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The Defense of Human Dignity: The Real 2017 Oscars Winner

written by Ayla Ojjeh, NYIC communications research intern 

On Sunday, millions of people from all over the world tuned in to watch the 89th Academy Awards Ceremony. The American political climate, coupled with the plenitude of colors, creeds and nationalities present at the historic Dolby theater, guaranteed overt resistance and calls for action from the Hollywood community. Effectively, a year after #OscarsSoWhite - the international movement that shook Hollywood and shed light on the underrepresentation of non-Whites the film industry - the annual Academy Awards Ceremony is still as politically charged.

Last night, history was made in more ways than one.

Six African Americans in five different categories were recognized for their supreme artistic talent and contributions to society. Viola Davis won best supporting actress for her role in Fences, Ezra Edelman won best documentary for O.J. Simpson: Made in America, and Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney won the adapted screenplay award for Moonlight.

The sixth award, the Oscar for best supporting actor, was given to Mahershala Ali for his role in Moonlight, making him the first Muslim to have ever received an Oscar. While some will show outrage at the time it has taken to award a Muslim actor an Oscar -89 years-, Ali’s win is particularly significant in the Trump era, where Muslims are being made synonymous to threats to our livelihood.

Another member of Trump’s targeted communities was awarded with the Best Foreign Film Oscar: Asghar Farhadi. The Iranian director and screenwriter showed solidarity with victims of Trumps’ travel ban -including the people of his own country- by not being present to accept his award. Iranian-American Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, gave a speech on his behalf. In his address, reminded us that “dividing the world into the us and the enemy categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for regression and war” and called for the much needed empathy that filmmakers have the capacity to transmit.

Unsurprisingly, Mexican actor and political activist Gael Garcia Bernal, before presenting the award for Best Animated Feature Film, delivered one of the most powerful moments of the 89th Awards Ceremony. "As a Mexican, as a Latin-American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I'm against any form of wall that separates us," he stated.

Regardless of faith, country of origin or political party affiliation, issues surrounding immigration and the conversation around Trump’s exclusionary orders affect us all, and the Oscars ceremony was a sharp reminder of that. In the words of Asghar Farhadi, “filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy we need today more than ever."

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