IRAN

How ‘Iran’s Brad Pitt’ used a secret message to support US gay marriage ruling

An actor known as “Iran’s Brad Pitt” was interrogated after tweeting in support of the US Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay marriage. Though he signed a letter begging for forgiveness for his statements, the actor didn’t let authorities have the last word.

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A famous Iranian actor was interrogated after tweeting in support of the US Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay marriage. Though he signed a letter begging for forgiveness for his statements, the actor didn’t let authorities have the last word.

When talking about “Iran” and “homosexuality”, the first scene that comes to mind may be a controversial speech that former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave at Columbia University in New York back in September 2007.

"In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country," Ahmadinejad said to the crowd, who actually burst into laughter.

Ahmadinejad did not mean it as a joke, however. This highlighted the gaping difference between how the two societies and their respective leaders perceive homosexuality.

That gulf still exists eight years later. Homosexuality is still illegal in Iran—and, in theory, the law states that gay men who take part in anal sex in the “passive” position could face execution, though our Iranian journalist Ershad Alijani found no instances of this being carried out. On the other hand, gay rights have been expanding in the USA. On June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court made a landmark ruling legalising gay marriage in all 50 states.

Iranians discussed this ruling eagerly on social media. But the real buzz happened a day later when Bahram Radan, a superstar in Iranian cinema, tweeted his open support for the ruling.

“Yesterday’s decision by US Supreme court legalising the marriage of homosexuals across the country was a historic one equivalent to the Emancipation Proclamation… from Lincoln to Obama,” the actor tweeted in Persian (below)

 

The next day, June 28, Kayhan, an ultra-conservative Iranian newspaper whose director is appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticised Radan’s tweets harshly. The newspaper’s editor-in-chief wrote an editorial asking the government to blacklist Radan over his comments. In the meantime, Radan had deleted his tweet.

But that didn’t stop him from being taken in for questioning by authorities, according to allegations made by Kayhan and confirmed by FRANCE 24’s confidential sources. The next day, on June 30, Kayhan newspaper published an open letter signed by Radan. In it, Radan asked forgiveness for his comments and even said homosexuality was “unacceptable, immoral and un-Islamic”.

But the story doesn’t end there.

The next day, on July 1, Radan reappeared on social media, publishing a photo from one of his films on his Instagram account, which has about 900,000 followers.

The photo shows a scene where a man is holding a gun to Radan’s head.

Many Iranian social media users said this photo explains everything and shows the conditions under which Radan signed the apology letter printed in Kayhan newspaper.

‘The country where love is forbidden?’

Sima is an Iranian journalist who specialises in cinema. She lives in Tehran.

Radan put a lot of thought into choosing this photo, from a film called ‘Swan's Song’. The film is about a young couple who want to marry, but the family of the boy is very religious and opposes the marriage. The two young lovers decided to flee to Turkey. However, the boy tragically dies at the border between the two countries.

There is extremely poignant dialogue in the film, which also highlights why Radan probably chose this photo. In the final scenes of the film, the couple has just managed to cross the border and they are standing a few metres inside Turkey.

“Come back to your soil and your country,” an Iranian police officer says to Radan’s character, who responds:

“Which soil? Which country? The country where love is forbidden? The country that pushes its youth into a situation where a mob is waiting to lynch them?”

‘There are many Iranian artists and actors who are homosexual’

Many Iranians support the new law in US [legalizing gay marriage], but Radan was the only celebrity [who lives inside Iran] who welcomed it openly.

There are many Iranian artists and actors who are homosexual. Everyone in the milieu knows who is gay and who isn’t and there is actually quite a bit of support for them… but no one talks about it.

‘The stakes were very high for him’

Radan, however, is different from many other artists—a bit more of an activist and intellectual— so it doesn’t surprise me that he would be the one to do it.

I know from my sources that Radan didn’t write that letter himself. He must have just agreed to sign it during interrogations.

The stakes were very high for him. If Radan was added to a blacklist, he wouldn’t be able to continue his career. We are talking about contracts worth millions of dollars. However, the photo that he published on his Instagram account seems to hint that he was threatened with more than just his career.

‘Radan could do more to break the taboo on homosexuality than any politician or activist’

I don't know what will happen to him. Radan is a very important and famous actor, so the authorities can’t just erase him. As he has already asked for forgiveness publically, the authorities may just ignore this transgression and let him continue to work.

I believe that the authorities reacted so quickly and violently to Radan’s tweet because of his popularity and the influence he could wield. He could do more to break the taboo on homosexuality than any politician or activist. They fear this power—especially because several other Iranian artists have also defended gay rights in the past [Editor’s note: Last year, Iranian pop singer Googoosh, who lives outside the country, released a video which portrayed a lesbian couple].

This post was written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ershad Alijani (@ErshadAlijani)