Is Not Without My Daughter Based on a True Story?

‘Not Without My Daughter’ is a drama film that revolves around Betty, who is married to Sayyed Bozorg “Moody” Mahmoody, an American-Iranian doctor. Given Iran’s war with Iraq that is going on at the time, Moody is ridiculed by his colleagues at the hospital for his Iranian heritage and decides to go to Iran to visit his family. Though reluctant at first, Betty agrees as her husband convinces her that exposure to their Iranian heritage would be good for their daughter, Mohtab. But once in Iran, Betty and Mahtob’s passports are taken away by Moody, and they’re forced to stay in Iran.

With no legal recourse to return back to America, Betty must do whatever it takes to go back home with her daughter. Directed by Brian Gilbert, the 1991 film features brilliant performances by Alfred Molina, Sally Field, and Sheila Rosenthal. Hollywood is quite well known the world over for its detailed look at history, especially when it’s war. Many of these stories are based on real people. Therefore, many of our readers might be wondering whether or not ‘Not Without My Daughter’ is one such film. Let’s dive in and find out together!

Is Not Without My Daughter a True Story?

Yes, ‘Not Without My Daughter’ is based on a true story. The screenplay — written by David W. Rintels — is based on the real-life Betty Mahmoody’s eponymous biography that was published in 1987, that she wrote with William Hoffer. The biography details Betty’s life in the US and her escape from Iran with her daughter. Many of the names of the characters in the biography have been changed to protect them from prosecution by the Iranian government for helping Betty. The silver screen adaptation also sticks to these changes and doesn’t deviate much from the original text.

Betty spent two years in Iran, enduring forced confinement and abuse at the hands of her husband and his family. But despite her own harrowing experience, she doesn’t want her daughter, Mohtab to remember him entirely in a negative light. “She [Mohtab] hated him when we came back, and during the escape, she said ‘I hate daddy for doing this to us.’ She didn’t have much, you know, positive to remember [about her father]. When I realized how bad it was…I didn’t want her to grow up that way and think that he was always a monster, a vicious person — which he wasn’t. He was a great father,” Betty said in an interview with Eileen Prose.

She went on to talk about how in the time that she’d known her before their move to Iran, Moody had tailored his life around spending time with his wife and daughter. In fact, he’d taken up a position as an anesthesiologist so that he could spend more time with his family. It was only when the Iran-Iraq war broke out, that he started showing changes in his demeanor. However, this particular aspect isn’t shown in ‘Not Without My Daughter,’ which replaces it with Moody’s ostracization at his workplace through pointed jokes at his expense.

Depicting the character of Betty in the film is Sally Field, whose facial expressions as she goes through shock, anger, sadness, and determination engage the audience better than anything else could. Her desperate pleas as she approaches a shopkeeper to let her use his phone, and her panicked and almost relieved tone as she speaks to the Swiss Embassy leave no doubts in the viewer’s minds that this is a woman who desperately wants to escape her circumstances.

However, in spite of the actress’s brilliant performance, she never actually met the real-life counterpart of the character she portrayed. She didn’t want to, if fact, and said that she wanted to find her own characterization for the role. “Oh, I thought it was great. I worked on the script though, and so when I see the film, I see myself, and I have met Sally. I was on location, and she was trying to portray a typical American woman which I thought was very important, and I had earlier made that statement that this role shouldn’t come across as a movie star or someone from a large city. I thought she did a great job,” said the real-life Betty, on Sally’s depiction of her in ‘Not Without My Daughter.’

Even without the jarring emotional aspects of it, ‘Not Without My Daughter’ has plenty of action as the mother-daughter duo make their escape, as well as all the cloak-and-dagger that Betty engages in to secure said escape to keep just about anybody engaged. And while the film does depict an extremely conservative Muslim family, it does not depict the entire religion, or even the country of Iran in a negative light. Through her real-life story, Betty not only wants to narrate her own personal experience but also the fact that we mustn’t judge an entire community through the actions of a few and through our own lack of understanding of somebody’s religion and culture.

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