Watani: My Homeland star brings humanity plea to the Oscars

A Syrian refugee whose story of escape from the war-torn Middle East country to sanctuary in Germany is nominated for an Oscar has called on governments to work together to allow “humanity to prevail”.

Hala Kamil, the star of Watani: My Homeland, is expected to be at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, where she will walk the red carpet with the likes of Ryan Gosling, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman.

Earlier this month there was doubt over whether she would be able to attend the ceremony, with fears she may fall victim of Donald Trump’s travel ban.

But after a judge blocked the president’s moratorium she was able to travel to the US, and now Hala hopes to bring her message of peace to audiences around the globe.

Hollywood has even rallied to find her a gown to wear at the awards.

Others, however, have fallen victim of American immigration authorities.

Khaled Khateeb, a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on the Oscar-nominated documentary The White Helmets, was barred from travelling to Los Angeles after officials found “derogatory information” on him.

Amid increasing indignation at President Trump’s policies, the directors of all five films in the Best Foreign Language Film category issued an extraordinary broadside in a joint statement condemning the “climate of fanaticism and nationalism” in the US.

They have decided to dedicate their category’s award – irrespective of who wins – to “the people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding, and who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity”.

Watani: My Homeland, nominated in the short documentary category, was produced by ITN Productions and German film-maker Marcel Mettelsiefen.

Filmed between 2013 and 2016, it tells the story of Hala, her husband Abu Ali and their four children as they lived on the front line of war-torn Aleppo.

After Abu Ali was captured by so-called Islamic State – he is thought to have been killed – the family were forced to flee Syria to begin a new life in Germany.

Hala said she felt “incredibly proud” when she first heard of her chance to attend the Oscars.

She said: “My pride and happiness were bittersweet. The first thing that came to my mind was my husband and soul mate. Abu Ali and I would stay up late every year to watch the Oscars live on television. Sipping coffee together as we always did, we’d try to recall the names of all the famous actors and actresses as they graced the red carpet, in complete awe of this huge event.

A Jordanian soldier stands at the north eastern border with Syria (Raad Adayleh/AP)

“To think that three years after I last saw my husband I’ll be travelling to that same ceremony we watched together all those years ago brings a tear to my eye.

“But to be reminded of what I have lost is also a reminder of what I have held on to – my four children. It’s also a reminder of what keeps me strong, and what drives me to speak up for beloved homeland and its people.”

Hala hopes to be able to spread a message of “peace, unity and understanding” during the awards.

She said: “I want to tell the world about a small country called Syria, a country that has been burnt alive, its people torn up from the soil they once thrived on.

“All this destruction and displacement needs the concerted effort of the whole world working together, to help these people back to their roots, the roots they hold so dear.

“All these people want is peace and the right to live. And it’s not just my homeland Syria, it’s all the countries that are crying out for help, to be freed from injustice, death and poverty.

“We need to all work together; governments don’t seem to listen so what is important to me is reaching people, because real power lies with the people.

“I want the message of humanity to prevail, for us to be able to feel with each other, and see one another as family. And when a member of that family is hurting, it must be our duty to try and lessen their pain.”


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