For years Jon Stewart has had a Sisyphean task as the host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central – to broaden and deepen the viewpoint generally given to American television news audiences. In a recent episode dealing with the midterm elections, he summed it up with one word, "context."
Another valid word would be "nuance." It is all too easy when watching a news story on television to get wrapped up in the single, flat, viewpoint that is regularly offered, a viewpoint that lacks nuance. Things are portrayed as black and white in a world where that is rarely the case.
Stewart is not only the host of "The Daily Show," he has entered into a new project only tangentially related to the Comedy Central series – writing and directing the movie "Rosewater." The film is based on the autobiographical book "Then They Came for Me" by Maziar Bahari and documents Bahari's incarceration and torture in Iran following the 2009 election, as well as what led to that incarceration.
"Rosewater" is Stewart's directorial debut. He took several weeks off his hosting gig in the summer of 2013 to shoot the movie, leaving John Oliver front and center on "The Daily Show," a move which (at least in part) resulted in Oliver's getting his own weekly HBO series, "Last Week Tonight."
During shooting, Stewart would regularly check-in with "The Daily Show" and now, while back in his anchor chair, he finds himself doing publicity for the film. As a part of that tour, HitFix recently sat down with Stewart and Bahari to discuss the film and some of its larger implications.
"Rosewater," like "The Daily Show," delivers nuance. It gives audiences a far more three-dimensional view of Iran than what we generally get to see. It wouldn't be a surprise to hear that not everyone in Iran thinks of America as evil and is out for our destruction, but it might be a surprise to watch a movie where even some of the people who do think of America as villainous are portrayed as exceptionally human characters.
The misunderstandings between our two countries go both ways. One of the great tensions in the film is caused by the interrogators simply not understanding American (or maybe western as a whole) media. There is a basic failure to see eye-to-eye between many parts of the two cultures.
"The dialogue so far between our countries is, 'you're the Axis of Evil,' 'well, you're the Great Satan,'" Stewart told us. "So, if that's the conversation, I think there's probably very little we could produce and present that would be less nuanced than that."
Bahari agreed, explaining that here in the United States too many people—including the media and intelligence community—think that anyone who goes into a mosque is a terrorist. In Iran, on the other hand, too many people believe that if you work with foreigners, you're a spy. "Ignorance, unfortunately, is universal," Bahari said.
Stewart chimed in, reminding us that, "Ignorance, at least, has an antidote." It is an antidote that the multi-hyphenate has been pushing for years now, on "The Daily Show."
The success of that effort is in the eye of the beholder, but many folks enjoy watching him push that boulder.
"Rosewater" stars Gael Garcia Bernal and opens in theaters on Friday, November 14.