Asghar Farhadi Attorney Responds to Multiple New Plagiarism Accusations as New Yorker Stands by Story

A new report features several testimonies from Farhadi associates who claim he asked them to collaborate before using their ideas without giving credit.
Asghar Farhadi
Asghar Farhadi
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Editor’s note: IndieWire obtained a statement from Asghar Farhadi’s attorney via representatives in response to the piece published in The New Yorker on Monday, October 31. The full statement can be found at the bottom of this story.

Updated November 3: A New Yorker spokesperson shared this statement of IndieWire supporting Rachel Aviv’s piece following Farhadi’s attorney’s claims: “Rachel Aviv wrote a fair and factual account, supported by numerous on-the-record sources and confirmed by our fact checkers. She spoke extensively with Mr. Farhadi — more than a dozen hours worth of interviews — and the article examines his perspective at length and reflects his substantial input. The New Yorker stands by the story.”

Published November 1: Asghar Farhadi is currently awaiting a final decision in the plagiarism lawsuit filed against him by his former student Azadeh Masihzadeh, who claims that his film “A Hero” was based on a documentary she made for his class that she was never given credit for. Both Farhadi and Masihzadeh could face jail time, as the former student could be prosecuted for defamation if Iranian courts rule in Farhadi’s favor.

The lawsuit has thrown the world of Iranian cinema into a state of turmoil, as the Oscar-winning Farhadi is by far the highest-profile filmmaker in the country. But while his fans may be tempted to dismiss the events as a one-time misunderstanding, a number of his former students and collaborators have come forward with similar allegations.

A new piece in The New Yorker features several testimonies from Farhadi associates who tell a similar story, alleging that Farhadi collaborated with them (either in a mentorship capacity as a teacher or by asking them to co-write his own films), then used their ideas in his own films without ever admitting to doing so. Many of them still expressed reverence for Farhadi’s impact on Iranian cinema and would have been satisfied with the director simply thanking them.

Another former student, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, believes that Farhadi’s 2012 film “A Separation” was partially inspired by a short film he made in a 2009 workshop taught by the director. Both films feature plots involving a caretaker hiding her job from her husband, though Farhadi denies the claim. Pourmohammadi is not credited on the film and claims Farhadi never asked his permission or even informed him that he would be using his story.

“I had some expectation that a professor, if he gets a good idea from a student, will also support that student and try to help him find his way into the field,” Pourmohammadi said. “It was both an honor and a betrayal.”

Mani Haghighi, an Iranian filmmaker who had collaborated with Farhadi as both a writer and an actor, alleged that Farhadi’s film “The Past” was based on an episode of his own life. He claims that Farhadi never asked permission to use his life story, and only told him about the movie when he asked Haghighi to act in it.

“It’s weird when somebody listens to your life story and goes and writes a script about it, and the way he tells you is ‘Would you like to act in this film?’” Haghighi said. “That’s kind of a roundabout way of communicating something, but it wasn’t offensive to me. It was just, like, Asghar is a very strange man.”

Haghighi says that Farhadi eventually cut him from the cast of that film. The director never explicitly gave credit for the story’s inspiration while promoting the film, only saying that it was inspired by the life of an unspecified friend. That process led him to stop collaborating with Farhadi.

“That was the moment when I just thought, Forget it,” Haghighi said. “This is just too weird. I don’t understand him. He confuses me. He’s making me uncomfortable about so many things.”

The response from Farhadi’s legal team is as follows.

Rachel Aviv has unfortunately ignored and distorted facts to present a one-sided view of a copyright and public domain case as part of a false narrative about Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s accomplished career, even after Mr. Farhadi provided Ms. Aviv with every opportunity to present an objective story. The writer has dismissed and omitted almost all of Mr. Farhadi’s comments and documents provided to her about the claims referenced in the article. Mr. Farhadi has successfully collaborated with other artists for twenty-five years; Ms. Aviv has uncovered a handful of people with complaints that they were not thanked enough.

The backbone of Ms. Aviv’s story is the case of A Hero. It is a fact that the film is about an actual event published in newspapers and media two years before Ms. Masihzadeh’s documentary. Also a fact: It was Mr. Farhadi who gave this idea to the students in the first place. In discussing the legal proceedings, Ms. Aviv neglects to report that Ms. Masihzadeh demanded a share of all the earnings and awards of the film inside and outside Iran and that she wanted the completed film re-titled to include that the film is based on her documentary. These demands could not be met – and would not be met by any other filmmaker in the world on the basis of this fact pattern.

Throughout the article Ms. Aviv creates high melodrama around ordinary contractual matters and misleading anecdotes that Mr. Farhadi addressed one by one in his cooperation with her. He provided interviews, on the record statements from third parties and documents, none of which found their way into the story. But what is really egregious is the way Ms. Aviv uses this court case as a way to present Mr. Farhadi’s political views in a false light. With all that is happening in Iran right now, it’s disheartening to see the New Yorker devoting this much space to a common crediting issue that is routine in Hollywood every day. For her part, Ms. Aviv seems to have given in to the temptation of a sensational headline over objective journalism.

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