Researching 'Argo' for Bias and Accuracy

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SWBAT use research tools to identify the historical discrepancies in a film

Big Idea

How does a movie reveal bias about its subject?


This unit lasted approximately seven days and was taught jointly in English and U.S. Government classes.  It can be taught in a single class, but it would take ten to fourteen days to complete.  We had several objectives in this unit:

  • Students would read about the historical events presented in the movie "Argo" before they watched the movie.
  • Students would read a newspaper article about the Iran Hostage Crisis and compare that with a news profile of the six embassy workers who escaped looking at the difference in language and tone.
  • Students would watch the movie "Argo" taking notes about what events in the movie are different from the news profile they read. 
  • Students would present on a different aspect of bias an inaccuracy in the film.

How to Research Bias

25 minutes

Now the students are ready to start answering the question their groups chose at the beginning of the unit.  We go over some of the basics they need to research the bias in present in "Argo".  First, I connect students to the resources  The New York Times that link them to news stories relating to various reactions to the movie including the hostage survivors in the embassy and the Iranian government.  Now that the students know the historical facts behind the movie and have seen the movie they are capable of identifying bias. 

I remind students that bias comes from previous judgment and from a specific agenda. "What are some previous judgments that Ben Affleck might have about the Iranian Hostage Crisis?  What might be the reason he had for making this movie? Bias sometimes creeps in because as a director Affleck knows he has an audience and he knows that his audience is going to have bias towards Iran, towards the Iranian Hostage Crisis, towards the CIA, and even towards the U.S. civilians who are trapped."

I ask students to focus on a different aspect of bias depending on their question because I know that they will do a better job of looking at one aspect of bias rather than trying to comprehend all the bias in the film at once.  Some are looking at the stories of those people who aren't told in the movie, including the embassy hostages, the Canadian diplomats, and the Iranian students who occupied the embassy.  Others are looking at the creative license the screenwriters and director took when making the film.  

By breaking the concept of bias into different pieces the students can see how bias is revealed in the movie. They also understand that revealing bias isn't a matter of reading one or two outside sources, but looking at both the historical facts, and contemporary reactions.  In other words, the feelings and conceptions of the events have changed with time.  Finally, I want students to understand that bias isn't negative, it's an inherent part of being human, and that we must weigh bias as a factor when reading a book or article, watching a play or film, or listening to our best friend talk. 

Finally, students need to look at the motives of the screenwriters and director. Who is their audience and what is the message they are trying to send with this movie.  

Conducting Research

25 minutes

Now that the students have the background information they need they can start putting together an argument about the various bias and misinformation in the film.  Groups divide up the articles from The New York Times based on the various question they are focused on.  

They then outline their argument into two or three relevant points, highlighting how the factual discrepancies either reveal bias or adaptation to a two-hour film.