In the months since its release, Argo has received no shortage of criticism for downplaying the role of Canada in its semi-fictionalized account of the Iran hostage crisis. However, Canada isn’t the only country that has voiced some frustration with the film’s depiction of its efforts. In the film, the Jack O’Donnell character (Bryan Cranston) explains that, after the Americans escaped the U.S. Embassy, the “Kiwis turned them away.” The Associated Press reports that New Zealand lawmaker Winston Peters is unhappy with this, the only reference to New Zealand in the film. Last week, Peters brought an uncontested motion before Parliament, claiming that Argo unfairly presents New Zealanders as “a bunch of cowards,” overlooking the fact that the country briefly sheltered the Americans, fed them, and drove them to the airport. “It’s a diabolical misrepresentation of the acts of courage and bravery, done at significant risk to themselves, by New Zealand diplomats,” said Peters.
While the frustrations about Argo’s approach to history are somewhat understandable, most of the criticism has been directed at acts of omission, rather than outright lies. In a sense, too much burden is being placed on the film, as many seem to expect a complete historical record of events, rather than the largely subjective depiction of Tony Mendez’s perspective that the film offers. After all, Argo is an adaptation of his memoir, complete with historically irrelevant references to his family life.
The other peculiarity of the backlash is the animosity that has been directed at Ben Affleck specifically. The political editor at TV3 (one of New Zealand’s two major news networks), Patrick Gower claims that the director “deliberately slammed” the country, adding that “what Affleck has done just isn’t right.” As unwarranted as it may be, this kind of criticism seems better directed at screenwriter Chris Terrio. While Affleck certainly bears some responsibility for the film’s treatment of history, the point New Zealand is complaining about has more to do with research and writing than directing. But while Terrio wins the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and emerges largely unscathed, Affleck is targeted for criticism and overlooked for a Best Director nomination. Of course, New Zealand and Canada might argue that the latter is a form of poetic justice.