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Iran’s ‘Argo’ Paranoia

The film Argo has its problems. First it came under criticism for historical inaccuracies and in particular for not giving enough credit to Canada which director and star, Ben Affleck, addressed during interviews and at awards shows. Second, the opening sequence was perhaps a little one sided. But with that said, Argo worked on a number of levels. With news that Iran is considering suing Hollywood over the depiction of Iranians during the period of the hostage crisis, the obvious question is whether Iran needs to realize that Hollywood is in the business of making money and winning awards, which it did with Argo. The overhyped and stylized violence depicted in the film is one way of drawing audiences. How exactly Iran plans on pursuing a lawsuit remains to be seen. Iran’s displeasure over the film follows a long line of perceived slights to the Iranian Republic.

While Tehran is undoubtedly unhappy over the portrayal of Iranians during the 1979 revolution, it wasn’t exactly a bloodless revolution and Argo attempted to show some aspect of the ensuing bloodshed. While the Shah escaped what would have certainly led to his execution, estimates range from several hundred to several thousand killed by the new Islamic government. Obvious problems would arise in any potential lawsuit, the least of which is the question of whom Iran would sue, Ben Affleck and George Clooney or all of Hollywood? Considering that most courts would view the lawsuit as frivolous, it’s likely that the lawsuit will quickly be dismissed. Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, the lawyer for Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as “Carlos the Jackal” is currently in Tehran reviewing options for a lawsuit with the Iranian government.

In pushing back against critics who argued Argo is completely one sided, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter Affleck said, “We felt like our responsibility at the beginning was to explain why all these people are at the gates of the embassy.”

“Because the image of the streets of the Middle East, of agitated people burning flags, it’s one that we’re kind of used to. So we thought instead of saying these people are crazy and they hate our freedom, we could say there are really specific reasons why they have grievances. And I think that propagates throughout the story. Once you understand the context, it becomes a lot easier to understand in a movie,” Affleck said.

Adding to Iran’s paranoia over Argo is the latest piece of commentary regarding the film that was published on PressTV, Iran’s state-run news agency, written by Kevin Barrett, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Barrett alleges that Argo is U.S. sponsored propaganda and that its star and director, Ben Affleck, is a covert CIA agent. Barrett concludes his piece by arguing, “Will Ben Affleck, and other covert operators working to launch a criminal war of aggression against Iran, ever be brought to justice? Iran’s lawsuit against the makers of Argo is a good place to start.”

Various readers have left comments in response to Barrett’s piece to the affect of “Hang him! Turn him into an example of a low life zionist patsy who is making a fortune by lies and deceits” and “Ben Afflack lacks mental capacity to be a pig. His carreer has been washed up like Hollywood and is only appreciated by low life women like Michell Obama” apparently in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s appearance via satellite at the Academy Awards. The readers’ comments were undoubtedly more informed by what Iran’s government told them of the film versus having seen it for themselves.

Barrett, in his piece, speculates that Affleck’s Pearl Harbor, a ghastly 2001 film by every estimate was also a propaganda film whose purpose was to “spread the Pearl Harbor meme in the public mind in preparation for 9/11. In a sense, Pearl Harbor was like Argo’s fictional science fiction film-within-a-film: It was a fake movie, but a real intelligence operation.”

While most Iranians have and never will see Argo a number of ingenious Iranians have obtained bootleg copies available for sale throughout various markets in Iran. Authorities decided to proceed with the lawsuit after viewing the film behind closed doors. In a meeting titled “The Hoax of Hollywood,” Iranian film critics and officials with the Cultural Ministry decided that Argo did cross a line which is yet to be identitfied.

Iran’s displeasure over Argo likely has more to do with politics than anything else. While the film has received glowing reviews and won the best-picture award Iran apparently wants to set the record straight with their own version of Argo. In response to the planned movie, Kenneth Taylor, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran said, “I’m not sure what the Iranians found wrong,” Taylor said. “It will be amusing to see what they take issue with.”

“This film, which will be a huge production, should be an appropriate answer to the film ‘Argo,’ which lacks a proper view of historical events,” Ataollah Salmanian the director of the tentatively titled, The General Staff, told Iran’s Mehr news agency. The wider point is that by criticizing a film like Argo for historical one-sided inaccuracies is akin to suggesting that Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 gave a one-sided view of U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration immediately after September 11, 2001. If one is looking for the plain facts regarding Iran’s revolution read any number of scholarly books on the topic.