The Iranian drama The Salesman won the Oscar for best foreign-language film Sunday night, as its director and lead actress sat out the awards ceremony in protest of President Trump’s travel ban.
Accepting the award on behalf of filmmaker Asghar Farhadi were two prominent Iranian-Americans: Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, and Firouz Naderi, a former director of solar systems exploration at NASA. Ansari spoke, reading a letter on Farhadi’s behalf. “I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans immigrants from entrance into the U.S. Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ creates fear.”
She continued with the statement, which called the travel ban, “a deceitful justification for regression, and war.”
“These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries in which have themselves have been victims of aggression,” the statement continued. “Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy we need today more than ever. And break stereotypes and religions. They create empathy between us and others — an empathy we need today more than ever.”
Written and directed by Farhadi, The Salesman stars Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini as married theater actors who are performing in a production of Death of a Salesman and have their lives upended by a violent attack.
Farhadi and Alidoosti declared last month that they would not attend the Oscars in the wake of Trump’s executive order blocking citizens from Iran and six other predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. (The ban has since been halted by judicial decisions.)
At the time, Farhadi told the New York Times that he initially planned to attend the Oscars and speak out about the “unjust circumstances” of Trump’s ban, but the conditions required for such a trip proved “in no way acceptable” to him. Alidoosti similarly condemned the ban as “racist” and said she would boycott the Oscars in response.
On Friday, the directors of the five films nominated in the foreign-language category released a joint statement of “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 letter did not mention Trump by name but did call out the inflammatory rhetoric being used nationwide against immigrants and people of color.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
The directors added, “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.”
Backstage after the win, Ansari said of the statement, “I think [Farhadi] wanted to stand in solidarity with the rest of the people who have been subject [to] the travel ban and have not been able to see their friends and family members … and share important moments in their lives, so he could not be here receiving this award, which means a lot to him, and that’s the big message he was sending.”
The Salesman beat out Germany’s Toni Erdmann (which had been regarded as a frontrunner), Denmark’s Land of Mine, Australia’s Tanna, and Sweden’s A Man Called Ove.
In 2012, Farhadi’s A Separation became the first Iranian film to win the foreign-language Oscar.