Oscars 2013: 'Asad' Stars Granted Last-Minute Visas to Attend Academy Awards
The difficulties faced by the young Somali stars of the live-action short underscore the delicate politics some Oscar nominees face in gaining entry to the U.S.
Don’t blame Harun and Ali Mohammed if they are stifling yawns on the Oscar red carpet Sunday afternoon.
The young Somali refugees, stars of the Oscar-nominated live-action short Asad, are scheduled to arrive in LAX at 1 p.m. Saturday following a long saga that involved 30 hours of travel from South Africa, days of waiting on U.S. visas and miles of bureaucratic red tape.
Their arduous journey underscores the delicate behind-the-scenes politics involved in getting some Oscar nominees to Los Angeles. Earlier this week, Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat and his family were detained at the Los Angeles International Airport, where he was asked to prove he was indeed on his way to the Academy Awards.
Burnat, who co-directed the Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras, was eventually released after Michael Moore, a champion of the film, intervened.
A spokesman for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences told The Hollywood Reporter that by the time one of its attorneys reached out to U.S. customs officials on behalf of Burnat, the filmmaker had been released.
The Department of Homeland Security, which has oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement it was prohibited by privacy laws from discussing why Burnat was questioned.
"CBP strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner, while maintaining the focus of our mission to protect all citizens and visitors in the United States," the statement said. "The United States has been and continues to be a welcoming nation. U.S. Customs and Border Protection not only protects U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in the country but also wants to ensure the safety of our international travelers who come to visit, study and conduct legitimate business in our country."
In the case of 14-year-old Harun and 12-year-old Ali, gaining access to the U.S. was complicated by the fact that they are designated as refugees.
Asad producer Mino Jarjoura and his South Africa-based producer Rafiq Samsodien began the process of bringing their young stars to the United States by updating refugee status for the entire Mohammed family, which includes Harun and Ali’s parents and their 13 siblings.
That enabled Harun, Ali and their father, Mahdi Hassan Mohamed, to obtain passports, after which they could apply for visas at the U.S. consulate in Cape Town. What normally can take up to two years was accomplished in the nick of time -- the passports were secured several days ago, and all three visas were received Friday morning in Cape Town, giving the boys and their father just enough time to jump on their first plane ride.
“I won’t be satisfied until they’re here, at LAX unloading their luggage,” says associate producer Matt Lefebvre, who with the rest of the filmmakers worked tirelessly in the six weeks after the Oscar nominations were announced, filing paperwork and making calls to anyone who could possibly help their cause, including the State Department, the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and the office of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. “A lot of people helped to make this happen."
Asad has even received the support of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. "Harun and Ali are real-life stars in an inspirational South African story about hope and reconciliation," Tutu said in a statement released earlier today.
Samsodien, Asad’s South African producer, said at a recent screening of the short that arranging the trip for the two young actors was the biggest production of his life.
In a separate case, 16-year-old Rachel Mwanza, who stars in the Oscar best foreign language nominee War Witch, was issued a visa earlier this week to travel to the U.S. from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mwanza was discovered on the streets of Kinshasa after she had been abandoned by her family, and was cast in filmmaker Kim Nguyen's film about a young teenager kidnapped by the rebel army. The film, Canada's entry into the foreign language film category this year, was shot entirely in the DRC.