Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012) has won the Oscars for best film this year. The film is based on a CIA operative Tony Mendez, who led the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran, during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. While I am a strong advocate of historic drama, Argo tends to falsify history and diplomacy, thereby taking propaganda film-making to a newer low.
The diplomatic inaccuracy of Argo is well documented in Wikipedia. The film totally undermines the involvement of Canada, New Zealand and Britain in the situation and makes this a CIA-Hollywood heroic. It also exaggerates the situation heavily and tells the audience that the diplomats were under great danger, while in reality, they were kept safe. Bringing them home was a cakewalk. What hurts the most is the depiction of Iranians in the film. The film does not, for once, say that Iranians overthrew a dynastic ruler and established a democracy, and the USA opposed it, because they were loosing their oil contracts with Iran and their strategic stand against the USSR during the cold war.
We are given shots of Muslim women draped in long black burqas driving by in jeeps holding automatic weapons. We are also shown scenes of suited men hanging from cranes or pulled from their homes and shot in the streets – with no contextual information of the cases involved. The film shows zero consideration towards Iranian culture and civilization, which easily predates the USA by 6,000 years. I am not saying there was no violence during the Iranian revolution, but the film’s depiction of every single Iranian as a screaming, violent, fundamentalist – is wrong. Iranian revolution was much more than a wrong vs right story.
The six embassy workers, however, are painstakingly human and vulnerable. Forget the fact that of all the Embassies in the world, Iran would have been the last one where Americans will place their vulnerable men. In the end, we learn that all six embassy workers end up rejoining the foreign service, which leads us to question whether they were really average civilians? The cool dudes of Hollywood (which, by the way is shown to have more institutionalism and culture than Persia) insert humour into this piece of propaganda as another level of making war comfortable by making it funny. Most ridiculous is the ending, where a classic reunion is shown between Ben Affleck and his-never-shown-before wife kissing with an American flag in the backdrop.
Ben Affleck has said “Because we say it’s based on a true story, rather than this is a true story, we’re allowed to take some dramatic license. There’s a spirit of truth.” Well, sir, then you should have kept yourself from showing similarities between the actors and picking up selected photographs and drawing comparisons in the film’s prelude. You wanting to show the marvellous work your make up artists and set designers have destroyed the public image of Iran and Iranians for years to come. And who can forget the Iran air flight 655 incident, when US navy shot down an Iranian passenger flight killing 290 Iranian civilians?
Propaganda based films are not new. They have existed right from the silent era. It’s unfortunate how Hollywood, and cinema in general has boiled down to a propaganda tool for US foreign policy since the WWII. The movies made on Vietnam war did the same thing. Vietnamese were almost always shown as animals squealing and running around. The first film to my knowledge which broke this trend was Full Metal jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987). Clint Eastwood brilliantly presented the battle of Iwo Jima from both the participating sides.
I understand truth is a subjective thing. But, art should not be driven by propaganda. Films, being the most powerful and widely used form of art, turning into mediums of hiding realities is an extremely scary thought. Artists in general, and film-makers in particular must either show the truth as is, or introduce abstraction without vested interests in the narrative.