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Monday, February 25, 2013

The Real Story

So Ben Affleck's movie "Argo" won Best Picture last night at the Oscar's. This movie was loosely based on the rescue of 6 Americans who had managed to escape the American embassy in Iran when the Iranians took it over in 1979.  I say loosely, because the credit is given to a CIA agent, Tony Mendez.  He is the central figure of the movie--the hero, if you like. Oh yes, Affleck thanked Canada in his acceptance speech--only because Former Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor, who was ambassador to Iran in 1979, and was one of the real heroes, suggested that he do so. Affleck also changed the postscript to the movie after there were more and more criticisms. His original postscript had stated that although Taylor had received 112 citations and awards after the rescue, he didn't deserve them--the movie ends with the CIA deciding to let Canada have the credit for helping the Americans escape. I mean, really?

Because of the criticism, Affleck flew Ken Taylor to LA and allowed him to write a new postscript, one that gave the Canadians more credit. Criticism continued and Affleck began to call Taylor a hero.

In the meantime, not only had Taylor and others been outspoken about the lack of historical accuracy in the film, former President Jimmy Carter spoke out about the film too, calling "Argo" "a complete distortion. Last week, in a CNN interview, Carter, said, "90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan were Canadian", but the film "gives almost full credit to the American CIA.  Thank you Jimmy Carter!  After all he was President at the time of the hostage taking, so he probably knows what he's talking about!

The film makes almost no mention of the role played by John Sheardown, Chief Immigration Officer at Canada's Iranian embassy. It was he who was called first by one the Americans in hiding, and without hesitation he was ready to help, as was Taylor.  In the end 3 of the 6 Americans stayed at his house, putting he and his wife at great risk. Sheardown died in December 2012, aged 88.

I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised that an American director chose the road he did in portraying this event.  It's certainly not the first time that American movies have grossly underplayed or inaccurately presented Canadians and Canadian history.  In all fairness, Hollywood and its minions grossly underplay and inaccurately present Americans and American history all the time too. It's not the American people's fault, but it is sad that time and time again, they never get the real story, unless they go and research and read on their own. "Argo"  is based on a book by Tony Mendez, supposedly a book about his life, but it sounds like a work of fiction if his presentation of the Iranian events in 1979 are anything to go by. "Argo" screenwriter Chris Terrio, said in his Oscar acceptance speech, "Thirty-three years ago Tony, using nothing, but his creativity and his intelligence got 6 people out of a very bad situation." Umm, no.  It was Ken Taylor, John Sheardown, a host of other Canadians, Flora Macdonald, Joe Clark, etc. and  American CIA agent Mendez who made the escape of the 6 Americans possible. And let's not forget the role of other embassies in Tehran, who helped  too--notably the Swedish and the New Zealand embassies.

There's a made for TV Canadian film, done in 1981, "Escape from Iran:The Canadian Caper" and if you want to read a short piece on the event, here's a link: "Ken Taylor and the Canadian Caper"