While the Trump administration’s cruel and unjust Muslim ban continues to disrupt lives, separate families, and endanger vulnerable people, recent public pressure on the U.S. State Department led to the issuance of an exemption for Syrian film producer Kareem Abeed, whose Oscar-nominated “Last Men in Aleppo” is a contender for Best Documentary (Feature) at the annual award ceremony this Sunday. The film highlights the heroic work of the Syrian rescue group the White Helmets and its efforts to save those caught in the crosshairs of the Syrian civil war.
As reported in a variety of outlets last week, Abeed, who currently resides in Turkey, had been denied a visa to enter the United States. Since Trump’s travel ban went into effect, citizens from Syria and five other Muslim-majority countries have been prohibited from obtaining entry visas to the United States.
As news spread that Abeed would be unable to attend the award ceremony, pressure mounted against the administration’s discriminatory policy, which has been the subject of protests since the initial executive order was first signed over a year ago. Following rejection of Abeed’s visa, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released a statement denouncing the decision. It read:
For 90 years, the Oscars have celebrated 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. As supporters of filmmakers — and the human rights of all people — around the globe, we stand in solidarity with Fayyad as well as the film’s producer Kareem Abeed, who was denied a visa to the United States to attend the Academy Awards on March 4.
Other media groups, such as the International Documentary Association and the PBS documentary series POV, echoed the Academy’s condemnation of the administration’s decision and expressed their solidarity with Abeed.
While the Academy’s statement did not explicitly condemn Trump for creating this Islamophobic policy, others denounced the president for his discriminatory actions. Senior Vice President of the Middle East Institute Kate Seelye wrote on Twitter that “Thanks to the anti-Muslim xenophia fueled by [Trump] two #Syrian filmmakers who risked their lives to tell one of the more harrowing stories of the 21st century are being refused entry to [the Oscars]. Shameful. #Muslim Ban.”
Following this public outcry, on Wednesday, February 28, Feres Fayyad, the film’s director, announced that Abeed was finally able to obtain a visa. Fayyad thanked everyone who expressed their solidarity and made Abeed’s attendance possible.
This is not the first time public pressure has forced the Trump administration to reverse its prejudiced policies towards Muslims. After major backlash, U.S. officials allowed a female robotics team from Afghanistan (a country that is not explicitly targeted by the travel ban but that is majority Muslim) to enter the country for an international competition, after its six teenage members were initially denied entry visas. While these exceptions are small victories against the administration’s cruel and Islamophobic actions, the travel ban itself still survives and continues to cause suffering for countless people simply because of their religion and national origin.