Argo’s Best Picture Oscar: Banging the Drums? by Paul F.J. Aranas

Michelle Obama appears live via satellite to announce the Academy’s Best Picture of the Year. The First Lady wears a sleeveless, silver gown, and military men and women donning bow ties are her backdrop. She opens the large envelope and says, “And the Oscar goes to ‘Argo.’ Congratulations!” Under another international climate, Michelle Obama’s Sunday evening appearance would have been a surprise but nothing worth raising an eyebrow. However, as U.S. officials and members of the P-5 +1 (France, Russia, China, U.K., and Germany) ready themselves for Tuesday’s talks with Iran in Kazakhstan,  over Tehran’s alleged nuclear program, the Best Picture unveiling appeared to be more than just a surprise visit from the President’s wife.

According to the Los Angeles Times and other sources, Argo garnered a “thumbs down” across Iranian society, from government supporters and the media to anti-government activists and reformists.  Many Iranians saw the film through $1 bootlegged copies and charged that it stereotyped the 1979 revolution as being carried out by only bearded fanatics, when the revolution had been led by students and people comprised of differing ideologies united in opposition against the then U.S. supported dictator—the Shah. Many in Iran blasted the film as being insulting, lacking historical honesty, or merely for being mediocre.

“I am secular, atheist and not pro-regime but I think the film ‘Argo’ has distorted history and insulted Iranians,” Hosain, a café owner, told the Los Angeles Times. “For me it wasn’t even a good thriller.”

“I did not enjoy seeing my fellow countrymen and women insulted, Farzaneh Haji, an educated homemaker, told the Times. “The men were not all bearded and fanatical. To be anti-American was a fashionable idea across the board. Even non-bearded and U.S. –educated men and women were against American imperialism.”

Closer to home, Canadians criticized Ben Affleck’s production for transforming what was a Canadian plan—to exfiltrate six Americans from Iran that had escaped the storming of the U.S. embassy — into a brainchild of the CIA. Canadian Ambassador Kenneth D.  Taylor, who helped the six, was particularly vocal in his disapproval of the storyline.

“In the movie, Canada and Ottawa didn’t exist…it was a Canadian story that’s been, all of a sudden, totally taken over by the Americans. Totally,” Ambassador Taylor told the New York Times.

“[Argo] rewrites history at Canada’s expense, making Hollywood and the C.I.A. the saga’s heroic savior while Taylor is demoted to a kindly concierge,” wrote Brian D. Johnson, a film critic for Maclean’s– a popular Canadian magazine.

So in essence, we have a film, based on real events, that fictiously knighted the United States government and the CIA as hero, ignored essential facts, and further demonized a country under threat of attack by the United States. To top it off, the First Lady announced the film as Best Picture a day before Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iran of “terrible consequences” if negotiations didn’t show progress in a way Washington deemed suitable. Such pre-negotiation rhetoric is unlikely to be found in any diplomacy textbook.  Amidst the escalating U.S. rhetoric, Iran finds itself surrounded by at least forty-four U.S. military bases and under intensifying U.S. sanctions. It is worth noting that Tehran hasn’t attacked a single country in just under three hundred years, while Washington, in the last ten years alone, has illegally dropped bombs on six countries and occupied two.

While this year’s Best Picture announcement, courtesy of the First Lady and her military personnel backdrop– raises questions, no concrete proof has surfaced that the Academy’s decision and choice of presenter were connected to a wider agenda. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to assume that political forces in Washington, the Israeli lobby, and big  moneyed interests seeking military action against Iran had no influence in Argo’s recognition as Best Picture.

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