Boy's rape scene delays film release as Hollywood and Afghan culture collide Studio to take young Kite Runner stars to US before worldwide screenings amid fears for their safety at home Dan Glaister in Los Angeles and Declan Walsh in Islamabad Friday October 5, 2007 The Guardian It is a pivotal moment in a heartbreaking story. A young man looks back on the moment that defined his life. "I became what I am today at the age of 12, on a frigid, overcast, day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek." The opening words to the best-selling novel The Kite Runner by the Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini describe the reaction of a young boy, Amir, as he witnesses the rape of his best friend, Hassan. Now that same scene is at the centre of a row that has set an Afghan family against a Hollywood studio, and led to the delay of the film version of the novel, one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year. Paramount Vantage, the arthouse division of Paramount Studios that made the $18m (£9m) film, has postponed the picture's release until it can ensure the safety of the two young Afghans who portray the protagonists. Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, the boy who plays Hassan, and his family have alleged that the film-makers did not tell them about the scene until the day of shooting. Concerned at the possible repercussions the children may face, the studio is bringing them to the US at the time of the film's worldwide release. Twelve-year-old Ahmad Khan, who is from Kabul, spoke about the rape scene to the Associated Press last month, saying: "They didn't give me the script. They didn't give me the story. If I knew about the story, I wouldn't have participated as an actor in this film." The scene is a highly impressionistic rendering of a Pashtun man raping Hassan, a Hazara boy from a servant's family. The actor's parents say it could inflame painful ethnic divisions in Afghanistan. Another actor, Nabi Tanha, who plays Hassan's father, has also expressed concerns about the language used against members of Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic group, portrayed in the film. Rebecca Yeldham, one of the film's producers, claims that both the boy and his father were aware of the scene. "The father was explicity told about the content of that scene at the time of casting," she said. "We rehearsed the scene very early during the shoot in China." Yeldham said that although the pair never raised concerns about the scene, the film-makers knew that other Afghan members of the cast and crew had reservations about it. "The day of the shoot I went to the trailer and the boy was teary," said the film's director, Marc Forster, who is directing the next Bond movie. "I asked what was wrong and he said he didn't want to expose any of his body. I asked if there was anything else wrong and he said no. He was fine and we shot the scene. I never wanted the scene to be gratuitous or explicit." Changes were made and the most graphic elements of the final scene are a shot of a belt buckle being undone, and some drops of blood that fall from Ahmed's trousers in the next scene. But the boy's father says the film-makers agreed to drop the scene altogether. "When we argued, they said, 'we will cut this part of the film, we will take it out of the script'," said Ahmad Jaan Mahmidzada. The 12-year-old said he feared schoolmates might make fun of him or that adults might physically harass him, believing the rape actually took place. "It's not one or two people that I have to explain to," he said. "It's all of Afghanistan. How do I make them understand?" The studio has altered the film's release date to leave time for the two boys to complete their school year in Afghanistan, which ends on December 6. The boys will then go to the US, accompanied by guardians. The studio fears that soon after the UK release, pirated copies of the film will make their way to Afghanistan, which does not have a functioning cinema system. "We're taking the position that any suggestion of risk for these kids is something that has to be taken with the utmost seriousness," said Yeldham. A similar controversy exploded last year after the opening of Kabul Express, an Indian movie set in Afghanistan. A furore erupted around a scene in which a character accuses Hazaras of being bloodthirsty killers. The actor later fled to India. "We had to ship him out to Delhi as people were after his guts," said Saad Mohseni, of Tolo television. Mr Mohseni, who has seen the final cut of The Kite Runner, said its portrayal of the rape was "very sensitive" and he doubted it would endanger the actors. "It's possible they will be ostracised within their families. But it will only become an issue in society if the minority leaders make an issue out of it." Timor Shah Hakimyar, of Afghanistan's Foundation for Culture and Civil Society, said The Kite Runner's rape scene would create problems only if it were graphically portrayed. "If there is direct sex against the boy, then it will be difficult to release here. But if it is symbolic, then it will be OK. People see so many films in Afghanistan, sometimes involving a [raped] woman. If they show it symbolically, there is no problem for the actor." A trip to the US could bring benefits for the boys as the high-profile film is released in the run-up to the Hollywood awards season. "They really want to be part of the celebration of the movie," said Yeldham. "We want them to receive their due recognition for the work."