Idris Elba Delivers Keynote Speech to UK Parliament on Diversity in the Media
Amid the ongoing controversy over the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards – with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominating only white actors for the second year running – Idris Elba spoke before parliament in the United Kingdom on Monday on the theme of diversity. Asking for help in the endeavour to ‘redesign the face of British TV’, he lamented ‘a disconnect between the real world and TV world’, describing his own struggles being typecast as a black actor in Britain, which encouraged him to forge his career instead in the United States. Elba said:
‘I’m not here to talk about black people; I’m here to talk about diversity. Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour. It’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and – most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought. Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV and film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned.’
In the United States, for the second year there are neither blacks, Hispanics, nor Asians among the twenty Oscars acting nominees. Despite being written and directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, the only nomination for Creed came in the form of a Best Supporting Actor nod for Sylvester Stallone. Similarly Straight Outta Compton featured a largely black ensemble cast, and was directed by F. Gary Gray, but received a nomination only for its white screenplay writers.
Other films with prominent black actors – including Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba and Abraham Attah, and Chi-Raq, starring Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, and Jennifer Hudson – were entirely ignored by the Academy, although Chi-Raq was not without controversy upon its release in December, the musician Chance the Rapper condemning the film as ‘goofy’ and ‘exploitative’, charges later contested by director Spike Lee. Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director who was awarded in the categories of Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture for Birdman last year, is again nominated this time round for The Revenant, and though no women are up for Best Director, at least in contrast to last year there is more of a gender balance in the categories for screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film.
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Yasiin Bey Retires from Music Following South Africa Arrest
This week Yasiin Bey, the artist better known by his stage name Mos Def, announced his impending retirement from the music and film industries, which will come into effect upon the release of his final album later this year. Bey was arrested last week for attempting to leave South Africa with a World Passport, a document issued by the World Service Authority, which was set up by Garry Davis in 1954 citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The arrest provoked a sequence of claim and counterclaim, the South African government asserting that the World Passport is unrecognised and that Bey and his family are in the country without a valid permit, while Bey’s representatives and the WSA argue that the passport has been accepted on many prior occassions, including as late as last August. The WSA claims that Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Mauritania, Tanzania, Togo, and Zambia fully recognise the World Passport, and that it has been accepted on a case-by-case basis in more than 180 countries across the globe. Prominent figures from Václav Havel to Edward Snowden have received the document, although in most cases the WSA issued them on an honorary basis without request, and during his own lifetime Gerry Davis was arrested twenty times attempting to use a World Passport to travel.
On Tuesday Bey posted a freestyle on Kanye West’s website addressing the controversy and declaring his retirement. Opening the freestyle with a call for ‘No more parties in SA’ – a play on Kanye and Kendrick Lamar’s recent release – Bey goes on to ask, ‘Why these police up in my face? Why they raiding my place? Why I don’t feel safe? This is not an expression of fear. This is just to make things clear. My intentions are pure in coming here. And that’s for everything I love or hold dear. Homies in the building. So is my wife and my children. I committed no crime. Why is the state wasting my time?’.
Across the spoken-word paragraphs that follow, Bey defends the world passport and bemoans being placed ‘under unnecessary state supervision’, says ‘I’m retiring from the music recording industry as it is currently assembled today, and also from Hollywood, effective immediately. I am releasing my final album this year. Um…and that’s that’, and offers a series of shout outs, before closing with a verse which functions as a critique of America and an addendum to ‘No More Parties in LA’.
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Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn Arc Across the Night Sky for First Time Since 2005
Owing to a rare alignment not seen since 2005, on Wednesday the planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn became visible in an arc across the night sky. The alignment will continue until 20 February, and will be clearest in the northern hemisphere before dawn in the first week of February, when the planets find themselves illuminated by a passing crescent moon. Though Venus and Jupiter, two of the brightest objects in the sky, and Mars with its distinctive red hue, will remain easy to spot, by the middle of February Mercury will become faint, close to the horizon and having to compete with the rising sun.
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ISIS Destroys Dair Mar Elia, One of Iraq’s Oldest Christian Monasteries
On Wednesday satellite images confirmed that Dair Mar Elia, also known as Saint Elijah’s Monastery, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Iraq, has been destroyed by ISIS, which continues to sabotage sites which it considers heretical to its faith. The monastery is believed to have been turned to rubble between August and September 2014. Founded in 595 by the Assyrian monk Mar Elia and located just south of Mosul, it belonged to the Chaldean Catholic Church, an outpouring of the historical Church of the East which has been followed by the Assyrian people ever since the 4th century.
The Church of the East broke from the rest of Christianity upon the Council of Ephesus in 431. The third ecumenical council in the history of Christendom, convened by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, it confirmed the Nicene Creed and condemned the teachings of Nestorius, then Patriarch of Constantinople, who held a dissenting view on the being of Christ. Nestorius’ sense that Christ embodied two natures in two persons, the divine and the human coexisting but remaining discrete, contrasted with the line of mainstream Christianity that Christ united two natures in one person, in an argument which would rage for several centuries, crucially at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
At the Council of Ephesus more immediately at stake was Nestorius’ teaching that the Virgin Mary could justly be called ‘Christotokos’, bearer of Christ, but not ‘Theotokos’, bearer of God. Led by Cyril of Alexandria, the Council declared Nestorius’ view heretical, vowing to excommunicate anyone who did not accept its decree. In response the Christian churches of the Sasanian Empire – the last Iranian empire before the rise of Islam – sided with Nestorius and formed the Church of the East.
This new church grew rapidly under the Sasanians, and was a protected dhimmi community under Muslim rule in Iran. It expanded to India, Central Asia, China, and the Mongol Empire, but with the establishment of the Ming dynasty and the breakdown of Mongol rule, from the 14th century the Church of the East experienced a sharp decline. A schism within the church in the 16th century saw three distinct branches emerge: the modern Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, and the Chaldean Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church in communion with the Holy See in Rome.
After being claimed by the Chaldean Catholic Church, the history of Dair Mar Elia proved especially turbulent. The monastery was forced to close in 1743, when the Persian leader Tahmaz Nadir Shah killed all 150 of its monks, and it lay in ruins until restoration work took place at the beginning of the 20th century. The monastery served as a place of refuge during the First World War; in the 1970s it provided a base for the Iraqi Republican Guard; and after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 it was severely damaged by both Iraqi and American troops, before US military chaplains intervened and began to preserve the structure. Before it was demolished, the 27,000-square-foot stone building had twenty-six rooms, including a sanctuary and chapel.
Dair Mar Elia is one of more than 100 religious and historical sites to have been destroyed by ISIS, with Assyrian culture bearing the brunt of their efforts. In addition to the heritage sites of Palmyra and Hatra, the remains of the ancient Assyrian cities of Nineveh and Nimrud have been demolished, Assyrian artefacts in the Mosul Museum defaced and smashed, and Assyrian statues bulldozed in the city of Ar-Raqqah. The Iraq War and the Syrian Civil War have together displaced between 35-40% of Assyrians, despite Assyrians comprising only 3-5% of the pre-war population: estimates suggest that today between 250,000 and 400,000 Assyrians remain in Iraq, in contrast to the million who called the country home prior to 2003, leading to calls for the creation of an autonomous safe haven.
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Tian Tian the Panda Enjoys the Snow in Washington, D.C.
From Friday the East Coast of the United States was beset by a major blizzard, with expected snowfalls causing the governors of eleven states plus the mayor of Washington, D.C. to declare states of emergency. 13,000 flights were cancelled and a travel ban implemented between Saturday and Sunday for New York City and Newark, New Jersey, with more than 100 million people in all thought to have been affected by the storm. Seven states saw snowfalls in excess of 30 inches, and snow and ice-covered roads contributed to at least twenty-nine deaths.
But at Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo, Tian Tian, the zoo’s adult male panda, had a great time of the snow, rolling about, covering himself in the powdery stuff, and basking with his arms thrown behind his head. On the other hand Bei Bei, a panda born only in August, was more tentative as he experienced the snow for the first time.
#BeiBei had his first introduction to snow today! Keepers took him outside to a small behind-the-scenes area to let him explore in a light dusting of snow for a few minutes while Mei Xiang ate her breakfast in her outdoor yard. Keepers said he wasn’t quite sure what to make of the powdery snow and made his way back inside quickly. #WeSaveSpecies #PandaStory