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Trump Travel Ban Is Latest Move to Inspire Hollywood Backlash

This year the film industry looks poised to use its considerable influence to take the fight to President Trump.
Image: Mahershala Ali
Mahershala Ali accepts the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role for "Moonlight" at the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall on Sunday, in Los Angeles on Jan. 29, 2017.Chris Pizzello / Invision via AP

If Sunday night's politically-charged Screen Actor's Guild Awards are any indication, President Donald Trump and his controversial policies are squarely in Hollywood's cross-hairs — setting the stage for an Academy Awards which will likely be more politicized than usual.

At the SAG awards, a number of winners and presenters, including "Veep" star Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, "That 70s Show" actor Ashton Kutcher and Muslim-American Oscar nominee Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight") spoke out against Trump's divisive travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries.

Those speeches came on the heels of Oscar winner Meryl Streep's widely publicized Golden Globes address, which called out Trump's alleged impersonation of a disabled reporter and lack of empathy.

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Awards season in Hollywood has been politicized in the past, like when the Oscars were postponed in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., or when the late Marlon Brando infamously dispatched activist Sacheen Littlefeather to speak against negative cinematic portrayals of Native Americans instead of appearing at the 1973 ceremony.

But this year, particularly in the wake of a bitterly contested 2016 election — where much of the Hollywood establishment was aligned against Trump — and his polarizing first days in office, the film industry looks poised to use its considerable influence to fight back.

Related: Advocacy, Aid Groups Condemn Trump Order as ‘Muslim Ban’

"This is the most political I've ever seen it," said Entertainment Weekly's awards season correspondent Nicole Sperling. "I think the gloves are off since Meryl Streep's speech. She kind of opened the floodgates ... [actors and actresses] are realizing they have a platform and they're choosing to use it for something more than to celebrate themselves and the people around them."

The timing is auspicious, since awards season is typically the time of year where Hollywood's brightest stars are in the biggest spotlight. Awards shows continue to draw high ratings, albeit diminished compared to years past, and that viewership could provide a huge platform for prominent progressives in opposition to Trump.

For instance, Ali is already considered a front-runner in the Best Supporting Actor race, and should he win, not only will he be the first Muslim-American to win an Oscar in a major acting category, he could also deliver another rendition of his emotional SAG speech, where he spoke out against prejudice and "persecution."

Meanwhile, there is the case of Best Foreign Language film nominee director Asghar Farhadi ("The Salesman"). Shortly after the news of Trump's executive order restricting travel from the Middle East was rannounced, several news outlets pointed out that Farhadi would likely be barred from attending the Academy Awards.

And in a statement to the New York Times, Farhadi said he won't attend even if he is granted a waiver.

"I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the citizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations," he wrote.

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Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the Iranian stars of Farhadi's nominated film "The Salesman," has also said she is boycotting the Oscars in response to Trump's travel ban.

"Trump's visa ban for Iranians and others is a racist move and unacceptable," she wrote on social media. "I won't attend the #AcademyAwards 2017 in protest."

Related: Iranian Actress Taraneh Alidoosti: I’m Boycotting Oscars Over Trump’s Visa Ban

Yet, despite their intention to skip the awards, the academy could still send a strong message by voting for "The Salesman" to win the award anyway. The 2013 victory of "Argo" in the Best Picture race was widely perceived as a mea culpa for its director, actor Ben Affleck, who was snubbed for a Best Director nomination.

And a more direct corollary would be 1975, where the academy embraced the controversial anti-Vietnam war documentary "Hearts and Minds" after a brief, awards-qualifying run in theaters the year before after the studio that produced it, Columbia Pictures, refused to distribute it.

According to Sperling, awareness for "The Salesman" has spiked and, now that the whole academy gets to weigh in on the eventual Best Foreign Language winner, its "stock is definitely up."

"For those who are paying attention 'The Salesman' is not only just a nominee, it's a headline," she said. "It's now become a front-runner just in that regard."

There are also a slew of other nominated films that speak to the concerns and experiences of the marginalized and disenfranchised, like "Lion" and "Moonlight," which may get a closer look from Oscar voters amid the fallout from Trump's actions.

Related: Oscar Nominations Are In: ‘La La Land,’ Diversity Dominate

As fears of a backlash, or being labeled elites, Sperling argues that celebrities know "they're going to get slammed anyway" and they would rather not "feel silly" by failing to acknowledge the passionate protests going on all over the world.

"I think we've reached the tipping point where they don't care anymore," she said.

In other words, Trump, who has proven to be very sensitive to criticism, could be in for a long Oscar night on Feb. 26.

"No president in any of our lifetimes, not even the one who started out as an actor, has been more obsessed with show business or its many yardsticks of success than Trump is," wrote Mark Harris recently in New York magazine. "So Hollywood’s cold shoulder hurts him."