'Kite Runner'  delayed to protect young stars
EmptyNEW YORK -- The release of "The Kite Runner" has been delayed six weeks because of fears for the safety of three of the movie's Afghan child actors, Paramount Vantage, which is distributing the film, said Thursday.
As violence has escalated in Kabul, Afghanistan, concerns have mounted that the sexual nature of some scenes in "The Kite Runner" could prompt violence against three of the young boys starring in the film. In the film, based on the 2003 best-selling novel by Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, the story's main character witnesses the rape of his friend but does nothing to stop it.
"The Kite Runner," originally scheduled to come out November 2, will now be released December 14 while the three boys -- Zekiria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada and Ali Danish Bakhty Ari -- are removed from Kabul. It's feared that when the film is released, pirated DVDs could spread in Kabul, where those culturally offended could react violently to seeing such a rape scene.
Ahmad Khan is 12. Though the ages for Ali Danish and Zekiria weren't immediately available, they are of a similar age. VideoWatch what's making the film hot to handle »
"The kids have been offered to come to the United States and stay out of the country for an extended period of time," Megan Colligan, head of marketing at Paramount Vantage, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
When exactly the boys will be relocated and for how long has not yet been determined, but Colligan said it would be temporary. They may remain in Kabul until the end of their school year on December 6. They could potentially return home in March at the end of their summer vacation, once the release of "The Kite Runner" has come and gone.
Paramount Vantage was aware of the possibility of trouble for the young actors, and has in recent months sought advice from regional experts and also dispatched an expert to the area to conduct interviews.
"Our position is, we're not going to do anything that jeopardizes the kids and we are going to make sure that they're safe throughout this process," said Colligan, who added that the studio had been eyeing the situation as "The Kite Runner" played at fall film festivals.
The New York Times first reported the decision by Paramount Vantage, the art-house label of Paramount Pictures, which is owned by Viacom Inc.
Ahmad Jaan Mahmidzada, the father of Ahmad Khan, told the AP on Thursday that he was relieved the studio was taking action.
"I am happy that at least they realized our problem here and made a decision about my son," he said. "I still do not know what will happen next, but at least I am less concerned about this issue then I was in the past."
Mahmidzada worries the film will stir ethnic tensions because it plays on stereotypes of Afghan ethnic groups, pitting a Pashtun bully against a lower-class ethnic Hazara boy.
Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, and the Hazara minority were among several ethnic-based factions that fought bitterly during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s. Thousands of Hazaras were slain as the predominantly Pashtun Taliban seized power in the mid-1990s.
Ethnic violence has subsided since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but Afghans fear any trigger that could revive tensions. Many were angered by the 2006 Indian film "Kabul Express" that portrayed Hazara militants as brutal and thuggish.
Ahmad Khan last month told the AP that he was not given an advance copy of the script and would never have taken the role had he known his character was raped. His father has said they found out about the scene only days before it was shot.
The film's director, Marc Forster, whose films include "Monster's Ball" and "Finding Neverland," disputed those claims.
"That's incorrect," Forster said Thursday by phone from Chicago.
Forster said producers had two meetings with the father where he was briefed on the material and that the news of Mahmidzada's complaint "hit me by surprise."
"I rehearsed the scene twice with the children," he said. "The father was present at one of the rehearsals and was invited to the other but didn't attend.
"I was always concerned about their safety and welfare and so was the studio," said Forster. "As the situation started to deteriorate, it definitely became something we all wanted to make sure of. That's why we pushed the release date back."
To change the release date of a film so close to release can badly affect its eventual box office, but Forster said "the main thing for me is that children are safe."