In "A Mighty Heart," the movie about the kidnapping and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl, there is a portentous scene early on. Angelina Jolie, playing Danny's wife Mariane Pearl, stands alone outside a home in Karachi, Pakistan, and waves goodbye to Danny as he ducks into a taxi. Danny was investigating the infamous shoe-bomber Richard Reid; on that fateful day, he thought he was off to an interview with Reid's al-Qaeda handler.
Viewers already know what the real Mariane Pearl did not: She would never see Danny again. Now, the visuals proclaim, Mariane is really alone.
Only she wasn't.
In the real-life version of the scene, there was another person standing there with Mariane, smiling, waving, and calling out "Good luck, Dude" as Danny departed. She was Asra Nomani, a fellow reporter of Danny's at the Wall Street Journal and a close friend of his for nearly a decade.
The true story of Asra and Danny's quirky and touching friendship could have added depth and dignity to the Hollywood script. Asra is Muslim; Danny was Jewish. She's a single mom; he was married and about to be a parent. Their shared experiences as children of immigrants contributed to the bond that transcended their superficial differences; so did their like-minded penchant for trying to push the stodgy Journal toward the unconventional.
Asra taught Danny to say "Do I look like a fool?" in Urdu so he had a rejoinder for the cab drivers in Mumbai who proposed preposterous fares. He, the star reporter, sent her materials for a book she was writing, with a handwritten note, "From your assistant, Danny."
Does the name Asra Nomani sound familiar? If so, maybe it is because she is an activist and educator as well as a reporter and an author. Her interest in the circumstances of Danny's death did not begin or end with the movie. She is a director of The Pearl Project, mentoring a group of Georgetown University journalism students as they try to learn what really did happen.
The home featured in that scene from the movie was Nomani's rented home in Karachi. In the film, she was cast not as the world-class reporter, writer, and friend that she was in fact, but as Mariane Pearl's "charming assistant."
"A Mighty Heart" does not just trivialize friendship; it erases it. It does so, in the myth-addled logic of movie-making, to make the relationship between husband Danny and wife Mariane all the more romantic, and the ending of Danny's life that much more tragic.
Of course, matrimania (the over-the-top hyping of all things marriage-related) is rampant in the movie industry. What makes this instance particularly exasperating and offensive is that "A Mighty Heart" pretended to be telling a true story.