UPDATE, Nov. 11, 2:54 pm — U.S officials are allowing Sunny Pawar, the wide-eyed 8-year-old Indian boy at the center of “Lion,” to enter the country as part of the promotional rollout for the Oscar-bait drama.
Pawar and his father are flying to Los Angles and will arrive Saturday, a spokesman for The Weinstein Co. said. TWC, which is distributing “Lion,” appealed to officials at the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection which granted passage for Pawar and his father Dilip Pawar. The two are expected to attend the Nov. 16. premiere of the film in New York.
Pawar was originally supposed to fly to Los Angeles this week with his father, Dilip, to attend the film’s screening at AFI. He was then going to travel to New York City for “Lion’s” premiere at the Museum of Modern Art. The Weinstein Co., the studio behind the film, has positioned Pawar as a possible best actor Oscar candidate and had been trying to arrange his travel to states.
“We are devastated that Sunny, an 8-year-old boy who is part of this amazing film and who is garnering such strong reactions from his performance, cannot be here to be a part of this experience,” said David Glasser, Weinstein Co. president and COO, in a statement to Variety. “We are doing everything we can to fight this; we believe it must be the effect of immigration paranoia. He, of course, poses absolutely no threat to anyone. We want him to be a part of the celebration of this film and his performance. We fully intend to go through the proper resources and appeal with the State Department for assistance.”
“Lion” is the story of Saroo Brierley, an Australian man who uses Google Earth to find the family that he was separated from in India. Pawar commands the screen for much of the film’s first hour, playing Saroo as a 5-year-old lost on the streets of Calcutta. It marks his first screen role, one that’s already earned him raves. Variety critic Peter Debruge wrote that Pawar is “so adorable he could set off an Indian adoption craze.”
“Lion” screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, but Pawar did not attend.
Pawar and his father still need to undergo an interview before they can get a visa. The Weinstein Co. is reaching out to contacts in India to try to see if they can expedite the process, but in order for Pawar to make Friday’s screening, he would need to be on a plane on Wednesday. That seems unlikely given the short time frame.
The U.S. Consulate in Mumbai hasn’t told the studio why they won’t give Pawar a visa, but Weinstein Co. executives have been told privately that they may be struggling to get permission because of immigration concerns.
The Weinstein Co. has tapped David Boies, founding partner of Boies Schiller & Flexner and one of the attorneys who argued for passing marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court, to help with the matter.
“‘Lion’ is a true story of love, inclusiveness, and human commitment unbounded by race, religion, or ethnicity,” Boies said in a statement. “The government’s preventing the 8-year-old star of that movie from visiting this country shows how much we need to be reminded that those are our nation’s core values.”
“Lion” opens on Nov. 25 in limited release.