The Oscars Show Audiences’ Appetite for Authentic Films

February 27, 2017

Dear Friend,

This year’s Academy Awards honored an incredible slate of films that, in a reversal from last year, were not “so white.” Best Picture Nominees including Moonlight, Fences, Hidden Figures, and Lion proved that stories about and by members of vulnerable communities are not only riveting to audiences hungry for authentic storytelling, but lucrative projects for studios as well. MPAC congratulates the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for recognizing these stories, and the remarkable, nuanced performances by actors portraying characters that reflect the diverse stories of our increasingly intertwined humanity.

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who won the Best Foreign Film Oscar for The Salesman, did not attend in solidarity with those affected by the administration’s travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including his own. Accepting on his behalf was engineer Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to go into space. In a statement from the director, she read, “Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.”

More African-American actors were nominated and honored at this year's Oscars than ever before. Out of the four major acting categories, two of the winners were people of color: Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress for Fences, and Mahershala Ali, Best Supporting Actor for Moonlight, whose win made him the first Muslim actor to earn an Oscar. Also making history this year, Barry Jenkins was the first African-American filmmaker ever nominated for the trifecta of Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture, winning two of the three. Additionally, ’s win for Best Picture represented the first LGBTQ movie to ever receive an Oscar in that category.

Muslims stand on the shoulders of the African-American, LGBTQ and other vulnerable communities that have worked tirelessly for better representation. With these communities paving the way, so can we. The ultimate goal for MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau is to change the narrative about Islam and Muslims in the entertainment industry. To that end, our work is uniquely impactful:

  • MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau engages and builds relationships with industry professionals in order to impact content and generate opportunities for Muslim talent to create our own stories.
  • We are the only American Muslim organization that hosts an annual four-day Hollywood Summit in which young Muslim creatives have the opportunity to engage with studio executives and content creators in the entertainment industry to gain firsthand insights into their career goals.
  • Because of the relationships we have built, we were invited to host a panel at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, called “Illuminating Muslim Narratives.”
  • Industry representatives are eager to hear from us. Last month, Variety published Four Ways the Entertainment Industry Can Counter Trump's Narrative of Muslims.

This week, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) invited MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati to speak on a panel at their “Take Action Day.” In the audience were over 200 talent literary agents who represent the industry’s most successful decision makers and creatives.

We are grateful for the inroads to do this hard work, which has pushed the entertainment industry toward inclusion, and we need your support to continue. We are in this together, as storytelling gives us the opportunity to share who we are with a broader audience, and the potential to transform opinions and attitudes towards Islam and Muslims.

Congratulations to all of this year's Oscar winners and nominees for their authentic and impactful storytelling. To see all the Oscar winners, click here.

In peace,

Sue Obeidi

Director, Hollywood Bureau

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