Art and Experience: “It’s not relevant which country Donald Trump banned,” says Maren Ade, director of Germany’s ‘Toni Erdmann.’ “Mixing the topics of terrorism and refugees is horrible, inhuman politics because it creates fear and installs racism.”
If there’s any group of Oscar nominees acutely aware of the politics of immigration and the impact of President Trump’s proposed travel ban, it’s those in the foreign-language category.
Trump’s controversial executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, which just Friday was tightened up to get around legal and constitutional objections, has been roundly condemned by all five nominees in the running for the Academy Award for best foreign-language film this year.
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, a nominee for The Salesman and the only one of the group whose nationality makes him a direct target of the ban, said he will boycott the Oscars in protest. Farhadi initially had planned to still attend, noting 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.”
But as circumstances developed, Fahardi issued a statement saying he would definitely not be coming. “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,” he wrote. “Hardliners, 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.”
Asked what he thought when Trump proposed a Muslim ban during his campaign, Farhadi told The Hollywood Reporter in October: “It seemed to me at that time that extremists everywhere in the world are the same. I was very surprised by this sentence. I feel that this creates fear in the people of America, and I’m very sorry about it.”
At press time, President Trump’s travel ban on refugees and others from seven Muslim-majority countries had been suspended by a federal judge. But with the administration’s appeal pending, the ban’s fate is uncertain — as is that of Bahar Pars, the co-star of A Man Called Ove, Sweden’s Oscar nominee. Pars’ ability to attend the Oscars could be restricted as the actress holds dual Iranian and Swedish citizenship.
“Of course it’s terrible,” says Ove director Hannes Holm. “But I texted Bahar, and I told her I don’t believe in walls. If you build a wall, there will always be some way you can slip through, a hole or something.”
Holm regards the Oscars as the Academy’s party. If the Academy wants “me or Bahar or anyone to come, I will come,” he affirms. A boycott would play into Trump’s hands, he adds, “because the voters of Mr. Trump don’t give a shit about [foreigners]. It’s part of the idea, to keep [them] out. So if you don’t come, maybe it’s even better for Trump.”
Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, co-directors of Tanna, Australia’s contender for the foreign-language Oscar, told THR in a statement:
“The Foreign Language Film category is all about celebrating all cultures in cinema, which is why [fellow nominee] Asghar Farhadi’s feeling the need to boycott the Academy Awards in response to Trump’s attempted Muslim ban is particularly tragic. We understand and support his decision. What has been heartening over subsequent days is seeing the American people and their institutions flex their democratic muscles to put an end to Trump’s lunacy. We hope they continue to prevail. Remember here you have folks who had never experienced cinema let alone acted in a film before making Tanna. They intuitively understood it’s power (like all of us), and shared with the world something of such universal beauty that it has been recognized by the most prestigious awards on the planet. For me (Bentley) their story encapsulates the Foreign Language category perfectly — which at it’s heart is a celebration of diverse voices in cinema.”
Martin Zandvliet, the Danish director nominated this year for Land of Mine, a period drama set just after WWII, said he “completely understands and supports Asghar and all the other foreign nominees, whether they decide to stay away or come to the Oscars.” Added Zandvliet, “The idea of a travel ban based on stereotypes or generalizations is insidious which is perhaps why for the moment it has not been enacted. When people react out of fear and we become judgmental of each other, that is dangerous and we need to learn from our past.”
For Maren Ade, the German director of foreign-language nominee Toni Erdmann, the travel ban affects everyone, regardless of their nation of origin.
“I think we are all affected by this and for me it’s not relevant which country Donald Trump banned. And mixing the topics of terrorism and refugees is a horrible, inhuman politics because it creates fear and installs racism. When I did the mood boards on the look of Toni I did research on nowadays pretenders and put Donald Trump in it. I still cannot believe that he is the president of the United States now. And especially as a woman it’s hard to accept that such a sexist person was elected. What Trump did in his first steps is going into a modern form of dictatorship that we find also in other countries. An elected populist comes to power, installs his people in extremely important positions of power — especially in judiciary and security, tries to neutralize the media and creates fear and chaos.”