Former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor says he was satisfied to hear Ben Affleck thank Canada as the director accepted the best picture Oscar for the political thriller Argo on Sunday night.
Taylor watched the awards bash from the AOL offices in New York, where he took part in a live online interview with James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio.
Days earlier, the diplomat had suggested that Affleck mention Canada’s role in the 1979 rescue of U.S. embassy staffers if Argo — which dramatizes the high-risk operation — won the top prize.
Late Sunday, he acknowledged Affleck’s shoutout to Canada during a rapid-fire speech that also offered thanks to “everyone in the movie.”
“He, in a rush, accepted and tried to extend recognition to everybody in sight and so that was fine. We were comfortable with that,” Taylor said in a phone interview immediately after the AOL taping.
“I think that the nature of the Oscars is such that it’s an electric moment for those involved and they all want to say something within a set time and I think that’s it. Whatever scripted thoughts they had they put away and get caught up in the theme and the celebration.”
Flanked by co-producer George Clooney, Affleck threw kudos to his fellow nominees, especially Lincoln director Steven Spielberg and the real-life CIA agent who inspired his film.
“Tony Mendez, who let us do his story, thank you,” Affleck said after Michelle Obama announced the top prize.
“I thank everyone in the movie, on the movie, who worked on the movie, did anything with this movie,” Affleck continued, as the star-studded crowd chuckled.
“I want to thank Canada, I want to thank our friends in Iran living in terrible circumstances right now. I want to thank my wife, who I don’t normally associate with Iran.”
Affleck’s film — which had already won a slew of awards leading up to the Oscars — centres on Mendez and a Tinseltown scheme to concoct a fake movie project that would disguise the escapees as a Canadian film crew.
Taylor has been outspoken in his assertion that Argo minimizes Canada’s role in spiriting the employees out of Iran in the midst of the hostage crisis.
Starring Canadian actor Victor Garber as Taylor, Argo says little about the ambassador’s intricate role in concealing the fugitives and makes no mention of his efforts to persuade Ottawa to issue fake passports, arrange plane tickets and spy for the U.S. government — all while carrying on with his role as a diplomat.
It also completely ignores the role of Taylor’s deputy, the recently deceased John Sheardown, who took the first call from escapee Bob Anders seeking refuge and also hid embassy employees in his home.
Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio, who won best adapted screenplay prize on Sunday night, mentioned Taylor 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 said it was no surprise that Terrio put more weight on Mendez’s contributions than his own.
“I think they had to — it was his book they used and that was the theme of what he wrote about so I think he was compelled to talk about Tony Mendez,” said Taylor.
“Otherwise, the movie itself would lose its authenticity.”
He added that it was nice to hear mention of the late John Sheardown, noting that he “certainly played a key role.”
During a recent talk with Ryerson University students, Taylor took issue with a myriad of creative liberties in Argo, including the “black and white” portrayal of Iranian people, fabricated scenes and the suggestion that Taylor himself was little more than a meek observer to CIA heroics.
He summed it up by saying Terrio “had no idea” what he was talking about.
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has also taken aim at Affleck’s film.
He called Argo a complete distortion when he accepted an honorary degree from Queen’s University in November and followed that up with a CNN interview last week in which he said “90 per cent 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.”
The controversy surrounding Argo dates back to September, when it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The original postscript of the movie said Taylor received 112 citations and awards for his work in freeing the employees 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.
Affleck flew Taylor to Los Angeles after the Toronto debut and allowed him to insert a postscript that gave Canada some credit. Taylor called the initial postscript lines “disgraceful and insulting.”
As criticisms continued to mount last week, Affleck called Taylor a “hero,” and said he thought he’d addressed the former ambassador’s concerns.
After the successful escape on Jan. 27, 1980, Taylor was widely hailed in both Canada and the United States.
“The release of the six done by another country … sort of released a euphoria,” Taylor recalled at his Ryerson talk.
“U.S. citizens responded in an extraordinary way — no Canadian paid for a drink for two weeks, (there were) free ski tow tickets, free bus tickets, police ignored parking tickets. There were some tangible benefits to this.”
On Sunday, Taylor said he was satisfied that enough people knew the full story: “I think certainly most Canadians now know what the story was.”