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Cate Blanchett, Jason Momoa, Samuel L. Jackson, Jada Pinkett Smith and Bryan Cranston are among more than 50 entertainment industry members publicly supporting calls to end Iran’s execution of protestors, jailed during the country’s 100 days of demonstrations around women’s rights.
In a video message conceived, organized and produced by Iranian-American screenwriter Nicole Najafi, director, writer and producer Ana Lily Amirpour, and actress-writer Mozhan Marnò, the collection of entertainers are captured through photos holding signs featuring the hashtag #StopExecutionsinIran. “We stand with the people of Iran in their fight for freedom,” the video reads. “Thousands of protesters have been arrested. Some have already been executed. Many more are in danger. But the world is watching.”
The effort, which encourages viewers to make their own hashtag signs and post photos to their social media, took 10 days to complete, includes 52 Hollywood names and features La Femme’s, “Tu t’en lasses,” the use of which was approved by the band the same day the trio DMed them. Work on the over one-minute video began shortly after the first protestor executions, and sprung, in part, from conversations between Najafi and a Ukrainian organizer and friend coordinating for #ArmUkraineNow. The piece includes a mix of Hollywood talent newly invested in raising awareness and those who have been doing ongoing work around the women-led Iranian protests.
“We want to get as many eyes on this issue as possible, and in so doing, make the Islamic Republic feel the pressure — the international community is watching,” Marnò tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The other purpose of this is to show Iranians in Iran that the world is with them; that they are not forgotten; that their protests and suffering are not in vain. They are out there in the streets risking their lives, and it has been going on for months now. We can’t underestimate the mental and physical stamina that takes.”
The demonstrations, which are a part of a recent series of uprisings against the Islamic Republic within the last several years, look to return the country to democracy and follow the September death of Mahsa Amini. The young Kurdish woman was in the custody of the nation’s Guidance Patrol, or morality police, after being arrested for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab.
In response, Iranians took to the streets where they have been met with nationwide internet blackouts, social media restrictions, teargassing, water canons, the use of live ammunition and executions, beginning with Mohsen Shekari’s, which the government alleged was tied to a protest-related crime. (As of late December, Human Rights Iran reported around 500 deaths associated with the demonstrations, with thousands more arrested and 100 protestors at risk of execution — sentences and arrests that are ongoing.)
“We’ve reached a point where we know this new generation of Iranian people want freedom and are taking control of their future like never before and the only thing we can do is keep that conversation going in new and vital ways,” says Amirpour, who noted this is the first time she’s used social platforms to bring attention to something she cares about and get people accurate information about the country.
Among the #StopExecutionsinIran effort’s earliest supporters was Momoa, who has been “steadfast” from day one, according to The Bad Batch director. The Aquaman actor was the first to send his photo — “within five minutes,” Najafi recalls — after his one-time director texted him.
Other participants include Succession actor Brian Cox, whose wife is half-Iranian, Sarah Silverman — who invited Amirpour to speak on her podcast, and Marion Cotillard, who previously made a video featuring her and other French film stars like Juliette Binoche cutting their hair in solidarity with protesters. “Brian Cox has been amazing,” Najafi tells THR. “He narrated a video that [Succession‘s] Arian Moayed created for the movement. He spoke up about the executions during Anderson Cooper’s New Year’s Eve special.”
A League of Their Own‘s Abbi Jacobson has also been “consistently reposting information” Najafi shares about Iran alongside her fiancé Jodi Balfour. “We’re especially happy to have Bryan Cranston involved because Breaking Bad is the most popular show in Iran and I know they will be so happy to see Heisenberg supporting them,” she adds.
Getting celebrity support for their effort will hopefully energize the youth of Iran, who Najafi says have felt both forgotten and misunderstood for many years. “Seeing non-Iranian people in the media step forward and support us means so much because the news media has overlooked us, gotten a lot of it wrong and at times even made things worse,” Amirpour adds. “So it ends up falling on us to inform people.”
Najafi notes people can likely feel “hesitant to talk about Iran if they don’t know all the details” or are “afraid of saying the wrong thing or upsetting the community or appearing performative.” But calling on their friends in the movie and larger entertainment business is something Amirpour says is “really the least” she can do.
“When I see criticism about celebrities talking about political issues, my response is that I don’t care, as long as it brings attention to the people of Iran,” she continues. “People in the spotlight — celebrities, musicians, activists — all have a way to get the masses to look at something … It forces it into the mainstream media. It forces it in front of more eyes. It makes it personal.”
The video is one element of the larger work within a network of the Iranian diaspora that has connected via social media before and in the wake of the protests. “Nicole and I have collaborated a few times on content for this revolution, and we have all been very much in touch — either as conspirators or commiserators — during this time,” shares Marnò, who worked with director Amirpour on her 2013 film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
Marnò, in particular, had been working with women to remove the Islamic Republic of Iran from the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, an effort that was ultimately successful. It was during that time the Fleishman is in Trouble actress met a seasoned activist who shared her thoughts on what to address next after the vote. “She said, without a doubt, these executions,” The Blacklist actress recalls. “So I called up Nicole and we started plotting ways to raise awareness. Then I reached out to Lily, who was very quick to start getting photos from people.”
Beyond its ability to fuel more solidarity and awareness, the group wants the video to address the reporting gaps the U.S. mainstream media has had around what is happening in Iran, a country Najafi says is “extraordinarily misunderstood.” Addressing those realities has been challenging amid reporting that has been “patently false,” Marnò says, pointing to a piece in The New York Times that reported Iran’s morality police had been abolished — a claim that has since been denied by Iranian state media. “People thought it was a huge win for Iranian women and all was well. I spent a lot of time that week explaining that that wasn’t true,” she recalls.
Getting accurate, up-to-date news out of the country is complicated by the government’s relationship to the free press, says Najafi, as many major American newspapers lack on-the-ground correspondents, leaving them to “rely on anonymous sources and social media videos, which take longer to verify.” Iran has also imprisoned the highest number of journalists in the world as of 2022, according to the Committee to Project Journalists, which cites the regime’s jailings amid the women’s rights demonstrations as a major contributor to its spot on the prison census.
“World news, excluding Europe, takes up a disproportionately small amount of space and air time, but I think Americans are more curious about what’s happening in the world than the news industry believes or is willing to bet on,” Najafi notes.
Ultimately, all three women hope the video can be one among many answers to that and help more Iranian activism penetrate the mainstream like Black activists did in 2020 with Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor.
“Iranian people are somehow winning a battle against an oppressive theocracy with just their bodies and their voices and their rage,” Marnò says. “My hope is that all of the content created — not just this video, but all of the posts, the op-eds, the demonstration, that they have the cumulative effect of making people around the world understand the importance of this revolution.”
Najafi also wants the video to encourage more high-profile responses from Hollywood, like the celebrity-backed petition supporting the recently released Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, and past industry calls for the release of artists like Iranian directors Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, also jailed for being critical of Iran’s regime.
“My hope is that more people feel emboldened to show their support on social media. I hope celebrities will speak out during their awards speeches. You will get zero eye rolls from the Iranian community,” she says. “This is one of those rare situations where social media activism is the activism.”
The complete list of #StopExecutionsinIran video participants is as follows: Cate Blanchett, Marion Cotillard, Jesse Williams, Claire Danes, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bryan Cranston, Barbie Ferreira, Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Jurnee Smollett, Bradley Whitford, William Jackson Harper, Jodi Balfour, Abbi Jacobson, Sarah Snook, Murray Bartlett, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Michael McKean, Sofia Boutella, Karen O, Zazie Beetz, Norman Reedus, Joel Kim Booster, Jada Pinkett Smith, Shirley Manson, Kate Walsh, Kiernan Shipka, Ariana DeBose, J. Smith-Cameron, Suki Waterhouse, Amy Landecker, Ed Skrein, Kate Micucci, Tyler Posey, Martin Starr, Lisa Ann Walter, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Elijah Wood, Olivia Wilde, Sarah Silverman, Ray Fisher, John David Washington, Trai Byers, April Matthis, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Potts, Charles Browning, Peter Jay Fernandez, Kate Beckinsale, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jason Momoa.
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