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Human rights in the DNA

British-Iranian actress, Homeland star and human rights campaigner Nazanin Boniadi talks about her bicultural upbringing, the links between acting and activism, and her Amnesty podcast.

What was your childhood like?

My parents were political refugees who fled Iran after the revolution when I was 20 days old. They left
everything behind and made London our home. They didn’t want to raise me in a social and political climate that was growing increasingly repressive towards women. They sacrificed so much to give me the best possible start. I was raised with a strong emphasis on education, which I’m extremely
grateful for. Hard work and resilience were instilled from an early age.

How did you keep in touch with your Iranian roots?

Instead of lullabies my father read me traditional Persian poetry. And much to my chagrin at the time, my mother enrolled me in Iranian Sunday school for three years. Had I not attended I wouldn’t know how to read or write Persian. As I grew older I learned the value of my bicultural upbringing, which taught me that our fundamental similarities by far outweigh our differences.

How did you become aware of human rights?

I was born in Iran during a time of great political upheaval. When we made London our home my parents
continued their activism. My father wrote articles condemning human rights abuses and calling for a secular Iran. I remember him carrying me on his shoulders during protests against injustice and tyranny in our homeland when I was five years old. So, I feel human rights are in my DNA.

What did your parents teach you?

To compromise on everything in life, except for the truth.

What makes you angry?

Injustice propels me to take action. But I’ve learned anger is a futile emotion. Instead I choose to channel that energy toward making a real difference whenever humanly possible.

And happy?

Unprompted acts of kindness.

Why do you love acting?

I love storytelling through the performing arts: it offers escapism and entertainment, but also has the power to broaden one’s perspective and inspire change. An actor’s job is to portray the human condition, an activist’s is to change the human condition. This synergy makes my work so fulfilling. I’m drawn to projects that challenge audiences’ preconceived notions of the world. It’s a dream come true
when I come across roles that fuse my passion for storytelling and raising social awareness.

Describe yourself

A passionate optimist.

Who inspires you?

Human rights defenders like Malala Yousafzai, Narges Mohammadi, Asieh Amini and Norma Cruz.

What advice would you share?

Show kindness without expectation
and love without condition. Imagine
if more people chose to live by these

In Amnesty’s latest podcast, you tell the story of Atena Farghadani...

I value and rely on peaceful self expression in my daily life and professional work. So, when I learned of Atena’s 12-year prison sentence, merely for drawing a cartoon depicting members of parliament with animal heads, I was outraged. Protest art should not be criminalised. The bitter irony is that Atena’s harsh treatment only served to confirm her critique of the Iranian government’s repression.

Listen to Antena's story, voiced by Nazanin Boniadi.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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