Palestinian Oscar entry poses quandary

'We're not in the business of defining countries' - Academy spokesman, John Pavlik.

paradise abu assad298 88 (photo credit: AP)
paradise abu assad298 88
(photo credit: AP)
Before Paradise Now received its best foreign-language film nomination, Academy Award executives debated a movie credit with rare geopolitical dimensions. Would the film be designated a submission from Palestine, as it was when it won a Golden Globe, although the country does not technically exist? Or would the source be the Palestinian Authority, the recognized ruling power? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had "a little bit of a difficult time deciding what to call it," Academy spokesman John Pavlik said last week. "We're not in the business of defining countries," Pavlik said. Academy executives choose to use the "more neutral term" of Palestinian Authority, he said, adding that is the reference used by the U.S. State Department. The decision angered Paradise Now director-write Hany Abu-Assad, who said it represented a slap at the Palestinian people and their national identity. "It's not like suddenly if you change your name, you didn't exist before," he said. "If it's (Palestine) under occupation, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist." Abu-Assad, who said he supports the creation of separate but equal Jewish and Palestinian states, said the issue carries crucial weight for Palestinians and, ultimately, Israel. "Half the problem is just recognition. Just recognizing them as people who have the right to have their own identity and own place," he said." Otherwise, again and again you dehumanize us and we became again and again just angry." He speculated that "Israeli pressure" might have been brought to bear on the movie academy. "I don't think there was any pressure from another country," Pavlik said. He declined to comment on Abu-Assad's criticism of the academy's decision. Paradise Now, about two Palestinian friends sent on a suicide bombing attack against Israel, was listed as a film from Palestine when it was submitted for Oscar consideration, according to Pavlik. In the days leading up to the nominations announcement, academy officials including Executive Director Bruce Davis discussed how to handle the film's origins if it earned a bid, Pavlik said. He did not know if anything specific prompted the informal discussion and said the executives involved were unavailable. There is one official reference to the film's country as Palestine: It's on the Oscar Web site, but Pavlik said that was on a list compiled earlier by the awards accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers. It's expected that the March 5 ceremony will refer to the film as a nominee from the Palestinian Authority "unless they can come up with something more neutral," Pavlik said. There is no need for another term, said the American Jewish Committee. "It's an accurate reference. It's not a question of neutrality," said Kenneth Bandler, spokesman for the committee. "Nobody is attempting to diminish the hope of the Palestinian people, who through the process of negotiations hopefully will achieve their aspirations for an independent state," Bandler said. "But at the moment what the international community recognizes is something called the Palestinian Authority." Earlier this month, Amir Harel, the film's Israeli producer, said the mention of Palestine at the Golden Globes, which are given by foreign journalists, did not bother him. He said he supports the movie's presentation of a more human face for Palestinian suicide bombers. Abu-Assad said the American film industry's recognition of his work with an Oscar bid was a welcome surprise. "The dominant image of Hollywood is fat and ugly and glamorous," he said. But there are also "these people who care about films and issues and cinema language and art." (AP)