- By Marya HannunMarya Hannun is a Ph.D. student in Arabic and Islamic studies at Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter at: @mrhannun.
The 85th annual Academy Awards are this Sunday, and as folks in Hollywood begin to prepare with juice cleanses and facials, international contenders have a somewhat different if equally complicated road to awards night. Wednesday, Palestinian director of 5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, was detained in LAX, where security threatened to deport him if the Oscar-nominated filmmaker couldn’t provide physical evidence of his invitation to the awards show.
The West Bank olive-farmer turned director is the first Palestinian ever to be nominated in the documentary category after he used cameras to chronicle his nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. Traveling with his wife and son, Burnat was held by immigration for 45 minutes and only released after he sent a text message to fellow filmmaker, Michael Moore, who later tweeted about the incident:
"It’s nothing I’m not already used to," he told me later. "When u live under occupation, with no rights, this is a daily occurrence."
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 20, 2013
Detaining a Palestinian filmmaker who happens to be buddies with Michael Moore probably wasn’t the best PR move on the part of US Customs and Border Patrol. In addition to tweeting frantically about the occurrence, Moore has also updated his website with the statements of both directors.
This isn’t the first time a foreign participant has had trouble getting to the show. In 2009, Indian singer Sukhwinder Singh, who was set to perform "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire, was unable to make it to awards night after the Academy failed to send the requisite letter of invitation he needed to obtain a visa.
In a different category, there’s Roman Polanski’s infamous no show when he won best director for The Pianist in 2003. The director feared being arrested if he entered the US after fleeing from a sexual abuse charge in 1978.
This year, Rachel Mwanza, the Congolese star of the Canadian nominated feature film, War Witch, had to interview with U.S. authorities to prove she wouldn’t remain in the country illegally after the show. The sixteen-year-old actor was only just granted a visa, three days before the ceremony — incidentally the same amount of time it takes to complete a pre-Oscar juice cleanse.