The 89th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, are airing live from Los Angeles on ABC

Asghar Farhadi‘s The Salesman won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar on Sunday as director Farhadi did not attend the ceremony in political protest.

The Iranian drama, became something of a cause célèbre in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries — including Iran — from entering the U.S. Farhadi condemned the ban last month and declared that he would not attend the Oscars. The ban has since been halted by judicial decisions.

Steve Granitz/WireImage
Asghar Farhadi wins a 2012 Academy Award for A Separation
| Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage

On Sunday night, Farhadi’s friend Anousheh Ansari read a letter written by him in front of the Academy audience.

“I’m sorry I am not with you tonight,” the letter read. “My absence is out of respect for those in my country and those in the six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”

“Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘the enemy’ categories creates fear,” the letter continued. “A deceitful justification for regression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries in which have themselves have been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions.”

The letter also said added that filmmakers and their films can “create empathy between us and others. An empathy we need today more than ever. And break stereotypes and religions.”

89th Annual Academy Awards - Show
Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty

Backstage after the speech, Ansari told reporters Farhadi didn’t accept the award because “he wanted to stand in solidarity with the rest of the people who have been subject to the travel ban and are not able to go see their friends and family members and share important moments in their lives. To not be here receiving this award, which means a lot to him, and that’s a big message he’s sending.”

Ansari continued, It was very difficult. As you know, this would be his second Oscar. It was a big deal for him. I think not coming, he felt it was important to make the statement he made, which I read on the stage.”

Farhadi’s second Oscar win for Iran came in the wake of a screening of The Salesman that thousands attended in London.

On Friday, all five nominees in the category released a joint statement of “emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.”

The letter did not mention Trump by name, but did call out the inflammatory rhetoric being used nationwide against immigrants and people of color.

“The fear generated by dividing us into genders, colors, religions and sexualities as a means to justify violence destroys the things that we depend on – not only as artists but as humans: the diversity of cultures, the chance to be enriched by something seemingly “foreign” and the belief that human encounters can change us for the better. These divisive walls prevent people from experiencing something simple but fundamental: from discovering that we are all not so different,” the statement read. “So we’ve asked ourselves: What can cinema do? Although we don’t want to overestimate the power of movies, we do believe that no other medium can offer such deep insight into other people’s circumstances and transform feelings of unfamiliarity into curiosity, empathy and compassion – even for those we have been told are our enemies.”

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The nominees added, “Regardless of who wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday, we refuse to think in terms of borders. We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color. We want this award to stand as a symbol of the unity between nations and the freedom of the arts.

“Human rights are not something you have to apply for. They simply exist – for everybody. For this reason, we dedicate this award to all the people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding, and who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity – values whose protection is now more important than ever. By dedicating the Oscar to them, we wish to express to them our deep respect and solidarity.”

The 89th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, are airing live from Los Angeles on ABC.

  • With reporting by GABRIELLE OLYA