Author: Uponent

Interactive Broadway Exhibit Opens in NYC

Showstoppers! – a bright and colorful exhibit of Broadway theatre has opened in New York City. Vladimir Lenski visited the exhibit which displays designs that are always in sight but seldom get the spotlight. Anna Rice narrates his story.

more

US Returns Ancient Gilgamesh Dream Tablet to Iraq

An ancient tablet displaying parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh that was stolen from Iraq 30 years ago was returned to that country on Thursday. The handover ceremony took place in Washington. VOA’s Sirwan Kajjo has more in this story.

Camera:  Mohammed Warmzyar 

Produced by: Sirwan Kajjo

more

Somalia National Theater Reopens for Screening After Three Decades 

Somalia’s National Theater in Mogadishu held a landmark event Wednesday night, screening movies for the first time in three decades.

The theater was recently renovated and reopened after being destroyed twice – once in Somalia’s civil war, and then again in a 2012 suicide bombing.

More than 1,500 people attended the screenings.

The two films, Hoos, meaning “shadow” in Somali, and the other, Date of Hell, were screened in the Chinese-built theater constructed in 1967. 

Starring Egypt-based actor Kaifa Jama, the short films depict some of the challenges faced by young Somalis brought up outside the country and who are not familiar with Somali and Islamic culture. 

Jama said the films were produced in Cairo with no resources and largely on volunteers among her peers, with no payment for actors and actresses. She said the producers convinced hotels and hospitals to let them film on their grounds in exchange for advertisements in order to avoid extra costs. 

The theater also used volunteers for its reconstruction, which was overseen by the government. The building was completely destroyed during Somalia’s civil war in the early 1990s. It was rebuilt in 2012, only to be ruined again at its reopening after being targeted by an al-Shabab suicide bomber. Then-Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali survived the explosion, but dozens of others died.

For this renovation, workers installed some 1,500 new seats. The theater officially reopened last year and has hosted graduation ceremonies for local schools.

According to organizers, more than 1,000 tickets were sold for Wednesday night’s screenings.

Among the participants was Ilham Mohamud.

The moviegoer said she was very happy and excited to be at the national theater for the first time in her life. She said she felt patriotic regarding the progress that is continuously made in her country. 

Information and Culture Minister Osman Dube said the theater will host more events in coming weeks. He said the theater is expected to showcase films, plays, poetry, book fairs and comedy that reflect Islamic and Somali culture. 

 

more

Washington’s Kennedy Center Marks 50th Anniversary

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the U.S. capital began its 50th anniversary season in mid-September with musicians back on stage and spectators in their seats. But some COVID-19 measures remain in place for the new season. Karina Bafradzhian reports.

Camera: Sergey Sokolov

more

Melvin Van Peebles, Godfather of Black Cinema, Dies at 89

Melvin Van Peebles, the groundbreaking filmmaker, playwright and musician whose work ushered in the “blaxploitation” wave of the 1970s and influenced filmmakers long afterward, has died. He was 89.

In a statement, his family said Van Peebles, father of the actor-director Mario Van Peebles, died Tuesday evening at his home in Manhattan.

“Dad knew that Black images matter. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what was a movie worth?” Mario Van Peebles said in a statement Wednesday. “We want to be the success we see, thus we need to see ourselves being free. True liberation did not mean imitating the colonizer’s mentality. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.”

Sometimes called the “godfather of modern Black cinema,” the multitalented Van Peebles wrote numerous books and plays and recorded several albums — playing multiple instruments and delivering rap-style lyrics. He later became a successful options trader on the stock market.

But he was best known for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, one of the most influential movies of its time. The low-budget art-house film, which he wrote, produced, directed, starred in and scored, was the frenzied, hypersexual and violent tale of a Black street hustler on the run from police after killing white officers who were beating a Black revolutionary.

Message of empowerment

With its hard-living, tough-talking depiction of life in the ghetto, underscored by a message of empowerment as told from a Black perspective, it set the tone for a genre that turned out dozens of films over the next few years and prompted a debate about whether Black people were being recognized or exploited.

“All the films about Black people up to now have been told through the eyes of the Anglo-Saxon majority in their rhythms and speech and pace,” Van Peebles told Newsweek in 1971, the year of the film’s release.

“I could have called it The Ballad of the Indomitable Sweetback. But I wanted the core audience, the target audience, to know it’s for them,” he told The Associated Press in 2003. “So I said, ‘ba-ad asssss,’ like you really say it.”

Made for around $500,000 (including $50,000 provided by Bill Cosby), it grossed $14 million at the box office despite an X rating, limited distribution and mixed critical reviews. The New York Times, for example, accused Van Peebles of merchandizing injustice and called the film “an outrage.”

Van Peebles, who complained fiercely to the Motion Picture Association over the X rating, gave the film its tagline: “Rated X by an all-white jury.”

But in the wake of the film’s success, Hollywood realized an untapped audience and began churning out such box office hits as Shaft and Superfly, which were also known for bringing in such top musicians as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes to work on the soundtracks.

Many of Hollywood’s versions were exaggerated crime dramas, replete with pimps and drug dealers, which drew heavy criticism in both the white and Black press.

“What Hollywood did — they suppressed the political message, added caricature — and blaxploitation was born,” Van Peebles said in 2002. “The colored intelligentsia were not too happy about it.”

In fact, civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality coined the phrase “blaxploitation” and formed the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. Among the genre’s 21st-century fans was Quentin Tarantino, whose Oscar-winning Django Unchained was openly influenced by blaxploitation films and spaghetti Westerns.

On Wednesday, a younger generation of Black filmmakers mourned Van Peebles’ death. Barry Jenkins, the Moonlight director, said on Twitter: “He made the most of every second, of EVERY single damn frame.”

After his initial success, Van Peebles was bombarded with directing offers, but he chose to maintain his independence.

“I’ll only work with them on my terms,” he said. “I’ve whipped the man’s ass on his own turf. I’m number one at the box office — which is the way America measures things — and I did it on my own. Now they want me, but I’m in no hurry.”

Van Peebles then got involved on Broadway, writing and producing several plays and musicals such as the Tony-nominated Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death and Don’t Play Us Cheap. He later wrote the movie Greased Lighting, which starred Richard Pryor as Wendell Scott, the first Black race car driver.

In the 1980s, Van Peebles turned to Wall Street and options trading. He wrote a financial self-help guide entitled Bold Money: A New Way to Play the Options Market.

Renaissance man

Born Melvin Peebles in Chicago on August 21, 1932, he would later add “Van” to his name. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1953 and joined the Air Force, serving as a navigator for three years.

After military service, he moved to Mexico and worked as a portrait painter, followed by a move to San Francisco, where he started writing short stories and making short films.

Van Peebles soon went to Hollywood, but he was offered only a job as a studio elevator operator. Disappointed, he moved to Holland to take graduate courses in astronomy while also studying at the Dutch National Theatre.

Eventually he gave up his studies and moved to Paris, where he learned he could join the French directors’ guild if he adapted his own work written in French. He quickly taught himself the language and wrote several novels.

One he made into a feature film. La Permission/The Story of the Three-Day Pass was the story of an affair between a Black U.S. soldier and a French woman. It won the critic’s choice award at the San Francisco film festival in 1967, and Van Peebles gained Hollywood’s attention.

The following year, he was hired to direct and write the score for Watermelon Man, the tale of a white bigot (played by comic Godfrey Cambridge in whiteface) who wakes up one day as a Black man. 

With money earned from the project, Van Peebles went to work on Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

Van Peebles’ death came just days before the New York Film Festival is to celebrate him with a 50th anniversary of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Next week, the Criterion Collection is to release a box set of his essential films. A revival of his play Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death is also planned to hit Broadway next year, with Mario Van Peebles serving as creative producer.

more

Done With Delays, Academy Movie Museum Rolls Out Red Carpet

The projectors are rolling. The ruby slippers are on. Many an Oscar sits glistening. The shark has been hanging, and waiting, for nearly a year.  

Nine years after it was announced, four years after its first projected open date, and five months since its last planned launch date, the U.S. film academy’s museum is ready to open to the public on Sept 30.  

“I’m very moved to be able to say to you, finally, at last, boy howdy hey, welcome to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures,” Tom Hanks told reporters Tuesday at a media preview of the Los Angeles building and its exhibits.  

Hanks, a member of the board of trustees, led the fundraising for the project along with fellow actor Annette Bening and Walt Disney Co. executive chairman Bob Iger.  

“We all know, films are made everywhere in the world, and they are wonderful films,” Hanks said. “And there are other cities with film museums, but with all due respect, created by the Motion Picture Academy, in Los Angeles, this museum has really got to be the Parthenon of such places.”  

The first thing most visitors will notice on entering the building is Bruce, a 1,208-pound (548-kilogram), 25-foot-long (7.6-meter), 46-year-old shark made from the “Jaws” mold. Bruce hangs above the bank of main escalators and was hoisted there last November in anticipation of what was then a planned April opening. 

The featured inaugural exhibit celebrates the works of the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Others examine the work of directors Spike Lee and Pedro Almodovar.  

Some galleries focus on the Oscars, with actual statuettes won across the decades, and speeches projected on walls.  

Projected scenes are a theme in all the museum’s galleries, with technology from 18th century “magic lanterns” through silent films to the 3-D digital tech of today.  

Costumes from “The Wizard of Oz” to “The Wiz” are on display, including Dorothy’s ruby slippers. 

Announced in 2012 and first slated to open in 2017, the museum was beset with delays that are typical for such a project, but they were compounded by a pair of pandemic postponements.  

Designed by architect Renzo Piano, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a 300,000-square-foot (27,871-square-meter) space made up of two buildings, one old, one new, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  

“It’s shiny and new and enormous, and it’s crammed with about 125 years’ worth of ideas and dreams and life-changing cinematic experiences,” actor Anna Kendrick said at the media preview.  

The older structure is the 1930s Saban Building, once home to the May Company department store. It’s linked by bridges to a new building that is topped by a terrace and a concrete-and-glass dome that has a distinctiveness that could lead to a nickname.  

Piano said Tuesday that he hopes it’s “the soap bubble” and not something more cinematic.  

“Please,” the architect said, “don’t call it the Death Star.”  

more

6 Tribes Sue Wisconsin to Try to Stop November Wolf Hunt

Six Native American tribes sued Wisconsin on Tuesday to try to stop its planned gray wolf hunt in November, asserting that the hunt violates their treaty rights and endangers an animal they consider sacred.

The Chippewa tribes say treaties give them rights to half of the wolf quota in territory they ceded to the United States in the mid-1800s. But rather than hunt wolves, the tribes want to protect them.

The tribal lawsuit comes three weeks after a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups sued to stop Wisconsin’s wolf hunt this fall and void a state law mandating annual hunts, arguing that the statutes don’t give wildlife managers any leeway to consider population estimates.

Hunters blew past their limit during a court-ordered hunt in February. The state Department of Natural Resources set the quota at 119, but hunters killed 218 wolves in just four days, forcing an early end to the season.

Conservationists then deluged the department with requests to cancel this fall’s hunt out of concerns it could devastate the wolf population. Agency biologists recommended setting the fall quota at 130. But the agency’s board last month set the kill limit at 300.

The tribes have claimed their half, but since they won’t hunt wolves, the working quota for state-licensed hunters would be 150. The lawsuit alleges the board’s decision to set the quota at 300 was a deliberate move to nullify the tribes’ share and was not based on science.

The DNR’s latest estimates put Wisconsin’s wolf population at roughly 1,000. Opponents say hunters probably killed at least a quarter of the population if poaching is included.

“In our treaty rights, we’re supposed to share with the state 50-50 in our resources and we’re feeling that we’re not getting our due diligence because of the slaughter of wolves in February,” John Johnson Sr., president of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The Ojibwe word for “wolf” is Ma’iingan, and the Indigenous people of the Great Lakes region often call themselves Anishinaabe. The wolf holds a sacred place in their creation story.

“To the Anishinaabe, the Ma’iingan are our brothers. The legends and stories tell us as brothers we walk hand in hand together. What happens to the Ma’iingan happens to humanity,” Marvin Defoe, an official and elder with Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said in the statement.

Hunters, farmers and conservationists have been fighting over how to manage Wisconsin’s wolves. Farmers say wolves kill livestock, while hunters are looking for another species to stalk.

The six tribes are represented by Earthjustice, which is one of several groups that are suing the federal government over the Trump administration’s decision last November to lift Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S. and return management authority to the states.

Gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are considered part of the western Great Lakes population, which is managed separately from wolves in Western states.

The Biden administration last Wednesday said federal protections may need to be restored for western wolves because Republican-backed state laws have made it much easier to kill the predators. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s initial determination that western wolves could again be imperiled launched a yearlong biological review.

Dozens of tribes asked the Biden administration one day earlier to immediately enact emergency protections for gray wolves across the country, saying states have become too aggressive in hunting them. They asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to act quickly on an emergency petition they filed in May to relist the wolf as endangered or threatened. 

more

Nigerian NGO Marks World Peace Day With Photos of Carnage in Northeast

The Nigerian aid group Center for Civilians in Conflict is marking this year’s U.N. International Day of Peace with a photo exhibit on the conflict in the country’s northeast. The photographs depict some of the millions of civilians caught up in the 12-year conflict started by militant group Boko Haram.

The photo exhibit opened Tuesday morning at the Thought Pyramid Art Center in Abuja. Around 150 visitors arrived in batches to see images taken from scenes of the Boko Haram insurgency and the communities affected by it. 

Art lover Hillary Essien, who attended the exhibit, says the photos tell a story of pain and survival. 

“They’re actual people, being here and seeing that these people are out there away from their homes, families, fearing for their lives, it’s just really touching to be honest,” she said. 

Nigerian photojournalist Damilola Onafuwa took the photos for nonprofit Center for Civilians in Conflict, and says he’s happy about the effect the pictures are having on viewers. 

“When I create these works, I only create them because I want people to know,” he said. “I want to share the stories of people that I’m photographing. When people see it and I see how much impact it has on them, that makes me very happy.” 

Nigeria has been battling the Boko Haram insurgency for 12 years. The fighting has claimed an estimated 350,000 lives, according to the United Nations Development Program, and displaced millions of others. 

But Boko Haram is not the only group threatening the northeast. Armed criminal groups are becoming more active, often kidnapping people for ransom. Communal clashes over grazing lands are leading to raids and burnings of villages.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict says the exhibit aims to raise awareness about these issues with the view of addressing them. 

“The exhibition tries to chronicle the lives of ordinary Nigerians who are trying everything possible to maintain the peace,” said Beson Olugbuo, a director at the center. “The idea is to use photographs as a means of advocacy and also to remind the federal government that they have a primary responsibility to maintain law and order, to protect lives and property and ensure that peace reigns.” 

The International Day of Peace is observed every year on September 21.

 

more

Filmmakers Phil Grabsky and Shoaib Sharifi Chronicle 20 Years in Afghanistan

My Childhood My Country: 20 Years in Afghanistan is the latest documentary by award-winning filmmakers Phil Grabsky and Shoaib Sharifi. Grabsky spoke with VOA’s Penelope Poulou about this 20-year film expose on life in Afghanistan through the eyes of an Afghan youth from his early childhood to today.

more

‘Ted Lasso,’ ‘The Crown,’ Win Top Emmy Awards on Streaming Heavy Night

Royal drama “The Crown” and feel good comedy “Ted Lasso” nabbed the top prizes at television’s Emmy awards on Sunday on a night dominated by streaming shows, British talent and rare wins by women. 

Chess drama “The Queen’s Gambit” was named best limited series and tied with “The Crown” for the most wins overall at 11 apiece.  

The best drama series win for “The Crown” gave Netflix its biggest prize so far, while Apple TV+ entered streaming’s big league with the best comedy series win for “Ted Lasso.” Neither Netflix nor Apple TV+ had previously won a best comedy or best drama series Emmy. 

Jason Sudeikis, the star and co-creator of “Ted Lasso,” was named best comedy actor.  

The show also brought statuettes for Britons Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein for their supporting roles in the tale of a struggling English soccer team that won over TV fans with its folksy humor during the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic.  

“This show is about family. This show’s about mentors and teachers and this show’s about teammates. And I wouldn’t be here without those three things in my life,” Sudeikis said on Sunday. 

Despite a nominees list that boasted the strongest showing in years for people of color, only a handful emerged as winners.  

They included Britain’s Michaela Coel, who won for writing the harrowing sexual assault drama “I May Destroy You” in which she also starred and directed; RuPaul, host of the competition show “RuPaul’s Drag Race;” and the cast of hip-hop Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which won the Emmy for variety special after it was filmed for television. 

Dancer, singer and actor Debbie Allen was given an honorary award celebrating 50 years in show business. “It’s taken a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time,” Allen said. 

It was a good night for women, and for Britons. “Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable,” said Coel, who dedicated her Emmy to sexual assault survivors. 

Lucia Aniello got a rare directing win for a woman for the comedy series “Hacks” about a fading female comedian. She also was one of the winning co-writers. Britain’s Jessica Hobbs took home a directing Emmy for “The Crown.” 

“Not a lot of women have won this award so I feel like I am standing on the shoulders of some really extraordinary people,” Hobbs said. 

Seven of the 12 acting awards went to Britons, including Olivia Colman and Josh O’Connor for playing Queen Elizabeth and heir to the throne Prince Charles in a fourth season of “The Crown” that focused on the unhappy marriage of Charles and Princess Diana. 

“We’re all thrilled. I am very proud. I’m very grateful. We’re going to party,” said Peter Morgan, creator of “The Crown,” at a gathering in London for the cast and crew. 

An exuberant Kate Winslet won for her role as a downtrodden detective in limited series “Mare of Easttown,” while Ewan McGregor was a surprise winner for playing fashion designer “Halston.” 

Concerns over the Delta variant of the coronavirus forced Sunday’s ceremony to move to an outdoor tent in downtown Los Angeles, with a reduced guest list and mandatory vaccinations and testing but a red carpet that harked back to pre-pandemic times. 

more