BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — The second-ever Palestinian film has been nominated for an Oscar. But the nod, which comes in the Best Foreign Language Film category, brings with it some new language. “Omar” was listed as a film from “Palestine” rather than from the “Palestinian territories,” a term previously used by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“Omar” is a complex Palestinian drama and political thriller set in the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film’s director, Hany Abu-Assad, also directed the 2005 film “Paradise Now” which was also nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign language film category.
Abu-Assad says he is elated at the fact that the academy listed his film under “Palestine”. This was a “step in the right direction,” he added, referring to his previous Oscar-nominated film which was listed first under “Palestinian Authority” before being changed to “Palestinian territories.”
But not everyone is thrilled about the academy’s change of language.
“This foments terrorism. There is not a single doubt in my mind that this year’s Academy Awards ceremony is bent on delegitimizing Israel and inciting even more violence and hatred against us,” responded Jake Robinson, a 37-year-old computer salesman from Nebraska, when asked about the possible implications of the academy’s new language.
He showed us a Facebook page he created to protest the academy’s new terminology and updated the page’s status to “Free free Israel!”
Academy spokesperson Teni Melidonian cites United Nations protocol as the reason behind the name change. “We are just in the business of honoring filmmaking,” she said.
Abu-Assad, his film crew, and the Oscar nomination committee have already begun to face a relentless stream of opposition following the nomination announcement on Thursday.
One of the cameramen working on the “Omar” set, who wished to be known as R, commented on some of the death threats he has faced following the nomination.
“It’s incredible to see just how much people hate the idea of Palestinians being recognized as individuals with an identity just like anyone else.” R showed our reporter a dozen emails from outraged film critics and loyal Academy Awards viewers. He then pointed to his telephone and played, according to him, the first of “at least twenty messages.”
“Palestine is a fake country,” a woman shouted on the cameraman’s voicemail machine. “You are fake and I hope you die on stage.” Another caller threatened to revoke his membership with the motion picture academy unless the production staff for “Omar” requested the film be listed under “Palestinian territories” instead.
A spokesperson for the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the decision.
“The Palestinians don’t exist, and if and when they do, they live in territories. If they want their territories to become a country, they must stop impeding the peace process and come to grips with the fact that Israel is not going to stop what it has started,” she said, requesting to remain anonymous.
“The academy’s attempts to interfere with the peace process qualify as a form of terrorism. If the world doesn’t act, we will certainly support Israel in taking matters into its own hands and using force if necessary.”
The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles refused an interview request and instead referred our reporter to a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Chicago, who asked: “How can they say the film is from ‘Palestine’ when there isn’t even a ‘P’ in the Arabic language? I am, among other things, a language expert, so please understand what I am saying.”
Abu-Assad is hopeful despite the pressure. “Omar” has received critical acclaim throughout the Middle East, including from many Israelis.
Ofer Platt, 41, a New York native who gave up his U.S. citizenship to live in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, praised the film’s creators for managing to produce the film despite his repeated attempts to break movie props and expensive cameras with rocks he would otherwise “peg at Palestinian villagers from afar.”
The winners of the 86th Academy Awards ceremony will be announced on March 2.
This is a special report for The Daily Negotiator, your source for honest, groundbreaking, and somewhat satirical news coverage of Palestine-Israel.