Hard feelings between Iranian hardliners and film director Asghar Farhadi, who just won his second Oscar for “The Salesman” as the Best Foreign Language movie, date to 2012, when Farhadi’s movie, A Separation,” won him his first Academy Award.  

The main reason behind the increasing tensions is Farhadi’s alleged closeness to the West. There is an established notion within the conservatives’ camp in Iran that anyone who receives praise from the West must have done or said something that implicitly or explicitly is against the status quo in Iran, and thus against the nezam (establishment). The hardliners may have a point here.

The main character in “A Separation “is Simin, who wanted to leave Iran because she did not want her daughter Termeh to grow up in the country. Nader, Simin’s husband, disagreed. He was concerned for his father, who lived with the family and suffered from Alzheimer’s. When Nader refused to leave Iran, Simin filed for divorce.

The film opened with Nader and Simin talking to a judge about their reasons for wanting to divorce.  “I want a divorce so I can move from Iran because it is no place to raise a child,” Simin said. Although this does reflect the mindset of a large portion of the middle class in Iran—particularly women, who are under greater social pressure than men—the statement is a clear rejection of the current way of life in Iran. It thus indirectly blames the ruling system.

Accordingly, Simin’s statement represents an ongoing clash between modernists and traditionalists within Iranian society. And when the film was lauded by Hollywood and received an Oscar, hardliners’ suspicion became reality: Farhadi, at heart, is against them.

Following the winning of his second Oscar for “The Salesman,” conservative media fiercely attacked Farhadi. This was so even though Farhadi decided not to attend the Oscar ceremonies as a result of Trump’s travel ban, “even if exceptions were to be made” for his trip.

It was thought by some observers that the decision not to attend was a shrewd move by Farhadi to take advantage of the situation by adopting a political stance to win the support of Hollywood, which is assumed to be overwhelmingly against President Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Until Farhadi announced his decision to remain in Iran, Germany’s Toni Erdmann was also a strong contender to take the prize.

Speaking in London before 10,000 protesters just hours before the Oscar ceremony, Farhadi said that solidarity against the US president empowers people to “stand up to fascism, and be victorious in the face of extremism.”

Engineer Anousheh Ansari, known as the first female space tourist, and Firouz Naderi, a former director of NASA, represented Farhadi at the Oscars.

Following the event, the ultra-conservative newspaper Vatan’e Emrooz wrote, “Farhadi, in an action contrasting the religious principles of the country, asked a woman to represent him for receiving the Oscar prize, who appeared on the stage without a hijab.” It added, “this should not be ignored by the officials in charge of cultural issues.”

Kayhan, the mouthpiece of the hardliners, in an article entitled “What did The Salesman sell to receive an Oscar?,” wrote: “Now the Oscar for a foreign film is received by ‘The Salesman’ … which is financed by the Doha Film Institute, which belongs to Qatar’s Emir, one of the major supporters of takfiri [a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy] terrorists [in Syria].”

The Salesman was co-financed by the Doha Film Institute,which was founded and is chaired by Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the sister of Qatar’s ruling Emir.

The Kayhan article continued, “The movie suggests defending one’s namoos [one’s wife and all female close relatives] in an Islamic society as a sign of violence and a result of backward traditions.”

Sobhe Sadiq, the political organ of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in an article in its March 6 edition entitled “How is it possible?” referred to the reactions of some users of social networks without giving any specific references. The article quoted an anonymous social network user as writing, “How is it possible to receive financing from the most active supporter of the most violent terrorist group in the world, meaning Daesh, and then make a movie in rejection of violence?”

Mashreq, another radical newspaper, wrote, “This prize was predictable because the Oscars wants the Iranian family shattered and Iranian men [portrayed as] lewd. In this movie, a teenage student’s cell phone is full of pornographic pictures. A young man has rented his house to a prostitute and has a relationship with her. An old man who has a loyal wife not only cheats on his wife, but when the opportunity arises, rapes a married woman. And those men who are honest become accused by women on the street of sexual abuse. The husband whose wife is raped eventually finds the rapist, but all he does is slap the rapist’s face. This is how the Iranian family and man are portrayed in Farhadi’s movie.”

Last week, at an appreciation ceremony for “The Salesman” in the House of Cinema, Farhadi delivered anemotional speech. He said, “I am going on a long trip [abroad]. Pray for me so I can gain the strength to come back to Iran and make movies here again, despite all the smear campaigns.”

However, if the current wave of attacks does not subside, it is unlikely that he will be able to work in Iran anymore. And, indeed, that is the conservatives’ goal, as Farhadi knows.

Shahir Shahidsaless is an Iranian-Canadian political analyst and freelance journalist writing about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs, the Middle East, and the US foreign policy in the region. He is the co-author of Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace. He is a contributor to several websites with focus on the Middle East as well as the Huffington Post. He also regularly writes for BBC Persian. He tweets @SShahisaless