Oh, I empathize with this beautiful young actress. No one has ever done anything like this. This is truly the bravest, boldest thing I've ever seen."

Apick lives in the United States, and has forged a successful career as a playwright, actress and activist in the West. She's lauded for writing and starring in the play "Beneath the Veil," which interweaves stories of women struggling for their rights.

"It was impossible to be an actress in Iran when I was there, and it's not gotten easier. It's become harder. There is no honest art, so there is no art. The regime has no interest in women, (especially not) strong women characters in movies," she said.

To get a film made and released in Iran, she said, a filmmaker must first shoot and produce the piece. Funding is up to them. They are required to present the finished product to Iranian authorities who view it and censor it if they feel it steps outside Islamic code. Government authorities then decide whether to issue a permit for the film's release. No permit, no movie.

Mehdi Semati, a media professor at Northern Illinois University who has written extensively about Iranian films, has been monitoring Internet chatter and listening to his Iranian students lively discussions the photo and video. They are split, mirroring comments online, he said.

He has been particularly surprised by the reaction of one student who subscribes to a rather hard-line pro-regime viewpoint. The student wasn't as harsh as Semati expected him to be. "I could tell it really made him think," he said.

"It almost doesn't matter what (Farahani's) intent was," the professor said. "Farahani posing this way shows that even Iran's highly proscribed, controlled filmmaking industry does not have total control, even over an icon of their own making."

Even more significantly, he added, it demonstrates that the Iranian regime cannot prevent anyone with access to the Web from judging for themselves.

Saskya Vandoorne, Anna Prichard and Niki Cook contributed to this report.

soundoff (1,071 Responses)
  1. John

    It's a shame that the people of Iran cannot come togther and tell their government that they will no onger stand for being treated as their children. Stop being cowards and stand up for yourselves like the Egyptians!

    February 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. aleena

    Im a Moslem and a very liberal one. i dont believe in being told what to do. I follow what makes sense. I belong to a moslem country where religious oppression doesnt exist, atleast for now. so seeing this moslem girl pose nude is not offensive at all. its her choice. but what is unpalatable is, how her actions are being considered an allegory of liberty, freedom, modernism, a break from the oppression from the islamic regime. it is a sad story of todays world that nudity, vulgarity, women posing bare represents courage and progress.

    If the people of her country want to appreciate a rebel. then applaud a woman who earns a masters degree or a PhD in an oppressed environment, a woman who has a career of a film maker, a parliamentarian, a journalist, a Mother, a pilot, a physicist and so on. This is what is a success to me. this is what is a freedom to me this is what is a tide of revolution.!!

    About time, we get rid of of this material image of a free woman. iranians should understand that covering up is not oppression, but not getting their educational rights is!

    February 5, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • OneWorld

      Thanks Aleena for your write up. We need to be reasonable all times. I am a Christian, and do not believe that "dressing nude" makes human the right being, not even "free". There are a thousand and one ways of fighting for her right as a woman, as you rightly listed.

      February 6, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Hell Gato

      Bravo... I am a American as well and is easy to get caught up in the, Us against them mindset, but I know in my heart there are enlightened people all over the world and we could easily live together if our Governments and our Religious Extremests get out of the way...

      February 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      Good point. I was also wondering how posing nude was such a "freedom" statement. I live in the west and when I see a woman get naked for the media it means she's getting paid to me. I don't think there is a message to it, but I also don't judge the woman, it is what it is. I don't understand how being nude will advance humanity, or make this a better place. I also wouldn't expect respect as a man just because I bared my naked body, if anything it would make my life a lot harder.

      February 17, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. its relative

    sexism in hollywood is almost the opposite from the descrimination of women in iran... neither is good, but a line on a map does not determine YOUR life; whether it is god-given or just a chance on coincidence. if the crap hit the fan here and i had to live in another country, i would still say i'm an American, just expat. But then again, we don't get shot for protesting. just sayin'... that's pretty hard stuff that is non-argueable!

    February 6, 2012 at 2:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. Hmmm

    I think this young lady will need allot of protection from now on. She just did something very dangerous. Like the people who drew the cartoons about the socalled profet in Eurrope. All of y'all should pray for her. She just messed with a bunch of crazy people. I would be a shame if somthing happens to her. I wonder in whose hands she is now. She can never go back to Iran, that is for sure.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. MrKnowItAll

    Just blows me away that a country can condone a woman for expressing herself. What right is it theirs to determine what a person does?? I could never imagine living in a country where you don't have total freedom (Not that we actually do, but we are close to being totally free) It makes me sick that these people from other countries treat women they way they do. They are like dirt. They get gang r*ped and they are the ones that get punished. Woman, in my mind, should be treated with the highest regard. They give us life you morons. It blows me away further when these governments use relgion to scare people in to following their ways. If you have to be forced into something how can that be right? How do these people stand to live like that? My only hope is that on judgement day, your god makes you aware of how wrong you were. And that he treats you how you treated others. Man, how can you all be fooled/scared/forced into living like you all live??? Wow, stand up, grab the bull by the horns.....There are more of you then there are of them. It's your country, take it back. Live how you want to live......

    February 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • aldewacs

      The republican candidates are out-yelling each other to show how they are the most 'conservative' – i.e. religious, ready to correct the wicked ways of the US citizenry and install their doctrine. After a couple of centuries, the 'freedom of religion' and separation of church and state that the founding fathers intended after their bad experiences in 'the old country', has been perverted by the religious establishment. And many Americans are gobbling it up, like sheep rushing to the slaughtering block.
      Iran and the US – the two most prominent theocracies in the world. Isn't it ironic – and scary.

      February 12, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gregory

    Why hate her because of her natural beauty? The problem here is misogyny, simple as that.

    February 7, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mellen

    "Farahani posing this way shows that even Iran's highly proscribed, controlled filmmaking industry does not have total control, even over an icon of their own making."

    or over art.

    February 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nick

    Good for her. She has now been banned from returning to Iran, but I'm sure she knew that would be the result of this supposedly shocking action. What an exotic-looking, natural beauty!

    February 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ron Long

    Is it a man or a woman? Your didn't say.

    February 16, 2012 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
  10. Watchingyou

    Iranians in power, who preach peace but practice terror, have no standing to comment on matters of honor.

    February 17, 2012 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  11. Kent

    To hell with Iran anyways. Getting out of there was the best thing this woman ever did.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Agent Orange

    She had better stay that he ll in France. One step inside Iran and she gets stoned to death.

    February 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Watch Battleship

    Thanks for the good writeup. It in truth was once a enjoyment account it. Look complex to far introduced agreeable from you! However, how could we communicate?

    May 19, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  14. haya

    God cannot bless America until America turns to God. We must hblmue ourselves and pray in order for God to Bless our Land. Put the l0 commandments back and under God in the Pledge of Allegiance and pray to get rid of our enemies in Washington.I believe each state could do a better job of government than what we have been seeing.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  15. Quentin

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    October 25, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
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