As an Iranian, I can never stress enough how proud I am of the actors and movie directors of my country. Asghar Farhadi, one of Iran’s most renowned directors, is one of them. When it was announced that The Salesman, directed by Asghar Farhadi, was nominated for an Oscar at the Academy Awards in February 2017, the thought of winning an Oscar on top of the numerous prizes this movie has already won in among which Cannes, Mumbai and Munich, filled me with joy.
But a few days after the announcement, news about the Muslim ban started circulating all over the internet, and Iran was named as one of the seven countries restricted from entering the US. Even before the executive order was actually signed and its content was further clarified, the leading actress of The Salesman, Taraneh Alidoosti, made very clear that she would boycott the Oscars:
“Trump’s visa ban for Iranians is racist. Whether this will include a cultural event or not, I won’t attend the Academy Awards 2017 in protest.”
And soon after, news quickly spread about Asghar Farhadi being banned from the Academy Awards because of the ban. Even before the ban was actually suspended by a federal judge, some suggested that it could still be possible for him to attend the event. But in the midst of the media announcements, Asghar Farhadi released his own statement in the New York Times and condemned the ban in the most powerful way a movie director could: he decided not to attend the Academy Awards.
Initially, he stated that he neither had the intention not to attend the event, nor did he want to boycott the event as a show of objection, for he knows that “many in the American film industry and the Acadamy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are opposed to the fanaticism and extremism which are today taking place more than ever”. However, since the possibility of him attending the event was accompanied by “ifs and buts” due to the ban, he found it in no way acceptable even if exceptions were made for his trip.
He expressed his thoughts about the ideology behind the ban and explained that hard-liners like Donald Trump exist all over the world:
“Hard-liners despite their nationalities, political arguments and wars, regard and understand the world in very much the same way. In order to understand the world, they have no choice but to regard it via an “us and them” mentality, which they use to create a fearful image of “them”, and inflict fear in the people of their own countries…to humiliate one nation with the pretext of guarding the security of another is not a new phenomenon in history and has always laid the groundwork for the creation of future divide and enmity.”
“However”, he writes, “I believe that similarities among the human beings on this earth and its various lands, and among its cultures and faiths, far outweigh their differences.”
Even now that the ban has been suspended, Asghar Farhadi could not have condemned the underlying ideology of the ban in a more suitable way. He makes clear that these kind of measures are not to be underestimated. They do not serve the safety of countries, for they have negative consequences which can be felt further away from airport securities, in all fields of society. This ban will always be a serious violation of human rights, among which the freedom of expression and freedoms in the field of arts and culture.
In this case, the ban hampered talented members of the Iranian movie industry to enter an artistic competition with other non-Americans in the branch because they are Iranian and because they are Muslim. Other contestants are left in a painful position where they will choose between entering an unjust competition or boycotting the ceremony altogether due to lack of freedom of entrance for other members.
Indeed, being nominated for an Oscar is incredible and an honour for all Iranians. But deciding to not attend the event is an even greater honour. With his statement, Asghar Farhadi made clear that it is not acceptable to get along with racist visa and travel restrictions and a ban on Muslim civilians and refugees. That it is not acceptable to give in to measures which violate fundamental human rights and create more fear and uncertainty in the hearts and minds of nations. Having artists, who are in constant interaction with national and international affairs, speak against injustice and call for humanity and peace is a greater goal, worth more than a thousand Oscars.