Oscar recognition of ‘Palestine’ a good step

Increasingly over the past few years, films about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have made their way from the war-torn region to Hollywood. This year, however, there’s a notable precedent — for though the Palestinian territories are yet to be recognized as a state by the United Nations, Palestine already has an Oscar nomination to its name.

Grace Wang | Daily Trojan

Grace Wang | Daily Trojan

Omar, directed by acclaimed Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, was nominated for Best Picture in a Foreign Language Film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, making it the first time a nominated film has had Palestine listed as its country of origin, according to Al Jazeera. The bold step on the part of the Academy to recognize Abu-Assad’s work as a Palestinian film rightly attests to the growing social and cultural legitimacy of the Palestinian people.

The film, set against the backdrop of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, follows its young protagonist, Omar, as he struggles under the pressure to work as an informant for the Israeli authorities. Receiving an overall rating of 90 percent “fresh” from Rotten Tomatoes, Omar is the second Palestinian film to be nominated in the best foreign language category. The first, Paradise Now, was listed as being from the Palestinian territories.

Though Omar managed to get the attention of the Academy, past works in the Palestinian film industry haven’t been as lucky. Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s 2003 film Divine Intervention was not considered by the Academy selection committee because the Palestinian territories, despite enjoying U.N. observer status and recognition by more than 115 countries at the time, was not formally recognized as a sovereign nation by the U.N. That changed, however, with the U.N. General Assembly’s 2012 recognition of Palestine as a non-member state, paving the way for the Academy to recognize Omar in time for this year’s Oscars.

Such recognition has been a long time coming. When Abu-Assad’s first Oscar-nominated film, Paradise Now, was being considered, it was controversially labeled as being from the “Palestinian Territories” due to the fact that Abu-Assad, despite identifying as a Palestinian, holds Israeli and Belgian citizenship. Last year’s Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras faced similar controversy about whether it should be identified as an Israeli or Palestinian film during the 2013 Oscars as it was co-directed by both Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi and Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat.

This nomination, however, is more than just recognition of a nearly 50-year-old military occupation. It’s also about a people who, despite the daily struggle of living under occupation, manage to create art that can tell their stories. Just as the film’s protagonist Omar struggles under the everyday life of having limited movement due to the security checkpoints both within Israel proper and between it and the Palestinian territories, the filmmakers faced similar travel restrictions while filming.

“When you are under occupation, it is dominating your life whether you like it or not,” Abu-Assad told Al Jazeera. “It’s part of your life. If you want to make a film in Palestine, you can’t avoid the occupation.”

The national identity of a film can be abstract, especially when it comes to contested land such as the Palestinian territories. Yet the recognition of Palestine by the Academy goes to make an important statement to both the film industry and the world. Much in the same way Palestinians crowded the streets in celebration when Gaza-born Mohammed Assaf claimed the title of Arab Idol’s first Palestinian winner, this nomination goes to affirm the legitimacy of the Palestinian people, both socially and culturally. As a nation readily associated with occupation and conflict, this move by the Academy to lend validity to the Palestinian film industry is a step in the right direction.


Yasmeen Serhan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan


5 replies
  1. MR
    MR says:

    Palestine IS a non-member State of the United Nations. It is the State of Palestine. Dear God when will people do some research before making ridiculous comments.

  2. Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine Trojan
    Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine Trojan says:

    First off, hat-tip to Yasmeen for such her thoughtful and well-articulated piece. For those whom have misjudged her intentions as malign in any way, I sincerely emplorw you to give it a second read, wary of any implicit bias you may bring to the reading table.

    Secondly, there is one clarification I would like to make, given my fear that those in opposition to this article have begun conflating words, reaching farflung conclusions.

    Being Pro-Israeli and Pro-Palestinian are not mutually exclusive positions. Any qualms as to this possibility is likely to generate misplaced outrage; and is just that– misplaced.

    Yasmeens celebration of triumphant Palestinian filmmaking accredited to ‘Palestine’ has little to not direct bearing bearing on her ability to hold the same sentiments about Israeli filmmaking, or the Israeli state for that matter.

    We don’t live in a bubble, though, and any reference to Palestine or Israel comes with certain assumptions that vary depending on one’s vantage point. However, we create more of an “other” than there need be, or in reality is.

    We are amidst negotiations to create the same type of recognition Yasmeen champions. If one has a problem with that, I suggest it be taken up with Mr. Kerry and the State Department; lest one realize that they are really are a proponent of the very same thing.

    Cheers y’all.

  3. disgusted with you
    disgusted with you says:

    The reason that the UN has not recognized Palestine as a State is because Israel and the US won’t let them. On several attempts, US pressure has stopped the UN from recognizing Palestine. On, the other hand, Israel gained its statehood by this very same UN recognition that they say is an inappropriate vehicle for the recognition of Palestine, of course, because it would legitimize Palestine, the one thing Israel cannot accept, at least until there is no more Palestine.

    Once again, your obvious slanting of the news/facts leads one to think that you are no more than an agent of AIPAC, which of course you are.

    You really should resign. You have no integrity. I truly believe that you would spy for Israel against the US if they asked you to and you were in a position to do so. After all, there are more Israeli spys in US jails than Chinese and Russian put together.

    Here’s to the end-of-year Saban/Aipac conference in Washington and hoping you continue the abusive tradition of your former colleague Ms. Sax, and take the trophy for most effective purveyor of Israeli propaganda in a US university. All Heil Hillel!

    • Sol
      Sol says:

      Yasmeen Serhan is a palestinian. Your comment makes literally 0 sense. She didn’t talk about why Palestine isn’t recognized as a state, because it was irellevent to her article. She obviously WANTS palestine to be recognized as a state, as she clearly explains in the title. What are you even talking about?

    • Arafat
      Arafat says:

      Israel should also withdraw immediately from the United Nations (whose full name seems more accurately to be UNAI, the United Nations Against Israel) and help found a robust league of democracies, a new body where human rights violators don’t preside over human rights councils and where blocs of Islamists and communists don’t dictate to progressive republics. The UN might have arguably been the greatest endeavor man ever embarked upon; instead, it is a tiresome farce run by malevolent circus clowns. This is one club to which the Jew, and the Jewish State, should not belong and not wish to belong.

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