Asghar Farhadi, the Oscar winning director of A Separation and The Salesman, has been indicted in a plagiarism case brought by one of his former students, who had claimed he took the idea for his 2021 film A Hero from a documentary she had made for a film class.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Azadeh Masihzadeh brought the case after Farhadi had earlier sued her for defamation; in both cases the courts ruled in Masihzadeh’s favour. The case will now pass to a second judge whose ruling will decide whether or not Farhadi will be convicted. This can then be appealed.
In 2014, Masihzadeh made a short documentary for a workshop led by Farhadi, about a real-life inmate of a debtors’ prison, who found and returned a bag of gold while on leave at the prison. Masihzadeh’s film was called All Winners, All Losers, and showed at a film festival in the Iranian city of Shiraz in 2018. Before this however, the story had already become widespread.
Farhadi’s film A Hero, which stars Amir Jadidi as a debtors’ prison inmate who finds and returns a bag of gold, screened at the Cannes film festival in 2021 and won the second place grand prix; its script is credited to Farhadi alone.
Masihzadeh told the Hollywood Reporter that Farhadi had pressured her into signing a document handing rights to the story over to him without payment.
Farhadi claimed through his lawyer that the main idea for his film came much earlier, and he was inspired by the Bertolt Brecht play Life of Galileo.
Farhadi’s claim for defamation against Masihzadeh was dismissed after the court found there was insufficient evidence to suggest Masihzadeh was deliberately trying to damage the director’s reputation.
The subsequent plagiarism suit also went Masihzadeh’s way in an initial court ruling, after Farhadi claimed he had independently researched the story and did not credit her on A Hero.
“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,” a statement from Farhadi’s French producer Alexandre Mallet-Guy reads. “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.”
This article was amended on 5 April 2022. It had been originally stated that Asghar Farhadi was convicted of the crime, following widespread misinformation, but has now been changed to reflect that he has been indicted and a trial will decide the outcome.