Busted: The Stoning of Soraya M.
Busted Halo speaks with the movie's star, director and producer
Producer Stephen McEveety
Busted Halo: It seems with The Stoning of Soraya M. and clearly The Passion of the Christ, that you’re attracted to movies that take on controversial topics, and one of the most volatile topics in the world is the topic of religion. I know your own Catholic faith is part of a film like The Passion, but a film like this, how does that play on your decision to get involved?
Stephen McEveety: The story, I think, is the first thing that compels me to do anything, and if the story grabs me and is a page-turner and has some meat on it, I’m going to be interested in it. This particular story was so powerful that I felt if somebody can turn this into a movie they ought to, and I thought no one is going to do it as good as I can do it, so let’s try. I was able to raise the money rather quickly for the film and it all just fell into place.
BH: Have you had any sense of the reaction in the Muslim world to a movie like this? I read that Middle Eastern theaters picked it up very quickly. Do you have any sense of what that might be overseas in the Muslim world?
SM: I think you’re going to get a split reaction. Some people will absolutely love this film and others will not. But I think it’s a very pro-Muslim movie. You’re not going to find a better Muslim depicted than Soraya. She was faithful to her God, she was pure, she was innocent, and she was prayerful and her last words were to God. So I think she is a wonderful example of a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew.
BH: The Passion was so enormously successful and controversial that it spawned the idea in Hollywood that there was an untapped religious audience that films could be made for, and yet most of those films have not been successful. Do you have a sense of where Hollywood or people went wrong with that and whether we should do more of that in the future?
SM: Well, I think it’s really probably more about how well the story is told — if it’s a Christian movie and it’s told really well, Christians are going to show up. They’re a great audience and they deserve to be catered to. I think there is plenty of business to be done there, but you have to do it right. You can’t do it sloppy and you can’t do it false. But that is true of any niche, you know, your audience is going to tolerate good, and it’s very competitive and people are very sophisticated these days, so you have to deliver the goods.
BH: I know in the production notes they won’t tell people where they shot the film. Was there danger involved in shooting this in the part of the world you’re in?
SM: We were just asked not to, so we’re respecting that request.
BH: In the stoning scene itself, it’s hard not to reflect back to the crucifixion scene in The Passion of the Christ and I saw some really big parallels between the two and especially some shots in particular. Was that something you brought to the table or is that more the director?
SM: It’s more the director but it’s also the nature of what’s happening. The shots are bound to be similar when somebody is being stoned to death. I guess you’re comparing that to the scourging?
BH: Well, actually, there’s one shot in particular of Soraya’s face and the blood itself reminded me of a shot of Christ’s face in The Passion that really struck me as very similar.
SM: Well it’s a similar story so I don’t know that you can avoid that. I actually wasn’t on location when they shot that particular part of the sequence so I’m innocent.
BH: Your own background is in a Hollywood family with a lot of producers and directors in television. Can you talk about your own faith journey, where you came from and where you are now?
SM: Well, I was brought up Catholic. I went to Catholic grammar school and high school and even the university I went to, Loyola Marymount, was Catholic. So I had the upbringing, certainly, but sometimes you’re around it so much that you almost become numb to the whole thing which I went through my own phase of. But then we had kids and my wife was Catholic, so we just brought them up in the Catholic faith. We weren’t as spiritual as we ought to be, but over time — and certainly The Passion had a huge effect on me and my family — and we went through conversions over time and we’re pretty spiritual now.
BH: You called your company Mpower and there is the sense that some of this is going to be family entertainment that comes out of your company. What are some of the guiding principles for your company since you left Icon?
SM: Well, it really is so difficult to make a movie and to make it well. It takes so much of every individual involved that if it doesn’t have some kind of substance to it other than to make money, then I’m not really interested in it. I think anyone can do that. It has to have something that is going to affect the soul in some way. That’s my desire. And I’m really excited because after The Stoning [of Soraya M.], I jumped in and did a wonderful family film called Snowmen which has no controversy and is just fun… it’s a bit spiritual. It will get your heart; it will make you laugh and make you cry. It’s just a blast; it’s just wonderful.
BH: Given the state of relations between Islam and the West, in some ways The Stoning of Soraya M. would find an audience simply because in some ways it does what a documentary can’t do, it articulates a view of the world that certainly a lot of us in the West might have some issues with — the way Islam is practiced in parts of the world. Yet you had a little trouble getting distribution here; is that true?
SM: Yeah, no more trouble than I expected when I took on the project. It’s not your obvious great business decision. You have to really work a movie like this, and it has to be opened small and you have to depend on word of mouth. It’s a tough film but if you do it well, it will work. I mean “well” by the making of the movie and also marketing the film. But I’ll tell you, the reactions to the movie are absolutely incredible by people walking out of the theater. I think the word is going to get out there quite well.
BH: What are some of the reactions you’ve heard?
SM: People are absolutely overwhelmed. They thank me for making the movie; they say that everyone in the world has got to see this film; people say it’s the most powerful film they’ve ever seen. There’s been a few times where people have hated me for it but nobody comes out unfazed.
BH: Violence is something you clearly use to great effect. Is that something you ever question yourself on? The Passion is a very violent film, Braveheart as well, and now this film has some very tough to watch scenes. Is that something you’re very conscious of, going into the process?
SM: I don’t think so. I don’t tend to prefer violent films over non-violent films as a moviegoer. I think these stories are worth telling and somehow they end up in my lap, and that’s what is required for those films that you talked about to tell the story properly. But I’ve certainly done films that have no violence in them. But just to respond to something you said prior to that, is that what really attracted me to this film is not so much — this is just me personally, I’m not speaking for the other film makers — but I wasn’t as interested in the Islamic side of this or the fact that it took place in Iran or any of that, so much as the portrayal of victims and of abusers. I think it’s a very universal theme and a very universal story. In our world, it might be exaggerated but it’s very contemporary here in the United States and all over the world. There’s a side of human nature that is abusive, and there are so many humans walking around that are victims, and we don’t know it. It’s behind closed doors often and it’s not just physical abuse but mental abuse which is very obvious in the film. So, that’s what really got me. It’s more the soul, the feelings, the heart of what these people are feeling and going through that attracted me. The physical side of it was not nearly as interesting.
BH: The Passion clearly had such backlash against it from some critics because of charges of anti-Semitism, etc. Jim Caviezel talked a little bit about having to defend himself and his faith. Does it make you gun shy at all to take on issues of religion and faith in film after that?
SM: No, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve done everything I need to do in life, and I’m just blessed, and if I can do things that help society then I’m going to do it. If people don’t like me, then that’s okay too.
BH: Any advice for generations of younger people, the twenty- and thirtysomethings who are spiritual but not religious? Do you have any advice in terms of their spiritual journey and finding faith, finding God, finding groundedness in their lives?
SM: Well I think the realization that we’re only 50% animal and the other 50% spiritual and if you’re in touch with that spot… that half of us is already in heaven and you have to treat that half as well as you treat the animal side, if not better, and nurture it… and you have to work out, you have to exercise and you’re going to be alright. The animal side doesn’t really matter at the end of the day because it does disappear, the spiritual side doesn’t. That’s my two cents, I don’t know if it means anything.
Click here to get involved with organizations working to stop stonings, honor killings, domestic violence and other atrocities toward women.