“Iranium” is a 2011 documentary produced by Israeli director Alex Traiman and narrated by Iranian-American Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. Featuring interviews with 25 leading politicians, dissidents, and researchers, the film discusses the Iranian nuclear program, Middle East policy, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation.
The Iranian nuclear program began in 1973 when Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi created the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and began to reach out to Western countries such as the US, France, and Germany to develop a civilian nuclear program. The 1978-79 Iranian Revolution and the subsequent rise of Ayatollah Khomeini as Iran’s leader temporarily put a hold on the countries nuclear program. Following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, President Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sought to revive Iran’s overt nuclear civilian program and expand undeclared nuclear activities during the 1990s. Since then there has been much debate among the international community regarding the true intentions of the Iranian nuclear program. Even though some countries such as the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UK claim that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, other countries such as Russia, China, Germany, France, Italy in addition to organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have thus far found no evidence that the Iranian government is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon and that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes.
Despite the fact that the film gives some insight into Iranian foreign policy and current policy issues in the Middle East, it contains numerous historical and factual inaccuracies that raise doubts towards its main claims. One such inaccuracy is related to the film’s discussion of the overall human rights record of Iran since the late 1970s when compared to Iran under the Pahlavi monarchy. For example, the current Iranian government is mentioned in the film as having the “world’s worst human rights record” and as having an undemocratic government overall. Ratings from organizations such as Freedom House reveal an entirely different picture. In annual reports on global human rights published between 1972 and 1978, Iran ranked at the bottom in terms of both civil liberties and political freedom, with only the Soviet Union, Yemen, Cuba, and North Korea having lower ratings. Since the overthrow of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in February of 1979 however, Iran has improved a whopping 17 positions in its Freedom House score and is now considered partially free. Additionally, Iran’s success in achieving democracy is a model for other states in the region in achieving democracy.
Another factual inaccuracy in “Iranium” is its depiction of the conflict between Israel and Iran and its framing of Israel as the victim. In reality, Israel has pursued an aggressive policy towards Iran over the past 6 and a half decades. For example, the Israeli government took part in the 1953 Iranian Coup, strongly supported the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and encouraged his repression against the Iranian people, supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussien during the Iran-Iraq War, has repeatedly called for military action against Iran, and worked alongside the US and Saudi Arabia in carrying out a June 2017 terrorist attack on the Iranian Parliament which killed 18 civilians. As such, the film’s portrayal of the current disputes between Iran and Israel is not rooted in fact and instead relies on false assumptions. Additionally, the commentators interviewed throughout the film generally took the position that war with Iran or regime change efforts are the only way to reduce the tensions between Iran and the US in relation to its nuclear program.
Because of the film’s numerous historical and factual flaws and overall biased message, “Iranium” is a political documentary film that I cannot recommend. The film promotes an inaccurate interpretation of the political system of Iran and promotes the idea of war as the only solution to the issues defining the relationship between the US and Iran.