‘Holy Spider’ is a crime drama that recounts the true story of a series of murders that took between 2000 and 2001 in Mashhad, Iran. The film follows Arezoo Rahimi, a journalist who arrives in the city to investigate the case. She has to face misogyny and sexism at every turn and discovers the same thing happening to the victims as well. The killer has been targeting sex workers, who are not considered important enough for the authorities to take the case seriously. With barely anyone interested in catching the killer, Rahimi decides to do something on her own.
The movie presents a realistic picture of living in a society that only seems focused on controlling women’s lives. Rahimi becomes the voice of the victims, going as far as to put herself in their shoes, even if it means she could get killed herself. If you are wondering whether her character is based on a real journalist, then here’s what you should know.
Is Arezoo Rahimi Based on a Real Journalist?
Yes, Arezoo Rahimi is based on a real journalist, Roya Karimi-Majd, who investigated the Spider Killer’s case. While ‘Holy Spider’ is based on true events, the film fictionalizes some parts of the story. The character of Arezoo Rahimi also falls into that category. Karimi-Majd was indeed on the case, and she even interviewed Saeed Hanaei. However, the film shows Arezoo putting herself as bait to lure the killer into a trap and ends up reporting him to the cops. In real life, a sex worker was trapped by Hanaei, but she fought back, ran away, and later brought the cops to Hanaei’s place.
Born in Tehran in a liberal, middle-class family, Roya Karimi-Majd worked as a radiologist before she took to journalism. Her job at the public hospital in Mashhad brought her in touch with the everyday reality of the women in the city. Looking at the fractures and breaks in her patients’ bones, she saw a part of society she hadn’t been exposed to before. “I would have never become a journalist if I hadn’t worked at the hospital. I heard all of these stories from the patients, such sad stories, and I knew I had to tell them. I knew that people’s souls needed my help more than their bodies,” she said.
Since she became a journalist, she has reported extensively on socially and culturally relevant issues, especially regarding women. She has worked on human-trafficking cases, child abuse, and domestic violence, among other things. Due to her investigation in the Spider Killer case, she was approached by Maziar Bahari to appear in his documentary, ‘And Along Came a Spider.’ The director has credited her with researching the details of the case and focusing on the events that happened after Hanaei’s arrest.
Talking about the serial killer, Karimi-Majd said, “Saeed Hanaei was a very simple and honest person but not very intelligent. In a lot of murder trial footage, or even when watching films about them, you sometimes feel you’re watching an actor: someone whose every movement has been planned to influence the judge’s verdict. But in the interview with Hanaei, I never felt he was hiding anything or lying.”
Where is Roya Karimi Majd Now?
Roya Karimi Majd lives with her husband and two daughters in Prague, Czech Republic. She works as a broadcast journalist at Radio Farda. Before she moved to Prague, Karimi Majd worked at an Iranian magazine called Zanan, for which she covered women’s issues. However, her and the magazine’s progressive views didn’t sit well with authorities, and they closed the magazine in 2008. It was restarted in 2014 under the name Zanan-e Emrooz, with the pressure of being more moderate in their discussion of the issues and criticisms of the government, if any. The magazine compromised, but the state again censored them, closing the magazine. Following this, Karimi Majd moved to Prague but has continued her work on women’s empowerment.
At Radio Farda, she has hosted a program called ‘Other Voices,’ in which she sheds light on the topics related to women that are generally ignored by the authorities because they are not considered too important. In another program for the radio, called ‘Tradition of the Blade,’ Karimi Majd reported on the topic of female genital mutilation in Iran. For this, she received a special commendation in the Radio Current Affairs Documentary category and won the golden award at the New York Festival.
With her work, Karimi Majd wants to continue focusing on the issues that affect women at the grassroots level, especially in rural areas. “Once in a while, we have an uplifting story about a successful Iranian woman. But this doesn’t mean much for our listeners because these successful women have all left Iran. It’s more important that our radio broadcasts can reach rural women and that we talk about what is affecting them,” she said.
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