January 27th, the day the Auschwitz camp was liberated, is now Holocaust Memorial Day in several countries. It also happens to be the day Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, signed an Executive Order to halt immigration from Iran and six other Muslim-majority nations regardless of Visa or Green Card status, in addition to suspending America’s refugee program. Given America’s own history of turning away Jewish refugees who would go on to die at Auschwitz (among them, the family of Anne Frank), you could not give humanity a bigger slap in the face if you wanted to.
Of course, this is merely a movie website, and as several commenters have complained of late, its “liberal slant” is unpalatable. So let’s forget political opinion for a moment and just focus on this recent movie news. Asghar Farhadi, lifelong servant of the human condition and artist behind the stellar Iranian film The Salesman, will no longer be able to attend this year’s Oscar ceremony, the grandest stage on which we celebrate any visual art form. Among others, the ban also applies to the film’s lead actress Taraneh Alidoosti (pictured above), who previously stated she would boycott the Academy Awards if it went into effect. Should Farhadi win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film a second time – his A Separation was the first ever Iranian recipient – he won’t be there to make a speech or accept the statuette.
Putting aside the fact that Persian has been spoken on American shores since 1618 (and likely by over a million people today – it’s about as “foreign” a language to America as English), this is an unfortunate happenstance. But I guess that’s movies for you, eh? Things sometimes happen in the world. Oh well. There are certainly no ramifications to a major nexus for global culture becoming an isolationist state, and by no means a thematic hypocrisy at play with regards to the through-line of modern mainstream American cinema, a national oeuvre that prides itself on the resistance of fascism and standing up for the powerless. And of course, there’s certainly nothing political about Farhadi and millions of other Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen being considered potential terrorists. It’s just a simple matter of safety, which is why Donald Trump has made sure nations like Egypt, Saudia Arabia and the U.A.E. (from where several of the 9/11 hijackers originated) will not be subject to any immigration bans, but will instead be under the watchful eye of the Trump Organization as it conducts business deals with them.
But you’ve probably heard all this. You’ve probably been paying close attention to the stories that are currently unfolding, of Visa and Green Card holders who have been in the U.S. for decades now being barred from entering the country even if they’re dual citizens of other nations, or of refugee families no longer being allowed safe passage and escape from war torn regions. You know all this, and yet you’re here reading this article about one man. One single man who gets paid to make movies, now unable to potentially accept a golden statue on a night Hollywood pays tribute to itself. What’s so special about Asghar Farhadi?
Nothing, and everything.
On one hand, we need to forget the “good Muslim” narrative that only views immigrants, refugees and American Muslims in the context of their economic worth, or whether or not they can be informants. Any and every person from these nations regardless of their skill is both equally vulnerable in this equation, and equally worthy of safety and opportunity. On the other, Asghar Farhadi is an accomplished filmmaker. An ambassador of culture. A chronicler of life itself in all its hues and rhythms. If he isn’t allowed into the U.S. because he poses a potential threat, then what does that say of his art? How long before this administration takes a stance on importing the movies of other countries, and thus the viewpoints of those who make them? How long before America’s impending wall isn’t just a blockade around its southern border, but around the minds of its people?
This is, of course, a secondary concern at the moment. As I’m writing this, protesters are gathered outside John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to ensure people from these countries get through. The Executive Order in question is a national and international travesty that peddles in vagaries, a “temporary” ban until they “figure things out,” although no one can seem to explain what exactly needs figuring out to begin with and the lack of clear specifics is causing all sorts of confusion right now. This could lead to extreme vetting, perhaps? One problem there: refugees coming to America already undergo extreme vetting. Up to two years of it, in fact. Other immigrants undergo a similar process, and no one with a Visa or Green Card to the United States can slip past the watchful eye of Homeland security with ties to extremist groups. As someone who’s been through the process for several Tourist and Student Visas, I would know.
Farhadi more than likely underwent strict background checks, but right-wing fear mongering has turned him and others like him into symbols of fear regardless. A fear that needs satiating no matter whose rights are trampled on, or how many families are separated, or how many children die in war. If you think this doesn’t affect you, it’s only a matter of time before it could. A Green Card holder is a permanent resident one step short of citizenship – how long before this starts happening to the U.S. citizens as well?
I want to repeat: Green card holders were handcuffed, their social media was reviewed, and they were asked their views on Trump#MuslimBan— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) January 28, 2017
How long before this is the new normal for the world’s foremost superpower?
So… what now? As for the Academy Awards, I don’t know. Some stand or the other by the celebrities present. I don’t know how much it’ll help now that we’re at this stage, but it can’t hurt. It would also be the right thing to do, but even that notion feels defeatist at the moment. What’s the “right” thing when even appeals to empathy seem to fall on deaf ears? You could donate to the ACLU or the National Immigration Law Center, a lot of people are going to need these services going forward. A lot more protests are going to happen for a multitude of reasons, so get involved if you can. Watch The Salesman if it’s playing near you – I don’t know if financial success will send any kind of message, it’s just a really good movie about the pettiness and violence of egotistical men.
Get talking. Get informed. Get moving. The political fabric of the most powerful nation on Earth has changed in drastic ways, and we’re barely ten days in. Things are going to get worse and we’re going to need to stick together.
…Come to think of it, if you don’t like politics, don’t watch movies. "Politics" is clearly no longer about what’s on paper, but our very identity as a people. In that vein, talking about politics as movie fans is more vital than ever.