Published February 25, 2013
Iranian officials on Monday dismissed the Oscar-winning film "Argo" as anti-Iran, state TV dismissed it as CIA commercial, some viewers disparaged it as U.S. propaganda while others welcomed a fresh view of their recent history.
All this is despite the fact that the movie based on the escape of six American hostages from the besieged U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 has not been screened in any Iranian theaters.
Despite that ban, many Iranians have seen the movie. In downtown Tehran, bootleg DVDs of "Argo" sell for about 30,000 rials, or less than $1.
The movie has set off a spirited exchange of views.
The discussions have often pried open a generational divide: Iranians who took part in the 1979 Islamic Revolution picking apart the portrayals of Tehran at the time, but Iranians too young to recall the events getting a different view of the upheavals.
"I want to know what the other side is saying," said Shieda, a 21-year-old University of Tehran student, who gave only her first name to avoid possible backlash for speaking with foreign media.
Tehran City Council member Masoomeh Ebtekar — who was one of the students who occupied the U.S. Embassy and acted as the Iranian students' spokeswoman — says the film exaggerates the violence among crowds that stormed the compound in November 1979.
Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444 days, but a handful of embassy staff were sheltered by the Canadian ambassador. Their escape, using a fake movie as a cover story, is recounted in "Argo."
Ebtekar insists the hostage-takers were mostly students, but other accounts suggest militants and members of the Revolutionary Guard were closely involved in the crisis.
Actor-director Ben Affleck "shows scenes of a very violent and very angry mob throughout the film," Ebtekar said. "It is never mentioned that these are a group of students."
Iranian Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini said, "The movie is an anti-Iran film. It is not a valuable film from the artistic point of view. It won the prize by resorting to extended advertisement and investment," he said, according to the official IRNA news agency.
He said Hollywood has "distorted history" as part of what Iranian officials call a "soft war" of cultural influence in Iran.
Iran's state TV called the movie "an advertisement for the CIA."
The semiofficial Mehr news agency called the Oscar "politically motivated" because First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House joined Jack Nicholson via video link to Los Angeles to help present the best picture prize.
In contrast, retired teacher Reza Abbasi who saw the Revolution first hand, said: "I know Hollywood usually changes reality to make it attractive for movie lovers, but more or less it was close to the realities then."
Others said "Argo" also shows the need for Iranian filmmakers to deal more with issues from the Revolution.
The moderate Hamshahri newspaper said the movie "targeted the culture and civilization of Iran," but is worthwhile for Iranians to see a different perspective of the events that led to the collapse of relations between the U.S. and Iran.
"Iranian audiences are seeing a new version of the events for the first time," said a commentary in the newspaper. "This has been a weak point for our TV and cinema industry, which has not produced anything about the (U.S. Embassy takeover) after more than three decades."
Behnam Farahani , 28, a student in Tehran Art University said, "Both Django and Lincoln won a few prizes. I think both of them were way better than Argo in terms of structure and theme. They deserved more attention. Argo was just a political movie, it was a narration of a political event, ant it suited their own purposes."
Mohammad Amin Sharifi, a movie fan in Tehran, was less harsh. "In my opinion, it's a nice movie from technical aspects, and it was on the scale of Hollywood movies, but I don't think it was worth a nomination for Oscar and other awards," he said.
Iran's state-run film industry boycotted this year's Oscars in the wake of an Internet video clip made in the U.S. denigrating the Prophet Muhammad and set off protests across the Muslim world. The affair was not related to "Argo."
Last year, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won the Oscar for best foreign film for "A Separation," Iran's first Oscar. A month earlier, Iranian authorities ordered the closure of the House of Cinema, an independent film group that operated for 20 years and counted Iran's top filmmakers, including Farhadi, among its members.