Like Best Foreign Language Film winner The Salesman by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, Best Documentary Short Subject White Helmets made headlines related to President Trump’s controversial (and eventually overturned) Muslim travel ban targeting seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Farhadi’s native Iran and Syria, the setting of The White Helmets.
Farhadi opted not to attend the Oscars in protest of the executive order. Meanwhile, U.S. immigration authorities denied Khaled Khateeb, the 21-year-old cinematographer and Syrian national who filmed The White Helmets, entry into the U.S. to come to the Academy Awards. The attendance of Raed Saleh, the leader of the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Syrian rescue group the White Helmets and subject of The White Helmets, had also been an open question since President Trump’s proposed travel ban. It was recently announced that Saleh would travel to the U.S. for the Oscar ceremony but in accepting the award for the documentary, Orlando von Einsiedel said that Saleh “is not able to join us tonight.”
Von Einsiedel, who shared the stage with The White Helmets‘ producer Joanna Natasegara, read a statement by Saleh, in which he said, “Our organization is guided by a verse from the Koran: ‘to save one life is to save all of humanity.’ We have saved more than 82,000 civilian lives. I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life, to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world.”
Einsiedel went on to urge everyone in the theater to show support for efforts to end the war in Syria. “It’s very easy for these guys to feel they’re forgotten,” he added. “This war’s been going on for six years. If everyone could just stand up and remind them that we all care, that this war end as quickly as possible. Thank you.”