Almost everyone has had some political statement to make since #Trumpban was put in place, the Oscars included. One of its most popular parties, hosted by the United Talent Agency, was canceled, instead giving $250 000 to the ACLU because of their disagreement with the ban placed on visitors and immigrants from 7 Muslim majority countries in early 2017.
The Oscars this year felt more diverse than it’s been for a while with “Moonlight,” an all Black cast being nominated for Best Picture, which was up against widely popular “Hidden Figures” and the highly acclaimed “Fences.” Mahershala Ali was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Moonlight,” and Viola Davis was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her work in “Fences.” “The White Helmets,” a documentary about civilian rescuers in Syria and “The Salesman,” an Iranian film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, both walked away with Oscars.
Absent for their acceptance speeches was the the founder of the White Helmets, whose message was read by director of the film Orlando von Einsiedel, with a quote from the Qur’an, the motto of the White Helmets, and an accompanying call for the end of the 6 year war.
Also missing from the awards due to the #Trumpban was the director of “The Salesman,” whose speech also expressed political protest against the ban, was met with an enthusiastic applause.
With the Oscars having a lot of firsts- it’s the first Oscar awarded to a Muslim, Mahershala Ali, pointed political comments about Muslims and immigration, and films about Muslims or with Muslim cast and crew -some may be close to forgetting that for the past few years it’s been #Oscarssowhite. Some actors present at this year’s Oscars have played roles which should have gone to PoC actors.
While we celebrate diversity in film, let’s not forget that the wealth of artistic work from minority groups is so much more than what we see in these awards shows, and the two minutes of appreciation that’s been given to them does not make up for the fact that the film and TV industry has actively participated, and celebrated the misrepresentation of their stories.
Many cheered when speeches were made which proudly displayed Muslim identity, but Muslims have always been proud of their identity and their stories even when the Oscars didn’t want to hear it. It’s the unsavory political climate which has forced people to be for or against issues; silence is no longer a palatable option.
It’s tantamount to people wearing safety pins (which has now gone quiet) in show of support with marginalized people. The Oscars tried to be a live performance of solidarity but they’re not fooling anyone, even with #OscarssoMuslim.
It’s still tokenism. With citizens lining airports across America for days, showing solidarity with Muslim travelers when the travel ban was imposed, it would be uncouth to not mention something so widely discussed. It would have been distracting if they hadn’t at least acknowledged it.
It would be remiss to forget that both the film and TV industry have had wide success promoting the “us vs them” narrative when it comes to Muslims. Long running TV series such as “24” and “Homeland,” movies such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and “London has Fallen”perpetuate damaging stereotypes of Muslims- both men and women.
So no, I’m not buying what the powers that be in Hollywood are trying to sell, that Muslims and minorities are welcome, because for too long they’ve not been. They’ve fought hard and long to be able to represent themselves and move beyond the stories told about them rather than them telling their own stories. Hollywood finally recognizing talents and plots of Muslim artists is long overdue.
I’m optimistic that Hollywood and the Academy Awards have taken off their blinders when it comes to Muslims in media, but they may have put on a performance for the crowds.