Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Sudanese Filmmakers Who Fled War Screen Work in Nairobi

When an award-winning Sudanese filmmaker documented the journey of Sudan’s martial arts team, which traveled by road to Kenya for an international championship in 2019, he did not know that four years later he would be taking a similar path as he did in the film “Journey to Kenya” but for completely different reasons. VOA Nairobi Bureau Chief Mariama Diallo recently attended the screening of his movie and those of other Sudanese filmmakers and has this story.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Asian Games Open Saturday in China

The Asian Games are an attention grabber. For starters, they involve more participants than the Summer Olympics. Organizers say more than 12,000 will be entered when the opening ceremony takes place Saturday in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. That is more than the 10,500 expected for next year’s Paris Olympics.

The giant numbers are partly due to the staggering array of events with many regional specialties, sports, and games you won’t find in the Olympics. And there’s also cricket, which appears headed to the Olympics as soon as 2028 in Los Angeles, and certainly for 2032 in Brisbane, Australia.

And there’s squash, which has tried several times for Olympic recognition.

The regional fare includes dragon boat racing, sepaktakraw — sometimes called “kick volleyball — wushu, a Chinese martial art, and kabaddi, a popular contact sport on the Indian subcontinent. There is also the non-Olympic martial art of ju-jitsu, and kurash, a form of wrestling popular in central Asia.

To this, add a long list of what organizers call “mind sports” from bridge to chess to xiangqi (Chinese chess) to esports.

Of course, there are the old standbys seen in every Olympics like track and field, swimming, or volleyball — and the usual grandiose opening and closing ceremonies. Nine sports will offer qualification spots for the Olympics — archery, artistic swimming, boxing, breaking, hockey, modern pentathlon, sailing, tennis, and water polo.

However, most of the 481 events offer a chance for smaller delegations to win medals, which is often impossible at the Olympics.

China won almost 300 overall medals at the last Asian Games in Indonesia in 2018. At the bottom of the table, Syria and Nepal won a lone medal each. Bhutan and Bangladesh were among nine delegations that didn’t win any.

China will dominate the medal table as it has for the last 40 years, followed by Japan and South Korea — Asia’s other powers. The vast region stretches from Lebanon on the Mediterranean, through central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, to North Korea with organizers saying 45 nations or territories are entered.

Organizers have said 191 participants from North Korea will be on hand. North Korea closed its border early in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic and skipped the Tokyo Olympics, which were delayed a year until 2021. The Asian Games were also pushed back a year from 2022 because of the pandemic.

According to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, the last time North Korean athletes appeared in an international sports competition was January 2020, when North Korea competed in the Asian Football Confederation’s under-23 soccer championship.

If you like political intrigue, there may be plenty of it.

The self-governing island of Taiwan will be on hand in China, which claims the democracy as a breakaway province that it has vowed to reclaim. Known as the Republic of China, the island is officially listed as Chinese Taipei in the Olympics and Asian Games and marches under a white flag adorned with the Olympics rings. Its red, blue and white flag is not allowed.

Taiwan, with only 23.5 million, is a relative sports power in the region and finished seventh in the overall medal standings in Indonesia.

The games also begin amid an open power struggle between International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, a long-time IOC member who is often described as the “kingmaker” who helped Bach win the IOC presidency in Buenos Aires in 2013.

The Switzerland-based IOC openly intervened in July to invalidate the presidential election of the Olympic Council of Asia. It has also suspended Sheikh Ahmad from the IOC.

The election was ostensibly won by Kuwait’s Sheikh Talal Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the younger brother of Sheikh Ahmad. The elder sheikh is the former 30-year president of the OCA, an organization that was created by his father.

The IOC says it will continue to recognize Randhir Singh of India as interim president of the OCA until new elections are held. Bach will attend the opening ceremony in Hangzhou and is sure to have talks with Singh.

The biggest event of the games might be a possible India vs. Pakistan gold-medal game in men’s cricket on Oct. 7, which would be one of the most-watched global sports events all year. It comes just as cricket’s world cup is also under way.

China will again dominate diving, and several of China’s top swimmers — fresh from the world championships two months ago in Fukuoka, Japan — will shine. The field in gymnastics is weakened since the world championships in Antwerp, Belgium, clash with the Asian Games.

The biggest winner at the Asian Games might be South Korea esports star Lee Sang-hyeok, who is also known as “Faker.” If he wins gold he will be granted an exemption from military service.

Tottenham Hotspur soccer forward Son Heung-min also bypassed a 21-month military stint because of a government exemption when South Korea won the gold medal in soccer at the 2018 games in Indonesia — although Son still had to do three months of basic training. 

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Rupert Murdoch, Creator of Fox News, Stepping Down as Head of News Corp. and Fox Corp.

Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old media magnate who created Fox News, is stepping down as leader of both Fox’s parent company and his News Corp. media holdings.

Fox said Thursday that Murdoch would become chairman emeritus of both companies. His son, Lachlan, will become News Corp. chairman and continue as chief executive officer of Fox Corp.

Lachlan Murdoch said that “we are grateful that he will serve as chairman emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies.”

Besides Fox News, Murdoch started the Fox broadcast network, the first to successfully challenge the Big Three of ABC, CBS and NBC. He is owner of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.

Murdoch is a force in the conservative world, where Fox News Channel has profoundly influenced television and the nation’s politics since its start in 1996.

Murdoch vowed in a letter to employees that he would remain engaged at Fox.

“In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas, Murdoch wrote. “Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest.”

There was no immediate word on why Murdoch’s announcement came now. Ironically, it is the week author and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff is publishing a book, “The End of Fox News,” speculating on what will happen to the network when the patriarch is gone.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Virginia Visitors Splatter Stress Away in Paint Room

Just outside of Washington, D.C., in Northern Virginia, there is a place where anyone can release their inner painter and splatter their stress away. Maxim Adams has the story. Videographer: Sergey Sokolov; Video editor: Sergey Sokolov, Anna Rice     

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

London’s Historic Blue Plaques Seek More Diversity as 1,000th Marker Is Unveiled

A resounding thump breaks the silence as Jaulia Land drops a lump of grey-brown clay onto the slab roller before Ned Heywood cranks it through the machine once, twice, three times, creating a rectangle about an inch thick. 

Laying a pattern on top of the slab, Heywood slices through the clay to create a disc the size of an extra-large pizza that will become one of the blue plaques that dot the walls of buildings throughout London, marking the places where scientists, artists, politicians and activists have made history.

As English Heritage unveiled its 1,000th blue plaque on Tuesday, the charity was working to broaden the program to include more women, people from minority ethnic backgrounds and community groups so that it better reflects the diversity of the capital.

The latest installation marks the offices where the Women’s Freedom League “campaigned for women’s equality” in the early 20th century, satisfying at least two of those goals.

“The names are no longer just English names, which is significant because, you know, the people who’ve come to this country from all over the world have made a disproportionately large contribution,” Heywood said at his workshop, a converted 18th century pub in the Welsh town of Chepstow, 180 kilometers (110 miles) west of London. “It’s changing now, which is very much for the good.” 

The blue plaque program, which began in 1866 and is believed to be the first of its kind, provides an informal historical walking tour of London that commemorates notable people and their accomplishments by highlighting the places where they lived and worked.

The honorees include famous figures from wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill to communist pioneer Karl Marx, as well as lesser-known figures such as theatrical wigmaker Willy Clarkson and civil engineer William Lindley, who built water and sewage systems around the world. There are also plaques honoring foreigners including India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and American rock star Jimi Hendrix, who lived in London only briefly. 

But English Heritage, which has sponsored the program since 1986, is concerned that past honorees were overwhelmingly white and male. Just 15% of the plaques honor women and less than 5% celebrate people from Black and Asian backgrounds.

The charity, which manages some 400 monuments, medieval castles, Roman forts and country houses around England, is trying to encourage more nominations of women and people from minority ethnic groups while retaining high standards for entry into the exclusive club, said Anna Eavis, the curatorial director.

Plaques unveiled recently include Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, a suffragette and critic of British rule in India; Ottobah Cugoano, a native of present-day Ghana who was enslaved in Grenada and campaigned against slavery after gaining his freedom; and Ada Salter, the first woman to be elected mayor of a London borough.

“London is hugely diverse and it has always been, hasn’t it?” Eavis said. “And so it is important to ensure that we’re reflecting that diversity, that richness of contribution on London streets.”

Diana Yeh, a senior lecturer in sociology at City University of London, said broadening the reach of programs like the blue plaques is “an essential part of remembering invisible histories.” But heritage organizations must do more to discuss the “troubling aspects” of English history, including slavery and colonialism, she added.

“In a way it’s very easy to celebrate well-known figures who are marginalized, but it’s much harder to do that difficult work of acknowledging Britain’s difficult past,” said Yeh, whose work focuses on race, racism and cultural politics. “But this needs to be done for the benefit of future generations.” 

English Heritage installs a dozen blue plaques each year, selected from about 100 nominations. A committee reviews the nominees to decide which ones warrant commemoration and to ensure there is a real connection between each honoree and the site where the plaque is to be installed.

Once a decision is made, the order goes out to Heywood’s studio, which has been making plaques for English Heritage since 2016.

Over a period of six weeks, Heywood and Land roll and cut the clay, inscribe the disc with the honoree’s name and accomplishments, then apply the characteristic blue glaze and fire it in a kiln. It’s a process that creates an almost indestructible monument that should last as long as the building to which it’s attached — as long as the plaques don’t crack when they’re baked at 1,300° C (2,370° F).

“We pray to gods of the kiln,” Heywood said.

While the first plaque, honoring the poet Lord Byron, was destroyed when the building it adorned was demolished, the second, installed in 1867, still marks the house where Napoleon III, the last French emperor, lived in exile.

Plaque number 1,000 honors the Women’s Freedom League, a suffragist organization that used 1 Robert Street in central London as its base of operations during its most active period.

The group, which had the motto “Dare to be free,” aimed for total emancipation for women. It advocated nonpayment of taxes and backed a boycott of the 1911 census as ways to pressure the government to allow women to vote.

Heywood and Land feel the responsibility of the blue plaques intensely.

Heywood has a soft spot for scientists, who he says are the real heroes in improving people’s lives. Politicians? Not so much. They come and go.

“Blue plaques are carefully considered, the people are thoroughly researched, and the plaques are there for a reason,” he added. “And will be there forever.”

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Iranian Soccer Fans Flock to Ronaldo’s Hotel After Saudi Team Arrives in Tehran

Hundreds of soccer fans stormed into a hotel in Tehran on Monday, hoping for a glimpse of star player Cristiano Ronaldo after he arrived with his Saudi teammates ahead of a game. 

Chanting “Ronaldo, Ronaldo,” the fans pushed past police, filling the corridors and public spaces of the Espinas Palace Hotel. 

Ronaldo arrived on his first visit to Iran with the Saudi football club Al-Nassr, which is set to play Iran’s Persepolis in Tehran on September 19. The return game will be played in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on November 27. 

Ronaldo was the first of several big-name players to accept lavish contracts to play for Saudi teams. The oil-rich kingdom is spending billions of dollars to try to transform itself into a sports and entertainment powerhouse. 

The Asian Champions League games are made possible by the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia following an agreement brokered by China earlier this year. The longtime rivals had severed ties in 2016 after an angry crowd stormed Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran to protest Saudi Arabia’s execution of a popular Shiite cleric. 

The 2015 Asian Champions League edition was the last time Saudi and Iranian teams faced each other on home turf in the group stage or knockout rounds. 

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

NY Fashion Show Aims to Educate, Dispell Stigma of Sexual Assault

New York Fashion Week is generally known as a showcase for fashion designers, and the celebrities that wear their clothes. But several shows held on the sidelines are trying to call attention not only to fashion but to serious and difficult issues like sexual assault. VOA’s Rendy Wicaksana reports from New York

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

‘American Fiction’ Wins People’s Choice Award at Toronto Film Festival

Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction,” a biting satire starring Jeffrey Wright as a disillusioned academic, has won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, a much-watched bellwether in the Oscar race.

“American Fiction” is the directorial debut of Jefferson, the veteran TV writer of “Watchmen” and “Succession,” and an adaptation of Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasure.” The film, about an author who resents that the literary industry is only interested in “Black books” that cater to the stereotypes of white audiences, emerged as a breakout hit at TIFF.

Toronto’s audience award winner, voted on by festival attendees, has historically nearly always signified a best-picture contender at the Academy Awards. Since 2012, every People’s Choice winner at TIFF has gone on to score a best-picture nod. In 2018, when “Green Book” won, it announced the film as a surprise awards contender. (Peter Farrelly’s film went on to win best picture at the Oscars.) Last year, Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” won Toronto’s top prize.

First runner-up went to Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” starring Paul Giamatti as a curmudgeonly boarding school teacher tasked with staying with a handful of students over Christmas break in the 1970s. Second runner-up was Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron,” the long-awaited latest Studio Ghibli film from the Japanese anime master.

“American Fiction,” which MGM will release in theaters Nov. 3, co-stars Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae and Tracee Ellis Ross. In an interview, Jefferson said he immediately connected with Everett’s book.

“I was having the exact same conversations with Black colleagues in both professions: Why are we always writing about misery and trauma and violence and pain inflicted on Blacks?” said Jefferson. “Why is this what people expect from us? Why is this the only thing we have to offer to culture?”

The Toronto International Film Festival, which wraps Sunday, was diminished this year due to the ongoing actors and writers strikes. Red-carpet premieres were mostly without movie stars, detracting from some of the buzz that the largest film festival in North American typically generates. It followed a similarly strike-affected Venice Film Festival, where the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, went to Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things.” (That film skipped TIFF.)

The People’s Choice winner for documentary went to Robert McCallum’s “Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe” and the midnight madness award went to Larry Charles’ “Dicks: The Musical.” The festival’s juried competition awards were given to Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s “Dear Jassi,” winner of the Platform section, and Meredith Hama-Brown’s “Seagrass,” which took the FIPRESCI award from international critics.