By Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian
Tehran hires French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre to bring case over Hollywood ‘distorting image’ of Islamic republic
Iran has hired a controversial French lawyer to file a lawsuit against Hollywood over a series of films, including Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo, that have allegedly portrayed the Islamic republic in a distorted and unrealistic manner.
Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, described by the Iranian media as an “anti-Zionist” lawyer, has travelled to Tehran to meet the authorities in order to lodge a case in an international court against Hollywood directors and producers that officials say have promoted “Iranophobia”.
Coutant-Peyre is the wife of the notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, known as Carlos the Jackal, whom she is also representing. Ramírez, a self-styled international revolutionary, is serving a life sentence for the killings in 1975 of two French policemen and a suspected informant. Coutant-Peyre and Ramírez married in a ceremony held in jail in 2001 after she converted to Islam.
“I’ll be defending Iran against films that have been made by Hollywood to distort the country’s image, such as Argo,” she said, according to quotes carried by the semi-official Isna news agency.
Coutant-Peyre was speaking on Monday in Tehran’s Palestine cinema at the The Hoax of Hollywood conference, which was held following Argo’s win at the Academy Awards.
The conference was attended by senior Iranian officials, including the minister for culture and Islamic guidance, Seyed Mohammad Hosseini. Argo, which won best picture at the Oscars last month, has not been screened in public in Iran but was shown twice privately for a selected audience recently, including on Monday night. Pirate DVDs of the film, however, are available on the black market across Iran for as little as 50 pence.
Based on the 1979 US hostage crisis but flavoured with imaginary events, Affleck’s thriller touches upon one of the darkest episodes in Tehran-Washington relations. It tells the story of a CIA rescue mission to bring home six stranded US diplomats who managed to escape the embassy compound before its full seizure by young revolutionaries.
Since its release Argo has prompted mixed reactions among the Islamic republic’s sympathisers, its opposition and even among former American hostages.
A large group of Iranians believe that the film stereotypes Iranians in a negative way without drawing a distinction between ordinary citizens and the revolutionaries behind the US hostage crisis.
Other Hollywood films that have infuriated Iranians include: 300, which depicts King Leonidas and a force of 300 men fighting the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 BC – which was described by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as “insulting to Iran”; Brian Gilbert’s 1991 film Not Without My Daughter; and The Wrestler.
Mohammad Lesani of The Hoax of Hollywood conference said the conference was meant to “unify all cultural communities in Iran against the attacks of the west, particularly Hollywood”.
A statement at the end of Monday’s meeting condemned Argo as a “violation of international cultural norms” and said that the award was “propaganda attack against our nation and entire humanity”.
“For many in the Iranian regime, it’s impossible to fathom that Hollywood is not a state-run entity, as it is in Iran,” said Omid Memarian, a New York-based journalist who has written on Iranian movies.
“Iranian officials therefore seriously perceive any cultural products about Iran, like movies, as a political statement and a part of what they call the west’s cultural invasion against Iran.”
Memarian said: “I think the fact that Michelle Obama awarded the movie’s Oscar has intrigued and magnified their suspicions about the involvement of politicians in making such movies, which they consider anti-Iran, or more accurately, anti–Islamic republic.”
It was not immediately clear whether the announcement about the lawsuit was merely state propaganda.
Iran and the United States severed diplomatic ties after the 1979 US hostage crisis. No mutual judiciary agreements have been made since. In response to Argo, officials in Tehran said in January that they were intending to retaliate by making their own film about the hostage crisis. But like the complaint it is not clear whether it will ever materialise.