Immigration Takes Center Stage at Academy Awards

The nascent Trump Administration has garnered national headlines in recent weeks by issuing a rash of controversial executive orders designed to follow through on several of the President’s fundamental campaign promises. Among the more divisive of Trump’s executive orders are those that seek to divide us, like the wall along the United States’ southern border and the so-called travel ban that prohibited the entry of passport holders from seven majority Muslim countries. And although the Department of Homeland Security suspended the travel ban last month to comply with a federal judge’s order, President Trump’s attitude clearly has been unwelcoming. This continues to create a schism throughout the nation.

The controversy caused by the travel ban was so acute that it transcended the political sphere to become a cultural barometer. This was made evident last Sunday during the telecast of the 89th annual Academy Awards. The ceremony started off with host Jimmy Kimmel’s heartfelt request for audiences at home to reach out to someone they disagree with to engage in conversation and truly “make America great again,” and he made several comedic references to the Department of Homeland Security during his opening monologue. At several points throughout the evening, immigrants were front and center. [See Oscars 2017: Political Skits, Speeches Dominate Show, by Luchina Fisher and Michael Rothman, ABC News, 26.Feb.2017.]

As the night progressed, the Oscar ceremony adopted a more somber tone as several presenters and Academy Award winners took the opportunity to express how the ban impacted them personally. When “The Salesman” won the award for Best Foreign Language Film, it quickly became apparent that the film’s Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, was not in attendance. Rather, he chose not to appear at the Oscars as a way to protest the travel ban. In a written statement that was read aloud by a representative of the film, Mr. Farhadi noted that “it was out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations” that have been “disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”

The tone of resistance pervaded throughout the night. The producers of the Oscars winning documentary “The White Helmets,” about a group of rescue volunteers in Syria, read a statement from Raed Saleh, a prominent leader of the group who is featured in the film. Though Saleh had planned on attending the ceremony, the producers announced that he was “not able to be here tonight,” and later explained that he had opted to stay behind in Syria due to escalating violence in the region. They also noted that the film’s Syrian cinematographer, Khaled Khateeb, tried to board a plane to attend the Oscars ceremony, but was denied entry into the United States due to an undisclosed issue with his visa. Several other award winners chose to proudly announce the fact that they are immigrants while accepting their Oscars, including the Italian recipients for the category of Best Hair and Makeup for their work on “Suicide Squad.” And, explaining that the itinerant nature of an actor’s life makes him a kind of migrant worker, when presenting for Best Animated Feature, Gael Garcia Bernal said, “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any form of wall that wants to separate us.” [See The Oscars’ Most Quotable Moments: You Guys Won Best Picture. This is Not a Joke. by Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times, 26.Feb.2017.]

Many Americans applaud the vocal outcry to the current Administration’s policies amid the glitz and pageantry of the Academy Awards, others feel that a star studded ceremony is no place to get political; another example of all that currently divides us as a nation. But the immigrants who help to build this country are everywhere. Some of them work and live alongside us, while others master their craft and take it to Hollywood, telling us stories movie screens across the country. All of their voices are equally valid, and all of them need to be heard. With such strong opinions and so many people talking, though, one must wonder: Is anybody listening?


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