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Why Iran Wants Hollywood to Argo **** Itself

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To say that Iran's image has taken a sound drubbing in the Western media is an understatement -- it's all nuclear this, human rights that. To read the headlines, you'd think the entire country is made up of nothing but prisons and suspicious nuclear facilities.

Iran has no art galleries, universities, playgrounds filled with kids. Just enraged hijabbed and bearded (yikes) hordes, shouting in... what's that phlegm-based language?... looking for a fight.

The last thing it needed was Argo -- the Oscar-winning flick featuring a swarthy Ben Affleck as a CIA operative sent to 1979 post-revolutionary Iran to rescue a handful of Americans hiding out at the Canadian consulate after a mob of angry radicals storms the U.S. embassy, taking those who remain hostage.

The hostage situation did happen, though not entirely as it unfolds in Argo -- and Iran, my fatherland, is unimpressed.

Pointing to how the "massacre" of Native Americans was represented in cowboy movies, Javad Shamqadri, the chief of cinema, told the ISNA news agency that Hollywood has a history of "spreading lies and falsifications."

He accused the industry there portraying Iranian society as "cruel and inhuman."

Hence "the lawsuit": The Iranian government has gotten litigious and hired French attorney Isabelle Coutant-Peyre to go after Hollywood. The decision was announced during the mid-March Hoax of Hollywood conference, where, according to Iran's PressTV, the question of whether the makers of Argo are guilty of a war crime was also being considered.

Where, how and if such a case would or could be tried remains unclear.

As a piece of fiction, Argo is feel-good entertainment: We know the hostages are eventually freed. We love watching Alan Arkin. Win-win.

But, Iran claims that Argo is "anti-Iranian", and it's not alone in feeling maligned -- Canada, New Zealand and the UK are also slighted. Whereas the others don't get enough credit for being heroes in the movie (the CIA saves the day, of course) Iranians are, yet again, reduced to one-dimensional villains. Even some American critics took a whipsaw to the movie, giving artistic license no quarter as a reason to mess with facts.

Most of us Iranians expect nothing by way of accuracy when it comes to Hollywood depictions of our ancestral home. The makers of Not Without My Daughter seemed to not mind working without a fact checker, blithely painting Iran as a nation of fanatic misogynists. Hell, if we're not cinematically rendered as baby-eating cave-dwellers, we're doing all right. A tribe of savages with facial piercings with claw-handed executioners to do our bidding? That, we'll have to live with (reader: If you haven't already seen 300, don't).

But so what if Argo factually problematic?

Couldn't Iran, with its wealth of filmmakers, produce a counter-narrative of the hostage crisis? Or maybe make a movie about Operation Ajax, the 1953 coup orchestrated by the U.S. and U.K. to subvert Iran's democratic will? Sure, it could. In fact, an Iranian "Argo" remake might already be in the works.

But that won't make Argo disappear, and there's something about the movie that stings.

Even though he says he feels the negative ways Iranians are portrayed in American media is not an accident, Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council told me that news of the lawsuit first made him laugh.

"But then I started thinking. This shit is just uncomfortable when you see the way we're being portrayed in the media," says Marashi.

His discomfort, he acknowledges, is based in two things: Political reality (as in, this hostage situation actually happened) as well as how the Iranian government deals with such facts.

"Their PR is so terrible that the point that may have some justification is lost," Marashi tells me.

Still, the value of a movie like Argo, he says, is that it forces the Iranian government and Iranians to face a very unpleasant episode in our history rather than pretend "it's a result of something that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far away, or that the hostages were treated well."

"It puts a nasty reality under the spotlight," says Marashi.

"It shows the violence, brutality and fanaticism of what they did and how it flew in the face of what makes our culture and our civilization great."

So what's Iran to do? Accept the narrative or fight back?

The hostage crisis was a massive diplomatic misstep - it became a crucial, detrimental moment -- a long, 444-day moment -- that defined and destroyed Iran's relationship with the U.S.

It was a low-point, much like our defeat to the Spartans, which, frankly, we're over, and wish Hollywood could get over too. Alas. No one cared that "300" was inaccurate on several levels. No. The legacy of an epic battle, viewed through the lens of Hollywood will be Gerard Butler's beefy, CGI'd abs.

If it's digging up stuff from Battle of Thermopylae, it's hardly surprising that Hollywood would go back to 1979 and bring up that old hostage business again.

But is hiring Coutant-Peyre, the wife and lawyer of Carlos the Jackal (nee Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, convicted of the murder of two French government agents and an informant) the best move?
"It's an odd choice" chuckled Golnoush Niknejad, editor-in-chief and founder of Tehran Bureau, a website dedicated to covering Iran.

"It seems like a public relations disaster. It's the perfect example of what not to do...It's hard to understand why this would serve their purpose."

She tells me that perhaps this move -- publicity stunt or real -- is the result of Iran's "very isolated perspective" and that anything produced on the subject of the hostage crisis in Iran would likely also be rather "flawed."

"It scares me to have these two very unrepresentative versions of what happened," said Niknejad.

"I wish there was money for documentary film making," she said, wistfully hoping for an impartial version of what happened.

That might take some time. But for now, Iran, the ball is in your court. And, as always, we're all hoping that you'll play it smart.