Afghan family fear for their lives over film's rape scene

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The Independent Online

The Kite Runner has run into trouble. The film version of a best-selling book that has put Afghanistan on the literary map will not be screened in Kabul after controversy erupted over a pivotal rape scene.

Khaled Hosseini's novel hinges on a life-changing boyhood incident. Amir, the narrator and a privileged member of the Pashtun tribe, witnesses the sexual assault of Hassan, his Hazara servant and best friend who races to retrieve the fallen kites of opponents during flying contests. The guilt about his cowardly failure to intervene and help his friend haunts Amir throughout his life.

But the father of Ahmad Khan, the Afghan boy who plays Hassan in the film, sees this element of the story in very different terms. He is angry about the rape portrayed in the film and worried that it could have dangerous repercussions for his family.

"They said they would not film this part," Mr Ahmad told BBC Radio. "Of course I am worried about it. My own people from my own tribe will turn against me because of the story. They may cut my throat, they may kill me, they may torture me, anything could happen to me."

A representative of the film's Paramount Vantage studio confirmed that the film would not be released in Afghanistan, but said this was because there was no suitable distribution network in the country. When asked about the rape controversy, she declined to comment.

The film's director, Marc Forster, whose previous hits include Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, has spoken about his determination to have an authentic Afghan feel to his new film. Although the Taliban insurgency forced the film-makers to shoot the movie in China, the script stayed in the Dari dialect.

Forster used two Afghan schoolboys for the lead roles. "I went in [to a school] and played and improvised with them to find the ones who had the strongest connection to the characters," he said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. "We had very early conversations with the families."

But Mr Ahmad has said he was misinformed and other cast members are now reportedly demanding that the scene be cut. Hollywood producers have said that Afghan fears are misplaced, as the scene has not been filmed in an explicit fashion, precisely so as not to offend local sensibilities.

"The scene contains no nudity; it's rendered in a very impressionistic way," Rebecca Yeldham, a producer, told the BBC. "It's also important in being faithful to the story that there's no confusion that the attack in the alley was a sexual violation. We're working with various organisations on the ground to advise us on theas it evolves in Kabul. We don't believe that kids' lives are at risk."

Critics expect the film to be a huge hit, benefiting from the popularity of the novel and the success of Hosseini's second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is top of the New York Times' best-sellers list.

The Kite Runner will have its premiere in Hollywood on 2 November and goes on general release in Britain on 26 December. But one man who has already seen the film is President, George Bush. After a weekend screening at the White House, he was said to be moved, suggesting the film is a timely reminder of why the West has a continuing presence in Afghanistan.