By Rob Gillies
TORONTO (AP) — The former Canadian ambassador to Iran who protected Americans at great personal risk during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis said Monday it was good to hear Ben Affleck finally thank Canada after Affleck’s film “Argo” won the Oscar for best picture.
“Argo” came under criticism from some Canadians, including former ambassador Ken Taylor, who said he felt slighted by the movie because it makes Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics. Taylor says it minimizes Canada’s role in the Americans’ rescue.
Taylor criticized Affleck on Friday and said he hoped Affleck would acknowledge Canada’s role. Affleck briefly thanked Canada in his acceptance speech Sunday.
“Finally, he mentioned Canada,” Taylor said. “Under the circumstances, I think that was fine. It certainly acknowledged Canada. I think certainly the movie was about CIA agent Tony Mendez. I think that President Carter’s remarks put everything in proportion.”
Carter appeared on television last week and said, “90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian,” but the film “gives almost full credit to the American CIA.”
Taylor kept the Americans hidden at his residence and at the home of his deputy, John Sheardown, in Tehran and facilitated their escape by arranging plane tickets and persuading the Ottawa government to issue fake passports. He also agreed to go along with the CIA’s film production cover story to get the Americans out of Iran.
Taylor became a hero in Canada and the United States.
Taylor said the movie makes it seem like the Canadians were just along for the ride. Taylor and Carter said that Mendez, played by Affleck in the film, was only in Iran for a day and a half.
“The movie is done. President Carter expressed his views, and that’s where we sit. I think, being realistic, there’s not much at this point that can be realized,” Taylor said.
“Argo” also makes no mention of Sheardown, the First Secretary at the embassy. Taylor said it was Sheardown who took the first call from the American diplomats who had evaded capture when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in November 1979 and agreed right away to take the Americans in. Sheardown died on Dec. 30, and his wife, Zena, called the movie disappointing.
“Argo” screenwriter Chris Terrio, who won best adapted screenplay prize Sunday night, mentioned Taylor and Sheardown in his speech after saluting Mendez.
“Thirty-three years ago Tony, using nothing but his creativity and his intelligence, got six people out of a very bad situation,” said Terrio, who based his script on Mendez’s book “The Master of Disguise” and a Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman.
“And so I want to dedicate this to him and the Taylors and the Sheardowns and people all over the world in the U.S., in Canada, in Iran, who use creativity and intelligence to solve problems non-violently.”
Taylor appreciated that Terrio mentioned Sheardown, Sheardown’s wife and Taylor’s wife.
“He dedicated it to Tony Mendez. That was what his script was about, it so that’s understandable. I think that recognition of both Pat and myself and John and Zena was in a sense welcomed,” he said.
During a recent talk in Toronto, Taylor took issue with a myriad of creative liberties in “Argo” and said Terrio “had no idea” what he was talking about.
Friends of Taylor were outraged last September when “Argo” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The original postscript of the movie said that Taylor received 112 citations and awards for his work in freeing the hostages and suggested Taylor didn’t deserve them because the movie ends with the CIA deciding to let Canada have the credit for helping the Americans escape.
Taylor called the postscript lines “disgraceful and insulting” and said it would have caused outrage in Canada if the lines were not changed. Affleck flew Taylor to Los Angeles after the Toronto debut and allowed him to insert a postscript that gave Canada some credit.
In a statement released on Friday, Affleck said he admired Taylor very much but said he was surprised Taylor still had an issue with the film. Affleck also said he agreed to narrate a documentary that Taylor is involved with, about Canada’s role in the Iran hostage crisis.
Taylor said it was news to him that Affleck had agreed to narrate the documentary and said he looked forward to working on it with him.