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There Were Major International Relations Undertones When Michelle Obama Announced 'Argo' As Best Picture

Iranian authorities reported bringing down a foreign drone on Sunday. As of Monday, the Revolutionary Guard military force of Iran is denying that this is the case. Regardless of the official report, the juxtaposition of Michelle Obama’s presentation of the Best Picture Award to a film about a tense U.S.-Iranian relationship seems somewhat tone deaf.

Argo, Ben Affleck’s comeback career move, tells the story of U.S. diplomats who were snuck out of the country during the Iranian hostage crisis by a CIA plan disguised as a Canadian film production company looking for a potential location to shoot a science fiction picture. The film, while criticized for its lack of attention to human emotion, displays the tension of the time quite deftly, and prides itself on attention to detail in capturing the nuances of the hostages’ experiences. Neither the film nor the Best Picture award played particularly well in Iran: as one Iranian quoted by the Los Angeles Times said, “I am secular, atheist and not pro-regime but I think the film Argo has distorted history and insulted Iranians.”

The LA Times also notes that the film’s nomination comes only a few days before further talks between the U.S. and Iran about nuclear disarmament. While no one would argue that Argo’s Oscar win might jeopardize the talks, the presentation of the award by surprise guest Michelle Obama seems somewhat out of place considering the tone of the film and the tone of U.S./Iranian relations at the moment.

This weekend, Iranian authorities claimed that they found U.S. drones on Iranian soil, though the Revolutionary Guard is now revoking those claims. This weekend was not the first incident of its kind: Iran has claimed to have captured a number of drone from the U.S. since 2011, though the U.S. continues to deny the claims. The CIA has not yet commented on such a report from Iran. Regardless, the incident typifies the struggling relationship between the U.S. and Iran: the fact that Michelle Obama, whose husband has faced significant criticism for the U.S.’ continued illegal use of drones, presented an award to a film that dehumanizes so many Iranians, seems like a misstep. 

Iranian media photoshopped sleeves onto her dress to preserve standards of modesty, but more importantly in terms of the nation’s response might be the public response to the first lady presenting an award to a film that portrays Iranians as so dispensable. Of course, more important is to call into question than Michelle Obama’s presentation at an award ceremony is Barack Obama’s use of drones in the first place.  

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