'Not Without My Daughter' is truthfully made, says woman who lived it


January 17, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

Betty Mahmoody, whose experiences in Iran over an 18-month period are dramatized in the movie, ''Not Without My Daughter,'' says she is pleased with the film, one that is based on the book she wrote.

''I loved the film,'' she said. ''It's a really good portrayal of what happened. It's a condensation of the actual events, but that's understandable. They had to leave a lot out, but it conveys a very clear message.''

Like stay out of Iran?

''Oh, no,'' she said. ''I just hope the movie will serve as a warning to others who might find themselves in the same situation.''

Mahmoody found herself in her situation when she married an Iranian-born doctor who requested in 1984 that he, she and their 5-year-old daughter visit Iran for ''two weeks.''

The two weeks became 18 months in which Mahmoody was forced to behave as other Iranian women do. At home, she was repeatedly beaten by her husband.

She wanted to leave. He did not want her to leave. Eventually, he said she could leave but not without their daughter. She refused and, with the help of a few friendly citizens, managed to escape by foot, van and truck into Turkey.

She still feels threatened. ''He has sworn he will spend the rest of his life trying to bring his daughter home, but time is on my side,'' she said. ''The older my daughter gets, the less danger she is in.''

We met in Washington. She doesn't look like Sally Field, who plays her in the film. She is, however, an attractive woman who looks as though she would have the courage to do what she did.

''The actual escape was worse than it seems in the film,'' she said. ''Much of the time, we had to travel through snow. They filmed in Israel, and there was no snow. I did, though, insist that they use Iranians in the film. There are lots of them in Israel.''

She would never risk going back to Iran. ''I would be executed,'' she said. ''I committed the ultimate crime. I took a child away from his father.''

She hasn't heard from her husband since she came home more than four years ago, and she is just now getting around to divorcing him. ''It wasn't easy,'' she said.

There is one thing she doesn't like about the movie. ''They make me look as though I was subservient to my husband, but I had a job,'' she said. ''I was in industrial management.''

She has two sons from a previous marriage, but they are not mentioned in the film. ''The scriptwriters thought it best to keep it simple,'' she said.

Her sons and the rest of her family objected to the book. ''They thought it would maximize the risk, but I think it does the reverse,'' she said. ''The fact that the State Department is aware of all that has happened will make it less likely that my husband will try anything.''

Mahmoody is bothered by the fact that some critics have accused the film of being racist.

''It's not,'' she said. ''I escaped because there were many good Iranians who helped me, and it is mentioned, in the film, that my husband's family is from the provinces and is more fundamentalist than most Muslems.''

She says the sequence in which a shopkeeper offers to help her escape is true. ''It happened just as it does in the film, but he's not a haber--er,'' she said. ''I changed that to protect him.''

In the film, Mahmoody is befriended by another American woman who is married to an Iranian and is beaten by him.

''She, too, is real,'' said Mahmoody. ''She was in the United States three years ago, with her three children, and she was determined to leave her husband, who had broken her ear drum. Up until the very last moment, she said she would stay here, then she changed her mind and went back to Iran. Do you know what she said? She said 'He beats me, but he takes care of me.' Of course, she'd have been a battered wife over here.''

Mahmoody thinks it important for Americans to know about other cultures. ''Too many Americans know nothing about them. It is important to know what it means if American women marry into those cultures.''

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