The government of Iran is taking the catchphrase from Ben Affleck’s film to heart: “Argo f*** yourself.” Though Zero Dark Thirty has been taking up most of the cultural bandwidth in terms of debating the use of torture, Argo has irked some critics—Mark Cousins being paramount—for its inaccurate representation of history. Not shocking that Hollywood would whitewash a story (Affleck plays Tony Mendez, the Hispanic CIA agent) and valorize an American perspective (despite Canada’s involvement), but Iran isn’t going to let sleeping dogs lie.
Yesterday, filmmaker Ataollah Salmanian announced that the Iranian side of the story would be told in Setad Moshtarak (The General Staff). Iran has a strict censorship bureau in place, where films need to be approved at nearly every level, from development, to script writing, up to the final cut. The General Staff has been greenlit thus far, which suggests it won’t be unbiased in representation, with Salmanian telling the Tehran Times: “This film, which will be a big production, should be an appropriate response to the ahistoric film Argo.” (The general liberal defense of Affleck’s film is that it’s about the power of film to shape history, not about history itself.)
The irony of this is that Iran has a blossoming film industry. Despite the Art Bureau’s strict rules, filmmakers such as Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, and a whole new generation being profiled at the International Film Festival Rotterdam have made a name for themselves on the festival circuit and in art houses worldwide. With innovative features and ideas, Iranian cinema has become the national cinema to watch.
That Argo is currently banned in Iran doesn’t help the case for veracity, to be sure. But in making an alternate version this does emphasize that history, at the end of the day, is a story that’s written by humans. Humans who are fallible have motivations and biases that spring from their own lived existence. So Argo might not have to go f*** itself, but that’s certainly worth thinking about.