Wide Angle: Not Without My Daughter

A true story of a mother’s escape from Iran to America with her daughter.

Prajwal Shali

Wide Angle is a new segment at continnect. Here we discuss one film or book every week that is about women. The segment aims to look at films and books, encourage you to look them up as well, that are about the daily battles, the small wins, the big losses and the immense courage of women from across the world. We welcome, Prajwal Shali our newest team member at continnect and Wide Angle segment Editor. Today she talks about the Film ‘Not Without My Daughter’

The Story

‘Not Without My Daughter’ is a true story of a mother’s escape from Iran to America with her daughter. The movie is based on a book by the same title. Betty Mahmoody, an American, is married to an Iranian physician Sayed Bozorg “Moody” Mahmoody. They have a daughter Mahtob.
After 10 years in America, Mahmoody wants to visit his sister in Iran. Though it begins as a 2-weeks vacation, soon Mahmoody decides to stay permanently in Iran. This does not go well with Betty who wants to return to the US. The movie encapsulates her landing in Iran, to her dangerous yet incredible journey to freedom.

The film was released in 1991. Academy Award winner Sally Field plays the role of Betty Mahmoody in the movie. Alfred Molina plays the role of the husband Sayed Mahmoody.

 The trailer of the film



The movie is set during the 1980s. The royal reign of the Shah was overthrown and an ‘Islamic Republic’ under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini was set in 1979. This was also the period of the Gulf war (1980-1988) between Iran and Iraq. Betty reached Tehran with her husband and daughter in August 1984 and escaped with her daughter in January 1986.

For those 2 years she lived under a virtual house arrest and was even physically abused by her husband. She is not allowed to leave home unaccompanied and kept under a watchful eye. Yet she uses every opportunity she has to get herself and her daughter out of Iran. The original plan was to fly from Tehran to Bandar Abbas in south Turkey, but that doesn’t work out. She finally moved by road to Tabriz from Tehran. They undertake a ‘perilous journey through the mountains’. They even had to use a horse to get to Turkey, where the US Embassy was situated.


The movie has been criticized for the way Iran & Iranian people were portrayed. Iran is shown as a primitive society, where women are supposed to be covered from head to toe.
Questions were raised on how a husband who is shown so loving initially, takes a 360 degree turn when he reaches Iran, and becomes abusive. Even if we consider that the movie was over-dramatized, the reality is that Betty indeed was held captive and her journey to freedom is amazing, which is the essence of the movie.

About Betty Mahmoody

Betty’s biographical book ‘Not Without My Daughter’ detailing her escape from Iran was first published in 1987. She authored another book ‘For the Love of a Child’ (1992). Betty is the ‘President and co-founder of One World: For Children, an organization that promotes understanding between cultures and strives to offer security and protection to children of bi-cultural marriages.’

Sequel by daughter

After nearly two decades of this book, Betty’s daughter retells the story of her escape, struggles, nightmares and learning to forgive her father. Her book ‘My name is Mahtob‘ was published in 2015

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