Azadeh Masihzadeh, Asghar Farhadi’s former film student who accused the director of stealing the idea for his 2022 Oscar entry “A Hero” from the documentary she conceived in his class, has been found not guilty of defamation by the Iranian court. Farhadi brought the defamation suit against her after she claimed he stole material from her film “All Winners, All Losers,” which screened at an Iranian film festival in 2018. Still unresolved is the plagiarism suit Masihzadeh filed against Farhadi, which the court has yet to rule on.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, the Iranian court said there was “insufficient evidence” to support Farhadi’s claims that Masihzadeh sought to damage the two-time Academy Award–winning director’s reputation. Her acquittal in the defamation suit means she will not have to face up to a possible two-year prison sentence or, according to some speculation, possible corporal punishment.
If the court finds Farhadi guilty of plagiarism, he may have to forfeit all income earned by the film in theaters or online (it was released stateside by Amazon Studios) to Masihzadeh.
“A Hero,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes last year and was shortlisted for the 2022 International Feature Oscar, follows divorced father Rahim (Amir Jadidi), who is on leave from debtor’s prison. When he stumbles upon a bag of money that turns out to be worth less than he thought, he decides to return the money in hopes of rehabbing his public image as an ex-convict.
Masihzadeh has claimed she pitched the idea for “All Winners” during a documentary filmmaking class at Karnameh Institute in Tehran back in 2014. Masihzadeh proposed the story of a Mr. Shokri, an inmate in debtor’s prison who, similar to the protagonist of “A Hero,” found a bag of gold during a prison leave and decided to return it.
“I remember that moment very well because we were all shocked — Mr. Farhadi was shocked as well — because Azadeh’s story was so interesting and she’d come up with it all herself,” Rola Shamas, one of Masihzadeh’s fellow students, told THR.
Masihzadeh said that, in 2019, Farhadi summoned her to his office and asked her to sign a document saying that the idea for “All Winners, All Losers” was Farhadi’s.
“I shouldn’t have signed it, but I felt under great pressure to do so,” said Masihzadeh, who was allegedly not offered any payment from Farhadi. “Mr. Farhadi is this great master of Iranian cinema. He used that power he had over me to get me to sign.”
Farhadi’s attorney Sophie Borowsky noted that “ideas and concepts are not protected by copyright,” which also means that the document signed by Masihzadeh has no legal value.
Borowsky added that inspiration for the film came from a Bertolt Brecht play but that the movie is also a free interpretation of Shokri’s story, which Farhadi and his representatives claim was prominent in media well before the workshop. A source provided IndieWire with two Iranian news stories, which appear to have been posted in 2012, detailing Shokri’s story and allegedly serving as research for “A Hero.”
But Masihzadeh claimed that “[Shokri’s] story was never in the national media, it was never on TV, it was not available online or in the public record. It was a story I found and researched on my own.”