CAIRO: For the Arab world, the stakes were high at this year’s Academy Awards. Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s controversial film, Paradise Now, has already won Hollywood’s second highest honor, the Golden Globe, last month and so many predicted it would walk away with the Oscar last night as well. The Arabic-language film documents 27-hours in the lives of Said and Khaled, two young Palestinian men living in the West Bank as they plot to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The fictional story shows the two men as they are approached by a group of jihadists, and the process of bidding farewell to their family and friends, and to one another. The film has sparked outrage in Israel. A petition containing more than 36,000 signatures has been posted on the internet calling for the revocation of the film’s Oscar nomination. The protest was organized by Yossi Zur, an Israeli whose 16-year-old son died in a bus bombing in Haifa exactly three years ago. Hamas, now a major force in the Palestinian government, claimed responsibility for that attack. Palestinian-American peace activist Nonie Darwish delivered the petition on Friday to representatives on the Oscar committee. Though the committee said it was too late to take action against the movie, they never stated whether it would have blocked Paradise Now from entering the race.
“Paradise Now involved Palestinian filming crews and actors, an Israeli producer and German co-producer. The film also received financing from a number of European sources, including the German Film Foundation; the Dutch Film Fund; “Land of Nordrhein-Westphalia of Germany; German-French public television channel Arte and the Council of Europe program Eurimages.
“Double standards are at their peak nowadays, explains dentist and author Alaa Al Aswany. “This is an artistic work. Many people were involved in the making of ‘Paradise Now’ with directors, actors, crew members … so you cannot forbid an artistic work.
Since 2000, 521 Israelis were killed in 124 suicide bombings. Abu-Assad has maintained that this movie is in no way meant to glorify the act of killing, but rather exemplifies the desperate measures taken by people under continuous occupation. “This movie is showing the perspective of the people who are living through this; not the point of view of the American media as most of the mainstream movies do, says Ahmed Nour, an Egyptian actor staring in Hany Girgis Fawzy’s latest production, Private Relationships. “I support it completely.
“Paradise Now is not the only film to address the Arab-Israeli conflict in this year’s Oscars. Two films, Munich and Syriana have also made it to the finals, igniting controversy along the way. Syriana addresses Washington’s hands-on dealings with the oil industry of the Persian Gulf. In the film, young Arab men fall prey to a charismatic sheikh and vow to avenge their land from Western occupiers.
Munich, a Steven Spielberg production, talks of the retaliation taken by Israelis against Palestinians following the deadly massacre of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games. Spielberg has responded to criticism surrounding his film by saying the movie is not advocating violence; rather, it is a plea for peace.
“In Egypt, I am fighting for freedom of speech, says Al Aswany. “I know freedom of speech is something very precious. But this issue it totally political – it has nothing to do with art.
“This movie is a sign of the world here – we have a situation between Israel and Palestine and between the allies and Iraqis and people have to understand that, says Amr Waked, an Egyptian actor who starred in Syriana. “It’s good to shed light on these situations for the American people to see all sides of the problem. The American media does not reflect both sides of the story; they usually only show one side of the story that satisfies the expectations of the government.