“Harsh rhetoric from D.C. only serves to embolden the hard-liners in Iran,” Boniadi told POLITICO’s Luiza Savage in the latest episode of the Women Rule podcast. “The consequence of that is greater oppression for the Iranian people.”
Boniadi, who was protesting at the United Nations last week while Trump denounced the nuclear deal in an address to the General Assembly, said the focus on the nuclear deal distracts from another pressing issue – human rights violations in Iran.
“The hard-liners in Iran are fully aware that if they solve the nuclear issue and they get rid of the nuclear standoff with the U.S., the global attention will shift back onto human rights in Iran,” she said. “That’s the last thing they want.”
The Iran-born actress detailed several human rights issues in Iran, including the story of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian citizen who was “thrown into Evin Prison, the most notorious political prison in Iran” when she took her newborn to meet her grandparents.
Boniadi, who has been fighting for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, said, “it’s important to shame the Iranian government.”
And in a video released to POLITICO, Boniadi recently teamed up with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s British husband, Richard, while in New York to bring attention to her plight.
When it comes to her activism, the actress said, “If I have a platform, I want to give them a voice.” But her activism isn’t limited to support for women living in Iran. She says she uses her platform to support Iranian women in the U.S as well, and that her acting helps in that pursuit.
“I used to shy away from playing characters where my name was a Middle Eastern name because I really wanted to prove to the world that I could play anyone,” said Boniadi, who has appeared in the series “Homeland” as well as the films “Iron Man” and “Ben-Hur.” “If we want representation, then why not play Middle Eastern?”
Listen to this week’s Women Rule podcast for more on Boniadi, how the Iranian nuclear deal has affected humanitarian work, minority representation in Hollywood and more.
01:09: Boniadi explains the Iran nuclear deal’s impact on her humanitarian work and how Trump’s rhetoric affects Iranian hard-liners.
“For the longest time the nuclear issue has overshadowed human rights”
02:11: Boniadi offers advice to Trump on how to deal with North Korea, “I really want him to understand this concept of extremism breeds extremism” and explains the ideological differences between the people and government of North Korea.
“You have a government that is, you know, emulating or seeking to emulate North Korea. And if that’s the case, you have a society that’s seeking to emulate South Korea. It’s possibly the most anti-American government in the Middle East. And possibly the most pro-American population in the Middle East.”
04:06: Boniadi describes the situation for women in Iran:
“Women are twice as educated, yet they have half the rights.”
05:18: Boniadi shares the story of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a political prisoner in Iran who has been held for 530 days.
“She took her 22-month-old baby, Gabriella, to visit her parents for the first time; to meet her grandparents. And when she was leaving Iran two months later, her baby was torn from her arms. Her passport and Gabriella’s passport were confiscated. At the airport. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was thrown into Evin Prison, which is a political prison in Iran. The most notorious political prison in Iran. For approximately five weeks, she was in solitary confinement. She had no idea why she was arrested. There wasn’t a trial at that time. There was no reason for her to be in jail. She is completely innocent. She’s not an activist, a human rights activist, in any way, shape, or form.”
She discussed the “bouts of severe depression” Zaghari-Ratcliffe has gone through in prison, and described her trial:
“At her own trial, she wasn’t allowed to speak, which is preposterous. And she’s blindfolded every time she is taken to a trial or to see her lawyer.”
10:10: Boniadi describes some of the barriers to fighting for human rights in Iran:
“The people who do come here for the U.N. General Assembly and speak to American officials, have very little power. The people who wield power, like the supreme leader, are inaccessible. So we’re sort of between a rock and a hard place. We have no access to the people who actually have the ability to change the situation.”
14:26: And explains when humanitarian efforts are most effective:
“They’re horrified at such a PR nightmare for them to have these harsh realities thrown in their face. They don’t want that. They want to be portrayed as, “Well, we’re trying to be—we’re not a pariah. We’re not a pariah state. We really are trying to get along with the world.”
16:13: When asked whether the Trump administration is making her humanitarian efforts harder, Boniadi replies:
“Every time I mention Iran, the answer I get is, ‘Well, we have enough problems at home. Let’s focus on those.’ Fair enough. But that doesn’t bode well for Iranian human rights.”
17:00: Boniadi discusses her background and explains how it informed her activism.
“I was born in the direct aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, in Tehran. And my parents, my dad in particular, is very politically active. And I was 20 days [old] when my parents were forced to move, or escape the revolution, move to London. They were political refugees. So it’s in my blood.”
“You talk to women in Iran and they—despite the greatest risks, personal risks, they’re willing to sacrifice everything to stand up for their rights. And I think, here I am, I’m an actress, I’m happy, I’m doing what I love. I don’t need a personal reason. I don’t need to be personally, you know, thrown in jail to be a voice for them. I want to give them the platform. If I have a platform, I want to give them a voice.”
22:31: Boniadi remembers the situation for Middle Eastern women in Hollywood at the beginning of her career:
“In the post-9/11 climate, you know, the types of roles that were coming out were really all sort of negative depictions of Middle Easterners. Terrorists or human shields or, you know, voiceless women. And having been to Iran, having heard these stories, being very connected to Iranians and having relatives in Iran made me realize that I know what Iranian women are like. And they are fearless and they’re tenacious. And I thought, ‘This is so wrong, that we’re being depicted in this sort of subservient, demure way.’”
24:05: Boniadi says she had trouble getting an agent:
“I would always express in meetings like, ‘I love period pieces.’ And people would often say, ‘Well, that’s reserved for Caucasians. So really … ” And I thought, ‘Do people honestly think that period pieces are only for Caucasian people? Do they think that there is no history in other cultures? Do people think that I couldn’t play, for example, a Spanish person?’ You know, there were all these assumptions that people make, you know, that a period piece is Elizabethan or something that William Shakespeare wrote.”
26:37: When asked what difference it makes to have women in writers’ rooms, Boniadi says
“Writers, producers, directors, casting offices, studio execs … I think we need those voices in those positions. So we need ethnic minorities and women in those roles because that’s the only way that we’re going to overcome this issue, is representation.”
29:02: Bondiadi reflects on her role in the TV show “Homeland” and addresses accusations that the show is racist toward Muslims.
“I was blessed to play Fara Sherazi because I think it was a groundbreaking role. I do think that other shows after that sort of based on the success of that character, sort of tried to emulate that kind of depiction of a Muslim woman who was outspoken and strong and stood for what she believed in. You know, I understand the argument that Muslims aren’t exactly positively depicted in the show. I do. And I empathize with that. It’s a show about espionage and politics. Unfortunately, we live in a climate—it’s also an American show about espionage and politics. It’s about the CIA.”
33:08: When asked if her background makes her feel increased responsibility carefully select her on-screen roles, Boniadi answers:
“I felt that responsibility a lot more earlier in my career, and now I just think, ‘I’m an actress.’ I used to shy away from playing characters where my name was a Middle Eastern name because I really wanted to prove to the world that I could play anyone, it doesn’t have to be a Middle Eastern role. But why not embrace it? Why not say, if we want representation, then why not play Middle Eastern?”