Not even the Oscars are immune from American politics and some celebrities and other members of the film industry won’t be attending — and not all by choice: twenty-one-year-old cinematographer and White Helmets press officer Khaled Khatib has been banned from entering the United States and attending the awards ceremony as part of the White Helmets film team. Largely made up of footage that Khatib himself filmed, the documentary focuses on three volunteers of the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated civil defense and society organization White Helmets and was nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject, Khatib, along with White Helmets leader Raed Saleh, had acquired a travel visa and planned on attending the Oscars after the temporary suspension of Trump’s travel ban, but tweeted yesterday that he would not be attending the awards ceremony. If he had been able to, Khatib would have been representing a three-person cinematography team as well as Franklin Dow, director of photography.
The Associated Press reported that Khatib was halted in Instabul, Turkey three days ago after U.S. officials from Homeland Security “reported finding ‘derogatory information'” on Khatib, a broad term that the Associated Press explained could “include anything from terror connections to passport irregularities.” According to a tweet by The White Helmets Twitter account, Khatib was unable to leave Turkey and enter the U.S. because his passport “[was]not issued by Damascus.” This meant that Khatib, who was not being held in Turkey, would have to acquire a passport wavier in order to enter the United States, a wavier that he was not granted. When contacted by the Associated Press Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen only stated that “A valid travel document is required for travel to the United States.”
Made up of 3,300-odd male and female volunteers from all walks of life, The White Helmets group, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, has saved over 80,000 lives and provided services for over 7 million people since its establishment in 2013. Khatib himself volunteered to film for the group at 17 after being inspired by Syrian journalists and was recruited in 2015 to document the group’s work by the film’s British director Orlando von Einsidel. When asked by CNN how people around the world could help Syrians, Khatib stated, “We want people to support the Syrian people by (creating) awareness with their government and to let them (use) their power to stop this war. I wish this war would stop tomorrow. ” In April 2016 a U.N. special envoy estimated that 400,000 people have died since the Syrian civil war started in March 2011. 154 members of the White Helmets team have been killed while working to save others.