Nazanin Boniadi Recalls ‘Traumatizing Encounter with the So-Called Morality Police’ in Iran at Age 12

Nazanin Boniadi

Nazanin Boniadi

Jon Kopaloff/Getty

Nazanin Boniadi is recalling a “traumatic” experience she had as an adolescent that is inspiring her to “use [her] voice” in support of women and girls in Iran.

On Wednesday, the Bombshell actress, 42, gave a moving keynote speech at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles, during the Academy Women’s Luncheon presented by Chanel, about once being approached by the “so-called morality police” in her birth country.

“My parents realized the dangers of raising a daughter in a social, political and legal climate that was growing increasingly oppressive, particularly towards women and girls,” she said. “Although they were granted political asylum in London when I was just 3 weeks old, the challenges facing women in Iran became ingrained in my psyche.”

“And after traveling across Iran when I was 12 and a traumatizing encounter with the so-called morality police tasked with enforcing the country’s Islamic dress code and behavior, I knew I had to use my voice to promote theirs,” added Boniadi, who was born in Tehran but raised in the UK

Boniadi’s speech came two months after the death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini. According to the US Treasury Department, Amini, 22, was transferred to a hospital in a coma the same day she was detained for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely, “and died two days later from internal injuries.”

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Women hold signs and chant slogans during a protest over the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini outside the Iranian Consulate on September 29, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey.  Mahsa Amini fell into a coma and died after being arrested in Tehran by the morality police, for allegedly violating the country's hijab rules.  Amini's death has sparked weeks of violent protests across Iran.

Women hold signs and chant slogans during a protest over the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini outside the Iranian Consulate on September 29, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey. Mahsa Amini fell into a coma and died after being arrested in Tehran by the morality police, for allegedly violating the country’s hijab rules. Amini’s death has sparked weeks of violent protests across Iran.

Chris McGrath/Getty Protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Istanbul, Turkey

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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power star went on to say in her speech that “Mahsa Amini’s murder has forced us to reckon with our complacency in protecting the rights of women globally.”

“Perhaps it’s the understanding of the fragility of our freedoms that has galvanized the world around Mahsa and plight to women in Iran,” Boniadi continued. “Not since the anti-Apartheid movement of South Africa have we seen the level of global attention to the fight to end any kind of segregation anywhere. But how do we, the creative community, turn our outrage into meaningful action and prevent the Iran authorities from crushing yet another uprising?”

Boniadi shouted out fellow celebrities whom she says have “successfully used their platforms to amplify and elevate the movement,” like Alfre Woodard, Danny Glover and Blair Underwood.

“That’s exactly what we need to do for Iran right now,” she said. “We need the world to send a strong message to the Iranian authorities. Their crimes will not remain uninvestigated or unpunished. We have to demand that our representatives stand unequivocally with the Iranian people and hold the Islamic Republic regime to account for their crimes under international law.”

Near the end of her speech, Boniadi implored listeners to protest, network and “continue to amplify the voices of the Iranian people on social media by following and sharing information from credible activists and organizations,” asking her “greater artistic community” to “join us in our fight for a free Iran.”

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Boniadi spoke about her early life in Iran to Katie Couric last month, explaining how her parents “were opposed to the newly formed Islamic Republic regime” following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

As a result, the family escaped to London when the Hotel Mumbai actress was just 20 days old — even her “father was on an execution list” in Iran.

Boniadi, who is an ambassador for Amnesty International UK ambassador and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, also recalled “having the freedom of dress taken away from me” the first time she visited Iran after the move, when she was 12 years old, being “forced to wear a hijab.”

“A member of the so-called morality police came up to me and my uncle, and in a very harsh tone demanded that we prove that we were married, because we were simply walking down the street,” Boniadi told Couric, 65. It was such a jarring, harrowing experience. It was seared into my mind. I remember thinking at that moment that if I ever had a platform where I could tell people what the everyday experience of young girls in Iran is, I would share that. “

“I’ve been fighting for 14 years to amplify the voices of the Iranian people against their oppressive regime,” she added. “And I will continue until they achieve the freedom they deserve.”