Penn on Paper: Actor’s First Article on Visit to Iran Appears

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By: E&P Staff

Two months after a high-profile visit to Iran in June, with press credentials, actor Sean Penn?s first article about the experience was published today in the San Francisco Chronicle. Four more will follow this week, as Penn reports on what the paper calls ?a culture in conflict.?

To illustrate that, he writes in Part I: ?It is a culture in love with cinema. With Brad Pitt. Angelina Jolie. And anything Steven Spielberg. It is a nation of nuclear power, where the lobbies of the religious right effectively blur the lines between church and state. But it is also a country of good and hospitable people. And when the local team wins a big match, there is dancing, kissing, drinking and drugs in the streets. Women are graduating the campuses in higher and higher numbers, occupying government in higher and higher numbers. Sound familiar? But wait. The women. Look at the women. All is not well. I’m thinking about the women. This is Iran.?

Penn also admits that when he runs into fulltime Western journalists in a Tehran hotel they seem to have a “what the f—” is he doing there look on their faces.

The article is accompanied by photos and, on the Chronicle?s web site, by video and a history of the country, which Penn had not visited before. He has previously written for the Chronicle, where his friend Phil Bronstein serves as editor, about his visits to Iraq.

Penn took the trip with journalists Norman Solomon and Reese Erlich. Bronstein told E&P last week that the articles were delayed due to close editing of a series of drafts.

Much of Part I deals with his plans for the trip and getting through customs in Iran, where fingerprinting is mandated. After checking into a hotel, and spending a night, he goes out for an early morning walk, about the only time he spent alone during the entire trip. On the streets, surprisingly, there ?was laughter and very warm feelings in the eyes that fell on this American visitor. Surprised to encounter me in their city, some told me how much they liked the movie ?21 Grams,? a film in which sex and drug abuse are both seen in graphic detail. Over the next days, I would find that American movies are readily available and popular in Iran, viewed on black market DVDs. The DVD man goes house to house, like a milkman might.?

Soon, on a bus, he finds that women must sit in the back, and he recalls Rosa Parks.

Returning to the hotel, he finds that a ?canned, Muzak version of ?I Will Always Love You? plays. The scene downstairs reminded me of similar scenes in Iraq, at Baghdad’s Al Rashid and Palestine hotels. International journalists with that ?What the f— are you doing here, Mr. Penn?? look on their faces.?

Part I closes with a lengthy description of attending Friday prayer services at the Tehran University stadium?and the promise of more to come tomorrow.

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