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A Moving Doc About Syrian Heroes Just Won Netflix Its First Oscar

Written by Tom

“The White Helmets,” a stirring documentary about a group of men in Syria who try to save bomb victims from the wreckage surrounding them, won the Oscar for Documentary (Short Subject) at the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday.

The film garnered national attention before the ceremony after Khaled Khatib, a Syrian cinematographer who worked on the film, was barred from entering the country by the Department of Homeland Security over unspecified “derogatory information.” He had obtained a visa to come to the U.S. before the decision.

The win marks the first time a Netflix film has ever taken home an Oscar in any category. Four Netflix documentaries ― “The Square,” “Virunga,” “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” and “What Happened, Miss Simone?” ― had previously been nominated for Documentary (Feature) and lost. 

Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” which takes a critical look at the criminal justice system, was also nominated for Documentary (Feature) on Sunday, but lost as well.

In only 40 minutes, the duo behind “The White Helmets” ― director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara ―  tell the story of a group of first responders who rush into disaster with the hope of saving even a single life. Recognized by the white helmets on their heads, the group jumps into action at the first sign of a bombing and drives toward the rubble.

Released in September, “The White Helmets” takes a complicated subject matter and boils it down into something inarguable: a tale of real-life superheroes who are putting their lives on the line to help those caught in the political crossfire of a horrible conflict. 

According to WhiteHelmets.org, more than 150 members of The White Helmets have died while trying to save the lives of their fellow citizens. “For them and for every Syrian civilian, let’s watch this film, share it with our friends, and demand support for the White Helmets and their message of peace,” the site reads. 

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