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(photo credit: AP)
A 12-year-old Afghan boy starring in the upcoming film The Kite Runner fears he and his family could be ostracized or even attacked because of a rape scene that he says he reluctantly acted in - a sequence the family wants cut.
Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada plays the role of young Hassan who is raped by a bully in a pivotal part of the best-selling novel, on which the movie is based. His family says the scene will offend Afghans.
"In Afghanistan, rape is not acceptable at all. This is against Afghan dignity. This is against Afghan culture," the boy's father, Ahmad Jaan Mahmidzada, told The Associated Press. "When we argued, they said 'We will cut this part of the film. We will take it out of the script. This part will not be in the film.'"
The film's producers, Bennett Walsh and Rebecca Yeldham, said they were surprised by the father's comments "about not being comfortable with the difficult scene" and that they "have the utmost concern for the welfare" of the boys who were in the film.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press, they did not respond to a question about whether they would leave the scene in or take it out.
"When we visited with all the actors and their families in Kabul earlier this year, the families addressed their concerns directly with us and said they were fine with the content of the scene, as long as we portrayed it in a sensitive manner," said Walsh and Yeldham. "We made this a priority and followed their specific instructions." The visit earlier this year came after the scene was filmed in 2006.
The Kite Runner, based on the 2003 novel by Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, tells the story of two boys and how their relationship is transformed by the act of violence. The story's main character, Amir, witnesses the rape of friend Hassan but does nothing to stop it.
The film is scheduled for U.S. release in late November. Hosseini's second best-selling novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, came out earlier this year.
Ahmad Khan was paid $10,000 to portray Hassan - a hefty sum in Afghanistan where teachers earn only about $70 per month. But the boy with an endearing, crooked smile said he would never have taken the role had he known Hassan is raped. The family said they found out about the scene only days before it was shot.
"They didn't give me the script. They didn't give me the story of The Kite Runner. If I knew about the story, I wouldn't have participated as an actor in this film," he said.
The father and son, backed by other Afghans on the set's location in China, argued with the filmmakers, and the boy refused to act out the scene.
Mahmidzada said the director told him: "'The film will be a mess without this part.'"
"But I told him 'I'm not thinking about your film. I'm thinking about myself,'" he said. "We are Afghan, and this is not acceptable to us at all."
When the filmmakers wanted his son to take off his pants for the shooting, Mahmidzada refused to let him do it. The scene was instead shot with Ahmad Khan wearing his pants.
The parents are concerned that Afghans will harass Ahmad Khan if they find out his character is raped.
"The people of Afghanistan do not understand that it's only acting or playing a role in a film. They think it has actually happened," Mahmidzada said.
Ahmad Khan worried that his schoolmates will make fun of him.
"It's not one or two people that I have to explain to," he said. "It's all of Afghanistan. How do I make them understand?"
If the film is screened in Afghanistan, Ahmad Khan said his family will lose its dignity. "We won't be able to walk in our neighborhood or in Afghanistan at all," the boy said.
Mahmidzada worries the story will stir ethnic tensions because it plays on stereotypes of Afghan ethnic groups, pitting a Pashtun bully against a lower-class Hazara boy.
Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, and the Hazara minorities were among several ethnic-based factions that fought bitterly during the country's post-Soviet era civil war. Thousands of Hazaras were slain as the predominantly Pashtun Taliban seized power in the mid-1990s.
Ethnic violence has generally subsided since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but Afghans fear any trigger that could revive tensions. Many Afghans were angered by the 2006 Indian film Kabul Express, which portrays Hazara militants as brutal and thuggish.
"There are ethnic problems in Afghanistan - between Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik and other ethnic groups," Mahmidzada said. "We don't want any problem between any ethnic group in Afghanistan. We want unity among all ethnic groups in Afghanistan."
Manizha Naderi, an Afghan-American working in Kabul, said that if the film gets a lot of publicity, the family has reason for concern.
"If people don't see it, then nobody knows, but if people see it, then... they'll blame the family and say, 'You're giving Afghans a bad name,'" Naderi said.
Mahmidzada said the company has promised to take care of his family if anything happens to them as a result of the film.
"I'm afraid for the security of my son, and for the security of my family," he said. "I'm not only concerned about threats from my neighbors or relatives. I'm concerned about threats from all Afghan people."
Although he did not particularly like playing the rape scene, Ahmad Khan enjoyed shooting the film and wants to act more.
His suggestion to the film company? "They should take us out of Afghanistan."
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