photo: US Embassy Canada
photo: US Embassy Canada

David Buckland discusses the similarities of the film and international relations.  As many will know, the US-Iran relationship has a ‘love, hate’ history. In the past, Iran had a good relationship with the US, much like the relationship that the US holds with Britain and Israel today. However, when Iran’s President Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected in 1951, he set out to remove US and British petroleum holdings, and tried to return Iran’s oil to its people. In retaliation, British and US governments then engineered a coup d’état in 1953 to oust Mosaddegh and re-install Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah, on the understanding that he would be friendly to the West and let outside nations (mainly Britain and the US) export Iran’s oil. This created great wealth for both petroleum companies and the Iranian government, but due to mass corruption and the Shah’s internal, ruthless police, (the Savak) the wealth was not distributed. On the fourth of November 1979, after many days of protesting, the protesters’ anger became more and more brutal and ocular; they stormed the US embassy and took fifty-two Americans hostage. This was the breaking point for the positive relationship in US-Iranian relations. Incidentally, all CIA intelligence failed to predict this outcome during the build-up to the revolution. Since the revolution, the relationship between the two countries has been one of bitterness and threatening jests and behaviour, manifested in a variety of ways. For example, in 2002 President Bush deemed Iran to be ‘an axis of evil’. Another prominent example is one typi­­cal of president Obama’s less militaristic character and policies; when he increased sanctions on the Iranian government, forcing the Iranian economy to its knees as a result of high restrictions on oil exports.

So what has this complex relationship got to do with film? If I were reading this article I may well ask myself the same question. As a young scholar, I believe that the film Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012), credibly tells the story of the now declassified ‘Argo’ mission. To give a brief outline of the story, the film tells the story of six American embassy employees who escaped the embassy moments before the hostage take over during the Iranian revolution. The CIA then sent in agent Tony Menendez with the cover that the six were part of a Canadian film crew on a scouting mission looking for places to shoot a science fiction movie. This controversial mission is considered one of the greatest that the CIA has ever conducted with the help of the Canadian government. The Hollywood production has won both an Oscar and a BAFTA award. However, the Independent newspaper reported on the 12th of March that the Iranian government believes Argo is ‘an unrealistic portrayal of Iran’ and is ‘considering suing Hollywood over Argo’. The New Zealand government was also ‘up in arms’ over the re-writing of history in Argo and the negative representation of the ‘Kiwi’ name. This is because in reality, it was New Zealanders who drove the six Americans to the airport, but in the film are briefly mentioned as turning the six away, when they were desperately seeking refuge. This put mild strain on relations between New Zealand and the U.S, two countries which usually have good relations with one another and would claim to share the same normative values.

To summarize, I am not suggesting that individual pieces of film and media can go as far as derailing the international relations between two countries completely; however it can put strain on relations. Especially when relations (as in this case) are already on permanent tenterhooks. However, the importance of the impacts are not to be lightly shunned, as a country’s media represents it’s culture and ideology. Media is capable of claiming things which cannot be said directly between political leaders. This article provides a brief insight into one example that continues to have a rippled effect in the international community nearly one year after the film’s initial release. In fact, Iran’s newly elected President Rouhani spoke directly on the phone to President Obama last week – the first time the leaders of the two states have spoken directly to one another in thirty years. This is a critical step for these two nations but could easily be disturbed, perhaps by another piece of contemporary film or other media.