Michael Moore said that Oscar-nominated Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat's ordeal with immigration officials on Tuesday demonstrates that the United States is overly strict when it comes to greeting foreign visitors, particularly people of color.
"If he'd been a white guy he wouldn't have to go through that in our 'post-racial' America," Moore, the Oscar-winning director of "Bowling for Columbine," told TheWrap via email.
Burnat, whose film "5 Broken Cameras" is up for a Best Documentary Academy Award, was held for questioning by immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport and was asked to produce evidence that he was, indeed, invited to attend Sunday's ceremony. The director and his family were grilled for an more than an hour, he said, while authorities repeatedly suggested he might be sent back to his native country.
Moore, who is a governor in the Academy's documentary branch and an outspoken supporter of Burnat's film, intervened after receiving a text message from the director.
On his blog, Moore wrote that he contacted officials at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which produces the Oscars, who in turn enlisted the organization's attorney. Moore called the State Department in Washington and told Burnat to have the officials call him so he could verify that he was an Oscar nominee and shouldn't be deported.
"5 Broken Cameras" centers on a Palestinian farmer who lives on the border of an Israeli settlement, and both Burnat and Moore likened the questioning by officials to the daily experience of living under an often oppressive regime.
"Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout he West Bank," Burnat said in a statement to TheWrap. "There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day."
Moore echoed those statements in an interview with TheWrap and also spoke about "5 Broken Cameras" chances of victory at the Oscars where it will go up against such acclaimed documentaries as "How to Survive a Plague" and "Searching for Sugar Man."
What does Burnat's detention say about the way we our country treats foreign visitors?
We have reacted with unnecessary paranoia and as a result foreign visitors first encounter with an American — the immigration officer — is not that pleasant.
Are there parallels between his treatment and that of Palestinians in the West Bank?
He has spoken to this point in his statement today. What happened at LAX last night is actually pretty minor compared to the daily humiliation he and others suffer in the Palestinian territories.
Do you think Burnat is owed an apology by Immigration officials?
Yes. Assuming he won't get one, I've already apologized on behalf of the rest of us.
You said on Twitter that part of the problem was that immigration officials could not believe a Palestinian was nominated for an Oscar — why do you believe that?
I was being slightly sarcastic. But I'm sure if he'd been a white guy he wouldn't have to go through that in our "post-racial" America.
Do you think "5 Broken Cameras" Oscar chances are?
Thanks to the changes the Doc branch made this year where everyone in the branch got to vote to select the five nominees, the five nominated films are some of the best work we've seen in years. And now that we convinced the Academy to let all 6,000 members vote, I'd say the race is too close to call.
What is your critical assessment of the film?
This is not only one of the best docs of the year, it's one of the best movies. It's a powerful film, co-directed by a Palestinian and an Israeli. It's the first Palestinian film to be nominated for Best Documentary. That makes it an historic moment for the Academy and for movie lovers everywhere. For that alone, he should have receives roses and an official welcome at LAX, not the detention room.