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Kumail Nanjiani with Emily V. Gordon at the Academy Awards.—AFP
Kumail Nanjiani with Emily V. Gordon at the Academy Awards.—AFP

WASHINGTON: “Pakistan and Iowa, two places that nobody from Hollywood can find on the map,” said Pakistan-origin American comedian Kumail Nanjiani, taking a dig at growing anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States.

Karachi-born Nanjiani and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, both raised this issue while presenting the Oscar for Best Production Design during the 90th Annual Academy Awards show on Sunday night in Hollywood, California.

Although a Pakistani, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, has already won an Oscar, it’s rare for a Pakistani to present Oscars and introduce the winners. Nanjiani is the first Pakistani-American to do so and perhaps also the first South Asian to get nomination for a mainstream American film, The Big Sick.

But on Monday, Nanjiani and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o appeared on the pages of almost all major US newspapers for another reason: voicing support for undocumented migrants who arrived in the US as children and are now living under the constant threat of deportation.

Their comments echoes across the United States and were watched by millions of people across the globe.

“We are the two actors who you keep hearing about but whose names you have trouble pronouncing. We are also immigrants. I’m from Kenya,” said Nyong’o while addressing the biggest media event of the year.

“And I am from Pakistan and Iowa, two places that nobody in Hollywood can find on a map,” Nanjiani added, a courageous move in today’s atmosphere in the United States where even the most patriotic of Pakistanis often introduce themselves as South Asians.

“Actually, I have to complain... Kumail Nanjiani is my stage name. My actual given Pakistani name is Chris Pine. So, you can imagine how annoyed I was when the other, the white one showed up... The real Chris Pine,” he deadpanned.

“And like everyone in this room, and everyone watching at home, we are dreamers. We grew up dreaming of one day working in the movies. Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood, and dreams are the foundation of America,” said Nyong’o, who won the Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years A Slave in 2014.

“And so, to all the dreamers out there, we stand with you,” added Nanjiani.

Their comments earned a big applause from Hollywood celebrities and others in the audience. A clear majority in the American film industry backs immigrants in this ongoing debate over a programme called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Introduced by the Obama administration, the programme protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants two came to the United States as children. Last year, US President Donald Trump announced a plan to end the programme but gave Congress six months to find a legislative alternative. March 5 was the last date for renewing the two-year permits given to these young immigrants.

The video showing Nanjiani and Nyong’o raising the issue on the Oscar night went viral on the social media and has been tweeted and retweeted the links multiple times.

Nanjiani and Gordon’s 2017 American romantic comedy film The Big Sick was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay at the 90th Academy Awards.

Based on Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife, Emily Gordon, The Big Sick was chosen by American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of 2017.

Made with a budget of $5 million, it grossed $56 million worldwide. It also won two major American awards, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and the Kanbar Award for Storytelling.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2018