Inspiring Syrian Refugee Featured in Oscar-Nominated Film May Miss Ceremony Due to Travel Ban
The subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary Watani: My Homeland, Hala, is a Syrian refugee living in Germany
Another Oscar-nominated film may be impacted due to President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.
Best Documentary Short Subject nominee Watani: My Homeland, which was filmed over three years, follows a Syrian family as they try to escape the war-torn city of Aleppo and start a new life in Germany while coming to terms with what they left behind.
But now the film’s main subject, a mother of four named Hala, may not be able to travel to the U.S. to celebrate the film’s success and attend the 89th Academy Awards on Feb. 26 in Los Angeles.
“Watani: My Homeland director Marcel Mettelsiefen has invited one of the subjects of his film to join him at the Oscars,” a spokesperson for the film confirmed to PEOPLE. “It is currently unclear if Hala, the courageous mother in the film, will be able to attend the ceremony due to President Trump’s travel ban. If she is able to enter the country, she plans to attend with the filmmaking team.”
“This is a fluid situation and many people are working diligently in the hopes that Hala may attend the ceremony,” the spokesperson added.
Trump’s executive order bars citizens of seven countries, including Syria, from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and also indefinitely halts the arrival of Syrian refugees. Hala is a Syrian refugee living in Germany.
The film’s director, Mettelsiefen, has condemned the ban, saying in a statement: “This travel ban from President Trump is another devastating blow to refugees who have already suffered so much. As Trump seeks to demonize refugees and Muslim people in general, films such as Watani: My Homeland, which tell the human story of refugees, become ever more important. We must reconnect with the common humanity of the refugee experience and we must all remember that the founding story of America is dependent upon people who have fled war, hunger and poverty in search of a better life.”
In August 2016, Hala and her children were honored at the World Humanitarian Day ceremony held at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, where portions of the documentary were screened. Hala, with Quantico actress Yasmine Al Massri serving as her translator, gave a moving speech in the National Assembly Hall about the plight of refugees. Her four children joined her onstage afterward, and she received rousing standing ovations before and after she spoke.
“Ladies and gentleman, as I stand here for you today, my beloved Aleppo is burning,” she began in the speech. “275,000 men, women and children are under siege and two million are living in fear of besiegement. They cry out, but they are met with silence — the world does not hear them. Instead, the world hears the echoes of gunshots and explosions, tormented by images of arms-wielding terrorists killing in the name of Islam. Well, not in our name. Not in my name.”
Watani: My Homeland is just one of at least three nominated films affected by the travel ban that Trump signed on Jan. 27 and that immediately went into affect.
Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who is nominated this year for Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman, has already issued a statement saying he would not accept exceptions if they were made for him in order to attend the ceremony, and will opt to stay in his home country instead.
“I regret to announce via this statement that I have decided to not attend the Academy Awards ceremony alongside my fellow members of the cinematic community,” he said. “It now seems that the possibility of this presence 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.”
On Tuesday, the American Film Institute, which has hosted Farhadi as an artist-in-residence, threw its support behind the filmmaker.
“Asghar Farhadi has served as Artist-in-Residence for the past two years at the AFI Conservatory, and his classes had a profound impact upon the 250 young men and women who attend AFI from around the world,” the organization said in a statement. “The AFI Conservatory stands with artists and filmmakers who find the power of creation through freedom of expression and freedom of movement. We believe any form of censorship — including the restriction of travel — to be against all values we cherish as a community of storytellers. We look forward to welcoming Mr. Farhadi back to AFI in the fall.”
Another nominated film affected by the ban is The White Helmets, a documentary short which follows a team that performs rescue operations in Syria. The team’s leader, Raed Saleh, and the film’s cinematographer, Khaled Khateeb, are both Syrian and may be unable to travel to the U.S. to attend the Academy Awards.
“We have always said that if we were to be nominated, we would bring Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, who has spoken many times in D.C., and Khaled Khateeb, the young cinematographer who risked his life over and over again, as our guests,” The White Helmets producer Joanna Natasegara said in a statement. “They’ve been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize — these people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”