Ask almost anyone what their lasting image is of the turmoil and near-revolution in Iran last summer and they will answer, "Neda, the young woman who was murdered." For indeed, young Neda Agha-Soltan's death on the streets of Tehran on June 20, 2009, was one of the most public of violent deaths in the world — captured on cellphones, shown on computer screens and beamed into homes in almost every quarter of the world.
The Iranians, who were fighting the fiercest battles against the public that they had yet attempted, were powerless to stop the viral spread of the Neda Factor. Not only was world sympathy fiercely on the side of a beautiful young woman shot down in her prime, but computer wizards were deliberately working to keep proxy servers running day and night to keep the information from being shut down down by Iranian servers. Out-classed and outmaneuvered, Iranian authorities could do little but pull such mean and low-minded stunts such as limiting how many people could attend Agha-Soltan's funeral. They even refused to allow an Imam to be present at her funeral. They were running scared of a woman who never even finished her university education.
HBO's For Neda honors this fearless martyr in programs starting from 9-10:15 p.m. E.D.T/P.D.T. Monday, June 14. (Other HBO playmates are 5:30 a.m. June 14, 4 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. June 17, 3 p.m. June 19, 5: 15 p.m. June 22; noon June 23 and 8:15 p.m June 27). HBO2 dates include 5 p.m. June 20, the actual date of Neda's death, and 9:15 p.m. June 16.
But first a little background. Agha-Soltan's death happened in the wake of the widely suspected rigged elected of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hated many Iranians, and shown to be an arrogant boor on a public debate, he was expected to lose a national election. Instead, two hours after the ballots were cast, he was proclaimed to have won 60% of the vote.
The populace erupted in anger, Neda Agha-Soltan among them. She was always a rebel, the show's writers proclaim, and give examples of her behavior in school and how she refused to dress in the dour chador of the Iranian revolution.
The show has some impressive guests and exclusive scenes. For the first time, viewers meet her family, something that was forbidden by Iran's ever-tightening governmental authority. Refreshingly, they speak their mind, unfraid of being taken away to jail, for they know that if they are persecuted, another wave of Neda revolution will sweep the world. Angry but resigned father Ali, sometimes weepy mother Hajar Rostami, bubbling sister Hoda, and serious brother Mohammed speak to the camera for the first time.
Making and impressive appearance is Maziar Bahari, best known as a Newsweek correspondent who was jailed for months for doing nothing more than being a journalist in the wrong place at the wrong time. It took months of negotiation and even Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's expertise to get him out of the his hellhole. He has much to say about the illegitimacy of the government that holds sway in Iran now, and predicts that even as it has cracked down, it lacks the heart to last much longer.
But there are many other experts also to keep the conversation lively, including the doctor, Arash Hejazi, who attended Neda in her final minutes. Regardless of the way she seems to be pleading with her eyes in the famous cell phone videos, He said that once she was shot in the heart, she only lived a few minutes. What is so ironic is that after he and her music teacher ministered to her, the Iranian government — in its clownish way of trying to pin the blame on someone else, first blamed the CIA, then on CNN, then on the BBC, and then on him.
Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran speaks of the way women got the worst treatment right from the beginning of the Iranian Revolution and now are getting the worst treatment during this uprising. So, it is appropriate that Neda is the one to be the martyr. Someone remarks that a government woman told Neda that it was dangerous for her to be out in the streets being so beautiful, because to "these men beauty is dangerous." It's a telling statement of how perverted their version of a once-loving religion has become.
Don't look for any even-handedness in this documentary here. Written, directed and produced by Antony Thomas, this film has a western slant against Iran's current government that's in keeping with our current leaders. Near the end, her father looks into the camera lens and says, "If the murderer was not from this government, you would have found him."