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Asghar Farhadi's Absence Will Blight The Oscars

Picture of Graham Fuller
Film Editor
Updated: 30 January 2017
The filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has ended speculation about whether he would attend the Academy Awards on February 26 by announcing that he will not be making the trip to Los Angeles from his native Iran.

Withdrawing from the event was the only dignified course open to the 44-year-old writer-director. The maker of The Salesman, which last Tuesday was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category, made the announcement following President Trump’s signing of an executive order imposing a 90-day ban on admitting visa travelers to the US from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.

As an Iranian, Farhadi would not have been permitted to enter the country. In announcing his non-attendance of the Oscars, he has removed from the table the possibility that a concession could have allowed him entry as a distinguished artist.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars, denounced the travel ban.

“The Academy celebrates achievement in the art of filmmaking, which seeks to transcend borders and speak to audiences around the world, regardless of national, ethnic, or religious differences,” the Academy said in a statement. “As supporters of filmmaker—and the human rights of all people—around the globe, we find it extremely troubling that Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Oscar-winning film from Iran, A Separation [2012], along with the cast and crew of this year’s Oscar-nominated film The Salesman, could be barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.”

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Farhadi won Iran’s first Oscsr for ‘A Separation,’ 2012 | © Jaguar PS/Shutterstock, Inc.

Farhadi had originally intended to attend the Oscars with The Salesman‘s cinematographer Hossein Jafarian, who also photographed Farhadi’s Fireworks Wednesday (2006) and About Elly (2009. However, Farhadi said in a statement published in The New York Times on January 29 that the possibility of his presence at the awards “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.

“I would therefore like to convey via this statement what I would have expressed to the press were I to travel to the United States,” he added, teeing up a shot at the imposers of the visa ban. “Hard-liners, despite their nationalities, political arguments and wars, regard and understand the world in very much the same way. In order to understand the world, they have no choice but to regard it via an ‘us and them’ mentality, which they use to create a fearful image of ‘them’ and inflict fear in the people of their own countries.”

Farhadi went on to decry the dissemination of fear by hard-liners in his own country, and to stress his belief “that the similarities among the human beings on this earth and its various lands, and among its cultures and its faiths, far outweigh their differences.” The full statement is here.

Taraneh Alidoosti, The Salesman‘s Iranian leading lady, had tweeted on Thursday that she would not attend the Oscars.

The Salesman team’s withdrawal casts a pall over the Oscars that’s unlikely to disperse in the next 27 days. Judging by the passionate speeches delivered at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on January 29, the Oscar podium seems likely to become a platform for anti-Trump sentiments.

A director who precision-engineers his neo-realist films for maximum psychological and social realism, Farhadi is a compassionate humanist especially alert to the struggles of married women and the negative conditioning of some men in Iranian society. Notwithstanding cultural differences between Iran and the United States that are not easily reconciled, The Salesman doesn’t fail to speak to the fear of macho aggression and runaway authoritarianism that many Americans—men, women, and children—are processing in the winter of 2017.

Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini play an educated Tehran couple, Rana and Emad—he a literature teacher, both of them are actors—who are forced to find a new home after their tower block becomes unstable. A older colleague, Babak (Babak Karini), who is working with them on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, recommends an empty flat to the couple, and they move in.

Salesman
Taraneh Alidoosti in ‘The Salesman’ | © Amazon Studios

He doesn’t tell them that it has been vacated by a prostitute and single mother who maintains a proprietary interest in the flat, stores her things there, and sends Rena and Emad high-handed messages. After an unknown assailant viciously attacks Rana in the shower while she is alone in the flat, Emad’s civilized veneer begins to crack, like the walls of their old building. The blow to his husbandly pride, and his suspicion that Rana may have been raped, foster in him a slow-burning fury he cannot suppress.

Emad not only adopts the manner of a vigilante as he traces the attacker, but cruelly derides his traumatized wife as a malingerer. He vilifies the prostitute. His conduct is that of a misogynistic bigot, who, as much as he blames Rana’s assailant for his family’s humiliation, blames female “immorality” and fearfulness, too.

Harnessing Death of a Salesman, a quintessential American play, as a metaphor for self-deception, The Salesman reveals that Emad’s self-righteousness is merely a smokescreen for his destructive arrogance. It feels applicable to American and Iran, one reason why Farahdi and his collaborators were needed at the Oscars.