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Old 06-25-2007, 12:02 PM   #16
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Haven't seen it yet, but a word of caution:


A Mighty Shame
It's the Story of Our Search for Danny Pearl. But in This Movie, He's Nowhere to Be Found.

By Asra Q. Nomani
Sunday, June 24, 2007; B01

O n Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2002, I stood at the gate of my rented house in Karachi, watching my friend Danny Pearl juggle a notebook, cellphone and earpiece as he bounded over to a taxicab idling in the street. He was off to try to find the alleged al-Qaeda handler of "shoe bomber" Richard Reid in Pakistan. "Good luck, dude," I called, waving cheerfully as he strode off, a lopsided grin on his face. His pregnant wife, Mariane, stood smiling and waving beside me as the taxi pulled away. A gaggle of parrots swooped through the trees above, squawking in the late afternoon sun.

That was the last image I had of Danny until late last month, when a PR executive for Paramount Vantage pulled up to my house in Morgantown, W.Va., in a black Lincoln Town Car. She was carrying a DVD of "A Mighty Heart," the just-released movie, based on the book by Mariane Pearl, about the staggering events that unfolded after that innocuous moment in Pakistan: Danny's kidnapping and eventual beheading.

With my parents and a friend beside me, I pressed "play" on my DVD player and settled in to watch. Slowly, as the scenes ticked by, my heart sank. I could live with having been reduced from a colleague of Danny's to a "charming assistant" to Mariane, as one review put it, and even with having been cut out of the scene in front of my house in Pakistan. That's the creative license Hollywood takes. What I couldn't accept was that Danny himself had been cut from his own story.

The character I saw on the screen was flat -- nerdy, bland and boring. He's not at all like Danny, who wrote "ditties" about Osama bin Laden while he was investigating Pakistan's nuclear secrets and jihadist groups as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. On screen, he's warned three times to meet with Sheik Mubarik Ali Gilani -- the man with whom he thought he had an interview -- only in public. But off he goes, ignoring the warnings. The message: Reckless journalist.

That was nothing like the Danny I knew. As the credits rolled, I murmured to my mother, "Danny had a cameo in his own murder."

For me, watching the movie was like having people enter my home, rearrange the furniture and reprogram my memory. I'd known it was a gamble when I agreed to help with a Hollywood version of Danny's kidnapping, but I'd done it because I thought the movie had the potential to be meaningful. I'd hoped it could honor the man I'd worked alongside for nine years at the Journal by explaining why he was so passionate about his work as a reporter. I'd hoped that it would tell the story of the unique team of law enforcement agents, government officials and journalists -- of varying religions, nationalities and cultures -- that had searched for him. And I hoped it could spark a search for the truth behind Danny's death.

But the moviemakers and their PR machine seemed intent on two very different and much shallower goals: creating a mega-star vehicle for Angelina Jolie, who plays Mariane, and promoting the glib and cliched idea that both Danny and Mariane were "ordinary heroes."

I think Danny would have rolled his eyes at that.

In the prologue to her book, Mariane wrote to her son: "I write this book for you, Adam, so you know that your father was not a hero but an ordinary man." In a movie voiceover, that dedication becomes: "This film is for our son so he knows that his father was an ordinary man. An ordinary hero."

But there weren't any real heroes in the story of Danny's tragedy. Danny would have said he was just doing his job. When he went off that day in Karachi, he didn't give any impression that he thought what he was doing was especially dangerous. He just had a story he wanted to pursue and an interview he thought would help him. After he vanished, I don't think any of us, not even Mariane, did anything particularly courageous, either. We each had a duty to try to find him -- either as professionals or because of the bonds of friendship or family.

I know that movies need a dramatic arc and that there has to be room for artistic license in the telling of a true story, because reality is often so chaotic. I know that it's natural to search for a compelling narrative structure to make sense of tragedy and pointlessness. And I do believe that Danny's last moments, as he declared his Jewishness for his kidnappers' video camera, showed his strength of character.

But recasting a story just so we can tell ourselves that we've found a hero is too easy. It's the quickest way to convince ourselves that what happened wasn't such a bad thing, that it had redeeming value, that we can close the book on it and move on with our lives. We do it too often -- with television shows about ordinary people with extraordinary powers, with magazine features that extol the "heroes among us" and with our impulse to elevate every story -- think Jessica Lynch, ambushed and wounded in Iraq -- to one of heroism.

For me, "A Mighty Heart" and all the hype surrounding it have only underscored how cheap and manufactured our quest for heroism has become. Paramount even launched an "ordinary hero" contest to promote the movie. "Nominate the most inspiring ordinary hero," its Web site shouts. "Win a trip to the Bahamas!"

Lost in the PR machine and the heroism hoopla is Danny, whose death is at the center of the story. After all, as one person involved in the production candidly told me: Danny can't do interviews. So in the Associated Press review, he amounts to nothing more than a parenthetical phrase.

But Danny was not parenthetical. He deserves to be remembered fully. He was charming and charismatic. He was an outstanding investigative reporter with an irreverent streak. The year before he died, I'd taken a leave from the Journal to work on a book, and he faxed me an article from an Indian magazine that he thought would help with my research. "From your assistant, Danny," he scrawled across the cover sheet, in his self-deprecating style.

He observed the media machine with a contrarian, skeptical eye. In November 2001, after the war in Afghanistan had begun, he wrote to me: "I'm getting to Pakistan just in time for the lull between 'well, more bombings, more deaths -- who cares now?' and 'shit, it's December, we have to round out our prize packages' " with big articles for awards such as the Pulitzers. "Okay, no more cynicism from here," he signed off. "I'm going to be a father and must maintain an idyllic view of the world."

Danny had me teach him how to say "Do I look like a fool?" in Urdu so he could tell off Mumbai taxi drivers who tried to overcharge him. Once, shortly after arriving in Peshawar on an assignment, he wrote me: "I'm at the Pearl Continental, wasn't able to get a free room despite my argument that I was the owner."

Don't look for that personality in the movie. You won't find it.

I know I'm guilty of assisting in Hollywood's mythmaking. In the fall of 2003, I went with Mariane to the Los Angeles home of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, where we ate bagels and drank coffee by the pool while listening to their pitch for buying the movie rights to her book. When Mariane decided to sell, Warner Bros. Pictures sought my "life rights," too. I agreed to sell them, even though a friend told me that making a movie about Danny's death seemed exploitative.

A year passed. Pitt and Aniston got a divorce. Pitt and Jolie got together. The movie rights passed to Paramount Vantage. Paramount hired British director Michael Winterbottom. And a script emerged.

When I read it last summer, I felt as though I'd been punched in the gut. I sat across from British actress Archie Panjabi, who had been dispatched to my home in Morgantown to learn to play me. I lamented that none of the characters were fully developed, least of all Danny.

When I watched the movie last month, I was relieved that I wasn't a servant girl, as I felt an early script had it. So I wrote to a producer, "Thumbs up okay on my end." But I wasn't being true to myself. I was reacting to the power and seduction of Hollywood.

A few days later, when I saw the photos of stars in evening gowns and tuxedos floating down the red carpet for the Cannes premiere of "A Mighty Heart," Danny's not-quite-5-year-old son among them, I had that sinking feeling again. Other friends of Danny's said they did, too. It was so not Danny.

Worst of all, the pomp came at the same time as a chilling reminder of his death. On the night of the Cannes premiere, the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, ran a photo of an emaciated man said to have been the owner of the plot of land where Danny had been held and where his remains had been buried. The accompanying story alleged that the man had been held in the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, then released to Pakistani intelligence authorities, who had recently dumped him at his family's home. The headline: "Most wanted man in Daniel Pearl case: Saud Memon dies."

On the eve of the movie's New York premiere earlier this month, I was in Phoenix at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference. I was there to announce the establishment of the Pearl Project, a joint faculty-student investigative reporting project at Georgetown University that will aim to find out who really killed Danny and why. It's my own way of honoring him. His story isn't over for me. I set up the project because -- despite a confession from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11 and of Richard Reid's failed shoe-bombing, that he killed Danny -- I believe we still don't know the real truth behind what happened to him.

After the conference, I had to decide whether to go to New York for the premiere or head back home. I went home. In my home office, I stood in front of a copy of the chart I had started in Karachi to make sense of everything that happened after that January day in 2002. At the center is a single name: Danny.


Asra Q. Nomani teaches journalism in Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies.

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Old 06-25-2007, 12:11 PM   #17
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That's it exactly. It's as if he never even existed long before he didn't actually exist anymore. I wanted to know who he really was.

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Old 06-25-2007, 03:18 PM   #18
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going to see it tonight. Will report back with my thoughts.
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Old 06-26-2007, 09:15 AM   #19
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Look forward to reading your thoughts

Just thought this was interesting, from time.com

Thursday, Jun. 21, 2007
10 Questions for Mariane Pearl

Five years ago, extremists murdered her journalist husband Daniel in Pakistan. Now, Angelina Jolie portrays her in the new film A Mighty Heart, based on her tragic love tale. Mariane Pearl will now take your questions

How did your purpose in life change after your husband's tragic death? —Natasha Landkamar, PARIS

I think the point is that it hasn't changed. That is my main achievement. Things like that happen to you, and the people that hurt you expect it to change your purpose. Part of my "revenge" was that my purpose wouldn't change--not how I live, the work that I do or my approach to the world.

Do you think your husband's sacrifice was worth it? —Dinh Quynh Anh, VIETNAM

I don't think you can talk in terms of "worth it." His will and his choice was to become a journalist and a writer. And I think every person who dedicates his or her life to something that belongs to the greater good is very meaningful.

What is the most important thing that your son Adam should know about his father? —Sami Ith, GARDEN GROVE, CALIF.

One really important thing for me is that he has a sense of who his father was as a person--his sense of humor and the kind of friend, husband and son that he was. That is the most beautiful heritage that Adam can have.

Do you regret demanding compensation from the 9/11 fund for your husband's death? —Juana Suarez, MEXICO CITY

I was thinking of Adam. When I knew that the people who were involved in 9/11 were also involved in Danny's case, I wanted him to join a moment in history. I thought maybe it would help him to be part of a group. That is why I did it. It really wasn't about money. Any money that comes as a result of this is for my son.

Given that Daniel died in Pakistan, what do you think about President Pervez Musharraf? —Dave Smith, ATLANTA

My view about him and politics is that I just don't trust anyone. He does not have as much power as we think, and I have never thought that any [help] would come from the Pakistani government.

Has it been difficult to maintain your objectivity as a journalist? —Dale Worsham, SAN ANTONIO

No, I haven't lost my objectivity. I don't think I have become a more fearful person or even more suspicious. I just finished a series of profiles of women around the world--all with different issues--to show that in the world there are incredible individuals we should focus on. It is something that even al-Qaeda hasn't taken away from me.

Has your view of Islam changed? —Budi Primawan, JAKARTA

No, it hasn't changed at all. I grew up with Muslim people, so I was very acquainted with Islam. So it is not like the people who killed Danny taught me what Islam was about. They are hijackers of their own faith.

Do you still practice Buddhism? If so, how has it helped you? —Maike Lehmann KONIGSFELD, GERMANY

I have been chanting for 24 years. It has brought me a lot of strength and wisdom in the sense that even in the most dire times, I didn't get lost. I knew that if I wanted to survive, it wasn't about healing or trying to forget. It was about how I could use my life to answer what had happened to us. In many ways, it saved my life.

As a woman of color, how do you feel about being played by Angelina Jolie in the movie? —Dharma Kemp-Bresett, NASHUA, N.H.

I have heard some criticism about her casting, but it is not about the color of your skin. It is about who you are. I asked her to play the role--even though she is way more beautiful than I am--because I felt a real kinship to her. She put her whole heart into it, and I think she understood why we should do this movie. We had something to say that we knew we should say together.

Did Angelina master your French accent? :-) —Rhonda Phillips, ATLANTA

[Laughs.] She suffered. She told me she loves me, but it was a very difficult task. She told me I didn't only have a French accent but I had a Cuban accent too. We joke about it.

Your book detailed the horror that both you and your husband endured at the hands of fanatics. How do you maintain a semblance of hope for the future of our world in the face of such hatred and inhumanity? I admire your courage. —Shauna Rockson, Palo Alto, California

It was an act of resistance. I was really determined to deny those people what they were trying to achieve. I couldn't save Danny, but I knew that if I lost hope, then they would achieve what they wanted.

It is well known that you have a great love for the Pakistani people. Has that love changed? —Adrienne Garr, Buffalo, NY

Not at all. I look at the world in a very simple way. For me the nationality and the religion is really a secondary matter. For me, it is all a matter of human behavior and how people behave. The people who I truly love in Pakistan are the most noble, powerful and deep people that I have ever met in my life. At times like that you encounter the worst human behavior possible, so you are also going to be very sensitive to the best human behavior possible. And I think that is true in every war actually.

How do you find the strength to forgive? Do you forgive the extremists that killed your husband? —Poulomi Harolikar, Bangalore, India

I wouldn't use forgiveness. I don't think I do deep down, to be honest, but I don't think it is a point for me either. As I said, forgiveness wouldn't be enough for me to survive this. I have no reason to forgive people that acted willingly in a very clear, cold way. For me, forgiveness is not enough.

What do you think should be the legacy of Daniel Pearl? —Jodi-Ann Lyons, Albany, New York

I think it should be us. I think it should be Adam and I and what we are going to do in the world and how we are going to live our lives and how we are going to maintain the spirits of our family in the future.

Do you approve of the war in Iraq? Is it right? Has it not created more terrorism? —Rajesh Gulati, Baltimore

No I don't approve of the war in Iraq. I think like everyone else, I feel the US entered Iraq without really knowing where they where going. It wasn't clear for anyone why we staged that war. Obviously the situation in Iraq is really dreadful for everyone. Clearly we haven't achieved anything. It is a totally useless disaster.

Now that the movie is over, what will you devote your time to? —Jie Yang, Lafayette, CA

It has been a long ride. It has been five years of real fighting. It has been a lot of exercising self-control and determination day after day. I haven't had enough time to make a transition. I have always been working. I haven't been living for this movie and it is not my movie. I have a lot of journalistic projects that I want to purse that I have already started and I will keep doing my work.

My daughter's brother-in-law was critically wounded by sniper fire in Iraq and he is fighting for his life. Do you feel that your husband received enough support from the US government? —Karen M. Shields, Wilmington, Delaware

Despite what maybe people have heard, I don't think we don't have all the answer yet. It is a very complex situation and at the hub of geopolitics nowadays. I don't think I have the answer to that question.
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Old 06-26-2007, 08:01 PM   #20
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I saw A Mighty Heart last night.

I would say it's good. Not great. But good.

Definitely a documentary feel--almost to the point that it was a little slow in spots. It felt very real, very authentic, and I think they were successful in keeping it objective and non-partisan.

I have little to say about the movie per se and more to say about Asra Nomani's article as it relates to what I saw in the film. Before I saw the movie I sensed from her article that perhaps she was a little too close to the situation to view the film objectively. I wondered if any film would be "good enough"or feel "right" to someone who has experienced this painful loss "up close and personal." Being close to the situation doesn't always make one more accurate in assessing an event and it's significance and in fact can make one less so.

AFTER seeing the film, I went back and reread Nomani's article and I saw things a little differently. I disagreed with Nomani's assertion that Daniel Pearl was portrayed as reckless or as a hero. He looks like a reporter who wants to get his story but not necessarily like one who intends to throw caution to the wind. And at least to me he very much came off as an ordinary guy. I also disagreed with her implication that film failed to show the many people of different cultures, nationalities, religions etc working to find him.

I agree that Daniel Pearl really wasn't central to this film--and in that sense I think Nomani really was looking for a different film, one that would have told the story of his life and ended with him riding away in the taxi cab on that fateful day. If anything, Marianne Pearl was the one the movie seemed to be "about" (to the extent that some of the people who saw the film with me initially assumed the title of the movie referred to her). And on reading Nomani's article for the second time, I began to sense an undercurrent of resentment towards Marianne. When she talks about the movie premiere and the presence of "the not-quite-five-year old" son of Daniel, it's glaringly obvious that the kid is not there by himself and that attending the premiere was a kind of betrayal as for as Nomani was concerned.

Nomani reveals, perhaps unintentionally, that a lot of her displeasure with the film may have to do with the failure of film to properly represent her or her importance to the story, though I thought she was hardly relegated to a sidekick in my opinon.

Bottom line: This movie is really about Marianne. It glorifies and heroizes her, which is not to say that she is underserving of acknowledgemebt for her strength and fortitude nor necessarily that such acknowlegdment comes at the expense of her husband--after all in this story, out of necessity, Daniel Pearl is already out of the picture. That this movie focuses on Marianne rather than Daniel may be what Nomani actually has a problem with.

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