LOS ANGELES – “Rings of Power” star Nazanin Boniadi used a gathering of Oscar winners and prominent Hollywood figures to deliver a powerful plea about the need to support female protestors in Iran.
“We owe it to our counterparts in Iran to stand with them as they fight for their most basic human rights,” said Boniadi, referencing the wave of defiance following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police in Tehran who picked her up for wearing her hijab too loosely.
With Oscar-winners Chloé Zhao, Marlee Matlin, Ruth E. Carter, and actors like Claire Foy, Tessa Thompson, Lucy Boynton and Ximena Lamadrid looking on, Boniadi said she couldn’t “help but feel the urgency of joining in sisterhood with the women of Iran.”
She brought exiled actor Zar Amir Ebrahimi as her guest to the event held Wednesday at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Ebrahimi, a well-known TV star who fled Iran after video of her having sex with a former partner was leaked, stars in “Holy Spider,” Denmark's official submission for next year's Oscars.
Boniadi has a long history of supporting women in Iran — she was born in Tehran in 1980 and her family was granted asylum in England when she was just three weeks old. But she said that this moment of protest is also unique.
“No past protests compare in fervor or magnitude to the current protests where, for the first time since the inception of the theocracy, people are actively fighting back to defend themselves against the security forces,” she said. “But the most unprecedented part of these protests is that they’ve been female-led.”
She asked her peers to use their platforms to amplify and elevate the movement and take inspiration from what Alfre Woodard, Danny Glover, Blair Underwood and others did for the anti-apartheid movement in 1989. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
The event, presented by Chanel, was held to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Academy Gold Fellowship. The year-long fellowship for emerging filmmakers includes cash ($35,000 in the U.S. and €20,000 internationally) as well as mentorship.
Many there dressed in head-to-toe Chanel. The luxury fashion brand has a long association with film, going back to their founder Gabrielle Chanel, who saw an opportunity in putting her designs in the movies.
“It is through cinema that fashion can be imposed today,” she said in 1931, the same year Samuel Goldwyn brought her out to Los Angeles to dress stars like Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Academy President Janet Yang said the organization is “dedicated to nurturing the next generation of filmmakers.”
This year’s recipients are Oleksandra Kostina and Karishma Dube, who, said speaking in front of that crowd was, “Much scarier than making films.”
“It is a wonderfully strange feeling to be recognized by the academy, ever,” Dube added.
“The Old Guard” filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood said that grants like these are indispensable to aspiring filmmakers. When she was making her student film at the University of California, Los Angeles, the NAACP helped fund its development.
“That saved me. I wouldn't have been able to afford it," she said. “These films are your calling card. That's how you learn, that's how you grow and develop your voice and we don't always have the money to do that.”
Zhao, the Oscar-winning director of “Nomadland” and, recently, Marvel's “The Eternals,” echoed the sentiment.
“My career was built on grants, non-profit organizations and opportunities like that,” Zhao said. “It's everything.”
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.