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The Sheik producers slam columnist over Chow criticism

The Sheik is a documentary about Khosrow Vaziri, whose character, the Iron Sheik, entertained generations of WWE fans.

Gregory Miller

Is the Iron Sheik an Iranian version of Stephen Colbert?

The producers of a documentary about the Iron Sheik, the filth-spewing fictional wrestling legend whose antics have entertained generations of WWE fans, want to put a National Post columnist in a headlock after they say he failed to recognize the character's outlandish comments are actually satire.

On Monday, the Post's national affairs columnist Matt Gurney body slammed Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow for appearing at a photo op with the Iron Sheik held in advance of the Saturday evening world premiere of The Sheik. The Canadian-made documentary tracks the tragic real-life story of Khosrow Vaziri, who served as a bodyguard for the Shah of Iran before emigrating to the United States in the late 1960s and refashioning himself as a loathsome anti-American with a deadly camel clutch.

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On Sunday morning, Chow tweeted that the film, which reveals Vaziri's struggles with drugs after the 2003 murder of his daughter, contains "Lessons on family, & battles with drug addiction."

But in Olivia Chow Meets With, Is Endorsed By, Ranting Homophobe Who Encourages Rape, Gurney says there is nothing funny about the Iron Sheik. The columnist collates some of the Iron Sheik's nastier tweets over the past few years: homophobic assaults on Mario Lopez and Hulk Hogan (the Iron Sheik's bête noire), vulgar swipes at Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Barbra Streisand, and Justin Bieber, and a horrific attack on the broadcaster Nancy Grace.

"It's hard to tell if the Iron Sheik is literally insane or if he's simply engaged in one gigantic, vulgar bit of performance art taken to the extreme," Gurney writes. "It's possible that even he doesn't know anymore. Either way, it seems odd – to say the least – the (sic) Olivia Chow, progressive darling, would associate herself with such an intriguing fellow." He suggested that other mayoral candidates of a different political stripe would be pilloried if they also gripped-and-grinned with the Iron Sheik.

On Monday morning, Chow backtracked from the photo op, tweeting: "I met the Iron Sheik around his film. I do not condone his hurtful & unacceptable comments. I should have read them and didn't. I apologize."

But on Tuesday afternoon, the film's Canadian producers said it is Gurney who should apologize.

Noting that "Stephen Colbert – a character – was widely accused of being a racist for sarcastically pretending to be a racist," the producers said in a statement that they were shocked at Gurney's willful misreading of Vaziri's character.

"We are not amused by an agenda-driven newspaper's transparent attempt to use the Toronto-produced film about Khosrow Vaziri – an Iranian-refugee-turned-wrestling-character who fled the Shah's secret police; as a political football to embarrass a Mayoral Candidate the paper does not editorially support. This is the only candidate that publically supported The Sheik's world premiere this past Saturday to support Vaziri's anti-drug message," the producers said.

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"Actually, we're more than not amused about these radical statements and inability to differentiate between real-life and entertainment," the statement added.

"Vaziri used Twitter to resurrect the Iron Sheik character and brand, and leverage it as a vehicle for humour. It's sometimes very dark humour, but no more offensive to what you'd hear at any stand-up comedy club on a Friday night." They noted that Richard Pryor "another legend from the 80s," often trafficked in offensive material.

The statement concludes: "The Sheik movie will be available for download April 30, 2014" at Sheikmovie.com.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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