The Department of Homeland Security has blocked a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on an Oscar-nominated documentary about the country’s civil war, The White Helmets, from entering the country. The Associated Press saw some “internal Trump administration correspondence” in which officials decided to block Khaled Khateeb’s entry into the United States. Khateeb was scheduled to arrive Saturday in Los Angeles via Istanbul, but U.S. official reportedly found “derogatory information” on Khateeb. “Derogatory information is a broad category that can include anything from terror connections to passport irregularities,” reports the AP.
Khateeb had been granted a visa to attend Sunday’s Academy Awards, but he was detained by Turkish authorities and now apparently would need a passport waiver to enter the United States. Khateeb countered the claim that he had been detained but refused to elaborate on his situation. On Twitter, Khateeb wrote that he had a visa but “passport not accepted.”
A message in the White Helmets’ Twitter account noted that Khateeb wouldn’t be able to attend the Oscars because he isn’t “allowed to leave Turkey because passport not issued by Damascus.” Asked for comment, the Department of Homeland Security only said that “a valid travel document is required for travel to the United States.”
The White Helmets is a 40-minute Netflix documentary that tells the story of the rescue workers who risk their lives to save Syrians affected by the long civil war. Khateeb is one of three people credited for the documentary’s cinematography.
Shortly after President Donald Trump issued an executive order restricting travel into the United States by citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Syria, Khateeb had pledged he would attend the ceremony. “I plan to travel to L.A. for the Oscars, where the film is nominated for an award. If we win this award, it will show people across Syria that people around the world support them. It will give courage to every volunteer who wakes up every morning to run towards bombs,” he said in a statement.
Khateeb’s eagerness to travel to the United States for the ceremony stood in stark contrast to that of Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian filmmaker who is nominated for the Salesman. Shortly after Trump unveiled his travel ban, Farhadi said he would not travel to the United States for the Academy Awards, even if he were allowed.
On Friday, Farhadi joined his fellow contenders for the Best Foreign Language Film award in issuing a statement decrying the “climate of fanaticism and nationalism” in the United States and other countries. Regardless of who wins, the five filmmakers already pre-emptively dedicated their award:
Regardless of who wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday, we refuse to think in terms of borders. We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color. We want this award to stand as a symbol of the unity between nations and the freedom of the arts.
Human rights are not something you have to apply for. They simply exist—for everybody. For this reason, we dedicate this award to all the people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding, and who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity—values whose protection is now more important than ever. By dedicating the Oscar to them, we wish to express to them our deep respect and solidarity.