Asghar Farhadi has been making some of the most beautiful, poetic, thought-provoking, and socially critical films of the past decade. He won an Oscar in 2012 for A Separation and has been again nominated in the category of Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman. (The Oscars presenting this latest award will air this Sunday.) He has recently spoken out against the “Muslim ban” — the U.S. government targeting of Muslim-majority countries to exclude their citizens from entry into the country. While restrictions against these seven countries had already been in place under the Obama administration, President Trump signed an executive order to make them even more strictly enforced, leading to the illegal forced return of many visa-holding Muslims to their countries of origin. (Because of the language used by Trump, which highlighted that Muslims would be particularly excluded while Christians would be given preference, the justice system was forced to reverse the ban given its violation of the constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on religion. The issue will soon be deliberated at the Supreme Court.)
Now Farhadi has released a statement co-signed by his fellow Best Foreign Language Oscar nominees in which he rejects the racism, sexism, and imperialism of the U.S. government. The statement poignantly undermines the notion of “Best” and the hierarchy of nationalities, religions, and other categorizations. “We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color. We want this award to stand as a symbol of the unity between nations and the freedom of the arts.” It concludes by recognizing those who are working hard to fight against the violence of discrimination, exclusion, and the dehumanization of prioritizing races, countries, or religions. The filmmakers dedicate the award to the “people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding.”
Let us not allow the trivialities of the Oscars to overshadow the importance of this statement from Farhadi and his fellow nominees. Their artistry and expression of human freedom and solidarity is what will always be remembered and cherished — more than any awards ceremony or the pompous, belligerent crimes of its government. Read on for the full statement:
On behalf of all nominees, we would like to express our unanimous and emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.
The fear generated by dividing us into genders, colors, religions and sexualities as a means to justify violence destroys the things that we depend on – not only as artists but as humans: the diversity of cultures, the chance to be enriched by something seemingly “foreign” and the belief that human encounters can change us for the better. These divisive walls prevent people from experiencing something simple but fundamental: from discovering that we are all not so different.
So we’ve asked ourselves: What can cinema do? Although we don`t want to overestimate the power of movies, we do believe that no other medium can offer such deep insight into other people’s circumstances and transform feelings of unfamiliarity into curiosity, empathy and compassion – even for those we have been told are our enemies.
Regardless of who wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday, we refuse to think in terms of borders. We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color. We want this award to stand as a symbol of the unity between nations and the freedom of the arts.
Human rights are not something you have to apply for. They simply exist – for everybody. For this reason, we dedicate this award to all the people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding, and who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity – values whose protection is now more important than ever. By dedicating the Oscar to them, we wish to express to them our deep respect and solidarity.
—Martin Zandvliet (“Land of Mine,” Denmark), Hannes Holm (“A Man called Ove, Sweden), Asghar Farhadi (“The Salesman,” Iran), Maren Ade (“Toni Erdmann,” Germany), Martin Butler, Bentley Dean (“Tanna,” Australia).