- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
AFP and Iranian news outlets are reporting this morning that Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone‘s son, Sean, converted to Shiism today during a ceremony in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, reciting the Islamic profession of faith and choosing the Muslim first name Ali. "The conversion to Islam is not abandoning Christianity or Judaism, which I was born with," the 27-year-old documentary filmmaker, whose father is half-Jewish and mother Christian, told AFP. "It means I have accepted Mohammad and other prophets."
Earlier this month, the Iranian press reported that Sean attended a conference on "Hollywoodism and Cinema" in Tehran, which featured an address by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and focused on "Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes policies and its destructive effects on family foundation," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
What’s perhaps as interesting as the conversion, however, is the backstory. Last fall, Sean, pictured above in Tehran, traveled to Iran to work on a film about the mystic poet Rumi and to help "introduce Persian culture and civilization to the West," according to the Tehran Times. After his visit, he told The Wrap that Iran had a right to nuclear weapons and defended Ahmadinejad. "Iran is ruled by law," he explained. "People don’t like Ahmadinejad, but that doesn’t warrant a war or an uprising."
Oliver Stone — who has courted controversy in the past by interviewing Cuba’s Raúl Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez for his 2009 documentary South of the Border — has a more complicated relationship with Iran. Some Iranians were angered by Stone’s 2004 biopic about Alexander the Great (the Tehran Times claims the film depicted "ancient Persians as idiots and buffoons"), and Iranian authorities have repeatedly rebuffed Stone’s requests to make a documentary about Ahmadinejad. In 2007, Ahmadinejad’s media advisor, Mehdi Kalhor, explained the decision by calling Stone "part of the Great Satan." Stone, in turn, issued a statement declaring that he wished "the Iranian people well, and only hope their experience with an inept, rigid ideologue president goes better than ours" (this was the Bush era).
In an explosive 2010 interview with London’s Sunday Times, Stone softened his tone somewhat, noting that U.S. policy toward Iran was "horrible." Iran "isn’t necessary the good guy," he conceded. "But we don’t know the full story." Now, it seems, Iran is much more than that — a spiritual destination for his son. We wonder if Stone will get permission for that Ahmadinejad documentary after all.