52 Americans held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran “Taken Hostage” on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE – Part 2: Nov. 15 at 9 pm< < Back to
American Experience Taken Hostage
Premieres November 14 & 15, 2022, on PBS and Streaming on PBS.org
New Four-Hour, Two-Part Documentary About the Iran Hostage Crisis and Its Roots From Acclaimed Filmmaker Robert Stone
Unfolding like a political thriller, Taken Hostage is a riveting four-hour two-part documentary film about the Iran hostage crisis, when 52 American diplomats, Marines and civilians were taken hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. For the next 444 days, the world watched as the United States received a daily barrage of humiliation, vitriol and hatred from a country that had long been one of our closest allies. The crisis would transform both the U.S. and Iran and forever upend the focus and direction of American foreign policy. Premiering Monday & Tuesday, November 14 & 15, 9:00-11:00 p.m. on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video app, Taken Hostage, a film by Robert Stone, is executive produced by Cameo George. It is Stone’s ninth project for American Experience, following the critically-acclaimed, award-winning Chasing the Moon.
Taken Hostage also explores the backstory of how America became mired in the Middle East and the nation’s role in igniting the firestorm that has consumed the most strategically important part of the world for the last 40 years. Part One chronicles America’s quarter-century of unwavering support for its ally, the Shah of Iran, despite his dictatorial and increasingly brutal and corrupt regime. The film traces the Shah’s program to rapidly modernize and westernize Iran in the span of a single generation and portrays in harrowing detail the violent Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979, sending shockwaves around the world. Part Two explores the holding of the hostages at the American embassy in Tehran by militant Islamic students, with the support and encouragement of the Iranian government led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. The film details how the crisis degenerated into what is arguably the most consequential foreign policy debacle of the second half of the 20th century. The Iran Hostage Crisis laid the groundwork for the modern 24-hour news cycle, inspired an escalating cycle of political terrorism and brought down the presidency of Jimmy Carter.
Taken Hostage is told largely through the lens of the exceptional love story of former hostage Barry Rosen and his wife Barbara, who was suddenly thrust into the public eye as the crisis dragged on. Other key figures are Hilary Brown and Carole Jerome, two pioneering female foreign correspondents who risked their lives to uncover the truth of what was happening in Iran. Jerome had remarkable inside access to the highest levels of the Iranian government through her relationship with Iran’s foreign minister and chief hostage negotiator, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who lost his life trying to stop the Iranian Revolution from devolving into a tyrannical theocracy. Gary Sick, a senior member of President Carter’s national security team and longtime Iran expert, recounts how the crisis engulfed the American government and consumed Carter’s presidency. Utilizing recently declassified military documents and an interview with Colonel James Q. Roberts, a member of the top-secret American commando unit, the film reveals details of the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in a daring Special Forces operation. With no narration, Taken Hostage uses the candid, personal testimony of those whose lives were upended to tell the story of these dramatic, history-making events.
“This extraordinary new film explores America’s first encounter with radical Islam, placing the hostage crisis within a larger historical context and helping us to understand the complex roots of a conflict still being waged today,” said American Experience executive producer Cameo George. “It also tells the moving story of ordinary people swept up in the tide of history—people of great strength and remarkable courage.”
American Experience Taken Hostage will stream simultaneously with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video app, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. All titles will also be available for streaming with closed captioning in English and Spanish.
Part One (Monday, November 14) chronicles America’s attempt to remake Iran in its image, beginning with the 1953 overthrow of the first democratically elected government in Iran, orchestrated by British and American forces, and America’s subsequent support for the dictatorial regime of the Shah of Iran. The episode culminates with the violent Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 that toppled the Shah and established a fundamentalist theocracy led by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Part Two (Tuesday, November 15) uses eyewitness testimony to follow the harrowing 444-day standoff between the U.S. and Iran over the holding of 52 hostages at the American embassy in Tehran from November 1979 to January 1981. The Iran Hostage Crisis would permanently rupture relations between the two countries and ignite a growing anti-American militancy across the Muslim world, setting the stage for the attacks of 9/11.