By Syed Akrama
Cinema is a medium to bring people from diverse backgrounds together. Unfortunately, identity is vulnerable to politics. The multiple identities – of nationality, sexuality, or religion, are played into to do disservice to the message of cinema, which is to capture the power of humanity and bring together the diverse emotions that bridge differences among people. In fact, cinema has a dual role to play – one of perception and the other of representation. In playing the latter, it attempts to reflect both good and bad in our society. The bad or the darker side is usually laced with politics. Movies focusing on political revolutions, leaders, and war showcase the political temperament of that particular society.
Much like before, today, we are witnessing a time, where leaders all across the globe are using fear as a tool in their divisive approach. The position of the American President, which is often referred as the “most powerful” in world politics, was recently secured by Donald J. Trump, who is not only divisive in words but also in practice. Fulfilling his election campaign promise of building an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” between the US and Mexico, Trump has set it in motion. In an effort to fulfil his promise of banning “illegal immigration”, Trump called for a Muslim ban, which would put a complete stop on Muslims entering US.
The White House Press Secretary and Communications Director, Sean Spicer, announced in his press briefing that President Trump is expected to sign a new refugee and immigration travel order and is currently working to make it “flawless”. Isn’t it ironic to call such a decision flawless?
The effect of this travel ban was clearly visible at the 89th Academy Awards ceremony, held on February 26, 2017. Cinema as a medium has the cosmic power of coalescing all of us, but unfortunately, the largest celebration, The Oscars, was struck by this schismatic decision from the US government. The Salesman, directed by Asghar Farhadi of Iran, was declared the winner of Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. Asghar Farhadi has been a decorated filmmaker from Iran, who has gained acclaims and accolades at global level for his cinematic vision and work. In 2011 he directed the movie, A Separation, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and became the first ever Iranian movie to grab this august trophy. It also got a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, becoming the first non-English film to achieve this in five years and first Iranian movie to do so. Asghar Farhadi has received a Golden Globe Award and this is his second Oscar victory but due to the ongoing political scenario, he refused to attend the ceremony.
Farhadi boycotted the ceremony as a sign of protest against the travel ban order of President Trump and sent two Iranian Americans to receive his award. Iran born US engineer and astronaut Anousheh Ansari delivered Farhadi’s message:
I am sorry that I am not here tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and the other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.
The second representative was Firouz Naderi, an Iranian American former NASA director, who explained this decision backstage by saying:
I think the reason that he chose the two of us … is if you go away from the Earth and look back at the Earth, you don’t see any of the borders or the lines, you just see the one whole beautiful Earth.
Such political incongruity in the 21st century can only be considered a sign of future troubles for the world. This attempt from President Trump of creating boundaries and dividing people is not first such incident. In recent years, we have seen similar conditions arising in different countries across the globe. Be it the case of recent events in India or the BREXIT of Great Britain, it all amounts to one thing, that is the fear among people on the false presumptions created by those who enjoy supreme political power. This fear can only result in hampering the soul of humanity. What exactly are these political leaders trying to achieve by creating a division amongst people? Such attempts of spreading hatred will not go down well in history.
At this year’s Academy Awards, one more unfortunate incident took place, owing to the madness of political system. The 40-minute documentary, “The White Helmets” won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short but one of its three cinematographers, Khaled Khatib, was denied entry into the United States. Director Orlando von Einsiedel accepted the award and read the statement from the White Helmets founder, Raed al-Saleh, which had one particular phrase from the Koran: “To save one life is to save all of humanity.”
Eleven of this year’s Oscar winners are from countries other than United States and there were eight such presenters at the 89th Academy Award, who belonged to another country originally. This statistic speaks for the diversity of Hollywood and how important it is to respect such talent, despite the fact that their culture or beliefs might be different from others. Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal, powerfully denounced Trump’s border wall when he took the stage for announcing the Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature Film. Walls are created for our protection but a wall built on the basis of irrational logic and hatred will hurt the people inside more than those who are deprived of crossing it.
The power of cinema and, especially Hollywood, will only truncate if the talent will be filtered on the basis of country of origin or religion or any other factor. Cinema is a medium which gives you an opportunity to reach out to the world and tell stories that matter, stories in which we find something common to connect with and stories which make us realize the importance of this art. Cinema cannot succumb to such absurd decisions. Certainly, all of us cannot afford to deal with such decisions and we cannot deny people of a chance to work for their dreams, a chance to try, and a chance to create a better life for themselves.
Syed Akrama is an aspiring filmmaker.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Unmasking the Conflict: Making sense of the recent uprisings in Kashmir’, edited by Idrees Kanth, Leiden University, The Netherlands and Muhammad Tahir, Dublin City University, Ireland.