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Director Asghar Farhadi Protests Travel Ban with Oscar Absence

It was quite a night at the Oscars on Sunday—from the best picture mix-up to the first Muslim actor, Mahershala Ali, winning an Academy Award. But one no-show also stole the headlines.

The Salesman, an Iranian film, won the award for best foreign film; however, the director, Asghar Farhadi, did not show up to receive the award. Instead, the prominent Iranian-American female space explorer, Anousheh Ansari, accepted the award on his behalf and read a statement by Mr. Farhadi.  

The statement explained that Mr. Farhadi refused to attend the Oscars in protest of President Trump’s recent travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. His absence was “out of respect” for the people in Iran and served as a symbol of solidarity for the immigrants who are unable to enter the U.S because of the ban.

“Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear,” read Farhadi’s statement, “a deceitful justification for aggression and war.” This line prompted ringing applause.

Like many people in Hollywood, Mr. Farhadi expressed his opposition to the ban. His protest revealed his support for those discriminated against and disenfranchised in addition to those affected by the ban.

Mr. Farhadi also won an Oscar for his 2012 film A Separation. The film’s Oscar win puts Mr. Farhadi in the unique category of the few foreign filmmakers who have won two Oscars. He is well-known for creating narratives that reflect the struggles of the Iranian middle class. Mr. Farhadi’s films offer a broader perspective on Iranian urban life—a perspective not usually portrayed in Iran’s state-controlled news media.

Some Iranian critics have expressed that the Oscars are no place for politics and have attacked Mr. Farhadi’s statement and his films. However, many Iranians enjoy and relate to his films because they portray the urban struggles of middle-class life in a society vacillating between modern progression and traditional ideology.

In his statement, Mr. Farhadi said that an infusion of empathy is much needed in our modern world. He acknowledged the power that artists and filmmakers have in the sense that they can “capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions.”

This line captures the efforts of activist groups on Boston College campus—trying to remind others of our shared humanity. They have organized rallies and peaceful protests as a way to encourage solidarity and acceptance for those who have been marginalized.

Mr. Farhadi’s call for empathy resonates with people who have faced unjust treatment or who are fighting for a more accepting society. He reminds us to recognize the similarities in human beings rather than focusing on what divides us.

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