August 27, 2016
By Iman Sadri
Nazanin Boniadi made history last week by being the first Iranian born actress to play the female lead in a big budget Hollywood film, Ben-Hur. Boniadi plays Esther in the $100 Million epic from Paramount Pictures and MGM. She is joined by two other award winning Iranian actors who have their own big budget films currently in theaters now also: Shohreh Aghdashloo and Shaun Toub. Aghdashloo stars as Commodore Paris in Star Trek Beyond. Aghdashloo ‘s Star Trek is also a Paramount Pictures film, produced by J.J. Abrams and has a staggering $185 Million budget. Shaun Toub plays Marlboro in War Dogs; a $40 Million Comedy-Drama film produced and directed by Todd Phillips, the creator of the Hangover trilogy.
It’s unprecedented to have an Iranian born actress as the female lead in a major motion picture. Especially one on the scale of Ben-Hur. It’s even more unprecedented to have three films starring Iranian born actors in theaters simultaneously. At most cinpelexes around the country Ben-Hur, Star Trek Beyond and War Dogs are being shown at the same time.
These three actors have a familiarity with each other as well. The common denominator being Shaun Toub. He has starred with the two aforementioned actresses in separate projects. Toub starred with Aghdashloo in The Nativity Story. The $35 Million New Line Cinema epic drama is based on the nativity of Jesus and also starred Oscar Isaac. Toub also starred opposite Boniadi in the Showtime drama Homeland.
Toub plays Majid Javadi, an Iranian official turned CIA asset. Boniadi plays Fara Sherazi a CIA analyst. The two share a poignant Farsi speaking interrogation scene with each other in Season 3.
It’s not just in films where Aghdashloo, Boniadi and Toub have been featured simultaneously. In this Golden Age of Television all three could be seen on the small screen as well. Toub starred as Conrad Bonaparte in NBC’s Grimm. Aghdashloo stars on the Syfy series The Expanse. Boniadi can be seen in recurring episodes of Scandal.
Other Iranian born actors are making headway in Hollywood as well. Navid Negahban, the Homeland alum who played the infamous Abu Nazir, stars as Jonathan Amadi on ABC’s Mistresses. Filmakers such as Ana Lily Amirpour, Ramin Bahrani and Farhad Safinia are adding to the indelible legacy created by the likes of Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi.
As the list of Iranians in film and television continues to expand so will the rhetoric that they should play a greater of diversity of roles. In the meatime we will enjoy the fact that the trio of Nazanin Boniadi, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Shaun Toub have films in theaters at the same time.
Iman Sadri blogs for Persian Media outlets and can be followed @ImanSadriTV