"We plan to schedule the program," Grossman said in response to the pressures. "We have great faith in the program. It's a program of integrity, it was made responsibly, and we intend to broadcast it."
"It was a bald question, 'Would the journalistic enterprise be defended against the powerful political and economic opposition?'" recalls Peter McGhee, then the program manager for public affairs at WGBH, which produced "Death of Princess." "And in the end we prevailed. It put a chock behind the back wheel of public television."
Though reporting of the 1977 executions was largely suppressed in Arab countries, the story of "the princess who died for love" traveled far and wide by word-of-mouth. But as reporter Antony Thomas conducted his investigation in London, Paris, Beirut, Riyadh, and Jeddah, almost all of those he interviewed off-the-record declined to appear on camera.
"And so we made this crucial decision to dramatize the interviews," says co-writer and executive producer David Fanning. "That way, we would be able to hide or to mask the people's identities to protect them. But we were also able to preserve the journalistic integrity of the investigation."
Although the identities of most of the interviewees were disguised, the dialogue spoken by the actors in the film was based on the transcripts of the interviews with the film's sources.
"I heard literally dozens of contradictory reports," says Antony Thomas, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film of his journey through the Arab world. "And though some brought me further from the truth about the executions, each revealed a truth about the storyteller. It seemed that they were not talking only about the Princess, but about themselves and their own place in the Arab world."
One of the few characters in the film whose identity was not changed was Violet Costandi, a Palestinian wife and mother living in Beirut. "As a Palestinian, when I was deprived of all these things, of my homeland, of everything that belonged to me, I had the feeling of revolt," says Costandi. "I feel I love this girl. I think she was a free soul."
Others were more practical about the executions. "She committed a very grave sin against Islam," says the owner of a fashionable boutique in Saudi Arabia. "He couldn't let her get away with this. All sorts of silly girls would have followed. She had to be sacrificed."
Still others saw her as a revolutionary supporting a revival of democracy and women's rights in the Muslim world. "By her actions she was saying, 'Look at this blasphemy. Look what is being done to our women,'" says a Saudi school teacher. "A woman is nobody's property in Islam. There is no veil in Islam."
But throughout the Rashomon-like retelling of the Princess's story, one constant idea emerges -- the Princess was a symbol of a culture pulled between its traditions and the modern world.
"It's the story of 200 million people. The whole Arab predicament," says one Arab source. "How much of our past must we abandon? How much of your present is worth imitating?"