The country’s most famous filmmaker won an Academy Award last year for best foreign film, but this year Iran is sitting the Oscars out.
Iran’s minister of culture and Islamic guidance on Monday said the country will boycott the 2013 Academy Awards over the amateur anti-Muslim video clips that have sparked riots across the Middle East. The announcement is a convenient one for a country where many officials would prefer not to broadcast details of everyday life to Western audiences. Hardline Iranians are notably critical of the country’s filmmakers for exposing inequalities and hardships within Iranian society.
Last year, the Iranian movie “A Separation” won the Oscar for best foreign language film. Directed by Asghar Farhadi, the film is a portrait of a middle-aged couple on the verge of divorce. The Oscar win was praised by officials in Tehran, but some conservatives in the country were angry that the film had exposed the troubles of Iranian society to a wider audience. Farhadi, a veteran filmmaker, has explored inequalities within his native country before. His 2004 film, “The Beautiful City,” focused on an aspect of Iranian law stipulating that a woman’s value is half that of a man’s. The film found art-house distribution in the United States.
Urging all Islamic countries to join Iran in snubbing the 2013 Oscars, Mohammad Hosseini called the American-made video “Innocence of Muslims” an insult to the Islamic prophet Mohammad. The announcement was made just hours after Javad Shamaghdari, head of Iran’s government-controlled cinema agency, said Academy officials should publicly denounce the video.
Clips of the video -- which depicts Mohammad as a freewheeling, unscrupulous philanderer -- were posted to YouTube in early July. Public unrest began on Sept. 11 when the clips were picked up by Egyptian news outlets and translated in Arabic. More than 50 people have been killed in protests related to the video.
“I officially announce that we will avoid next year’s Oscars as a serious response to the intolerable insult to the Prophet of Islam,” Hosseini was quoted as saying by the Tehran Times. “Since the insulting film has been made by an American in the United States and no comment has been made about the film by the officials of the Academy Awards, we have decided to boycott the event.”
However, while many American officials -- including the president -- have publicly denounced the video, many more in the filmmaking community strongly object to characterizing it as a movie or a film. News outlets initially reported “Innocence of Muslims” as a film, but most now refer to it as a video, acknowledging its patchwork of poorly shot scenes and overdubbed dialogue. Aside from a reported single screening at a dingy Hollywood theater, there is scant evidence that a complete cut of “Innocence of Muslims” exists beyond the 13-minute clips on YouTube. Last week, the Hollywood Reporter reported that no one attended the screening and that not even the theater’s employees have seen it.
As such, it’s little surprise that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has not made an official statement regarding “Innocence of Muslims,” a move that could be seen as legitimizing the project. The Academy did not respond to repeated requests for a comment, but a spokesperson told AFP that it had not had any direct communication with the Iranian Selection Committee.
Committee officials in Iran had already selected the film “A Cube of Sugar” for Oscar consideration. That film, which has already played at the Seattle International Film Festival, focuses on a large Iranian wedding gone awry. Its entry is now being withdrawn, according to reports.
This is not the first time Iran has played the boycott card. Last year, the country threatened to boycott the 2012 Olympics because it said the event’s official 2012 logo -- an abstract set of jagged shapes -- seemed to spell out the word “Zion.”
The submission deadline for Oscar consideration is October 1.