The not entirely true story of “Argo”


A recent movie came out about actual events, but the manner in which they were portrayed has been remarkably distinct from the actual. Argo is a film based around the story presented in the book The Master of Disguise, which a CIA operative (Tony Mendez) wrote, and in the article, “The Great Escape” (by Joshuah Berman). These works were composed around the premise of a rescue mission from the year 1979, in which the book’s author saved six US diplomats from the Iran hostage crisis. The movie recounts the incredible events of the ruse that saved the diplomats’ lives, but it takes a great deal of dramatic liberties along the way. To make the escape, CIA operative Mendez comes up with an idea to claim the people held hostage were actually working with a science-fiction film called Argo, rather than being US embassy staff. Under this ruse, Mendez got the hostages Canadian passports and fake identities to get them away.
Up to this point of the actual story, the movie maintains accuracy. Beyond this point, however, the plot strays quite a bit from the actual events. In particular, the impact Canada had on the whole development does not match up between film and reality. The US actually gave Canada all the credit for saving the hostages to avoid, “possible repercussions if CIA involvement was publicized” (Haglund). Consequently, the film “overcorrected” on this issue by giving the nation too little credit. Canada’s involvement was greatly excluded from the retelling in Argo, giving a false understanding of the role it had in rescuing six embassy hostages. People that do not know about how they did, in fact, help out are lead to disregard the facts of specific instances about people who made the mission possible. Among these are the people that historically hosted the hostages (Ambassador Ken Taylor and an embassy employee, John Sheardown), where the film only showed Taylor, and Sheardown was nonexistent. A main individual was entirely erased, a common practice in movies that rewrite history.
It seems insignificant, but if you think about the impact this has when people don’t aren’t given due credit, in a manner so close to the facts without actually being factual, it is clear how the audience would accept this dishonest information none the wiser. One would think how Taylor may feel uncomfortable with this undeserved allotment of credit, and how Sheardown may feel invisible. Even Taylor, himself, was robbed some glory in the film’s recount of the episode, where his hefty role in the mission was only fragmentally expressed. Not to say that either was or wasn’t expecting recognition for their actions; but to have your story told without getting to be a proper part of it would easily not feel great. As Ambassador Taylor is reported to have responded to the movie’s depiction of their participation in the mission, “[Taylor and Sheardown] are portrayed as innkeepers who are waiting to be saved by the CIA” (Haglund). To have put in so much and risked so much to spy for the Americans in an effort to save the lives of some embassy staff members, strangers to him, and yet be presented as a mere host with no greater purpose than that of an innkeeper, would understandably be awful. They would probably prefer not to have had their story told rather than to have millions of audience members see this version of it, hear their name, and think they meant so little and had such an insignificant part. I think it is especially demeaning that the movie made it seem that Taylor could do no more than host them and be awaiting the CIA’s rescue, as if he was in need of their assistance rather than having been a main contributor to the effort independently. And Sheardown, left wholly out of the picture, would find himself erased from history, or living history, as millions of Argo viewers would have no notion of his participation in the mission, either.

Haglund, David. “How Accurate Is Argo?” Brow Beat. Slate, 12 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

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