The Significance of ‘The Salesman’ Director Asghar Farhadi’s Absence From the Oscars – The Atlantic
2017/02/03 Leave a comment
While Hollywood has been loudly critical of Donald Trump since the early days of his presidential campaign, that relationship has only grown more adversarial with the former reality-TV star’s assumption of office last month. As my colleague David Sims noted Monday, the current awards season has seen many filmmakers, performers, and others in the industry calling out Trump, whether for his behavior toward women and minorities or for moving ahead with campaign promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico or to keep Muslims out of the country for professed national-security reasons.Then, on January 27 came a confusing and messily enacted executive order that, in part, temporarily bars citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. It quickly emerged that the order would likely mean that at least one important face would be missing from this year’s Oscars: the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman is nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film award. A few days later, Farhadi confirmed to The New York Timesthat he wouldn’t be attending:
“I neither had the intention to not attend nor did I want to boycott the event as a show of objection, for I know that many in the American film industry and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are opposed to the fanaticism and extremism which are today taking place more than ever … However, it now seems that the possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me even if exceptions were to be made for my trip.”
In addition to celebrities condemning the executive order, which also bars refugees, the film industry has expressed its support for Farhadi. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called the travel ban “extremely troubling,” and on Tuesday, the American Film Institute praised Farhadi’s work while saying, “We believe any form of censorship—including the restriction of travel—to be against all values we cherish as a community of storytellers.” Immediately after the order was announced, one of The Salesman’s stars, Taraneh Alidoosti, said she would be boycotting the ceremony and called Trump’s move “racist.” Others have reportedly also been prevented from attending.
To get a better sense of the cultural and geopolitical context of Farhadi’s recognition by the Oscars and his eventual boycott, I spoke with Hamid Naficy, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Communication and the author of several books on Iranian culture and media, including A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Cruz: Can you describe the cultural exchange between the U.S. and Iran in recent years, and how that relationship might change moving forward?
Naficy: …It’s in that context that you have this very complicated diplomatic, media, and cultural dance between Iran and the U.S. As part of this anti-American cultural diplomacy in Iran, American films were banned in the country after the Iranian Revolution, but a whole active underground market developed for them.On the one hand, the government of Iran declares that there is a cultural invasion of Iran—that Americans are trying to win the hearts and minds of Iranians, not through force but through culture. On the other hand, Iranian cinema, in particular arthouse cinema, has after the revolution become quite a credible presence in international film festivals and in commercial cinema. Those films are valued because they’re so artistic and interesting, but also partly because the view they represent of Iran is almost diametrically opposed to the view the Iranian government presents of itself and that the Western media presents of Iran.These films show Iranian people to be normal like everyone else. They love their children, their children fight with each other, they’re jealous, they’re loyal. There are all kinds of humane stories that I think make people sympathetic to Iranian society and culture. So you have these kinds of competing visions of self and other that are taking place in the two film industries.
Hollywood, from the hostage crisis onward, has produced a huge number of films that basically sort of exploit the enmity between the two countries. I guess the last big one was Argo, which was about the rescue mission of the Americans by the Canadian embassy. (Although I must say, the Canadians didn’t get a lot of credit in that film and neither did the Iranians, but that’s Hollywood.)