I love film. I love the Oscars. To me, the Oscars, unlike the other award shows, represent the best of all aspects of the highly competitive, brilliant, and inspiring film industry. As an immigration lawyer with an artistic client base, I am always interested to see nominees from around the world coming together in Los Angeles to celebrate the universal brilliance of film at the Academy Awards. This year in the Dolby Theatre we again heard the talented winners accept their Oscar statues with many accents for their work on films written, produced, filmed, edited, and distributed in the U.S. and internationally. We saw dual nationals, Julianne Moore (U.S./U.K.) win best actress for the New York based Still Alice, Mathilde Bonnefoy (France/U.S.), for best documentary, Citizenfour, Canadian Craig Mann and Brit Ben Wilkins accept the award for sound mixing for the New York based Whiplash and the international team of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with winners from Italy, France, and the U.K. garnering artistic awards in costume design, original score, and hair and makeup.
Unique this year, however, was the truly international compilation of the all American story of Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which was awarded best picture, cinematography, directing and original screenplay. Birdman is all American in that its subject is the U.S. entertainment industry, recognized the world over as “Broadway” for the best of theatre and “Hollywood” for film, based on the short story by American treasure, Raymond Carver and shot entirely in New York City. The Birdman team, including an Argentine writer, Mexican director, producer and cinematographer and British actors, along with their American colleagues, created the best film of the year as judged by their peers. This achievement is in itself the American dream. As Alejandro González Iñárritu, multiple Oscar winner for Birdman, so elegantly stated:
“I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans…the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and the respect of the ones who came before and (built) this incredible immigrant nation.” (Associated Press)
Yes, immigrants did build this country; they also built our entertainment industry, seen as the best, or at least the most influential, in the world. Indeed, many of our most legendary directors including Frances Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Mel Brooks, Robert Zemeckis, and John Houston are sons or grandsons of the immigrants of the early 20th century – those huddled masses who in their own time fought discrimination, marginalization and language barriers, but who, unlike today’s immigrants were welcomed by laws which enabled their integration into the U.S. The current state of our immigration laws, with the unreasonable barriers and limitations on work visas and green cards, the limitations for those who enter without inspection and the crippling three and ten year bars is holding back those who come to this country in search of the American dream and depriving their children of the same opportunities afforded to the children of the immigrants of the early 20th century. I don’t know how Alejandro González Iñárritu came to the U.S. or if he has a green card, as possibly inappropriately (or even ignorantly) stated by Best Picture presenter, Sean Penn, but he is clearly extraordinary, and accordingly would most likely be eligible for a work visa or green card under our current immigration laws.
While welcoming the best and brightest can be beneficial to the U.S., let’s not forget all those who came before us who were not extraordinary in their fields – those hard working young men and women seeking a better life; those whose children and grandchildren grew up to be legends of the film industry. A brilliant director/screenwriter/ film producer/composer/immigrant has challenged us to look at the American dream in both his Academy award winning film and his acceptance speech; he has challenged lawmakers to enact laws that treat immigrants with dignity and respect worthy of this incredible nation.
I urge Congress to take up this challenge, to educate themselves about these important issues instead of repeating rhetoric aimed at creating more confusion and condemnation rather than educated debate and effective change. Our country has prospered in large part because of the contribution of immigrants and their children – those who had the next big great idea – whether it be in the arts, business, economics, finance, law or any other field. That is inspiring to me, just like the Oscars.
Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA National Treasurer