The great filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is no longer legally permitted to enter the United States in order to attend the Academy Awards, where he has been invited as a nominee. Farhadi won Best Foreign Language Film in 2012 for A Separation and was again nominated for his latest, The Salesman, which won the Best Actor (Shahab Hosseini) and Best Screenplay awards at Cannes last year. It is a disgrace that the country that waves the banner of freedom forbids the brightest of artists from crossing its borders. The United States should be honored to welcome him. (You can stream Farhadi’s gem About Elly on Netflix.)
The ban comes after President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders indefinitely prohibiting Syrian refugees from entering the country as well as disallowing visas for citizens of Muslim countries Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran – the nation home to Farhadi – for 90 days. The Oscars are scheduled to take place on February 26, in 29 days.
Farhadi makes beautiful and haunting films that powerfully explore how social barriers disrupt emotional truth and produce violence and abyss in the place of connection and commemoration. His films are critical of Iran, including some of its repressive customs, and stand against the tyranny and oppression of ideologies such as that disseminated by ISIS, the group Trump is allegedly targeting with these prohibitions and exclusions. In fact, Farhadi, with his filmmaking, is a stronger force against the ideals of ISIS than Trump, who only kindles the fires of violence and hatred upon which ISIS is built. President Barack Obama, his predecessor, deported more immigrants than any president before him, and this inhumane trend of treating immigrants and foreigners as criminals continues now under Trump, who only digs deeper the iron heel.
While Trump and the mechanisms of imperialism and inhumanity that have elevated and empowered him will leave behind yet another stain on our torrid history, the films of Farhadi will continue to fill us with compassion and curiosity, uniting us across these imposed borders. However, all of us should do what we can to put a stop to these decrees, which only further endanger all of our freedoms and humanitarian values. Stand up against them to local and national representatives and seek out platforms to strengthen the voice of dissent. It may be time to sacrifice Oscar night, too—to decide that full inclusion and the struggle against human right violations are more important than celebrating the fame, fortune, and talent, of those hailing from so-called Christian lands, unthreatened but threatening: the real, historical trespassers.
Update: in light of the ban, Farhadi has decided not to apply for a visa and boycott the Oscars. He gave the following statement to The New York Times:
I regret to announce via this statement that I have decided to not attend the Academy Awards Ceremony alongside my fellow members of the cinematic community.
Over the course of the past few days and despite the unjust circumstances which have risen for the immigrants and travelers of several countries to the United States, my decision had remained the same: to attend this ceremony and to express my opinions about these circumstances in the press surrounding the event. I neither had the intention to not attend nor did I want to boycott the event as a show of objection, for I know that many in the American film industry and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are opposed to the fanaticism and extremism which are today taking place more than ever. Just as I had stated to my distributor in the United States on the day the nominees were announced, that I would be attending this ceremony along with my cinematographer, I continued to believe that I would be present at this great cultural event.
However, it now seems that the possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me even if exceptions were to be made for my trip. I would therefore like to convey via this statement what I would have expressed to the press were I to travel to the United States. 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.
This is not just limited to the United States; in my country hardliners are the same. For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hardliners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals.
However, I believe that the similarities among the human beings on this earth and its various lands, and among its cultures and its faiths, far outweigh their differences. I believe that the root cause of many of the hostilities among nations in the world today must be searched for in their reciprocal humiliation carried out in its past and no doubt the current humiliation of other nations are the seeds of tomorrow’s hostilities. 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. 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.
Asghar Farhadi, Iran