Trafalgar Square in London – ringed by iconic monuments like Nelson’s Column, the National Gallery and St Martin-in-the-Fields church – is about as English as you can get. But the square reverberated with two hours of Persian language and Iranian cinema today in a peaceful multicultural protest against US President Donald Trump’s 27 January travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries – including Iran.
The award-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest film The Salesman, nominated for best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards, was screened in the square at a special free event hosted by the mayor, Sadiq Khan, just hours before the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles. Farhadi won the 2012 best foreign-language Oscar for his film A Separation and had been due to attend the Oscars again for The Salesman. His latest film tells the story of an Iranian couple staging a performance of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in Tehran.
The screening was held as part of Khan’s #LondonIsOpen campaign and in solidarity with Farhadi. The director, whose plans to travel to Los Angeles today were upended by Trump’s travel ban, which was later suspended, nevertheless chose to stay in Iran as a protest against “division” and the “separation of people”.
Thousands of people – mostly Iranians, but also English, Europeans and others from around the world – filled Trafalgar Square despite the cold and threats of rain.
“We are all citizens of the world,” Farhadi said to loud cheers in a pre-recorded video message.
The audience was also full of praise for London’s mayor. “President Trump can’t silence me,” Khan said, to a wave of support from the audience, adding that, “at a time when people talk about travel bans, we should welcome people, and when people try to motivate others through fear, I will use hope.”
Film distributor Curzon Artificial Eye, with actress Lily Cole and others, organized the screening to support Farhadi’s demonstration. Cole said that the “original idea” was to simply stage a protest at the American embassy in London. But she added that she much preferred “the idea that we’re instead having a massive celebration, a positive protest to show what’s possible, to show that London is wonderfully open, that diversity and unity is a wonderful thing.” The acclaimed English filmmaker Mike Leigh also addressed the audience, saying that “to be a Londoner is a magical thing, and you don’t have to have been born here to qualify.”
A handful of Amnesty International supporters held placards calling for the freedom of prisoners of conscience Kamal Foroughi and Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe. Iranians with and without headscarfs chatted on the edges of the crowd — “it’s a great chance to socialize,” one of them said – while thousands focused on the film from the heart of the square.
Reza, 55, who moved to London from Iran more than 40 years ago, and whose English accent was underscored by just a hint of his Iranian heritage, said he was “extremely proud” that Khan and the other organizers were supporting Farhadi and his film. “Its very important for London to keep its diversity,” he added. “When I came, foreigners were Scots, Welsh, and so on, but now it’s totally changed.”
Kate, 73, with an “I ♥︎ NHS” badge, “NHS” standing for the UK’s National Health Service, said: “I love the multicultural nature of London.” Seeing the film was a “unique cultural opportunity,” she added, explaining that “we benefit hugely from being a mix of people in the UK.”
Two Ugandans, Nathan, 26, and Wen, 27, said that they joined the event to “get behind the big man” — whether Farhadi or Khan was not immediately clear — and to “give support”.
And Fatemeh, an Iranian woman wearing a pale blue headscarf, who came to London six years ago, said that the event “could only happen in London ... I came to show my children that we can support things by attending these kinds of events.”