a hijabi can…go to the oscars

I was so excited to watch the Oscars this year. As an avid movie-watcher and a lover of pretty dresses (because, yes, I do like to get in touch with my inner-girl every once and a while), the Oscars is truly an event I look forward to every year. This year, I was especially happy because 1) I was going to an Oscar party and 2) because there were so many great movies that came to theaters this year. I expected the glitz to sparkle on every celebrity’s dress. I expected the roast Seth would give as a host and I even expected a lot of the Oscar wins. Despite all the singing, the Oscars were unfortunately pretty predictable this year.

But what I didn’t expect to see was a scarf on the red carpet. This — this was different. Emad Burnat was up for an Academy Award for best documentary film for his documentary Five Broken Cameras. It was the first Palestinian documentary to nominated. Naturally as a Muslim, his wife stepped onto the red carpet wearing a beautiful long-sleeve dress with a simple sheer pink and white hijab, the customary Muslim headscarf. Now, I’m a Muslim teen who also wears the Muslim hijab. It’s a choice, and I have complete respect for those who are able to adapt this ancient tradition to modern times, especially at the Oscars. But even more than that, I was happy to see that Burnat was even a nominee. Coming from a country full of current disputes, Burnat arguably could be seen as “anti-American.” Yet, the Academy looked beyond today’s cultural labels and decided, instead, to praise a man for his work. This year, they put talent before stereotypes.

Film Director Emad Burnat and Family at the Oscars

Film Director Emad Burnat and Family at the Oscars

Once I saw this Muslim couple walk down the red carpet with their adorable son, I immediately Googled them. I was excited to hear about all Burnat had done. Instead, I came across an article explaining how Burnat was held by U.S. customs at the airport. As Burnat explains, U.S. customs held him for 90 minutes, questioning him because he was coming from Pakistan. Burnat told customs multiple times that he was a nominee for the Academy Awards, but instead customs would not believe him. It was not until Burnat was able to use his cell phone to contact Michael Moore that he was able to be released. Moore contacted the Oscars’ lawyers and they were able to get him out. They threatened to deport him. The nominee for best documentary may not have been able to appear that night because U.S. customs may have sent him on a plane back to Pakistan had Moore not saved the day.

So, we have a man being praised by the Academy for his talent, looking beyond what today’s cultural stigmas may say, and yet that same man, because he comes from a Muslim country, was held by U.S. customs — a man coming with his wife and child to attend an award show he was invited to.

I love America. It is a beautiful nation that allows for all types of tolerance to reign true. However, this situation left me disgusted. I find it horrifying to think that a man who was supposed to be honored was instead treated that way. As a nation of freedom and liberty, we can’t continue with these misguided stereotypes that leave other countries falsely accusing America of intolerance. The Oscars did an admirable thing by praising a man for his ability to use a camera to expose the world to firsthand accounts of protests in a village in the West Bank. They did not judge him for his faith, his country of birth, his wife’s head scarf or what other Muslims did before him. They judge him for his art, for him. It’s time America does the admirable thing, too.


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