Film of 'Kite Runner' Novel Sparks Safety Concerns
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The best-selling novel "The Kite Runner" has been made into a film, which hasn't even opened yet, but it's already causing concern in Afghanistan and in Hollywood. The film reflects the book's take on ethnic tensions in Afghanistan. It offers a harsh portrayal of life under the Taliban.
Now there are fears about the safety of the children who star in that film, as NPR's Kim Masters reports.
KIM MASTERS: "The Kite Runner" is a sweeping tale of two boyhood friends divided by class, ethnicity and political upheavals. It offers a grim picture of wartime Afghanistan and Taliban rule.
(Soundbite of film, "Kite Runner")
Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) Forgive me for what I have to tell you. Hassan is dead. A week before he died, he sent you a letter.
MASTERS: Now there are concerns that the child stars could face harsh consequences when the film is released. Ahmad Jan Mahmidzada is the father of Ahmad Khan, a schoolboy who was recruited at 12 to play one of the main roles.
In an interview with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, the father said he had no idea that the film would portray deep ethnic divisions in a way that could reignite the flames of hate, nor did he know that a key character is a child rapist and that his child would play the victim.
In his culture, the victim of such an assault would be so stigmatized that even playing the part carries risks.
Mr. AHMAD JAN MAHMIDZADA (Ahmad Khan's Father): (Through translator) They said the movie is about kite flying and nothing else. They didn't give us a script or a story or a book, nothing that says what the movie is about.
MASTERS: Had Mahmizada been familiar with the novel, he would have known that it is about much more than kite-fighting competitions among boys on the streets of Kabul during the 1970s. In fact, his son plays the good-natured Hassan, faithful friend to the protagonist Amir.
But Hassan, who belongs to the Hazara minority, suffers discrimination and brutality. The most sensitive scene depicts the assault on young Hassan perpetrated by a youth who eventually becomes a Taliban leader. The film does not show the rape in graphic terms, but young Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada said he was reluctant to do the scene at all.
Mr. AHMAD KHAN MAHMIDZADA (Actor): (Speaking foreign language)
MASTERS: The role in the film is a good one, he said, but the depiction of the sexual assault is wrong. His father says that when he and other parents learned about that material, they acted.
Mr. A.J. MAHMIDZADA: (Through translator) Afghans who came from America told me the story, what the movie is really about. That's when I went to the office and told them that I didn't want to have anything to do with playing the role.
MASTERS: His son did play the scene, though he declined the request from the filmmakers to remove his trousers. Now he's worried. The film is not going to be released in Afghanistan, but Ahmad Jan Mahmidzada says it won't be long before DVDs show up. He wants to get out of Kabul before that happens.
Mr. A.J. MAHMIDZADA: (Through translator) If the movie is made the way people say, I have to leave the country before the movie comes out. You know the situation in Afghanistan.
MASTERS: "Kite Runner" author Khaled Hosseini says he too is concerned that Ahmad Khan and the other child actors could be in danger.
Mr. KHALED HOSSEINI (Author, "Kite Runner"): You know, Kabul is a complex place and any sentiment like that has to be taken fairly seriously. So I'm not sure exactly what the level of danger is, but certainly it's not something that you can disregard.
MASTERS: Hosseini says he has brought this up with the filmmakers.
Mr. HOSSEINI: The studio has assured me that, you know, all the precautions will be taken to ensure that the children are safe.
MASTERS: Paramount and Dreamworks, the studios releasing the film, declined to comment. But sources say both are taking the potential danger seriously and they have apparently sent an emissary to Kabul in an effort to address the situation quietly.
Thomas Gouttierre is director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska. He too believes there is cause to be concerned about the children in the film.
Dr. THOMAS GOUTTIERRE (University of Nebraska): And that has to do with being prudent in any situation where there's a lot of potential for violence in reaction to things that people dislike.
MASTERS: Gouttierre says the children could face reprisals from members of the Taliban who might take issue with the film's portrayal of their regime. Perhaps the kids should leave the country for a while, he says. But he thinks they won't be at serious risk if they don't flaunt their role in the film.
Dr. GOUTTIERRE: Because there will be some people in Afghanistan, many who will see their having portrayed these roles in the movie as heroic.
MASTERS: Certainly that's the hope of author Khaled Hosseini.
Mr. HOSSEINI: The intention was to make a film that was authentic and to produce something that would be cherished by Afghan people worldwide, you know, as a significant cultural landmark for us in the Afghan community. So hopefully it will be that.
MASTERS: But in troubled Afghanistan, the "Kite Runner" is not a tale that everyone will cherish.
Kim Masters, NPR News.
INSKEEP: That was also reported by NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul.