The head of the organization behind the Oscars has called for diversity and freedom of expression saying the United States should not put barriers in the way of artists.

Speaking at a luncheon in Beverly Hills for the 2017 nominees, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told the 165 Oscar-nominated actors and film makers there was a “struggle globally today over artistic freedom that feels more urgent than at any time since the 1950s,”

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and actress Taraneh Alidoosti, who stars in his foreign-language nominated film “The Salesman,” said last week they would boycott the February 26 Academy Awards to protest President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions on Iranians and six other Muslim-majority countries.

Isaacs, who is African-American, also cited the Academy’s efforts to improve diversity in its ranks. After two straight years in which all 20 acting nominees were white, this year there are seven actors of color among the Oscar nominees.

Some 683 new members – many of them women or people of color – have joined the Academy in the past 12 months in a bid to make the body that chooses the Oscar winners more representative.