The life of the beloved Iranian 13th-century poet, Rumi, was beautifully depicted on the Hollywood big screen. Amid the conflict in Iran, Rumi’s poetry stood as a strong pillar for the Persians who cherish his poems of love and joy. The Iranian-American community was delighted to see Rumi come to life!
The film was created in an attempt to dispel stereotypes associated with individuals of Middle-Eastern origin. Elham Khatami and Trita Parsi of the National Iranian-American Council were, however, not impressed with the cast of American actors. Leonardo DiCaprio was cast as Rumi, and Robert Downey Jr, his spiritual advisor, Shams of Tabriz. Both feel that actors of Middle Eastern origin should have been cast to give viewers true insight into the lives of Rumi and Shams.
They also believe that by casting such actors, they are not doing much to break the stereotypes, and feel that it sends a message which says that MiddleEasterners are only capable of playing the roles of terrorists and villains, and are not able to tell their stories.
Casting actors of European descent to play the role of a Middle Easterner has become rather common and has been seen in several films. Such roles include Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan in the 2010 production of Prince of Persia and Christian Bale as Moses in the 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Khatami and Parsi consider these castings to be a mockery of true Middle Easterners. For instance, the film, 300, depicted Persians as savages. Persians were also misrepresented as violent, controlling, backward individuals in the movie, Not Without My Daughter.
Iranian-American and other Middle Eastern-American children will go through life not seeing public figures to whom they can relate. They live in a country which is filled with negative images of people who look similar to them, which is not the way these children should see other Middle Easterners.
Not Without My Daughter is a film which has, unfortunately, “seared itself” into the consciousness of some of the Iranian-American generations. Reza Aslan is an Iranian-American who, when dating other American women, found on three separate occasions that the family would bring up a discussion with their daughter regarding the movie.
Minorities should be more positively depicted so that others can see them in a “favorable light.” In this manner, stereotypes can be eliminated. This would also allow minorities to see themselves more positively.
Khatami and Parsi insist that there are sufficient well-established Middle Eastern and Iranian-American actors who could have played the part of Rumi. They are appreciative that the production was shown to Americans and audiences across the world but feel that producers should have made more of the opportunity to allow the world to see Rumi represented as a true Iranian.