Academy Awards Celebrated The Diversity That Makes The World Great

By Ilgin Beygo Yorulmaz

The big winner of the 89th Academy Awards was the vision of diversity – in America and across the globe – that makes the world richer, more vibrant and more compassionate.

History was made early at the Oscars when Mahershala Ali won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, becoming the first Muslim to win an Oscar with his portrayal of a drug lord-turned-mentor in the coming-of-age drama “Moonlight“.  Moonlight later became the first ever LGBTQ themed movie to win the Best Picture award.

The independent movie by Barry Jenkins is about a young gay African-American boy, Chiron. Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Florida, he meets Ali’s character, Juan, who becomes like a father for him.

The actor Ali, who was born into a Christian family, converted to Islam in 1999.

He didn’t specifically touch upon his religion at his Oscars acceptance speech on Sunday. But in another powerful speech he gave when accepting a Screen Actors Guild Award in January, Ali said, “My mother is an ordained minister. I’m a Muslim. She didn’t do backflips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you now, you put things to the side and I’m able to see her and she’s able to see me. We love each other. The love has grown. And that stuff is minutia. It’s not that important.

Ashgan Farhadi, the director of the best foreign film winner “The Salesman” from Iran, could not attend the ceremony to receive his award because of a travel ban imposed on his country by the Trump administration.  Neither could the producers of “The White Helmets” — the short film winner from Syria about local volunteers who risk their lives to save others after air strikes in war-torn Syria.

In a statement read out by Anoushesh Ansari on his behalf, Farhadi said “Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war,” he said. He added that filmmakers create empathy, “and empathy we need today now more than ever.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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