This past weekend, Donald Trump signed a deliberately hateful and ignorant document into law, making racism and Islamophobia national policy. Critics derided it as UnAmerican, and yet it was America who voted this buffoon into presidency just a few short months ago. In the face of one man’s cowardly discrimination, however, were many more acts of love and fraternity. American citizens stormed airports with signs of welcome and solidarity. Lawyers littered the floors working pro-bono around the clock. And a group of actors at the SAG-ACTRA awards used their acceptance speeches to give voice to millions of people who say: Not my America.
Over the next 90 days, visas will not be issued to nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Existing visas will not be honoured. People who boarded planes intending to legally enter the country, even those with green cards, were detained for hours, questioned, and deported.
In the face of this injustice, it seems almost petty to talk about the Oscars, but since this is a movie review site, this is what we will do.
Asghar Farhadi is the Oscar-winning director of A Separation; it made awards history in 2012 when it was the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. This year he has toured the festivals with The Salesman, and won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Iran submitted it to be considered in the foreign film category at the Academy Awards and it won a nomination. Asghar Farhadi will not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of Trump’s “Muslim ban.” This is who his ban keeps out – not terrorists, but people who come here to work, to study, to visit friends and family.
The star of The Salesman, Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the most acclaimed actresses in her country, will boycott the Oscars in order to protest Trump’s racist ban. “I decided not to go even if I could, because it hurts me deeply to see ordinary people of my country being rejected for what might be their legal right to have access to their children abroad or to their school classes as students,” Ms. Alidoosti told The New York Times in an interview.
In a statement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it was “extremely troubling” that Mr. Farhadi and the cast and crew of “The Salesman,” could be “barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.” I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement.
Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi had this to say on the subject: “I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the citizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations,” Farhadi said. He’s not the only one with this fear on his mind: “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” [italics are mine]. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders or Obama who said that, it was a joint statement from two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
It isn’t just Farhadi who will be affected by this ban come February 26th (Oscar broadcast).
The filmmakers behind The White Helmets, a film about Syrian volunteer first responders in that country’s bloody civil war, had planned on bringing two representatives of that group to the ceremony, but Trump’s travel ban – which impacts Syria – will prevent that from happening. The White Helmets, mind you, have been nominated for a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize, and yet Trump sees fit to keep these heroes out. Producer Johanna Natasegara said in a statement “These people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”
The Syrian family at the heart of Watani: My Homeland, another short documentary up for an Academy Award, is also unable to attend the Oscars due to the travel ban, even though they are now German citizens. But movies and stories like this, and Fire At Sea, which tell the human story of refugees are even more vital at a time like this. Watani director Marcel Mettelsiefen said “We must reconnect with the common humanity of the refugee experience and we must all remember that the founding story of America is dependent upon people who have fled war, hunger and poverty in search of a better life.”
“I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.” These words were not spoken by “overrated” actress Meryl Streep but by Dick Cheney, who was vice president at the time of the 9-11 attacks.
Muslims are our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They may serve you street food from a food truck or treat you in your local emergency room. They’re also in movies, sometimes entertaining us, sometimes helping to tell urgently important stories. Oscar-nominated (and best supporting actor heir presumptive) Mahershala Ali is Muslim (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed is Muslim. So are Dave Chapelle, Ice Cube, Mos Def, Amal Clooney, Omar Epps, Janet Jackson, Aziz Ansari, Ellen Burstyn, Muhammad Ali, Shaq, Kareem, and some of my favourite members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Muslims are not terrorists. Muslims are terrorized by terrorists, who use any reason, including religion (including Christianity) to do evil.
Taraneh Alidoosti, an actress known to very few over here in the west, is boycotting the Oscars. Wouldn’t it really mean something if others did as well? If the Oscars had to broadcast hundreds of empty seats, each tagged with the name of a celebrity who didn’t come because the thought of Trump’s America was so unpalatable that it’s better to stay home than to schmooze and be lauded by one’s colleagues? If they stood in solidarity with fellow film makers who are just as deserving but are prohibited from celebrating just because of their religion? Now that’s a story worth telling; let’s continue to take part in it.