In a new stage of a continuing legal battle, two-time Academy Award winner Asghar Farhadi has been found guilty by an Iranian court of plagiarism regarding his 2021 film A Hero. Farhadi’s most recent film had won the Grand Pix award (the de facto second prize after the Palme D’Or) at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and competed for Best International Feature Film at the recent 94th Academy Awards. In March of 2022, filmmaker Azadeh Masihzadeh sued Farhadi, claiming that A Hero had copied key elements from her earlier documentary All Winners All Losers without acknowledgment or compensation. Masihzadeh further claimed that she had pitched the idea for the documentary in 2014 at a filmmaking workshop led by Farhadi at Karnameh Institute. Asghar Farhadi filed a suit against his former student, claiming defamation of character, to which Masihzadeh filed the countersuit alleging plagiarism against her documentary.
As of right now, both lawsuits have been ruled in Azadeh Masihzadeh’s favor. The defamation lawsuit against her resulted in a finding of not guilty by an Iranian court. The court decided that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that Masihzadeh was using a lawsuit to damage Asghar Farhadi’s reputation as a filmmaker (presumably, as opposed to her filing the claim for the state reasons of seeking acknowledged credit and financial compensation). This second suit has now resulted in Farhadi being found guilty and will go before a second judge to determine the consequences. Although Farhadi’s attorney has stated via social media that the finding was not final, it appears that the guilty ruling is indeed final, but the actual determination of punishment may be appealed in some fashion in the future. As of right now, there is not an indication that Masihzadeh will receive a percentage of profits from A Hero, which is currently to be distributed by the Amazon Prime Video streaming platform in the United States.
Prior to this, Asghar Farhadi has generally been regarded as one of the great masters of Iranian cinema. He is one of the rare filmmakers to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (retitled Best International Feature Film in 2019) for his films A Separation and The Salesman. Farhadi has also received the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay (for The Salesman) and was inducted into France’s Legion of Honour in 20212, the country’s highest honor. According to Azadeh Masihzadeh, it was in part this illustrious reputation that led to the eventual plagiarism. As part of her lawsuit, she claimed that Farhadi had met with her in 2019 and pressured her into signing a document stating the idea behind her documentary was Farhadi’s. While accusations of plagiarism are not uncommon in the world of cinema, Farhadi’s reputation make this a particularly notable one.
Both A Hero and All Winners All Losers are based on a real-life incident in Iran. While Asghar Farhadi acknowledged that his film was inspired by the particular case, he claimed that he had done his own research and was not inspired by the film developed in his 2014 workshop. As for now, we will have to wait for more developments in the case and keep you updated.