Among the winners at the 89th Academy Awards, the one who became the most public face of this year’s intersection between politics and the Oscars was not at the Dolby to pick up his statue. Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman scooped the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, giving the respected Iranian director his second win in the category — albeit for a film that many feel may ultimately be remembered more for its cause célèbre status as a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Accepting the Oscar tonight for Farhadi was Iranian-American engineer Anousheh Ansari who read a statement from the director. She began on his behalf, “I am sorry I’m not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six countries who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”
Farhadi made headlines in January when he said he would not attend the Academy Awards, even if given special dispensation to do so. This was immediately in the wake of President Trump’s attempt to ban citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran, from entering the U.S. While Trump’s ban has since been blocked by federal judges, Farhadi has remained steadfast in his position. He recently made appearances via video, including at last week’s UTA rally and this evening’s UK premiere of The Salesman in Trafalgar Square.
His message tonight from the Dolby, via Ansari, continued, “Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which themselves have been victims of aggression. 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 which we need today more than ever.”
The Foreign Language race took on a highly geopolitical profile this year, even before Trump’s executive order was signed in late January. When word initially spread that it was being planned, The Salesman‘s co-star Taraneh Alidoosti said she would not attend the Oscars as a protest against the then-proposed order. Farhadi’s own situation, as well as that of several other nominees, then continued to thrust the category under a brighter spotlight than normal.
Somewhat ironically, of the five nominees in this category, The Salesman is among the least political. The psychological drama is about a young couple forced to move into a new apartment after their old flat becomes damaged. Once relocated, a sudden eruption of violence linked to the previous tenant changes the couple’s life. In the film, they also are starring in a production of Death Of A Salesman. Cohen Media Group released the picture domestically in late January. It debuted in Cannes where it won the Screenplay and Best Actor prizes.
Ahead of the weekend, the six nominated directors in the category released a joint statement expressing their “emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries.” Together, they said that whoever won the Academy Award, “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.”
The other nominees included Toni Erdmann by Germany’s Maren Ade; Land Of Mine from Denmark’s Martin Zandvliet; A Man Called Ove from Sweden’s Hannes Holm; and Australia’s Tanna by Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, a first nomination for Oz.