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‘White Helmets’ Director Says Film’s Syrian Subjects Can’t Attend Oscars Because of Trump’s Ban

Variety logo Variety 1/29/2017 Ted Johnson
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The filmmakers behind the Oscar-nominated short documentary “The White Helmets” say that President Trump’s executive order banning entry from citizens of Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries will prevent the subjects of their movie from attending the Academy Awards.

Joanna Natasegara, the producer of “The White Helmets,” said they had intended to bring Raed Saleh, the leader of the White Helmets, and Khaled Khateeb, the cinematographer, as their guests.

“They’ve been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize,” Natasegara said in a statement. “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.”

Marcel Mettelsiefen, the director of “Watani: My Homeland,” which is also about the experiences of Syrian refugees and also was nominated for documentary short, issued a statement as well saying that the “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.”

Trump signed an executive order on Friday that suspends the entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days. It bars Syrian refugees indefinitely, and prohibits entry of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen for at least three months.

On Saturday and Sunday, protests against Trump’s executive order erupted around the country, including demonstrations at John F. Kennedy International Airport and LAX, and a large gathering at Battery Park City in Manhattan, in view of the Statue of Liberty.

On Sunday, another Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Iranian director Asghar Farhad, whose movie “The Salesman” was nominated for foreign language feature, said that he would not attend the Oscar ceremony even if arrangements were made to allow him into the United States.

Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, attempted to clarify the ban on Sunday by saying that those who held green cards would not be prohibited from coming back to the United States.

The White House issued a statement on Sunday afternoon, in which Trump said that “this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting.

“This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order,” Trump said in the statement. “We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days. I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”

Trump also took to Twitter to criticize two Republican critics of his actions — Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). He said that their condemnations were “wrong” and that they “are sadly weak on immigration.”

“Senators should focus their energies in ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III,” Trump tweeted.

In their joint statement, McCain and Graham said that they “fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”

“Such a hasty process risks harmful results,” they said. “We should not stop green-card holders from returning to the country they call home. We should not stop those who have served as interpreters for our military and diplomats from seeking refuge in the country they risked their lives to help. And we should not turn our backs on those refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation, and who have suffered unspeakable horrors, most of them women and children.”

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