Iran Suing Hollywood Over Ben Affleck's 'Argo'

French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is reportedly in discussion with Iranian officials about a lawsuit planned against Ben Affleck’s recent film Argo. Iranian news agencies announced today that Coutant-Peyres, famous for representing Zacarias Moussaoui regarding his role in the 9/11 attacks, is still working to determine what the lawsuit will look like and whom it will be placed against.

Iranian officials claim the film misrepresents events surrounding the Iranian hostage crisis and serves as propaganda aimed to incite Iranophobia at a time when fear of Iran is already heightened. Critics in Tehran were further agitated to find that Argo was the recipient of numerous awards and felt that Michelle Obama’s role in presenting the film with the Best Picture Award confirmed that the film was “politically motivated.”

In a statement yesterday at “The Hoax of Hollywood” conference organized by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Coutant-Peyre explained her reasons for involvement in the impending lawsuit: “I will defend Iran against the films like ‘Argo’, which are produced in Hollywood to give a bad image of Iran. I will stand by the Iranian people to inform the world about the dissemination of propaganda against Iran.”

It is not clear where the lawsuit would be filed although the Iranian Academy of Arts registered a complaint to UNESCO in 2007 against the film 300. The lawsuit will likely be a symbolic gesture that the Iranians hope will highlight the perceived propaganda being waged against the Persian state. “The act itself is valuable because it can stir interest and discussion among the peoples of the world,” Coutant-Peyre stated, “until they can discern between what is the truth and what are lies about Iran, and think about them.”

Critics of the film agree that the film is especially dangerous given it’s timing. The increasingly jingoistic rhetoric against Iran in the U.S. and Israel has already rendered common perceptions of Iran as being a threat. Argo is based primarily on The Master of Disguise, the memoirs of 25-year CIA veteran Tony Mendez. As a result, the film relies heavily on the account of a man who primarily represents the U.S. narrative. The consensus amongst critics seems to be that the film ultimately misses an opportunity to expose Western audiences to the rightful criticisms that many Iranians had and still have. The film’s brief overview of the U.S. role in the coup d'état that overthrew the Prime Minister, popular Mohammad Mosaddegh, and put in his place a brutal Shah with an equally brutal secret police is hardly enough to underline the context for Iranian resentment towards the U.S.

There is no such consensus about the planned lawsuit against the film. Outside the circle of Iranian officials and state-run media outlets, few commentators have endorsed the pursuit to sue Argo, Ben Affleck, the studio, or whomever else Coutant-Peyre decided to target. After all, the notion that Hollywood has ever been a source for overcoming misrepresentation cannot be taken seriously. 

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Talal Alyan

Palestinian-American freelance writer based in New York

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