Celebrities and no work permission in own country

June 27, 2018 by  

Shahrokh Ahkami – Persian Heritage, No.90, Summer 2018

Some time has passed since the death of one of the most popular faces in Iranian cinema, Naser Malek Motiei. This man’s life is still being discussed. His funeral was very special with men and women honoring him in speeches. Some speaking used the platform as a chance to outwardly challenge the censorship of Iranian media, television, film and radio against certain film, actors, directors and subject matter. It showed the difficult conditions Iranians live under and the limitations placed on them by the government-controlled media. And it demonstrated the severe consequences, jail or other means of silencing, if they dare to speak against them.

After his passing there was much talk about Mr. Motiei’s glorious acting career. Thinking of him brought me back to my youth. I remembered him as a handsome young man. I remembered the magnitude of his stardom; very few were able to reach his level of success in the film industry. Over the years, Iranian cinema became more popular. New actors came on the scene such as Googoosh, Panahi, Behrouz Vosooghi, Fardin and others, but Mr. Motiei never lost his popularity.

During the revolution I was away from Iran. Many celebrities also left Iran for other places and their careers were easy to follow. Mr. Motiei, however, seemed to disappear. I never saw pictures or heard news about him. I asked a few friends in Iran to inquire about him, to see if he would be interested in doing an interview with the magazine. There was no response. Fortunately, Facebook friends sent me photos of Mr. Motiei and I was startled. These photos were of a frazzled, old and overweight man. There was no resemblance of the handsome actor I remembered, except his charming smile. This Facebook connection eventually led us to photos of his hospital stay and his passing.

Until recently, I did not know why he disappeared from the public scene, I did recall that his popularity diminished immediately following the revolution. Prior to the revolution he played numerous characters in over one hundred films and also directed. His dropping from notoriety did not seem unusual since, he like so many other aging actors have faced the same consequences; they admit that age affects acting careers. They are replaced by a younger generation. (I believe there is a cliché that goes like this “when the new come into the bazaar, the old are thrown into the trash.”)

I was taken aback when I heard the news of Mr. Motiei’s death and was emotionally moved when I learned the reason for his disappearance and why he lived in the dark for over forty years. After the revolution, he was subpoenaed by the courts in Iran and banned from any kind of acting. According to Googoosh, a renown Iranian celebrity, the day the prosecutor took them to court for questioning, Mr. Motiei questioned the prosecutor as to the reasons they had been thrown into jail? He stated that they had not committed any crimes and/or murdered anyone. The prosecutor responded by saying that they had committed a more treacherous crime then murder.

In response Mr. Motiei stated that their only role in society was to entertain the public and make them laugh. How did that become a crime? He then asked the prosecutor if he could leave the room. Upon his return his eyes were blood red. So, then the story goes that this man, at the age of forty-seven and at the prime of his life and acting career, was forced to retire from a career he loved so much, not because of his age, but by order of a government. He became isolated. This was the fate of so many others, who elected to remain in Iran. Like Mr. Motiei, they too were forced to leave their careers and professions. They too were silenced and isolated in their own homes, living only through memories. Some left unable to handle the humiliation and joblessness. Mr. Motiei stayed in Iran and recalled witnessing the physical departure of his friends from Iran or hearing of their deaths.

He lived a lonely life in silence and in the end, it was the silence that allowed his name to remain in good standing. For me his forced silence and the forced silence of others is a reminder of the oppressive government now in place.

For many reasons, these days when I close my eyes, I see the image of Mr. Motiei’s image. I see his large eyes, his round and puffy face, not the one of the handsome man I remember. My eyes become filled with tears, my words choke me, and I lose the ability to write his story. I never met him. My only memories of him are from his acting career. But, as I read the story of his forty years of suppression and silence I become troubled. It is a story millions of Iranians share.

For the past forty years human rights in Iran have been stripped from the people and enforced through violence and harsh treatment. Mr. Motiei’s story reminds me of the young girls, women and elderly who bravely, took great risks by standing on posts and demanding their human rights; to have a choice of what to wear or to uncover their hair. For this they are brutally confronted by the authorities. While the government dictates that the wearing of the hijab and no makeup is a reflection of their integrity, these women believe that integrity comes from kindness within and how one respects and treats another, regardless of differences in choice and opinion. But to get this message across they pay a great price. 

The image of Mr. Motiei’s wrinkled half shaved face reflects the past forty years of hardship the people of Iran have endured. The Baha’i’s have been forced to shut down their schools, they are not hired, and their shops are closed. They are forced to live in misery and hardship. Parents are unable send their children to school. They are called spies and labeled as traitors. The pressures placed on fellow citizens by the government are becoming unbearable. Does this regime think such pressures cause them to change their faith? 

Mr. Motiei’s old wrinkled face with the charming smile reminds me of the eighty thousand “KOULEBAR” (the transporters of goods on their backs) who carry their bags of goods across mountains, through snow, rain, heat, mud, desert sand, barefoot and starving all to reach their assigned delivery destination. Now added to their difficult lives they are being shot at like animals in a hunting expedition, by their own government. WHY???

Mr. Motiei’s face reminds me of so many others who took their lives when they lost their livelihood and wealth because of a failing banking system. How ironic it is that the revolution that was supposed to fight corruption and get rid of a brutal regime in the end is as corrupt and brutal. Its leaders live the lives of kings inside and outside Iran. They surround themselves in luxury derived from stealing and draining the country’s assets and wealth. 

This corrupt system has suffocated its people. One of these individuals, Mr. Khavari (former head of the central bank of Iran) stole over three billion dollars and deposited the money into foreign banks. Mr. Khavari, who is related to Mr. Haddad Adel (one of the founders of the revolution and who now lives the life of a king in Canada.) Mr. Khavari’s son is known as the Trump of Canada. Mr. Khavari can be seen gambling away in casinos.

Mr. Motiei’s face and his passing, after years of misery and hardship, reminds me of the young educated environmentalists who were accused of being spies who are now prisoners. One of these individuals, who is internationally known for his environmental research, was tortured and alleged to have attempted suicide. Some of these individuals, whose names I have become familiar with, have done great things for their causes. They are well educated and would have been accepted by international schools all over the world. They could have led a wonderful life, but instead they chose to remain in their home countries to pursue their activism and their dreams to better Iran. Some chose to travel to remote places in Iran to study and improve its environment. They too have ended up in prison cells.

Mr. Motiei’s face and charming smile speaks a thousand words to his audience. His face reminds us that these days of misery and sadness are not everlasting. He reminds us that these days will come to an end and that life is ever changing, not permanent. Mr. Motiei bore forty years of life in silence. He never crumbled under pressure. Mr. Motiei’s strength was never broken. He refused to give into oppression. He passed away with his head held high. I cannot recall any other individual, so visible in the public eye then silenced for forty years, still be so loved after his demise.

It is true that as humans we worship the dead. It was unfortunately his death that brought him back to life. For forty years this ruling regime thought by silencing him, cutting him out of the public eye, censoring his films and not allowing them on the screen for all to see, that he would be forgotten by those who shared his youth, or that he would be forgotten by the new generations now being introduced to him through his death. Once again, the regime is proven wrong. His legacy remains and is stronger. His death reminds us that years of silencing him and keeping him away from his acting profession did not silence his message. Mr. Motiei, with his famous bushy eyebrows, is now a hero. Though his life was silenced for forty years, his message and his face are a roar across a nation. The kindness and the joy he brought to so many will never be forgotten. May God bless his soul, the souls of others who suffered in silence and met the same fate. And may God bless those who presently suffer. You will forever be remembered.



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