Canadians are a pretty easy-going bunch, until you get on our bad side and start minimizing our (few) glorious historical victories. Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo is a prime example. Here are five reasons Canadians are in a twist about the film.
1. An Untrue True Story (America, You Have A Short Memory)
Let’s start by saying outright that Argo was a Canadian mission. On November 4, 1979, Islamists overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, upset about the U.S.’s long-standing support for the deposed Shah’s government. It’s been said the plan was to occupy the embassy for only a short time, but once they were able to breach the gates, occupiers bound and blindfolded embassy Marines and staff and paraded them in front of photographers.
In the first couple of days, many of the embassy staff that had snuck out of the compound or been absent at the time of the takeover were rounded up by Islamists and returned as hostages. Six American diplomats, however, managed to avoid capture and found refuge at the nearby Canadian and Swedish embassies.
A joint Canadian government–Central Intelligence Agency covert operation eventually was able to smuggle them out of Iran using Canadian passports and a cover story disguising them as a Canadian film crew on January 28, 1980. When they landed back in the U.S., newscasts were emphatic in their thanks to the Canadian diplomats who lead the rescue mission.
Does this sound like the plot of Argo? No?
2. We Don’t Have Many Military Victories (Cut Us Some Slack On This One)
Known as the Canadian Caper, the exfiltration of the six U.S. diplomats was spearheaded by Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, as well as Canadian diplomat John Sheardown. CIA operative Tony Mendez was also a participant, but had it not been for Taylor and Sheardown’s willingness to hide the U.S. diplomats and their idea to create a fake science fiction film crew, things would likely have turned out much differently.
As Canadians, we don’t tend to get involved in international disputes too often, so when we do and actually pull one off, it’s upsetting to have those victories downplayed.
3. Even Jimmy Carter Agrees!
It’s not just Canadians who are perturbed about our minimization in the operation! Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter appeared on CNN just before the Oscars to laud Ken Taylor and assert that this was not a CIA mission.
90 per cent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. It [Argo] gives almost full credit to the American CIA. With that exception, the movie’s very good. The main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.
Ken Taylor himself, a legendary and modest national figure, also expressed disquiet about the way the operation was depicted. He told the AP:
In general [Argo] makes it seem like the Canadians were just along for the ride. The Canadians were brave. Period.
Small comfort, at least the man who played Ken Taylor in Affleck’s Argo was a Canadian. Bravo Victor Garber.
4. The Total Omission of John Sheardown
In Affleck’s version, John Sheardown’s role in the rescue is completely omitted. In reality, almost a week after militants seized the U.S. embassy Sheardown received a call from one of the six Americans who had managed to evade capture. Consular officer Robert Anders knew he could count on his old friend John for help. “What took you so long?” was Sheardown’s reply, according to his wife. After the phone call, the Sheardowns agreed without hesitation to shelter four of the six Americans in their 20-room home in Tehran. Ken Taylor housed the other two.
Of course Argo is a Hollywood-ization of the story, but cutting out Sheardown’s contributions entirely and playing up those of Mendez left many Canadians miffed. Considering the screenplay was based on Mendez’s books about his work in the CIA and a Wired article by U.S. journalist Josh Bearman, I guess Canadians should be happy that our contributions weren’t written out altogether.
5. We Got Short Shrift At the Oscars
Ben Affleck premiered Argo last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, so he knew what Canadians thought of his movie long before Oscar night. Still, the best he could come up with was a rushed “Thank you Canada!” during his manic best picture acceptance speech.
Canadians on Twitter responded mostly with gratitude that we were recognized at all (like I said, we’re an easy-going bunch), and while it was nice that screenwriter Chris Terrio thanked and called out Taylor and Sheardown by name, overall we were hoping for more.