Are Best Foreign Film Nominees Trumped By Politicized Voting?

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Will the Oscar for Best Foreign Language feature be misconstrued by voters as a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies? That has become a real concern for nominees who are watching one film, the Asghar Farhadi-directed The Salesman, get the lion’s share of press attention as the Iranian director holds fast to his vow to not attend the Academy Awards, even though Trump’s edict was blocked by three federal judges.

The Salesman was thrust into the spotlight by the infamous Muslim travel ban enacted  when the Oscar nominations were announced. Farhadi made headlines when he refused to attend the awards and he and his movie became galvanizing images of Hollywood’s collective resistance against Trump’s immigration policies, even though The Salesman is not political.

Publicly, the filmmakers of the other nominated films have shown nothing but sympathy for Farhadi when he was facing a ban. But according to one person closely related to a finalist film, those involved with the other films are increasingly wary of how all the headlines and political sentiment will affect the voting now underway.

“Every one of these films except The Salesman is being held hostage by a political situation that has nothing to do with any of us,” said the source. “It is all the media is writing about, not only the trades, but all over the world. We are all concerned that the impression left on voters will be that a vote for The Salesman will be a vote against Donald Trump and that a message will be sent about his ridiculous immigration policies. And none of us can say anything about it.”

Aside from The Salesman, the other nominees in the category are the Maren Ade-directed Toni Erdmann, the Hannes Holm-directed A Man Called Ove, the Martin Pieter Zandvliet-directed Land of Mine, and the Bentley Dean/Martin Butler-directed Tanna.

The source insisted on anonymity because of the risk of seeming unsympathetic to an issue that is particularly galling to fellow foreign filmmakers. But, I was told, there is clear frustration over how the other films have been forgotten, and a wish that Farhadi would materialize at the Oscars instead of a possible appearance at a screening in Europe where he might make speak his mind. The source offered the caveat that they were frustrated by the circumstances and weren’t saying that The Salesman was deliberately looking for an advantage by keeping Farhadi from coming.

“I would vote for his movie right now if he was being banned because of the subject matter of his movie, but that is not what is happening here,” the source said. “All of the nominated filmmakers would like nothing more than to stand with Asghar at the Oscars, and make a united statement, but we cannot do that. Instead, every other director is being asked questions not about their movie, but about this. And what can we say? I overheard a conversation about someone voting for The Salesman for political reasons. What I wanted to say was, have you seen all the other movies before deciding? Even though it seemed like they were saying a vote for the movie was a vote against Trump, I said nothing.”

Said the source: “The Academy should go out of its way to remind voters that they are supposed to see all the films and vote for the best one. We know this is not at the top of the Oscar ballot, but the prestige of this award is very important to us and around the world.”

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