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How Accurate Was Argo?

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argo_ver7“Argo” – was a phenomenal film (and has an Academy Award for Best Picture to prove it). It had all the elements of greatness. Intrigue. Laughter. Focus. Purpose. Drama and yes, the almighty fate sealer – a huge name – Ben Affleck. But one question remains well after the Argo entourage took home their awards: How much of the plot film was real?

Many people will agree that parts of the film were embellished. Fans of the film may say it was “hell of” a movie based on some semblance of the truth. But there are others, historians, realists, critics and perhaps a few Canadians in the group, whose lips are pursed and minds are set, that this one hour and thirty minutes of script was pure fluff. But, how accurate was the film?

The Facts

The U.S. embassy in Tehran was attacked by militants in 1979. They were retaliating for American involvement in helping the recently deposed Shah, leader of Iran. Embassy staff was taken hostage but six escaped and hid in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. Their refuge was kept secret while the U.S. State Department tried to devise different strategies to get them out. Tony Mendez, an ex-filtration expert  played by Affleck in the movie, finally puts in place a plan to get them out. He devises a fake movie idea to justify having a fake production crew film a “science fantasy” in the fashion as “Star Wars” to make the plan more credible. This much is true.

The Film

The movie Argo was a dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.  The film focuses on the escape retelling in detail how it happened.

The Truth
The events seemed to have happened but with far less dramatics. Canada, for example, played a much larger role in assisting the Americans out of Iran. And it does make one wonder about the real role of the U.S. in getting the hostages out safely after reading former President Jimmy Carter’s comments.

“Ninety percent of the contributions to the ideas of the consummation of the plan were Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA. And with that exception, the movie is very good,” says Carter. Summation: It seems, he, too, was a non-believer.

The Film

A high-drama part of Argo was the final scene at the airport scene. It was a nail-biter as the hostages faced tense interaction with boarding officials. But according to one who would know, there was little drama in their departure.

The Truth

Here is what one of the six hostages, Mark Lijek, commented on a part of the film.

“The truth is immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Berne. It was that straightforward.”

There were other screams of movie pretentiousness. Supposedly Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor threatened to close the embassy in the movie. According to documented events of the crisis, this never happened. The Canadian ambassador’s wife purchased the hostage’s tickets in advance, but the film portrays another version, supposedly for dramatic effect.

At the end of the day, this was a truly entertaining film that deserves all of the accolades it has received.

About the author:

Logan Harper is a digital strategist for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s MPA@UNC: public administration online and MBA@UNC: business administration online programs. In addition to higher education, he is also passionate about travel, cooking, and international politics. Follow him on Twitter @harperlogan.


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