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With Argo, screenwriter Chris Terrio took the incredible true story of a CIA mission during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis and turned it into a smart and thrilling screenplay. The film's director and star Ben Affleck has won plenty of accolades for bringing this stranger-than-fiction story to life, but some of the liberties the movie takes with history have spurred outrage in Canada, Iran, and now New Zealand.
The Associated Press reports that five months after the film's release in New Zealand, many of its natives—commonly referred to as Kiwis—are riled over how their country is portrayed in the film. Even if you've seen Argo, you might be scratching your head over this one. When was a New Zealander part of the movie, you might wonder? When was one even mentioned? The answer comes thirteen minutes in, when Bryan Cranston's character (Affleck's character Tony Mendez's boss) sums up the situation of the six on-the-run Americans as such:
"The six of them went out a back exit. Brits turned them away. Kiwis turned them away. Canadians took them in."
Lawmaker Winston Peters, who brought the matter before Parliament, says this line makes New Zealanders seem like "a bunch of cowards," adding, "It's a diabolical misrepresentation of the acts of courage and bravery, done at significant risk to themselves, by New Zealand diplomats." Parliament passed a motion declaring Affleck "saw fit to mislead the world about what actually happened."
As you might suspect, the truth of New Zealand's involvement is less black and white than that line of dialogue suggests. Both the British and New Zealand's diplomats did aid the Americans, providing shelter, food, and even a ride to airport when they left. Basically, it wasn't all about the Americans, as some feel Argo implies. However, neither the UK nor NZ sheltered the Americans for long, seemingly for fear of recrimination.
Canadians were similarly irked with the film, feeling that their efforts to protect these in-danger Americans were overshadowed, prompting Affleck to thank the whole of Canada during his Oscar acceptance speech. And the Iranian government is so incensed over how they feel their country and its people come off in Argo that they are looking to sue.
In his defense, Affleck has said of the film's flights of fiction, "I think that it's tricky. You walk a fine line. You are doing a historical movie and naturally you have to make some creative choices about how you are going to condense this into a three-act structure."
Essentially, Affleck wasn’t trying to malign other nations; he was trying to succinctly tell a story of an incredible escape from a dire situation. Yes, in real life Tony Mendez didn't do it all alone. But he is the protagonist of Argo, and so changes are made to make him push the narrative forward instead of introducing a bunch of other diplomat characters to do so.
Thankfully, this is a point understood by the nation's Prime Minister, John Key, who responded to Argo outrage of his countryman by saying, "New Zealand, I think, sees itself as a country that always wants to lend a hand to help people. But in the end, this is Hollywood, and they do make movies. And a bit like when they transfer a book to a movie, often it's a little bit different. So, look, I think we've made our point and we should probably move on."