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But its million opening weekend barely made a dent in the box office; it was largely critically panned for its Islamophobic undertones; and in re-airings, it could easily be mistaken for a Lifetime movie with a timely political pitch: Woman escapes from abusive Iranian husband, scary foreign country, and the evil clutches of Islam.
In the larger cultural imagination, the film was consigned to oblivion.
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Adapted from Betty Mahmoody’s memoir of the same name, the plot pivots on a sinister manipulation: Iranian-American Sayed, better known as “Moody,” convinces his wife to travel with him and his daughter, Mahtob, for a vacation in Iran, promising to return to their Michigan home two weeks later. Moody, rededicating himself to Islam, reveals his intention was always for them to stay in Iran for good.
He won’t let his wife and daughter leave, and becomes physically abusive toward Betty when she resists.
At the time of the film’s release, “Iran was our primary bogeyman,” Aslan explains.
It bears repeating that the film is based on a woman’s real-life experience, but the way it’s told, the story of abuse is inextricable from Islam and race.
“When you do a movie like this, it allows the audience to go, ‘Wow, look, they’re all like that,’” says Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani.