Iranian model Mahlagha Jaberi protests Iran executions in noose dress at Cannes Film Festival

Mahlagha Jaberi attends the "The Old Oak" red carpet during the 76th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 26, 2023 in Cannes, France.
Mahlagha Jaberi attends the "The Old Oak" red carpet during the 76th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 26, 2023 in Cannes, France. Photo credit: Getty Images

An Iranian-born model has sparked widespread controversy after she wore a dress featuring a noose around her neck on the red carpet of the 76th Cannes Film Festival.

Mahlagha Jaberi's bold political statement was in protest against a string of executions in Iran over recent weeks. 

According to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights group, May marks the "bloodiest month" in the nation over the last five years, with at least 90 executions reportedly carried out in the last 18 days and 278 people executed in 2023 so far. Several have been hanged for their involvement in the nationwide protests that erupted following the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the morality police for allegedly not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards.

During her appearance at the Cannes Film Festival last week, Jaberi donned a dress by designer Jila Atelier which featured a noose-like rope around her neck. The dress also had the words 'Stop Executions' emblazoned on the back of its train, but security guards took exception to the message and made the model cover up the wording upon her arrival, she claimed.  

Sharing a series of photos with her 4.2 million Instagram followers on Tuesday, Jaberi declared that the dress had been designed to "bring media attention to the wrongful executions of Iranian people", while observing "the glamour of Cannes". 

"Unfortunately, political statements are not allowed at the film festival and the security stopped me from showing the back of my dress, but the 'noose' meaning was well understood," Jaberi added.

In an earlier post on Sunday, Jaberi shared a stylised clip of her in the dress to her social media, captioning the footage: "Dedicated to the people of Iran… #StopExecutionsInIran." The video was set in a dark studio to a sombre instrumental, with 'Stop Executions' emblazoned across one clip as Jaberi posed in the gown at various angles.

Meanwhile, designer Jila Saber from Jila Atelier explained that the dress was a "small step" towards "eliminating injustice".

"We tried to play a small role in fighting against the heinous crime of executing innocent people in Iran by sending out the message [at] Cannes Festival. Every small step counts towards eliminating injustice," she wrote. 

Photos of Jaberi and her sartorial statement have since been widely circulated online. While many have applauded the model for her powerful message, the protest has also drawn condemnation from commentators and journalists.

In a strongly worded tweet, Huffington Post journalist Yashar Ali criticised Jaberi for the video, writing: "As innocent Iranians are being executed, @MahlaghaJaberi thought it would be a good idea to wear a dress that has a noose [sewn] into it and then film a seductive video using a song that has become an anthem for protesters. Absolutely disgraceful all around. And then to end the video with 'stop executions' and no other context or information makes it unhelpful!" 

Another tweeted, "Artists try way too hard to be edgy and wind up tone deaf and cancelled," while a third added: "Trying to promote a brand on the blood of the innocent is tasteless, tacky, and just gross."

Michael Doran, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East, hailed Jaberi's dress as an "eye-catching" form of "protest", while Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs, praised Jaberi for her bravery.

"Iranian-born model Mahlagha Jaberi arrived to Cannes Film Festival wearing a dress that resembled a noose - to draw attention to awful executions taking place in Iran. More than 200 people were executed in Iran this year alone. Another brave woman. Maybe if women were the majority in politics, there would be no more wars? What do you think?" he wrote on Twitter.

Others have thrown their support behind Jaberi and lambasted her critics, particularly women who had spoken out against her statement. Twitter user @KimiaChigoft wrote: "This is a prime example of damned if you do and damned if you don't. We should support @MahlaghaJaberi, who used her platform effectively & with her simple yet symbolic dress made a stand against executions in Iran. She flew the flag for Iranian women, and did so beautifully. The last thing we should be doing is criticising her. Women should build each other up not tear each other down. Her dress is perfectly appropriate for Cannes. Likely there would have been vitriol whatever she had worn."

Vedant Patel, the principal deputy spokesperson for the US State Department, has issued a statement condemning the spate of executions in Iran.

"We join the people of Iran and the international community in calling on Iran to not carry out these executions. The execution of these men - after what have been widely regarded as sham trials - would be an affront to human rights and basic dignity in Iran and everywhere."