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‘Kite Runner’ stirs up controversy with rape

Filmmakers stumbled into an international controversy when the child actors said they feared being harmed by Afghans offended by a rape scene.
/ Source: The Associated Press

“The Kite Runner” filmmakers strove for authenticity when they shot the adaptation of the best-selling novel, featuring a largely unknown cast of actors and having some dialogue in Dari (an Afghan language).

But they stumbled into an international controversy when the child actors said they feared being harmed by Afghans offended by a rape scene.

The film’s theatrical debut was delayed six weeks (now Friday) to allow four boys to get out of Kabul, underscoring the political and financial risks filmmakers take when they make movies in conflict zones.

“The Kite Runner,” based on the 2003 novel by Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, is about two boys whose friendship in 1970s Kabul is torn by betrayal and ethnic rivalry. The film spans three decades — from before the Soviet invasion to the rise of the Taliban — and tells the plight of Afghan refugees as well as those who stayed in the country as it was ravaged by civil war.

But the turning point — when the main character Amir does nothing to stop the rape of his friend Hassan — took center stage after the film wrapped.

Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, who plays the role of young Hassan, told reporters that he feared he and his family could be ostracized or even attacked because of the scene. The boy, now 13, said he was reluctant to do the scene.

The film’s producers, Bennett Walsh and Rebecca Yeldham, have said the child actors and their families told them they were comfortable with it.

Hosseini said the children were cast during a more stable time in Afghanistan, and he believed their concern arose as violence escalated in the last year.

“When the children were cast, if I thought that they might be victims of violence because of participating in this movie, we would have chosen children from outside this country,” Hosseini said in a recent interview.

The author first returned to his native country in 2003, and felt safer then than he did two months ago, when he made a second trip as a goodwill envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “Now, especially in public places, you always have that unease,” Hosseini said.

Children moved for their protectionParamount Pictures, the studio distributing “The Kite Runner,” sought the help of regional experts and dispatched a consultant to the area as it kept an eye on the political situation in Afghanistan.

It decided to delay the film’s release so that Ahmad Khan and three other child actors could be moved to the United Arab Emirates as a precaution.

A consultant for a company that provides risk and insurance services to entertainment companies said such measures could be “extremely costly” for the studio.

“If a production does not absolutely have to film in or near a conflicted area, it’s strongly suggested that they do not,” said John Hamby, a managing director of Marsh Inc.

The risks include the security of the cast and crew, the possibility that local officials or critics could confiscate equipment or film — or worse, shut down production — if they don’t agree with the film’s content, Hamby said.

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Sylvester Stallone said in an October interview that he and his movie crew came under fire and were in jeopardy while filming “John Rambo” along the Thailand-Myanmar border this year. Shots were fired over the heads of crew members and they had to travel by boat because trails were heavily mined.

“The Kite Runner” was mostly shot in Kashgar, China, near the Afghanistan border because its landscape and architecture resembles Kabul in the 1970s. Hosseini said that when he visited the film set, he was struck by the similarities with the Kabul of his youth.

He said the movie is faithful to his novel.

“Art is supposed to reflect the reality of the world and I try to write these books as truthfully as I could,” Hosseini said.

He added that he saw the movie as an opportunity for Afghans to tell their stories, and that it would have been “disingenuous” to have non-Afghans to play certain roles.

“Just seeing the way the audience connect with these children and falling in love with them — it’s very powerful,” he said.