It is the Oscar’s this weekend and La La Land is favoured to win Best Picture.
In this op-ed piece for the Independent, Amrou Al-Kadhi laments the way Arab characters exist on the periphery of most Western cinema.
Stories onscreen have the rare ability to arouse empathy for diverse characters in audiences across the world, so leaving out Arab and Muslim voices in such a context of global Islamophobia is particularly damaging. With masterful directors, sublime works like Moonlight happen; now the story of gay black masculinity in the Miami ghetto has become that much more relatable and mainstream. It is my genuine belief that if the TV and film industry had been more diligent in representing Arab characters – with all our humane, complex, intersectional three-dimensionality – xenophobia would not be as pandemic as it is today.
Reading this challenge to the film industry, I naturally began to think of how the literary community measures up on the same issue. Although I don’t exactly work in the publishing industry, English PEN works closely with publishers and writers, and the debate over who gets published and what gets published is always close and loud. Continue reading “How Do We Make Diversity Scale?”
The Italian journalist Claudio Gatti has caused controversy this week, with the publication of an article that claims to reveal the true identiy of the celebrated novelist Elena Ferrante. Published in English on the New York Review of Books blog, and simultaneously in German, Italian and French, the article sets out the evidence Gatti has found that points to a particular woman, who he names.1
Anonymity and pseudonymity are often a pre-requisite for freedom of expression. Whistle-blowers usually need to keep their names away from whatever they have told journalists, lest they lose their jobs or even their liberty. This is the main reason why English PEN, for whom I work, campaigns so vigorously against draconian surveillance laws and for better protections for those handling journalistic material. Continue reading “The Exposure of Elena Ferrante: A Writer-on-Writer Attack on Free Speech”
This week 59 Productions (the radical design and production company than I had a hand in setting up) announced their latest project. Its an adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass by Duncan Macmillian, the acclaimed writer of People Places Things. The show is directed by my friend Leo Warner and is a co-production with Home and the Lyric Hammersmith.
City of Glass (part of Auster’s New York Triology) is an intriguing post-modern detective story that plays with ideas of reality, identity and imagination. I think its a perfect fit for the kind of art that Warner and the remarkable 59 Productions team create. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, he outlines their approach. Continue reading “59 Productions to produce City of Glass for the stage”
During my time working for English PEN I’ve often used the phrase ‘literary campaigning’ to describe our particular style of activism. Its a term that probably seems self evident: we use literature to draw attention to the situation of writers at risk. For example, we might read the writing of an imprisoned poet outside an embassy, or stage a world-wide reading at multiple locations around the world.
Its an approach that has value for several reasons. Not only is it non-violent, but it is also not particularly hostile or antagonistic to those who have imprisoned the writer or who are responsible for their persecution. So it has a diplomatic quality.
It also a fantastic act of solidarity for the embattled writer. Where they have been entirely censored through imprisonment (or even death) it is a way to give them a voice and restore to them some sort of expression. Continue reading “Literary Campaigning at its Best”
JK Rowling periodically releases short pieces of writing on her Pottermore site that build upon the Harry Potter world. She has recently published information on wizarding schools around the world, such as Uagadou in Uganda or Mahoutokoro in Japan. Its a clever way to engage fans from all over the world, bringing a little bit of the magic to those who might not readily see themselves reflected in Ron, Hermione and Harry.
But with her ‘History of Magic in North America‘ JK Rowling appears to have become unstuck. Her attempt to integrate the Native American community into her world building has drawn criticism… not least because she lumps the myriad tribes and Nations together under one ‘Native American community’ catch-all. Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Ethnographic Refusal”
For the past few weeks I’ve been playing The Room series, a set of three games for mobile devices by Fireproof Games. This week I completed The Room Three, and thought I’d write a quick review.
The premise of all three games is simple. The player is presented with an ornate contraption, and the task is to unlock the secrets contained within. Do you pull this lever, or press that button? What combination of switches must you flick in order to open the door? How do I make that panel slide back? Where is the key that fits that lock? Continue reading “In Praise of The Room Three”
You’re all aware of the controversy surrounding the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University, right?
To recap: Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) was the colonialist, businessman and white supremacist whose career in Southern Africa had huge impact on the continent. The celebrated Rhodes Scholarship programme at Oxford University was established by his estate. As such, there is a statue of him at Oriel College at Oxford. Some current students are campaigning to have the statue removed on the grounds that Rhodes was a racist and not someone who should be glorified in stone.
This campaign is happening in a milieu of renewed debates about freedom of expression and decency at universities. I am against ‘no platform’ policies, and against the abuse of useful innovations such as Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings as a way to shut down offensive speech. Continue reading “Rhodes, Political Correctness and the Censorship of History”
This week, the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was criticised for publishing a shocking cartoon about migrants and rape culture.
It features a depiction of the terrible image of drowned three year-old Aylan Kurdi alongside what appear to be some dirty old men, chasing women Benny Hill style.
Continue reading “Even the most offensive art can have two meanings”
In an enlightening article on Little Atoms about ‘safe spaces’ and free speech, Marie Le Conte writes:
While discussions of identity and privilege online haven’t always been constructive in recent times, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t something cis straight white men will ever get. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they never get picked on, or that their lives must therefore be perfect; it’s just that they’ll never know what it feels like to be continuously attacked for what they represent, not who they are.
The phrase “its just that they’ll never know what its like” jumped out at me, because in its absolutist form I think its very wrong. Cis straight white men might not know what its like; and they will certainly never know what it is to be picked on in this way; but it is certainly possible that they can know what it is like to be picked on… because those who have experienced it can describe it to them! Continue reading “Do cis white straight men know what its like?”
Here are two wonderful and funny examples of people interviewing their older selves. Continue reading “Self interviews”