The Salesman at Trafalgar Square

The Oscars have come and passed, but the ceremony – required viewing, that thing everyone does each year because they have to do it – was more memorable this year than ever.

Moonlight, a feature film about a black gay man growing up in the US, won Best Picture after the presenters accidentally rewarded La La Land, a musical romance story between two (white) jazz musicians. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman won Best Foreign Film, but the director himself wasn’t at the ceremony to receive his award.

The Salesman at Trafalgar Square
The city of London held a free film screening of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-nominated film, The Salesman, on Feb. 26.

Prevented from attending the Oscars by Trump’s entry ban, Farhadi decided to boycott the awards show altogether in protest even after the ban was temporarily suspended.

The Academy Awards then reflected the cultural, political, and turbulent times we lived in, and possibly set the agenda for the rest of 2017, which is looking to be quite an exciting time.

If everything is overwhelming and difficult to deal with, maybe some good art can come out of it.

The woman taking a picture at Trafalgar Square
A woman takes a picture at Trafalgar Square as Londoners congregate to watch a free public screening of The Salesman.

After all, for a film like Moonlight to win at all, or for two black actors to be awarded simultaneously at the Oscars, or for racism in Hollywood to be openly acknowledged after #OscarsSoWhite (social media does win, after all), there’s a feeling none of this would have been possible if there wasn’t something at stake here.

Mike Leigh and the crowd at Trafalgar Square
The film screening was preceded by comments about the event and the importance of protesting hate and discrimination. Presenters included filmmaker Mike Leigh, model Lily Cole, and Mayor Sadiq Khan.

And film art is more than just cursory navel-gazing, or a ceremony one goes through each year, but a representation and transformation of the society we live in.

The line at Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square teemed with hundreds of Londoners, who gathered to watch The Salesman.

London, no philistine city when it comes to cinema, and cinephilia, for that matter, hosted a free film screening of Farhadi’s film, The Salesman, in Trafalgar Square. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, spoke at the screening, and rallied against Trump’s racism, saying “Trump can’t ban me!”

Sadiq Khan at Trafalgar Square
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London and Muslim son of an immigrant bus driver, declared, “Trump can’t ban me!”

But most importantly, Khan insisted, “London is open.”

A city of migrants and refugees, London teems with diversity, which is more characteristic of it now today than the Queen’s palace or afternoon tea. The fact its mayor is a British-Pakistani son of a bus driver is not incidental, but a sharp and accurate representation of the city. (Khan won by a landslide too.)

The crowd at Trafalgar Square
Mayor Sadiq Khan said the film screening was part of the city’s effort to show London was open, and said there wasn’t a better place to hold the screening than “the historic Trafalgar Square.”

Other noted speakers and organizers of the event included Lily Cole, the former face of Maybelline, who spoke of how one of her best friends growing up was Muslim, and Mike Leigh, the seasoned London-based filmmaker, who spoke of the humanity, struggle, and empathy exhibited in Farhadi’s films.

Mike Leigh and the presenters at Trafalgar Square
Mike Leigh called Farhadi “one of the greatest filmmakers” in the tradition of Iranian cinema, citing Farhadi’s previous Oscar-winning film, A Separation. He added the travel ban was unjust and Farhadi’s strength lay in incurring empathy with the human experience – the very purpose of film itself.

But what impressed me the most was the energy of the audience, which included British-Iranians, proud of their country and the filmmaker putting it on the big screen, and people from all backgrounds and nationalities, gathering to enjoy a good film and free event. It is the meaning of cinema put into practice – seeing and experiencing the stories of people, who are different from you, but with whom you can connect and empathize through a shared sense of humanity.

Narges Assadi at Trafalgar Square
Narges Assadi, a British-Iranian, clapped and chanted “Iran, Iran” at the film screening.

Believing it was just another film screening, and excited because it was free, I had no idea I was going to a protest premiere. But the journalist and photographer in me jumped at the chance to film and photograph the event.

I hope you enjoy the selected photo and video, and experience for yourself a real-life protest premiere in a city that loves its immigrants, and loves its film.

Taraneh Alidoosti onscreen at Trafalgar Square

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what gives?

everyone needs a place to think.

everyone needs a place to ruminate and write.

everyone needs the place on the mountaintop, where they can go to reflect and think and talk to God and just close their eyes and feel.

everyone needs somewhere, somewhere, somewhere things just gotta give.

it is easy to go through the motions of the life you thought you ought to live without actually feeling the life you know you’re meant to live.

and me? what is this for me?

this is a place to express myself. to feel whole and pure. to understand there is a life for me beyond the banalities which claim life, but are empty of its content.

it’s a place to unwrap my mind, and unknot the tangles on my heart, and believe – a life exists for me yet.

“I must change my life so I can live it, not wait for it.” —Susan Sontag

and how not to do that except through the creative freedom and liberation of writing and art – of carving something on a blank slate, a piece of paper, and willing it into existence?

8.10.17

London Protests Trump

Protest at Parliament Square
Churchill’s statue overlooks protesters at Parliament Square on Monday, February 20, 2017. Parliament met on Monday to debate whether Trump should be allowed to come to the UK on a state visit, drawing hundreds of protesters.
Tamil man speaks at protest Trafalgar Square (Wasteman)
A Sri Lankan Tamil man shares his story about immigration to a crowd congregated at Trafalgar Square on the night before Trump’s inauguration. The woman holding the mic translated his speech to spectators.
Humpty Trumpty Fuck Your Wall (Wasteman)
A young woman holds a sign at a protest against Trump’s inauguration at Trafalgar Square on Friday, January 20, 2017.
Trump in Trafalgar Square (Wasteman)
The organizers of this protest at Trafalgar Square on January 20, 2017, produced a giant effigy of Trump’s head, which was later destroyed by protesters with sticks.
Nope: London protests Trump
Protesters gathered at a mass demonstration organized by Stand Up to Racism at the US embassy in London the night of January 20, 2017.
Love Trumps Hate
A man holds a sign at a protest in Parliament Square on February 20, 2017.
Father and child at protest
Alex Armitage hands out flyers at a protest in Parliament Square on February 20, 2017. His son, Ayanda, sits on his back and holds an antiwar placard.
08 Malia Bouattia and NUS on stage.jpg
Malia Bouattia, the British-Algerian president of the National Union of Students (NUS), gives a speech at a protest in Parliament Square on February 20, 2017.
Student and youth activists leave stage
Student and youth organizers exit the stage with enthusiasm after Bouattia concludes her speech.
Big Ben and London protests Trump
London protests the possibility of Trump’s state visit to the UK in front of Big Ben and Westminster Palace, where Parliament meets to debate. The inauguration of America’s 45th president has inspired protests all across the world, even though he has only been a little more than a month in office.