As expected, the film Argo won Oscar for the best picture. The movie was made by Hollywood to depict the role played by Canada in sheltering and later freeing six American diplomats in Tehran, Iran, in 1979. Popularly called the “Canadian Caper,”
the episode involves a dangerous mission undertaken by the Canadian Government and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to mastermind the escape of six American diplomats while the U.S. embassy was besieged by Islamist students and militants.
As most films produced by Hollywood are made to make money and sensationalize events, Argos was no exception. There was enough drama, excitement and emotion in the film to make it an enjoyable evening out for cinemagoers. Many people were unaware of the CIA role in the escapade but learnt by viewing the film that CIA played a part in freeing the Americans who stayed in the Canadian Embassy for three months.
As Canadians, we should be proud of the role that Canadian embassy staff, and specially Ambassador Ken Taylor, played in Tehran. It is unfortunate that not much tribute is paid to Canada or Ambassador Taylor for their role in freeing the Americans. Canadians took great risk under dangerous circumstances to fulfill the mission.
The movie, Argo, magnifies the role of CIA in the plot and gives full credit to CIA agent Tony Mendez, who went to Tehran in the guise of part of a Canadian film crew planning to find a city for a science fiction movie to be called Argo. CIA agent Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, was in Tehran only for a day and a half.
In an interview after the Oscars, Ken Taylor lamented that the film doesn’t portray an accurate picture of what actually happened. He disclosed that Canadian embassy staff played a “leading” role while risking their own lives.
“I think it’s a attribute to my colleagues in Ottawa and to the embassy staff in Tehran,” he told Postmedia News. “It was an intricate operation. We received some help from the CIA. But quite honestly, it was a Canadian-based and Canadian-executed operation. Everybody had a role to play.”
He said he was just ” one of the many people” involved in the plan carried out “in a cool and calculated way. “The mission was carried out with “a degree of professionalism.”
He disclosed that Canadians “form the prime minister on down, took a risk and successfully concluded the initiative.”
From Taylor’s interviews, it is abundantly clear that Canadians were not passive players in the Iran hostage crisis. “…the Canadians were not only active participants but the leading participants,” he added.
Support for Canadian contribution in whisking the Americans out of Iran came from Jimmy Carter, who was president at the time. Carter told CNN that Argo was a “great drama” that deserved to with Best Picture award.
However, he added “90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. He acknowledged that the “main hero” was Taylor, “who orchestrated the entire process.”
As usual, the Iranian leadership criticized the movie. Iran’s Culture Minister Mohamed Hosseini branded the film as “anti- Iran,” “an advertisement for the CIA” and that Hollywood has “distorted history.” Reluctantly, I have to agree that Hollywood really distorted history as far as Canada is concerned.
Even when receiving the Oscar, I feel Affleck insulted Canada by acknowledging its role in just one sentence, lumping it with tributes to everyone else who participated in making the film. Little did he know that without Canada, he would not have received the award. The only touch of class I felt was the appearance via satellite of Michelle Obama to present the best picture award to Argo.
One hopes that another energetic and fair-minded director would come forward to correct the “distorted history” version of Argo and give due credit to the Canadian caper.