Jewish Journal

‘Argo,’ Hollywood, & Why I’m Proud to be an Iranian

by Nicole Behnam

October 12, 2012 | 2:11 am

“You think of yourself as a citizen of the universe. You think you belong to this world of dust and matter. Out of this dust you have created a personal image, and have forgotten about the essence of your true origin” ― Rumi.

‘Argo’ is a true story based on the efforts of a man named Tony Mendez, who helped six Americans pose as a sci-fi film crew to escape the 1979 Iran hostage crisis during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

Director Ben Affleck espouses the virtues of country, teamwork, and compassion, and decries violence, deceit, and abuse of power in a mighty struggle against revolution and the corrupting forces of power.

The film opens with a gripping rehash of Iranian history up until the revolution. Clips of Mike Wallace interviewing Shah Reza Pahlavi and the Ayatollah were played on cue throughout the film.

But what’s this got to do with me?

Last week I attended the premier of Argo. Among its cast, George Clooney, and Bryan Cranston, I listened to Ben Affleck as he thanked virtually every member of its production before introducing the film. Finally, he thanked the hero his character was based on—Tony Mendez.

I watched Tony stand up as Ben Affleck thanked him last. The room was full of applause, and my face was blank, tears streaming down my face. I was sitting in the same room as a war hero—in fact, I was looking right at him.

After six Americans escaped the Islamic student militant attack on the American Embassy in Tehran, Mendez, an exfiltration specialist, trained each of them to persuasively act as members of the pseudo-film crew.

Tension spanned across the room as the film depicted a throng of protesters savagely rocking the van (led by Mendez) transporting the hostages through the Grand Bazaar on the way to the airport.

The Argo Operation stayed Top Secret until Clinton declassified it in 1997. Even then, Mendez earned no fame—until now.

Working in the entertainment industry, I attend several movie premiers and award shows. But this experience was different. It changed me. It stirred up a feeling of pride, and at the same time, revolt.

I am an Iranian Jew. I belong to a community of Iranian Jews who love Israel, and see Iran as a nuclear threat. We plan our vacations in Israel, never in Iran, because we are afraid. And we refer to ourselves as “Persian.”

For the first time ever, I am disturbed by this. Yes, I love Israel and will fight for its people, but what about Iran? What about the country both of my parents came from?

Before he escaped, my father served in the army under the Shah, and was unable to leave for 3 entire years because of the revolution.

Iranian immigrants, like my parents, have a different set of social constraints put on them because of their unique positions as having to bear the expectations of their people and the new realities of belonging to American society.

And here we have a brilliant film that depicts a very sensitive, chaotic era for Iranians, but we still refuse to take pride in Iran and speak up against Ahmadinejad for our other—former—homeland.

No dictator could rise if men exercised their inalienable rights as much as they exercised their submission to their faith and “the common good,” but in order for that to work, we need to take pride in our country, and fight for its people too, before a Nuclear Iran really does come into fruition.

In the United States of America, we seek the achievement of happiness. Iranians seek escape from pain. We exist for the sake of earning rewards. They exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. Fear is not our incentive. It is not execution that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live.

Throughout history, no tyrant ever risen to power except on the claim of representing “the common good.” Hitler was serving “the common good” of Germany just as Napoleon served “the common good” of France. And Ahmadinejad is now serving “the common good” of Iran—did you watch his interview with Piers Morgan on CNN last week?

If you are going to watch a movie tomorrow, or anytime soon, watch ‘Argo.’

Bringing to life such a wide-ranging story with technical proficiency and visual dazzle is an unprecedented achievement for even Affleck and Clooney.

And while scores of filmgoers clamor to see the nearly impossible rescue of the six hostages, no one is eager for the journey to end.




                    Mohammad Reza Pahlavi & Farah Pahlavi


Jon Hamm, Nicole Behnam, Bryan Cranston

Jon Hamm, Nicole Behnam, Bryan Cranston
at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards

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When Nicole Behnam was 15, she joined the school newspaper and discovered that journalism was one of her passions. To take her passion one step further, she called Brentwood...

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