Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Crash Course in Race Relations

Here is a much extended version of my earlier review of the film Crash. It was published on the blog of (now defunct) Design for Diversity.

Hollywood is often used as by-word for easy mindless mass entertainment devoid of any educational or intellectual value.

The selection of contenders for the 78th edition of the Academy Awards (aka the Oscars), earlier this year, however, put a strong case against such sweeping statement. From politics to homophobia, gender and identity issues to sexual harassment and misogyny or social responsibility, a wide range of unusually “serious” subjects were brought to the fore.

Crash, the winner for Best Film and Best Screenplay (and a raft of other awards around the world), itself focuses on race relations in Los Angeles but the irrational fears and reactions it portrays feel sometimes very close to home indeed.

Using a similar structure to Robert Altman's Short Cuts, where the lives of the characters intertwine over twenty-four hours, this sometimes distressing, sometimes funny film is a powerful tirade against stereotypes and prejudice. It is also a love song to humanity with all its idiosyncrasies and imperfections. Without being judgmental, the plot explores the complexities of people's motives and highlights the importance of seeing people as individuals with their own stories, qualities and defects rather than interchangeable members of a group to be despised for imagined deficiencies.

What becomes apparent as the film progresses is that behaviours of exclusion and aggression are often dictated by social conditioning rather than individual belief; all of this compounded by lack of rationality and perspective: an upper-class white woman will be scared of meeting two young black men in the street at night because so many of them seem involved in crime; a white policeman will find himself authorised and empowered to vent his frustration on an innocent black couple; a robbed and long suffering immigrant shop-owner will seek revenge on the first person he things is responsible for his predicament simply because they could not understand each other.

Rather than generalising and tarring everyone with the same brush of racism, the director is careful to look at every aspect of the problem, from the resentment generated by Affirmative Action, to the easy and ill-thought justification for lack of prospects, social racism can represent for young black men, or simply the easy focal point for frustrations and anger the obvious difference of in skin colour can offer.

To coin a phrase, this is a reminder that things are not simply and conveniently black and white, and, even when a character is intent on doing good, he can find himself caught up in the acquired fears passed down from collective perceptions.

Despite its grimness and violence, however, and thankfully without falling into the usual trap of a simplistic happy ending, the film offers the possibility of redemption and some hope that things may improve, that people can learn from their mistakes and overcome the fears generated by their ignorance.

Most, if not all, the anti-discrimination laws required are now in place (in this country at least) and need, of course, to be enforced. Further than that, however, the film makes it clear that the struggle needs to be transferred to the individuals level in an effort to change mentalities and social attitudes.

Films like Crash and Brokeback Mountain, whose effect is already evident on the perception of homosexuality, are a proof, if needed, that politically minded films can be successful both critically and financially and that entertainment and engagement can walk hand in hand, making people stop and think and hopefully change their behaviour for the better.

USA, 2004, 113 min / 115 min (director's cut)
Directed and written by Paul Haggis
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Ludacris, Ryan Phillippe

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Monday, 17 April 2006

Currently Reading - The Incas

The Incas - Daniel Peters

This Incas by Daniel Peters

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25% Would Vote for the BNP?

A survey to be published soon shows that up to 25% of voters would consider voting for the BNP. A Home Office minister dismisses the trend as "protest vote" as if this would make it less dangerous.

It is due to such foolish and ill-considered "protest vote" (as well as low turn out) that Jean-Marie Lepen, leader of the National Front party in France found himself in the run for the second round of the presidential elections in 2001.

A true protest vote would, I think, be one with little political implications other than the defeat of the party voted against. Voting for the BNP and other far right parties is in no way neutral and people should consider this before casting their vote, as I am sure they do. My view is that the results of this survey have much more sinister implications. It is also part of trend in several countries on Europe.
[...] we have Jorg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria, Le Pen's Front National in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, the Pim Fortuyn List in Holland. In the recent Swiss election 26% voted for the People's Party after it covered the country with posters showing a black face and the slogan 'The Swiss are becoming Negroes'.

Although they come from a long tradition in this domain, the BNP strongly defend themselves from being a racist and xenophobic party. Yet their discours is mostly focused on immigration and is articulated in terms of race and cultural invasion.
The BNP was formed in 1982 by John Tyndall and a small group of supporters who had previously been involved in the National Front. It is currently led by Nick Griffin who replaced Tyndall in September 1999 after an acrimonious leadership battle. Griffin is a man with an openly fascist past. Griffin was a member of the National Front until 1989 and in the 90s he was advocating defending rights for whites 'with well-directed boots and fists'. He is a Holocaust denier who attacked David Irving, the historical revisionist writer, for being too soft by admitting that the Nazis may have killed some people. He has now however attempting to modernise the BNP in the hope of greater electoral success.
This should deceive no-one. BNP candidates include people with criminal convictions for violence, terrorism, drug-dealing and football hooliganism. Its youth leader and Yorkshire organiser, Mark Collett, recently had to resign after admitting on television that he admired Hitler and wished he'd lived in Nazi Germany. As the anti-racist magazine Searchlight put it: 'Armed robbers, hooligans and Nazis: The BNP has them all!'
The BNP has indeed moderated its policies. It no longer advocates the compulsory expelling of all black people. It still however claims that white people are second-class citizens in Britain and wishes to ban all immigration and to use the overseas aid budget to persuade black people to leave. Its says all asylum seekers should be expelled because they are all either bogus or ought to be somewhere else. Its slogan is 'Help win Britain back for the British'.
Very recently, the selection in Bradford as candidate of one Sharif Abdel Gawad created a strong controversy within the party, where segregationist elements disregarded the fact that this man is actually white (greek-armenian) and Christian.

This morning on the Today Programme, reacting to the survey, the BNP spokesman, Phil Edwards, said that immigrants bring "tribalism, violence and diseases" to this country and that the traditional Christian British culture (the one upholding the values of neighbourly love, no doubt) was in danger.

Well Mr Edwards, your sweeping generalisations are not only offensive, they are wrong.

As an immigrant to this country, I would probably qualify as an economic migrant (the worst sort apparently). Not only am I healthy (in the six odd years I have spent in this country, I have only been three times to see a GP for very minor things), I pay taxes, generating more wealth for this country. Finally, rather than favouring tribalism (which is incidentaly what your party is doing by pitting ethnic groups against each others), I give my time to charities and volunteer organisations which actually work for and support greater social cohesion through the acceptance of minorities. I am sure that the vast majority of immigrants want nothing else than to contribute to a society that would welcome them and live peacefully with their neighbours.

People like you and your hateful, close-minded, petty party do nothing positive to facilitate a peaciful society where people can live in harmony.

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Friday, 14 April 2006

Rosy Glasses

Come back home, Oscar! All is forgiven!

I am just back from seeing Crash, the surprise winner of this year's Oscar for Best Film. It seems that most people were expecting Brockeback Mountain to win and there were more than a few disgruntled people after the results were finally known.

I have to say, I tended to share the general feeling. No so anymore. I think Crash deserved to win as much as BBM.

Using a similar structure to Robert Altman's Short Cuts, this sometimes distressing, sometimes funny film is a powerful tirade against stereotypes and prejudice. Focusing on race relations in LA, the plot highlights the complexity of people's motives and the importance of treating people as individuals with their own stories, qualities and defects.

Despite a rather grim start, the film offers the possibility of redemption and some hope that things may improve, thankfully without falling the trap of the usual happy-clappy american happy ending.

Walking out in this first balmy night, I felt elated to be in London, seeing faces of all colours and shapes, earing languages I could recognise, others I couldn't. Even those damn tourists that seem to be forever in your way didn't seem quite as bad as usual.

This is a beautiful film might give you back your trust in humanity, at least for a few hours. It is one of those films you feel should should be compulsory to watch. Go and see it.

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Currently Reading - Easter

Easter - Michael Arditti
Easter by Michael Arditti

The retelling of the Easter week from the perspective of the congregation of St Mary-In-The-Vale, Hampstead. A funny and moving parbol about God, relationships and AIDS coloured by the blood of human experience. Well written, very perceptive and probably unsettling for those "Good Christians".

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Monday, 10 April 2006

The Week-End

Started as planned on Friday with Slightly's Birthday dinner with a few old friends. As planned too, he received the book I found on the bus on Thursday; wrapped in the first page of Creative Week.

I have a feeling a was a bit more impressed by his other present though. I had jokingly included small folding maps of London to the packages and he seemed to like those to.

The dinner went well and Slightly did indeed seem to forget his birthday blues.

I had an all day rehearsal for the upcoming show on Saturday...

On Sunday, after the Weekly-Cultural-Outing-to-Tesco and scrumbing the bathroom (I live such a glamourous life!), I met up with Slightly again for an introduction to his brother TE. Things seem to be getting serious between us if he is starting to introduce me to his family! Although the two brothers don't exactly look alike, they are very clearly made from the same clay.

Between running the shops of the a military jacket and going to see a film, we did not have to much time to talk but the brother seemed a nice enough chap. The film we went to was Memoirs of a Geisha. It was much better than the trailer seemed to promise and, as far as I could remember, fairly accurate an adaptation of the book. It was also beautifully shot but not quite as enjoyable as the director's first effort for the big screen. I think the problem was that there was no time for exposition at the beginning of the film which would have allowed us to warm to the characters. It all looked very glossy but I could not really relate.

After the film, I left Slightly and TE. They went to Wong Key for dinner while I rushed to ciname next door for a second service of filmic delights. This time it was a French comedy I had wanted to see for while: Cockles and Muscles. I wasn't disappointed. This is a light and fluffy summer holiday flick which makes you laugh throughout and puts a smile on your face as you leave the cinema.

Before the film we were also treated to the screening of lovely short film by Hong Khaou. A coming out story between two teenaged friends filmed on Hampstead Heath called Summer; members of the cast (including the rather lovely Peter Peralta were there for a quick Q&A. The short will be shown with Cockles and Muscles throughout its run at the Curzon Soho cinema.

This morning, the new week (9 days to go before the end of my stint where I work now!!!) started with a bit of a shock. As I was having breakfast, one hear on the today programme, I suddenly recognise the voice of one of my new partner, with whom I had dinner on Firday at Slightly's do...

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Conflicting views

I had two interesting emails in my inbox this morning, showing the diverging tensions within the Christian movement in the US.

First an email sent to the Boston Gay Men's Chorus membership (and forwarded to us by one of our members (of the London Gay Men's Chorus) whose boyfriend sings with them) warning of a possible demonstration by local right wingers during one of their concerts at a local school (which took place yesterday) in support of PFLAG. The email included this link to the Christian activists' site and a revealing letter from one of those people to the Headmaster of the school in question.

And let's remember that this is Massachusetts, one of the more progressive States.

The other email I received went as follows:

My name is Jim Johnson and I write a blog titled “Straight, Not Narrow.” It promotes GLBT equality in Christianity and politics and addresses the agendas of those narrow minded people who are determined to prevent it. I am a member of Equality Maryland, a gay rights activist organization, and PFLAG DC.
I attend a GLBT-affirming church and I want to share what I am learning about God’s love and acceptance of us ALL with this blog. I hope to help the GLBT community by demonstrating that they have straight advocates within the church, and I also hope to reach straight people who are not as accepting and give them something to think and pray about.
I would appreciate it if you would post a link to my blog on your site. Of course, I would be happy to reciprocate.
Thanks for your consideration,
Jim Johnson


Go and say hello to Jim.

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Friday, 7 April 2006

Oh Dear!

My 76 year old mother (yes, they married late), who bought herself a computer a couple of years ago after only a few evening classes on Word, has got got herself an MSN account. Of course she has a young guy from the village to do all the tecchy bits for her but I think this is quite impressive...

The next thing, she is going to tell me she has a blog going.

Just going to have to stop using those rude pics when I log on...

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Books, Gender and Birthdays

Last night I went to the Women's Library to see a screening of Orlando based on Virginia Woolf's book of the same name. Although I read the book some years ago, I had never seen the film and was quite curious.

I got to the venue early and had the time to check out an small exhibition they have on display at the moment, called "What Women Want". It charts the feminist struggles from the suffragettes movement till the end of the 1970's. All along I was expected to see a picture or mention of the name of my new (business) partner, Linda Bellos. Although there were a few copies of Spare Ribs at hand (of which she was a member), the exhibition was probably not in depth enough to focus on individuals.

There were also very few mentions of lesbians and lesbianism in the exhibition, which seems a little surprising considering, that this "alternative" sexuality was often used as a political devise for segregationist feminists who didn't want anything to do with men...

Probably quite foolishly, I was feeling a little self conscious as a male in this temple of femininity, thankfully everybody was very nice and I was eventually joined by two other members of my sex. With about 30 people attending the screening, we were still very much in the minority though.

It was funny to be able to recognise almost of type in all those women, which I can only try to sum up by mentioning the words "lesbian", "middle class", "arty" and "English" together. Not that any of these women had to be all or even any of these things but I think this summons the right mental image.

The film was very nice and as entertaining as I remembered the book. Very ironic and self parodying. I particularly enjoyed the music. Seeing Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth 1st was also quite a treat.

An academic was there to give us some background and I was quite surprised, considering its subject matter, to learn that the book had been published successfully at the time (1928) when The Well of Loneliness was going through its obscenity trial. Unfortunately, the guess speaker could not really bring any precision on this.

Happy Birthday, biatch!On the way to the event, I found a book on the number 40 bus. I have no interest in reading it but I respect books too much to allow one to go to the bin, which would probably have been its destiny had I left it there. It is the 1975 paperback edition of a 1943 book called Bomber Pilot and seems to be the reminiscence of a World War II... err... bomber pilot.

I think this will make a lovely extra birthday present for Slightly, later tonight... Much closer to his tastes then mine. He likes non fiction and travel books...

Happy Birthday, biatch!

Thursday, 6 April 2006

Currently Reading - Parallel Lies

Parallele Lies - Stella Duffy
Parallele Lies by Stella Duffy

This is for the next meeting of my reading group. The author has kindly agreed to attend...

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Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Night out, Slightly style

It started like many other evenings with Master Slightly. A phone call or an email lamenting the wind-swept horizon of an empty evening with nothing planned. A suggestion to meet up for "food and stuff". The unexpected, this time round, however, was that Slightly, for cosmetic reasons (I would have to take a shower to feel at ease if he cycled to far), requested that we meet in deepest “sarf” London; in Forrest Hill, which he ended up reaching by train anyway.

After an aimless walk uphill and back to try and see some evanescent converted 1930’s hotel which had apparently in its hay-days offered shelter to Noel Coward and his lover as well as Agatha Christie, we decided it was time to try and get something warm inside our poor clamouring bodies.

The local Wetherspoon pub is located in the Capitol, a former music hall, where Mr Coward was, at some time, equally generous with his dear person as he was in the hotel up the hill, albeit in different ways. The impressive space was unfortunately mostly full and we found ourselves relegated to a darkish corner in what used to be the foyer of the venue.

After umming and arring over the menu for a few minute, Slightly did the gentlemanly thing and went to the bar to order. He even remembered to take note of the table number. Things were obviously going too smoothly. He was very quickly back with the news that food was not being served that evening due to the kitchen being closed…

We found ourselves in the now quickly darkening and cooling evening. After a short distance, Slightly pointed out a place called “Question” which he described, for reasons still unknown to me, as "good". After finding the right door (not the condemned one, Slightly!), we went in and sat at a table for four. The place was reasonably empty and welcoming.

Slightly again went to order our food (tonight was his turn to pay) and got chatted up by the waiter (so he says anyway) who also informed him that most of the people present had just walked in and that there would therefore be delays in the delivery of our burgers.

The place very quickly filled up until an elderly couple (in their mid 60’s) came up to our table enquiring about the availablity of the remaining chairs at our table. Slightly and I both thought they were going to take them to another table and were therefore rather nonplussed and discomfitted when the pair settled down in front of us.

Our dismay grew even more palpable when they both lit up…

Soon after this, the background music suddenly stopped and a voice announced the belated start of tonight’s quiz night session. No wonder the place was so popular.

After retrieving, in extremis, our cutlery which the man in front of us was about to dispose of to clear the table, thinking for some reason that we had already had our food, the said food was delivered and we started eating more or less in silence under the rather belligerent sideway looks of the female of the species.

Being French (that is in anycase Slightly’s explanation for the phenomenon), I like to eat my chips with mayonnaise. As is often the case in pubs in this country, the stuff is available in little bags hermetically sealed, which always require far more calories to open than they will eventually provide.

One of these little bags, a particularly recalcitrant one, ended up between my dainty figures and seemed about to win the battle thus engaged. After a few frustrating instants of trying to tear the drasted thing open, I appealed to Slightly and his, much publicised and barely proven, butchness for help. He must have been on a day sans…

After renewing my efforts, I left the field triumphant both of the mischievous bag of mayonnaise and of the unflattering indictment of my abilities, Slightly usually enjoys weaving.

In the meantime, the quiz had started and I could not resist taking a few peeps at the answer sheet of our new friends. Although they appeared to be familiars with the event (they addressed the waiter-cum-quiz-master quite informally), they did not seem to fare very well.

Slightly and I, perhaps uncharitably, mocked.

Having finished our food, and halfway through the second series of questions, dedicated to Sherlock Holmes, with the beats of what appeared to be a club in the basement growing steadily more audible in the background, we made our hasty retreat.

We walked a little more in the night, passing the local Sainsbury’s which is apparently (information provided by Slightly, there again) the gayest in London and very cruisy too. I can’t think how he knows these things…

As we progressed, I took great care, all too aware of Slightly’s limited abilities in this respect, to note the path we were following lest my guide (and I do use the term loosely here), should suddenly relinquish his role, however involuntarily…

On the way, we witnessed another example of the incredible and totally unexpected cultural life seemingly flourishing in those estranged parts. A man, (“and he is cute too”, quips Slightly), strumming his guitar, was singing to a disparate and spars audience on a pub stage.

By then my limited faculties had been strained to their limits by this foray into unknown territories and I decided it was time to hail a reassuringly familiar bus and make my shaky way to more welcoming skies. Slightly went to fetch his bike and, doing the manly thing again, took the train home with it.

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First Fifteen

click here for more information

The London Gay Men's Chorus are celebrating their fifteenth anniversary this year. fifteen years of entertaining and educating the crowds through music. From humble beginnings in Angel Station (which had to be closed due to the number of people who stopped by to listen), we have gone from strength to strength to turn into a major player on the London gay and arts scene. With about 200 members, we are Europe's biggest a gay choir and one of the best all male choirs in the UK.

Within the first six months of my joining the Chorus (in 2002), I had performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (twice), the Royal Albert Hall, the Aussie Stadium and the Sydney Opera House to name but the most prestigious and I had recorded my first CD...

And all this with an open access policy, which means that anybody can join regardless of their musical abilities.

Oh! and did I mention we are fun to watch too? Far from being your usual "en-penguined" choir, we sing everything from classical to pop, through folk and jazz and even have dreaded (for us to learn anyway) choralographies!

To celebrate all this, we are having a little sing-song at the Cadogan Hall on the 29th of April. I hope to see you there. Come and say hello at the bar afterwards too.

WE are also taking the show to St David's Hall in Cardiff on 15th July and to Turin on 12th September as part of their prestigious festival.

For details and to book online, click on the picture above or visit our website at www.lgmc.org.uk

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Sunday, 2 April 2006

Tubes Night Out

I was walking home from the West End tonight after a long afternoon all filled up with Chorus stuff (a extra rehearsal with some of the tenor 1 section followed by a meal and a stop at the Yard) when getting ready to cross the Cut just outside the Old Vic, I notice that Baylis Road was closed to traffic and blocked with a number of lorries and a massive crane. I walked slowly one when I spotted on the other side of the little bit of greenery at the corner of Baylis Road and Waterloo Road what looked like a tube carriage. I got closer and realised that I wasn't mistaken. There were two other carriages already at the back of lorries parked along and ready to go. These are carriages from the Waterloo and City line which is being closed for a while for engineering works.

As I had realised earlier, the batteries of my camera had decided to die to tonight. I took of couple of bad pictures with my camera phone and rushed home in the hope of finding spare batteries before going back.
The results (rather crappy) are below.

And someone even saw those carriages fly....

Now where did I put that anorak?!

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