The Golden Globes gave Ben Affleck's Iran hostage movie top honors; now Iran wants a piece of the action, on its own terms
Hollywood loves Argo, Ben Affleck's telling of a heroic sidestory in the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis: The film is nominated for seven Oscars and has already won a Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award for best movie of 2012, with Affleck picking up best directing honors. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a little less enthusiastic about Affleck's take on the CIA-orchestrated rescue of six U.S. Embassy employees hiding out at the Canadian ambassador's residence. It is illegal to screen the movie in Iran — Mohammad Hosseini, the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, calls Argo "an offensive act" driven by "evil intentions" — and last week Iranian director Ataollah Salmanian said he is writing and directing Iran's cinematic response. The government-financed remake, The General Staff, "should be an appropriate answer to the film Argo, which lacks a proper view of historical events," Salmanian told Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency.
"I'm not sure what the Iranians found wrong" with Argo, Kenneth Taylor, the Canadian ambassador portrayed in the film tells The New York Times. "It will be amusing to see what they take issue with." That's still unclear — Salmanian tells Merh that he will focus on "the 20 American hostages who were delivered to the United States by the revolutionaries," a likely reference to the five female and seven black U.S. hostages Iran released soon after the embassy seizure, plus another hostage suffering from multiple sclerosis released months later. So The General Staff might sidestep the Canadian-CIA heroics altogether. But in general, Iran's Press TV explains, "the Iranophobic American movie attempts to describe Iranians as overemotional, irrational, insane, and diabolical while at the same, the CIA agents are represented as heroically patriotic."
That's probably what this remake is really about, Iran expert Barbara Slavin tells USA Today. "The movie Argo has embarrassed Iranians who would rather forget the hostage crisis — the violation of international law and the cruelty that it entailed." Long before Argo even came out, "Iranian officials have tried to portray the 444-day ordeal as not so terrible for the hostages and justified in light of Iranian fears that the U.S. would try to reimpose the Shah's rule." For his part, Affleck welcomes Iran's response to Argo. Iran is "a sort of Stalinist regime" repressing "a nation full of millions of wonderful, amazing people," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. So the fact that "this Stalinist regime feels the need to sort of push back somehow, I think is a tremendous badge of honor."
It's worth noting that Argo has received some pushback from the other direction, too. It's "baffling" that Affleck "found it necessary to open Argo with a distorted and one-dimensional picture of life in Iran before the revolution," especially his "cartoonish vignettes" painting the deposed Shah Pahlavi as an evil "puppet" of the West, says Pahlavi loyalist Kambiz Atabai at The Daily Beast. And Britain's ambassador during the 1979 revolution, Sir John Graham, says he is outraged that Affleck says he turned away the six U.S. embassy refugees.
"Everyone I've talked to about Argo (all Americans) loved the first five minutes — you know, the quick history lesson about the half-century of the U.S. (and partially the UK) screwing over Iran, covertly deposing its leaders, and trying to reshape its government for our convenience," says Alex Moore at Death and Taxes. Affleck gives you a hint as to why the hostage-takers are so angry, "without taking the Iranians off the hook for their own brutalities." And if Iran feels the need to finance a remake, when its "president is one of the world's pre-eminent Holocaust deniers," well, Salmainan's "'proper view of historical events' probably deserves at least a few grains of salt."
Iran's Argo revisionism won't just be left to Salmanian, though. Screenwriter Farhad Tohidi has also announced plans for a TV series, The Broken Paw, about the seizure of the U.S. Embassy. He tells the Mehr news agency that he will probably watch Argo — just for research purposes, of course. If the government says that's alright, Tohidi may end up being one of the few Iranians who won't be at risk of doing jail time for watching the movie their government is trying to remake.
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