Last week, Michael Moore wrote that he had rescued Oscar-nominated director Emad Burnat, whom Moore said was detained and threatened with deportation by U.S. Customs and Border Protection when he tried to enter the country to attend the Oscars.
Monday morning though, a source at LAX challenged Moore’s account of the events, calling the allegations that Burnat was detained “baloney” and asserting the whole thing was an elaborate publicity stunt for the film.
Burnat’s movie, Five Broken Cameras, documenting five years of his and his family’s life in the West Bank village Bil’in, was nominated for Best Documentary. (Searching for Sugar Man took home the award.)
On Wednesday, Moore tweeted this play-by-play to his 1.5 million followers:
Emad Burnat, Palestinian director of Oscar nominated “5 Broken Cameras” was held tonight by immigration at LAX as he landed to attend Oscars— Michael Moore
Emad, his wife & 8-yr old son were placed in a holding area and told they didn’t have the proper invitation on them to attend the Oscars.— Michael Moore
Although he produced the Oscar invite nominees receive, that wasn’t good enough & he was threatened with being sent back to Palestine.— Michael Moore
Apparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn’t understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee. Emad texted me for help.— Michael Moore
I called Academy officials who called lawyers. I told Emad to give the officers my phone # and to say my name a couple of times.— Michael Moore
After 1.5 hrs, they decided to release him & his family & told him he could stay in LA for the week & go to the Oscars. Welcome to America.— Michael Moore
This all just happened tonight, a few hours ago. He was certain they were going to deport him. But not if I had anything to do about it.— Michael Moore
Media appearances followed:
Going on HuffPost Live right now with Emad Burnat to discuss the incident at LAX last night. http://t.co/kMzcXSkJ— Michael Moore
Speaking on the red carpet before Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, Burnat’s co-director, Guy Davidi, reiterated Moore’s account of the events, and said that he believed Burnat was profiled by Customs officers because his wife was wearing a hijab.
“They saw his wife, a Muslim, with the whole costume, and his son, he has his Arab look, they just couldn’t believe that this guy was really, actually nominated for the Oscar. They were sure that he is not telling the truth. It doesn’t matter that he asked them to Google his name,” Davidi said.
Monday morning though, a source working at LAX familiar with the situation and speaking on the condition of anonymity, offered a very different account of events.
When Burnat arrived at the Customs and Border Protection desk at LAX, the source said, he was asked to state the purpose of his visit; when he said he was here to attend the Oscars, he was asked to produce his ticket.
When he wasn’t able to produce that document on spot, the source continued, Burnat was taken to a secondary inspection area where he found the ticket, showed it Customs officers, and was immediately allowed to proceed to the baggage claim.
This source insists the whole process took no longer than 25 minutes total, and was standard practice for anyone entering the country.
“He was not racially profiled,” the source said.”It is being used as political stunt, and a publicity stunt for the movie.”
The source’s account is consistent with Customs and Border Protection’s policies, which maintain that detention is only used when an individual is found with illegal drugs, undeclared money, or is trying to enter the country illegally.
CBP, for their part, would not comment on the incident, and calls to the Academy and the film’s publicist were not immediately returned. Moore also said that the Academy only Thursday issued formal tickets, and the LAX official did not immediately respond to a request to clarify the sort of documentation he was referring to.
The agency said in a statement, “Due to privacy laws, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is prohibited from discussing specific cases. CBP strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner, while maintaining the focus of our mission to protect all citizens and visitors in the United States.”
Neither Michael Moore nor Guy Davidi responded to repeated requests for comment, but Moore later responded on Twitter:
Tessa Stuart of Buzzfeed has lied about the Palestinian filmmaker detained at LAX and I can prove it. Tessa, I’ll give u an hr to correct.— Michael Moore
Time’s up. Buzzfeed today tried to raise doubts that Oscar nominee, Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat wasn’t really detained at LAX on Tues.— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 26, 2013
Buzzfeed quotes a “source” at LAX who said that Burnat was simply asked to produce his ticket to the Oscars and when he “couldn’t” he was…— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 26, 2013
…moved “to a secondary inspection area where he (Burnat) found his ticket” to the Oscars & was then “immediately allowed” into the US…— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 26, 2013
Well, there’s just one little problem with this story - and if Buzzfeed had bothered to ask any of the 6,000 Academy members…— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 26, 2013
…they would have learned how they were played by the “source” from Homeland Security…— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 26, 2013
You see, Buzzfeed, there was no way for Emad Burnat to show Customs an Oscar ticket on Tuesday because there were no Oscar tickets on Tues!— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 26, 2013
Nobody, no nominee, had their tickets on Tuesday because the Academy didn’t release them to Oscar-goers until 2 days later — on Thursday.— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 26, 2013
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred in its deck and first sentence to “sources” at LAX; in fact, as the body of the story made clear, the criticism of Moore’s account came from a single airport official.