Tonight, the Committee to Protect Journalists presents its International Press Freedom Awards. The annual black-tie dinner, held at the Waldorf-Astoria, honors journalists from around the world who risk their lives to report from war zones and in defiance of brutal regimes. It also raises money for CPJ’s important activities, which include denouncing anti-press violations, providing assistance to targeted journalists, and advocating for press freedom worldwide.
In 2009, CPJ petitioned the Iranian government for the release of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was arrested while covering Iran’s disputed presidential elections for Newsweek magazine. Bahari was locked in Evin Prison for 118 days, during which time he was tortured until he agreed to falsely confess to spying. (His Iranian interrogators told him they knew he was spying for four different intelligence agencies: the CIA, Mossad, MI6 … and Newsweek.) After escalating international pressure led to his release, Bahari wrote a book about his ordeal called Then They Came for Me. The book also reflects on his family’s difficult history in Iran: Bahari’s late father had been a political prisoner of the shah in the 1950s, while his late sister was locked up in the 1980s under the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime.
This year, The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart made his directorial debut with Rosewater, the movie adaptation of Bahari’s book. (Bahari, who was blindfolded during interrogations, recognized his interrogator by the rosewater scent the man wore.) Stewart had a personal connection to Bahari and his story: During the 2009 elections, Bahari did an interview with The Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones, who did a hammy impression of a spy. Bahari’s jailers would later use that clip against him, unpersuaded that Jones was really a comedian. After all, why would the man say he was a spy if he wasn’t a spy, Bahari was asked. With the sense of humor that helped him survive solitary confinement, Bahari shot back, “Why would a spy have a television show?”
My designing friend Stacy Lomman and I went to a screening of the movie on November 12. I never got a good look at the movie’s star, Gael Garcia Bernal, but we shared an elevator with Bahari himself on the way to the after-party. During the party, I eyeballed Jon Stewart as he posed for photos with fans but I was too timid to approach him myself — and that was BEFORE my embarrassing Bill Clinton photo op. (I might be too traumatized by that to ever ask anyone for a photo again.) Instead, Stacy took an outfit picture of me standing next to a random car-related Burberry display we passed on our way out of the Stone Rose Lounge at the Time Warner Center. I’m holding a copy of the book, which has been republished as Rosewater.
What Wendy Wore
Dress: Vintage Ossie Clark (probably acquired in 2006)
Boots: Prada (2008)
I just realized that the first photo I have of this dress is from November 29, 2006 — eight years ago minus a couple of weeks — and that it was taken after another movie screening.
That 2006 movie was The Holiday, starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black. Oddly, even though I didn’t remember the name of the movie, I was thinking of it recently after seeing Jack Black on television. Jack played the love interest for Kate Winslet in The Holiday and whenever I see him, I remember the horrible things people said about his suitability for a romantic role, because he doesn’t have the physique of the typical Hollywood heartthrob. So rude!
Here’s another photo of the dress taken by Jennine Jacobs of The Coveted in 2009.
I’ve gotten a lot of wear out of this Ossie. I still have to ask my friend Al Radley, the Ossie Clark expert, what year it was made.
Anyway, Rosewater the movie and the book have really stuck with me, particularly coming so close to the CPJ dinner. It’s always good to have a reminder that no matter how shiteous things can be in the U.S., we’re not going to be dragged out of our beds by police officers and locked up for complaining about it. The right to complain is priceless!
UPDATED TO ADD: I’d already finished and scheduled this post before the disappointing — but unsurprising — announcement that a grand jury declined to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August (and this news comes less than a week after a New York City police officer shot Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man, in a housing project stairwell). Since Michael Brown’s death, my Twitter timeline has provided more meaningful coverage of the situation in Ferguson than any of the mainstream media outlets. Thank you to all the people who are using their freedom of speech to make sure injustice isn’t covered up by the authorities. The situation brings to mind the videotaped shooting death of Neda Agha-Soltan during the same 2009 Iranian election protests for which Maziar Bahari was present. The Iranian government tried to say it never happened, but we all saw it. The writer Tom Junod used the phrase “essential acts of witness” to describe the importance of journalists’ photos of the Nazi death camps, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, napalm in Vietnam and 9/11. Junod wrote in 2003, before the launch of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Those are the tools of essentials acts of witness now. Use them.