Iranian Court Finds Oscar-Winning Director Asghar Farhadi Guilty Of Plagiarism For A Hero

Update: According to EW, this case isn't as cut and dry as previously reported. In fact, the legal proceedings have just begun. French producer Alexandre Mallet-Guy of Momento Productions said in a statement: 

"We firmly believe that the court will dismiss Ms. Masihzadeh, who cannot claim ownership on matters in the public domain given that the prisoner's story has been disclosed in both press articles and TV reports years before Mrs. Masihzadeh's documentary was published ... Various experts in Iran have already published articles analyzing this case and concluding in favor of Asghar ... I think it is important to emphasize here that A Hero, like Asghar Farhadi's other films, features complex situations where the lives of the characters are built upon one another ... The story of this former prisoner finding gold in the street and giving it back to its owner is only the starting point of the plot of A Hero. The remaining is Asghar's pure creation."

The original story continues below.

Perhaps the worst fear of anyone involved in the movie industry would have to be accusations of plagiarism. In recent years, a few high-profile directors have been forced to defend their works as truly original ideas. Guillermo del Toro fought such accusations over his 2018 Best Picture-winning "The Shape of Water" and ultimately prevailed. In another instance, M. Night Shyamalan also found himself having to counter similar allegations over the premise of his Apple TV+ series "Servant," which was also subsequently dismissed. There is no such ending for acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, embroiled in a court case over his latest critical darling, "A Hero," for a few weeks now.

THR reported earlier today that an Iranian court has come to a decision, finding the two-time Oscar-winning Farhadi guilty of violating the copyright and plagiarizing several key aspects from a documentary titled "All Winners All Losers," which was made by a former film student of Farhadi's named Azadeh Masihzadeh and focused on the same true story that Farhadi's film is based on. The report describes the ruling as "binding and cannot be appealed," setting the stage for a second judge to ultimately preside over the embattled director's punishment. Apparently, that punishment could potentially include forfeiting "all income earned by the screening of the film in theaters or online" during its successful run (streaming giant Amazon Studios distributed the film on Prime Video after its overwhelmingly positive premiere at the Cannes Film Festival) and even possible prison time. Masihzadeh, meanwhile, faced the possibility of corporal punishment and up to 2 years in prison if her allegations were considered false.

Read on for all the sad, disappointing details of this incredibly unfortunate situation all-around.

Asghar Farhadi found guilty of plagiarism

The premise of "A Hero," written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, lends a dark sense of irony to the startling proceedings surrounding the inception of the film. As detailed in /Film's review by Chris Evangelista, the film follows Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi) after he has been granted a brief release from debtor's prison in order to pay his debts or get his creditor to withdraw his complaint and forgive him. A chance encounter with a lost purse full of invaluable gold coins (found by his girlfriend Farkhondeh, played by Sahar Goldust) seems to provide the opportunity Rahim has been looking for to pay off his debts ... but his guilty conscience compels him to track down the purse's owner and return it all instead. Whether a calculated choice or a genuine Good Samaritan moment, this act unleashes a rapidly spiraling series of events full of white lies, casual misrepresentations of truth, and intersections of deeply cultural mindsets that made for a tense, compelling movie about no good deed going unpunished.

Sadly, the real-world parallels between the film and Farhadi's present circumstances feel all too clear. According to THR, Farhadi had previously admitted the shared basis between the story for "A Hero" and Masihzadeh's documentary, which she filmed during a workshop taught by Farhadi and presented to the class. The legal issue stems from the fact that Farhadi neglected to give his former student credit for the idea of his eventual film, even allegedly going so far as to ask Masihzadeh to sign a document claiming that the original idea for her "All Winners All Losers" was actually his and hand over all story rights. According to Masihzadeh herself, that's exactly what she did at the time.

Claiming that he independently researched the story for "A Hero," Farhadi filed a suit against Masihzadeh for defamation, and Masihzadeh, in turn, filed a countersuit for plagiarism. This week, the court in Tehran, Iran, ruled both suits in Masihzadeh's favor. Deadline, meanwhile, reported that Farhadi's lawyer took to Instagram to state that, "...the decision is not the final verdict of the court and is considered part of the trial process, and in the continuation of the trial process, the case will be reexamined first in the second criminal court and then in the appellate court."

Stay tuned for more updates as this awful situation develops.