Argo is based on the true story of the exfiltration of six Americans who escaped from Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis, beginning with the takeover on November 4, 1979, and ending with the exfiltration on January 28, 1980. Warner Brothers and George Clooney purchased the rights to Antonio Mendez’s book The Master of Disguise after reading a Wired article in 2007 that brought the story of the rescue mission to the public eye. Affleck calls it a “you-couldn’t-believe-it-was-true kind of story” that served as the basis for the script written by Chris Terrio. Affleck calls Argo “a sub-story in the larger drama of all the hostages” and states that the film is about storytelling and “the way fantasy touches a certain place in our collective consciousness.”
Affleck defends his dramatic license, but the degree of harm is questionable. Canadian John Sheardown is nonexistent, the involvement of Britain and New Zealand removed from the plot, Canada’s role in the exfiltration significantly downplayed, and the real-life walk through the Mehrabad airport was nothing like Argo’s wild goose chase. Mendez’s involvement is significantly elevated, perhaps because of Argo’s strong dependency on the autobiographical account. Affleck and Argo may have benefitted from a more holistic approach with insight from Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah or David Farber’s Taken Hostage. Or Stemwell’s Inside the Iranian Revolution. Or Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.
The real question is whether or not these sources were consulted, or were consulted and ignored. But I refuse to be affected negatively by these inaccuracies, because this film has singlehandedly sparked what I believe to be the beginning of a lifelong study of US-Middle East tensions. It’s so easy to be angry, complacent, or happy. It’s more of a challenge to understand why we are angry, complacent, or happy -- and one we should all be up to.