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ReThink Review: The Iran Job -- Basketball Diplomacy

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With a title like The Iran Job, you might expect a movie about espionage or a secret military operation striking a blow against America's allegedly scariest enemy. But The Iran Job is actually a documentary, and the job in question is for Kevin Sheppard, a basketball player from the U.S. Virgin Islands, to play point guard for an Iranian basketball team. And as the film follows Kevin through his 2008-2009 season playing for A.S. Shiraz, his experiences reveal a people and culture very different from what politicians and the media would have you believe.

Some of the opening shots of The Iran Job show murals in Iranian cities calling for America's downfall, and Kevin's reservations about playing in Iran are not unfounded in light of Iran's repressive conservative regime and tensions with the U.S. But we soon see that none of the Iranians Kevin comes across harbor any ill will towards him for being an American and are actually very friendly and happy to cheer him on -- especially since Kevin is considered the key to A.S. Shiraz making the playoffs in their first year in Iran's Super League, which no new team has ever done. But not only is Kevin expected to play well, but as the team's captain, he's also expected to be a leader and coach to Shiraz's young, inexperienced players, despite a formidable language barrier. Watch the trailer for The Iran Job below.

While the team's struggle to reach the playoffs provides The Iran Job's structure, the film's unexpected heart is Kevin's friendship with three Iranian women -- his physical therapy nurse, Hilda, and her friends Laleh and Elaheh. Even though Kevin generally avoids political discussions, he's given a firsthand look at how Iran's conservative Islamic government robs the country's women of freedoms that are easy to take for granted. Hilda, Laleh, and Elaheh risk harassment or arrest just for visiting Kevin in his apartment and hide in another room if someone comes to the door. Women are expected to keep their heads covered at all times, the crowds at the games are segregated by sex, and sometimes women are barred from watching at all.

There's definitely some excitement seeing whether Kevin can inspire and lead his team to the playoffs, but the "team of misfits trying to beat the odds" story is one we've seen before. It's Kevin's political awakening that makes The Iran Job unique, as Kevin begins to see Iran through the eyes of his female friends and the condescending, infantilizing way they're treated, and learns that many Iranians disagree with their government, are inspired by the election of Barack Obama, and yearn for a freer society.

The Iran Job is a testament to how sports can serve as a common, uniting language between nations and cultures. But for me, it was a further reminder that when you threaten to attack another country -- as Israel and, under Bush Jr., the U.S. has with Iran -- you're declaring war on the entire country, including a lot of people who aren't too different from you and me and want the same freedoms we're supposedly trying to give them through missiles and bullets. Through the friends he makes, we see the political become personal for Kevin, maybe for the first time in his life. That's something all of us need to do the next time a politician or pundit attempts to demonize an entire nation or religion as justification for war.

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