‘A Hero’ director Asghar Farhadi accused of plagiarizing film from former student

A man sitting on a bench and resting his cheek on his hand
Director Asghar Farhadi photographed at the London Hotel in Los Angeles on Nov. 16, 2021.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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Director Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian filmmaker behind the Oscar-winning films “A Separation” and “The Salesman,” remains embroiled in legal action over a claim of plagiarism revolving around his latest film.

“A Hero” (“Ghahreman”), which won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year and was Iran’s international feature film entry at the Academy Awards this year, centers on a real-life Shirazi prisoner who finds a purse of coins and goes viral for tracking down the owner rather than keeping it for himself.

But the two-time Oscar winner, 49, has been accused of violating the copyright of “All Winners, All Losers,” a former film student’s documentary about the prisoner, and withholding revenue from her and allegedly defaming the subject of her doc.


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Last month, a judicial investigator in Iran — whose job is to gather evidence and decide whether the case should be heard by a court — allowed Farhadi’s former student, Azadeh Masihzadeh, to proceed with legal action against the director based on her copyright claim. But the prosecutor’s office rejected her revenue claim and the real-life prisoner’s defamation claim.

That preliminary decision reportedly is binding and cannot be appealed, according to the Hollywood Reporter and Deadline. However, Farhadi has not been found guilty, as some reports have suggested.

And his attorney, Kaveh Rad, wrote Monday on Instagram that the decision reached by the investigator is not the final verdict and it is still considered part of the trial process in Iran. He said that the case “will be re-examined first in the second criminal court and then in the appellate court.”

Masihzadeh claimed that she made her documentary during a workshop at Karnameh, a Tehran culture and art institution, that was overseen by Farhadi in 2014, ABC News reported. She accused Farhadi of plagiarizing key elements of her film without crediting her.

Farhadi reportedly started the workshop by bringing in newspaper clippings about people who found valuables but decided to return them to their owners rather than keeping them for themselves. Students in the workshop were assigned characters and figured out the story behind each of their decisions, Karnameh workshop manager Negar Eskandarfar told ABC.


Masihzadeh alleged that she found her story on her own and researched it in her town of Shiraz, Iran. However, Farhadi’s attorney argued in his post that the prisoner’s 2012 story was already published in mass media and is in public domain ownership, so no one can claim exclusive ownership.

A man and a boy walk, holding hands
A scene from the movie “A Hero.”
(Amazon Prime Video)

The director reportedly also has the backing of the Kaneh Cinema & Iranian Alliance of Motion Picture Guilds in Iran, as well as a letter from the workshop’s students saying that he didn’t base his idea for “A Hero” on Masihzadeh’s work.

Farhadi won his first Oscar in 2012 for the heart-wrenching feature “A Separation.” He won his second for “The Salesman” in 2017 but boycotted the Academy Awards ceremony in protest of the travel ban implemented by then-President Trump that barred travelers from seven countries, including Iran.

A representative for Farhadi did not immediately respond Tuesday to The Times’ request for comment. However, “A Hero” producer, Alexandre Mallet-Guy said that he believes the court will dismiss the case.

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“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. [sic] Masihzadeh’s documentary was published. Various experts in Iran have already published articles analyzing this case and concluding in favor of Asghar,” Mallet-Guy said Tuesday in a statement to The Times.


“I think it is important to emphasize here that ‘A Hero’, like Asghar Farhadi’s other films, features complex situations where the lives of the characters are built upon one another. 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,” Mallet-Guy added.

Times staff writer Sarah Parvini contributed to this report.