Iran plans to sue Hollywood over the Oscar-winning film ‘Argo’ over its “unrealistic portrayal” of the country. Iranian cultural official haves claimed the film is “a propaganda attack against [Iran’s] nation and entire humanity.”
“Argo is made by three film-producing companies in Hollywood… the Islamic Republic of Iran is going to sue all those who have been active in the anti-Iran domain, including directors and producers,” said Mohammad Lesani, General Secretary of the ‘Hoax of Hollywood’ conference held Monday in Tehran.
The conference saw top Iranian cultural officials and movie critics come together to pass judgment on the movie, which is banned from public screening in Iran. French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre also attended to advise on the possible lawsuit.
Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is known for her political cases. She defended and then married the infamous Venezuelan ‘revolutionary’ Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, who is serving a life sentence in France for the 1975 murder of two French counter-intelligence agents and an informant. She also represented Zacarias Moussaoui early in his imprisonment, while he was awaiting trial to determine his role in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“We will be able to block distributors of the movie, force them to apologize and challenge them to confess that the movie is nothing but a sheer lie,” Coutant-Peyre told Iranian news agency Mehr. “I will stand by the Iranian people to inform the world about the dissemination of propaganda against Iran.”
Despite the screening ban, pirated DVDs of the film are reportedly available on the black market across the country, and have become something of a hit.
Accurate history or CIA propaganda?
The Iranian revolution grew out of demonstrations against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which started in 1977 and intensified in 1978. The Shah fled Iran to live in exile on January 16, 1979. Two weeks later, the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, who left Iran 15 years earlier over his opposing the Shah, returned to the country to become its Supreme Leader.
A crowd in Tehran walks down a street in February 1979, several days after Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile. As the uprising gripped the city, protesters wore a shroud or white ribbon around the heads to signify their willingness to die as martyrs.
Iranians demanded the Shah return to stand trial for crimes against his people, and became increasingly angry at the US for allowing the Shah into America for medical treatment and refusing to extradite him. The anger spilled over when the American Embassy in Tehran was ransacked in November 1979, and its staff taken hostage – the events portrayed in ‘Argo.’ The hostages were freed in 1981 after extensive negotiations, a few months after the Shah died in Egypt. The US has not had official diplomatic relations with Iran ever since.
The Shah (L) and President Jimmy Carter.
A February 1979 rally in Tehran in support of the National Front government formed on February 14 by Ayatollah Khomeini. The banner with Khomeini’s portrait calls for the creation of the Islamic Republic, which will be formed on April 1 of that year.
The movie ‘Argo’ portrays the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, known in Iran as the ‘Conquest of the American Spy Den.’ Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444 days after revolutionary crowds stormed the US Embassy. Six Americans managed to escape and hid in the home of the Canadian ambassador in Tehran. They were smuggled out of the country as Canadian filmmakers in a highly risky joint CIA-Canadian operation code-named ‘Argo.’
Director Ben Affleck, who also played the role of CIA agent Tony Mendez in the movie, claimed the film faithfully depicted what happened, and that he “could barely believe” it had taken place. Iran, however, has accused him of distorting history, blasting the movie as CIA propaganda in which Iranians are depicted as violent thugs.
Iran has also claimed that many facts are omitted from the movie, including the reasons behind the Iran hostage crisis – such as US involvement in a 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran and installed the Shah.
Anti-American slogans outside of the U.S. Embassy, 20 November 1979.
However, the movie is hardly flattering to US policies. The movie’s US characters openly criticize America’s role in the hostage crisis – for supporting and then harboring the Shah, and turning a blind eye to the dictator’s crimes.
Jimmy Carter, the US president at the time of the embassy siege, believes the movie is mostly accurate in how it portrayed events: “90 percent to the contributions of the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian,” Carter told CNN. “The movie gives almost all credit to the American CIA. With that exception the movie is very good.” The real hero, Carter believes, was Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated ‘Argo’ escape.
Despite a clear understanding in the West that ‘Argo’ is a fictional commercial project, Iranians believe the film has a political agenda. US First Lady Michelle Obama appeared to announce ‘Argo’ as the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture, fueling such suspicions.
“For many in the Iranian regime, it’s impossible to fathom that Hollywood is not a state-run entity, as it is in Iran,” Omid Memarian, a New York-based journalist who has covered Iranian movies, told the Guardian. “Iranian officials seriously perceive any cultural products about Iran, like movies, as a political statement and a part of what they call the West’s cultural invasion against Iran.”
Iranian authorities have vowed to create their own film to present a more true-to-life story of the US Embassy siege, and the ‘Argo’ escape.
An Anti-American crowd demonstrates outside of the US Embassy, 21 November 1979.