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Academy Awards 2017: Asghar Farhadi wins for The Salesman, pleads for empathy

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman won the best foreign language film at the 89th Academy Awards at Los Angeles on Monday. Farhadi, however, was absent from the ceremony in protest against US president Donald Trump’s travel ban.

hollywood Updated: Feb 27, 2017 09:54 IST
Academy Awards,Academy awards 2017,Oscars
Iranian astronaut Anousheh Ansari reading a statement from The Salesman director Asghar Farhadi after the film won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Monday.(Reuters)

A political context larger than that of films themselves swept Iran’s The Salesman into the limelight and effectively solidified its win in the best foreign language category at the Oscars on Sunday. Iranian astronaut Anousheh Ansari accepted the award on behalf of director Asghar Farhadi, who was absent from the ceremony in protest of Donald Trump’s travel ban. Check out our live blog on the ceremony here.

“I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight,” Ansari read in a statement. “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.”

Firouz Naderi, a former NASA director, and an Iranian, stood beside Ansari as she read Farhadi’s words.

Anousheh Ansari and Firouz Naderi, a former NASA director, pose with the Oscar they accepted on behalf of Asghar Farhadi, who won the Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman. ( Reuters )

It’s the second Oscar for director Farhadi, and Iran, who previously won in the same category for A Separation in 2012, but the context surrounding this win is stunningly different.

Farhadi’s film, about a couple performing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, was barely even in the conversation a few months ago, overshadowed by Maren Ade’s popular German comedy Toni Erdmann, but became a rallying cry for immigrant rights after President Donald Trump’s seven country travel ban.

The ban not only led to Farhadi announcing that he would not attend the awards in protest of the ban, targeted toward predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran, but also to an unprecedented show of solidary between the six nominated directors in the foreign language category. Two days before the Oscars, the six directors issued a joint statement decrying the climate of “fanaticism” in the United States. They said that no matter who won, the award would be dedicated to people working to foster “unity and understanding.”

Director Asghar Farhadi speaks via a video link at the screening of the film The Salesman in Trafalgar Square in London on February 26, 2017. ( Reuters )

“Dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘enemies’ categories creates fear,” Ansari continued in Farhadi’s statement, which concluded with a passionate defense of the power of film to create empathy “between us and others, an empathy that we need today.”

The Salesman won over the early favourite, Toni Erdmann, which in already in the early stages of development for an English language remake starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wii, Sweden’s A Man Called Ove, Denmark’s Land of Mine, and Australia’s Tanna.

First Published: Feb 27, 2017 09:19 IST