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From the streets of Kabul to Hollywood: Afghan boy from nominated film to walk red carpet

Afghan teen Fawad Mohammadi, 14, is getting ready for a trip down the red carpet at the Oscars.
Afghan teen Fawad Mohammadi, 14, is getting ready for a trip down the red carpet at the Oscars.NBC News

KABUL, Afghanistan -- On Tuesday, Fawad Mohammadi embarked on a long journey from the dirty mud-baked streets of Kabul to Hollywood's red carpet. It would be his first time leaving Afghanistan and his first time on a plane.

"So excited!" the 14-year-old said as he waited expectantly at Kabul International Airport for his flight. He looked the part, wearing jeans and brandishing his newly minted passport.

It all started when he befriended an American director, Sam French, who was looking for an actor to star in his film, "Buzkashi Boys," two years ago. The movie tells the story of two poor children dreaming of becoming famous buzkashi players, a popular traditional Afghan sport similar to polo. 

The small-budget film hit the big time in January, when it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

Mohammadi's own life echoes that of the character he plays.

Since he was five, he has supported his widowed mother and six siblings by selling souvenir maps for a few dollars to tourists on the streets of Kabul. He was paid $1,500 for acting in "Buzkashi Boys," which he gave to his mother to help out his family. Average annual income in Afghanistan is under $500 a year. 

He never thought his movie debut would change his life.

But it did. Life altered when he learned, in a dusty Internet cafe in Kabul, that the film was nominated for an Oscar, and that he would be invited to the United States. At the time, he had never even heard of the Academy Awards. He was thrilled that he was going to fly on an airplane. This was great news for Mohammadi, who wants to be a pilot when he grows up.

On Tuesday he boarded a plane to take a trip of a lifetime. His final destination is Hollywood, where dreams are made. Mohammadi said he was "proud for Afghanistan, the first Oscar for Afghanistan."

Kiko Itasaka and Michele Neubert of NBC News contributed to this report.

Related:

Tears of joy: The moment an Afghan teen learned of Oscar nomination

Beyond the bombs: Afghanistan's toughest sport also source of hope