“Argo,” the Ben Affleck movie about the Iranian hostage crisis, continues to build momentum for the Oscars, nabbing the Directors Guild Award over the weekend, to go along with its Screen Actors Guild Award, the Producers Guild Award and its Golden Globe.
“Argo” is also picking up fans in, of all places, Iran.
“Argo” tells the remarkable story of how the CIA tricked Iranian militants into believing a farfetched story about making a sci-fi film in Iran during the height of the hostage crisis in 1979.
Film producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, explains, “You have six people hiding out in what – a town of 4 million people – all of whom chant ‘death to America’ all the livelong day. You want to set up a movie in a week, and then you want to set up 007 over here into a country that wants CIA blood on their breakfast cereal and you’re going to walk the Brady Bunch out of the most watched city in the world. I got to tell you, we did suicide missions in the army that had better odds than this.”
As cockamamie as the cover story seemed, a CIA handler played by Ben Affleck in the movie, successfully coached his handful of American hostages out of the country.
Their rescue was the most successful CIA operation under President Jimmy Carter, whose re-election was doomed by the 50 plus other American hostages who couldn’t be rescued.
For the past three decades, that raid on the American Embassy has been heralded as a matter of Iranian national pride.
So it’s something of a surprise to hear that “Argo” is an underground hit inside Iran. Bootleg DVDs of the film have recently surfaced in the country, and The Wall Street Journal reports it’s already sold several hundred thousand copies there. It’s DVD brokers’ biggest hit in years.
“Argo” has of course been attacked as pro-West propaganda by many public figures inside Iran. But thanks to the movie, a public debate has broken out about the wisdom of the hostage taking. A former foreign minister and a former ambassador each published letters calling the embassy takeover a colossal error. They argue the takeover trapped the Supreme Leader, the revolutionary committee and the government into supporting an action of questionable legality.
An Iranian woman who refused to give her name to the WSJ said the Embassy takeover unfortunately introduced violence into their politics. She says it perhaps unwittingly sanctioned aggression as a legitimate way to deal with opposition, even against their own people.
Another Iranian compared the angry mobs attacking and roughing up the American hostages in the movie to the violent crackdown against the 2009 election protesters. Pro-regime mobs attacked and raided camping headquarters of opposition leaders much like the students hit the American Embassy.
Perhaps in an effort to stem the pro-Argo sentiment, this month a little-known Iranian filmmaker announced he’s planning his own movie which he promises will depict Iran’s version of the events depicted in Argo.