Controversial government practices are preventing several filmmakers behind an Oscar-nominated title from attending the Academy Awards.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, the producer (Kareem Abeed) and subject (White Helmets founder Mahmoud Al-Hattar) of Feras Fayyad’s Last Men in Aleppo — the first Syrian-produced and -directed title to be recognized by the Academy — will not attend the March 4 ceremony. They claim Syrian officials refused to expedite their travel visa process — made more complicated by President Donald Trump’s recently-implemented travel ban — as their film competes for the best documentary feature Academy Award.
The film chronicles the real-life recovery missions of the White Helmets organization, which functions as a medical relief unit among portions of rebel-held territory in civil-war-ravaged Syria. The bloody conflict has displaced almost half of the nation’s population, though the White Helmets’ efforts were in the running to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.
“I want to be on the Oscar stage to say, ‘It’s time to end this war and to stop those who use their power to destroy us,’ Al-Hattar told THR, further explaining he would have used the winners’ podium to condemn “Russia, Assad and everyone who represents the authorities and supplies weapons to suppress the people of Syria.”
The publication indicates that, following Last Men in Aleppo‘s Oscar nomination on Jan. 23, the film’s marketing team “submitted a visa application for Abeed, who holds a Syrian passport and is currently in Turkey,” though “Syrian officials set his interview date for March 2, which would make it nearly impossible for him to make it to the Oscars in time.”
If travel visas were secured, however, Trump’s Executive Order 13780 put a stop to new visa applications from Syrian citizens, among others. According to THR, “the team is simultaneously lobbying the U.S. State Department, but has received no indication that it will intervene,” but intervention from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could expedite the case. In an effort to assist the filmmakers, Academy membership manager Tom Oyer reportedly penned a letter on behalf of Abeed in an attempt to legitimize the producer’s request in the eyes of the government by confirming, in writing, his status as a nominee alongside his intentions to travel to the U.S. for the Oscars ceremony.
“The Syrian government doesn’t want to issue passports and visas because they use the same accusing that is used by the Russians — that [the White Helmets] work with a terrorism group,” Fayyad, who also blamed the “ugly positions from President Trump” as roadblocks, told THR. “The Syrian government is under control of the Russians…. I know lots of Russian people, and they are not fans of Putin’s policies [that back the Assad regime].”
This is the second year in a row foreign Oscar nominees have faced hurdles entering the U.S. for the ceremony. Trump’s travel ban — which restricts people from seven majority-Muslim countries (plus some from Venezuela) from coming into America — impacted the Oscar prospects of last year’s crop of contenders as well. (The matter will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in April.) The cinematographer who shot the 2017 best documentary short champion The White Helmets (also about the titular group of first responders amid the Syrian conflict) was barred from entering the U.S. for the Academy Awards ceremony, as were the film’s subjects.
Celebrated director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman won in the foreign language category last year, sat out the Oscars ceremony in protest of Trump’s travel ban. Iranian-Americans Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, and Firouz Naderi, previously NASA’s director of solar systems exploration, accepted the statuette on behalf of Iran in Farhadi’s absence.
“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,” Ansari said on the Academy Awards stage, reading a statement written by Farhadi. “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.”
The White House Press Office did not immediately return EW’s request for comment on THR’s story, nor did representatives for the Syrian government.