Director Asghar Farhadi will not be attending the Oscars ceremony later this month to see if his film The Salesman wins best foreign language picture. The reason? At first it was because, as a citizen of Iran, Farhadi was subject to our new administration's "definitely not a Muslim ban" Muslim ban.
Now, the director (whose A Separation won in the same category five years ago) has said he wouldn't come even if allowed, which makes a lot of sense. Why go where you're clearly not wanted?
I hope he wins, and I hope the presenters, instead of saying, "We accept this on his behalf," simply stand there silently for the 45 seconds or however long the Academy allows people who aren't A-listers to give their speeches. I hope the director of the telecast keeps the camera on the otherwise empty stage. I hope nothing but dead silence echoes through the auditorium. And then, when the playoff music starts, I hope there's a standing ovation.
"But celebrities should stick to making movies! Not talking about politics!" certain planets in the Twitterverse would say. First of all, there are very few occupations where it is inappropriate to use your professional platform to advance your personal beliefs - offhand, I can think of members of the military, government workers, journalists and kindergarten teachers. Second, we need artists to talk about politics because, many times, ART IS HOW WE TALK ABOUT POLITICS. More importantly, art is often how the political becomes the personal.
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Putting a face - even a fictional one - on an issue brings that issue out of the realm of the theoretical. Thanks to Harry Potter, kids hoping for a letter on their 11th birthday know they'd be entering Hogwarts as a Mudblood and would have to face discrimination because of it. Thanks to Star Wars, every little girl who thought "princess" was the pinnacle of a woman's career now knows that "general" is a possibility, though one that comes with great loss.
And if you can't see the similarities between terrified parents putting Kal-El in a spaceship to flee a world in danger and terrified parents putting Alan Kurdi in a rickety boat for the same reason, you are deliberately not looking closely enough. And once you start looking closely, you have to ask why the outcomes for those two people were so different: One became the image of ideals, and one - dead at 3, face down on a Greek beach - became the image of inaction.
Of all the people affected by the travel ban, Farhadi will probably be the only one that has any sort of resonance in most Americans' lives. His glaring absence will put a human face on a political situation. Whatever happens at the Oscars - we know there will be political statements made, regardless of Farhadi's decision - it's ludicrous to think that the artists in attendance should shut their mouths and get back to work.
Art and politics aren't separate. They never have been, and they aren't now. That's the thing with pop culture: It's a production of the world, but it also holds a mirror up to it. Sometimes we won't like what it shows.