Khaled Hosseini talks to Salon about the controversey surrounding the film version of his best-selling book, The Kite Runner, which includes a 30-second scene depicting the rape of a boy, played by a 12-year-old Afghan, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada.
(Mahmidzada’s parents said they had no knowledge of this plot point when they agreed to let their son act in the movie.) Word of the rape scene has triggered threats of violence against the three Afghan child actors who appear in the film, demands that the scene be cut, articles about Hollywood exploitation — and an ensuing P.R. disaster for Paramount, which agreed to delay the film’s release until the kids were safely out of Afghanistan. Last week, the studio announced that the children and their guardians had been relocated to an unnamed city in the United Arab Emirates, clearing the way for the film’s release this Friday.
In the film of "The Kite Runner," even though the rape is not explicitly shown — we only see the boy’s pants coming down — there were rumors in Afghanistan that the studio planned to use computer animation to create CGI genitals and make the scene more graphic. There have been threats against the actors. An online petition was launched to "save the ‘Kite Runner’ boys." Had you anticipated that the rape scene would be problematic?
I thought it would raise eyebrows, but if anybody, either me or in the production, thought it would lead to the actors actually fearing for their lives, I don’t think anyone would have gone forward. Certainly, they would not have cast actors from Afghanistan. The controversy reflects that things in Afghanistan have changed to some extent, certainly in the last year or two. Things have become more violent. It’s a more dangerous place than it was. It has slid back and there’s a new element of criminality and violence there.
Would you have advocated cutting the scene to protect the children?
I don’t see how you could maintain the integrity of the film if you removed the scene. You’d pretty much have to scrap the whole thing. The scene is pivotal. Without it the story falls apart because, in many ways, that moment, the act in the alley, is so reprehensible — a simple punching wouldn’t have the same effect. It would really strain the limits of plausibility if this guy [Amir] were now marked for life [emotionally], with all the years of carrying the guilt. The scene is necessary, but I think you have to look at the film in a more panoramic way and not let one scene stand for the whole film.
I’m confused by the Afghan response. I’ve read of Afghans saying, "Rape is a taboo subject in Afghanistan, as is homosexuality" and "the culture and religion look down on those things." Doesn’t showing the rape of a Hazara by a Pashtun reveal an underpublicized discrimination against an Afghan minority group by the dominant, majority ethnic group? Weren’t you revealing the atrocities, not condoning them?
How anybody can see this film and walk away with the conclusion that it supports rape is unfathomable to me. This is a film that denounces what happened in that alley, not one that endorses it. It brings to light some of the terrible things that have happened in that country. The scene is pivotal, but the film is not about that scene. It’s not about sexual predators.
Do you worry that the movie version of your novel, with its potential to create empathy, has been eclipsed by this controversy?
I hope this controversy hasn’t overshadowed the fact that this is a film about good things — about the virtues of tolerance, friendship, brotherhood and love and harmony — and that it speaks against violence. There’s a lovely scene in the film where Amir, in a moment of distress and personal anguish, goes to a mosque and prays. How many times have we seen Muslim characters in a film pray — in that kind of very spiritual moment, piously? Usually when they do, in the next scene they’re blowing something up. And I’m proud of the fact that Muslims around the world will see this character performing this ritual exactly in the way that it was meant to be performed.