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Iranian Actress Breaks Taboos, Sparks Scandal By Posing Topless

Golshifteh Farahani has sparked controversy in Iran after briefly appearing topless for an artistic photo and video project.
An Iranian actress living in Paris has been praised for her courage and criticized for her indecency after posing topless for a French magazine and posting the photo on her Facebook page.

Golshifteh Farahani, who moved to France last year, says Iranian authorities have told her not to return home.

"I was told by a Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guide official that Iran does not need any actors or artists and you may offer your artistic services somewhere else," numerous media outlets quoted her as saying.

The scandal erupted when Farahani, who appeared with Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2008 Hollywood film "Body of Lies," posed for topless photos and a video for the French Magazine "Madame Le Figaro" as part of a project by director Jean-Baptiste Mondino. The project features actors and actresses disrobing to promote both themselves and the notion of bodily and artistic freedom.

In the photo, Farahani, wearing only a ring, gazes mysteriously into the eyes of the viewer while delicately covering her breasts with her hands.

In the video, she appears alongside a number of French actors and actresses and uncovers one of her breasts.

The photo and video, which was quickly subtitled in Persian, were widely shared among Iranians on social media sites.

Heated Debate

They have generated a heated debate about personal freedom, women's rights, and the restrictions women face in Iran, where the Islamic regime subjects them to strict dress codes and many men view them as their personal property.

"The first thing I said when I saw the picture was, 'Bravo, Golshifteh!" said Maryam Mirza, an Iranian journalist living in Germany. "By posing nude, she demonstrated that her body belongs to her. We’ve been suppressed for many years -- the morality police have been telling us for years how to get dressed and how to behave. But a woman came and said, 'This is my right.'"

On Farahani's Facebook page, where she posted the photo on January 17, some praised her for having "the courage to remove a taboo among women in Muslim countries."

Others were less kind.

"You make me sick; you sold your country and your body. It is such a shame for an Iranian woman," one man wrote.

The semi-official Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the hard-line Revolutionary Guards Corps, accused Farahani of “obscenity” and selling her "chastity" to get attention.

"The fate of an actress, who left her country and joined Hollywood, has been nothing but immorality," Fars wrote.

Even some Iranians who are sympathetic to Farahani's actions say the deeply conservative country may not be ready for such a move.

"You see, even among the upper middle class and intellectuals, men tell their wives not to wear this or that because it is too revealing," an unidentified woman in Tehran told RFE/RL in an e-mail. "Posing nude, even for artistic [purposes], might be difficult to digest for many."
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.