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Iran Reacts Angrily to 'Argo' Oscar

Tehran rejects depictions of Iranians in "Argo," which received the Academy Award for best picture, writes Saideh Jamshidi.
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama announces the winner of the best picture Oscar via video link at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 24, 2013.       REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES  - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)     (OSCARS-SHOW) - RTR3E97I

Michelle Obama’s live remote appearance from the White House at Sunday night's Oscar ceremony to announce the year's best-picture winner — "Argo" — created a political buzz in Iran.

Mohammad Mehdi Asgarpour, an Iranian director, told Mehr News Agency (MNA) that the US first lady’s gesture was a political act more than anything else. 

According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Seyed Muhammad Hosseini, Iran's minister of culture and Islamic guidance, also declared that "Argo" was an anti-Iranian movie, adding: “It doesn’t contain any artistic values.”

In his speech at the 10th anniversary of Fars News Agency, Hosseini denounced "Argo," saying the movie is created with a big budget and such propaganda to mobilize negative attitudes around the world against Iran. “We must create movies in which we can explain other people about the truth related to Iran’s hostage crisis,” Hosseini said.

According to MNA, Taghi Sohrabi, chief director of public relations for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, announced that a national channel is preparing a program to review "Argo," "300" and "Persepolis." “The program is going to review the agenda behind the Western media propaganda which try to manipulate the world’s public opinions against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. Although 300 and Persepolis are viewed by the Iranian officials as “anti-Iranian,” neither of those movies stirred the same reaction as "Argo" did.

The Iranian government is most sensitive to movies retelling the story of revolution, especially if the CIA is involved. Iranians have not forgotten the CIA operation on Aug. 19, 1953, that caused the overthrow of the first democratically elected government in the Middle East and Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. By conducting the coup, Americans supported the shah to establish his authoritarian regime.

The American officials understood the impact of CIA operation in 1953. In 2000, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized for the US role in orchestrating the overthrow of Mosaddeq government, and for backing of the shah and Iraq in its war against Iran.

Earlier last year during an interview with Mehr News, actor/filmmaker Ataollah Salmanian announced he's planning to respond to "Argo" with a movie called "Setad Moshtarak," or Joint Staff. That movie is based on the true story of 20 American hostages who were released to the American Embassy by the revolutionaries. “This movie is going to maintain a very big production, and it will be a good response to distorted movies like Argo,” he said.

Ben Affleck, the director, responded to Salmanian’s comment in an interview with The Associated Press, saying that he was pleased to have delivered something that the Iranian authorities felt the need to respond to.

"Argo" tells the story of a life-or-death covert operation to rescue six American diplomats hiding in the Canadian ambassador's home in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA exfiltration specialist. An idea comes into his mind while talking with his young son on the phone. They both were watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The movie inspires him to create a cover story that the six American diplomats are Canadian filmmakers scouting “exotic” locations in Iran for a science fiction film. Mendez cooks up a fake movie with help from Hollywood. Eventually, the American diplomats take a fake identity, walk into the Mehrabad airport and board a plane out of Iran. The movie keeps the tension up until the last minute. 

Mark Lijek, one of the six diplomats, has been outspoken about the final scenes. "Absolutely none of that happened," he told the BBC. "It's true there could have been problems with documentation — it was our biggest vulnerability. But the agency had done its homework and knew the Iranian border authorities habitually made no attempt to reconcile documents. Fortunately for us, there were very few Revolutionary Guards about. It's why we turned up for a flight at 5.30 in the morning; even they weren't zealous enough to be there that early.

"The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador's residence in Berne. It was that straightforward."