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4. Keeping Athena Company – Gavino di Vino

June 17, 2019

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-h68ka-b4c671

In this episode I am joined by Gavino di Vino. Gavino is an actor and writer I met in Edinburgh almost 4 years ago and we’ve been hanging out ever since. Gavino is one of the most intelligent people I know – he speaks five languages fluently (including Russian!), is phenomenally well versed in art, history and fashion. He’s a very cool guy to be around. Amongst a whole host of subjects we skip through identity, class, being a polyglot, hate crime, travel and festivals with saunas – which I did not know was a thing. 

Does Gavino look familiar? You’ve probably seen him already in this video that went viral and gained him a new set of fans from across the world.

More about Gavino:

Gavino di Vino is a London-based actor and writer. He was raised between Wirral and Wigan in the north west of England and has lived in London since 2014.

His play, AUNTIE, a tragicomedy about an African Hackney family, has been defined by The Guardian as ‘exuberantly idiosyncratic’, and he’s been featured as the face of a UK-wide campaign celebrating diversity for BBC, Perfect Day. Fluent in French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, he’s an internationally-focussed artist, working with Royal Academy of ArtsSoho House and Pushkin House.

 

Find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @Gavinodivino

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3. Keeping Athena Company – Nathan Foad

June 4, 2019

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-j6six-b35f92

In Episode 3 I am joined by comedy screenwriter Nathan Foad. I’ve worked with Nathan and it’s always quality bants when he’s around so I couldn’t wait to break his fried plantain virginity and have a good old catch up about life. We talk about drama school, growing up in a chip shop and the glamour of WW2 evacuee children, amongst other things.

Watch out for the ‘c-word’ near the end if you are listening in the car with your kids, and yes, the babble you can hear in the background is the child who inspired this podcast. I won’t let the their reluctance to nap stop me from living my best life.

More about Nathan:

Nathan is a comedy writer and former bully’s wet dream. He has written things for Channel 4 and Sky, most recently scripting an episode of The Young Offenders for BBC3/RTE.

Originally from Newark-on-Trent, Nathan is a bravely gay person who writes about class, bodies and queerness. 

That makes it all sound quite worthy. Mostly it’s just jokes about his Mum.

2. Keeping Athena Company – Sinta Tantra

May 20, 2019

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-zeb3b-b1d9fe

Sinta Tantra is a contemporary artist who exhibits art all around the world. Our friendship started one summer in Camden, North London when she was asked by a very naive and clueless project manager to paint a 40m bridge…

Sinta pops round for a chat and we talk about how people can make sense of modern art when it’s often toilets and unmade beds to the naked eye and how our heritage influences our creativity. Of course, when south Asian, Caribbean, Indian and African DNA meet in a kitchen, we have to talk about food too.

Find Sinta on Instgram and Twitter (@sintatantra), her art is truly sensational. 

Also visit http://www.sintatantra.com

More about Sinta:

A British artist of Balinese descent, Sinta Tantra was born in New York in 1979. She studied in London at the Slade School of Fine Art (1999-2003) and at the Royal Academy Schools (2004-06). 

Highly regarded for her site-specific murals and installations in the public realm, commissions include; Facebook London (2018); Folkestone Triennial (2017) Newnham College, Cambridge University (2016); Songdo South Korea (2015); Royal British Society of Sculptors (2013); Liverpool Biennial (2012); Southbank Centre (2007). Tantra’s most notable public work includes a 300-metre long painted bridge commissioned for the 2012 Olympics, Canary Wharf, London. 

 

Solo shows include: Your Private Sky (Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London 2018); A House in Bali (ISA Art Advisory, Jakarta 2017), Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Pearl Lam Gallery, Hong Kong 2016) and Fantastic Chromatic (Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London 2015). International group shows include; Voyage to Indonesia, The World Bank, Washington (2018); Tetap Terang / Always Bright, ISA Jakarta 2018; High Noon, Accademia Belle Arti di Rome, Rome (2017), Quotidian, Pearl Lam Gallery, Shanghai (2017). A recipient of many awards including the British Council’s International Development Award (2014); and Deutsche Bank Award (2006), Tantra’s work has been featured in both UK and international press including The Guardian, The Evening Standard, Tate Shots, Architectural Digest, Wall Street International Magazine, The Jakarta Post, iD Indonesia, etc.

Exploring Conditions in South Africa

April 26, 2018

This is a thought provoking hour of discussion on post-Zuma South Africa. I am sharing it because it gave me food for thought and made me question my own understanding of the country as it stands right now:

It’s almost an hour so if you can’t listen to it here are some key points I digested from the conversation:

  • Zuma was problematic but it is the responsibility of the beneficiaries of Apartheid to do something about inequality in South Africa

A lot is made of the ineffectiveness of the ANC in reducing inequality (SA is one of the most unequal places in the planet) but how much are they supposed to achieve in 20 years when white supremacy was practiced for 300 years – and is still being practiced today? It is for the people who benefited economically and socially from those centuries of oppression to correct injustice. The SA government could be the least corrupt authority on earth, it would make no difference the efficacy of democracy if the people who lived good from apartheid do not concede their ill-gotten gains.  This means the money from reconstruction needs to come from rich whites and the few wealthy Coloureds and Africans – not the middle and lower classes.

  • Western complicity in Apartheid needs to be acknowledged

Both Thatcher and Reagan were happy endorsers of the regime, even if through ambivalence. Positioning Apartheid as an anomaly and not a system that western capitalism was entirely comfortable with puts countries on a moral high ground which is entirely undeserving. It also means the current economic practice in the country, which mirrors western capitalism, goes unchallenged.

  • How can we expect South Africa to be a socialist country if no other country in the world is?

This is an excellent point! Wealth redistribution and fairer economic policies sound great on paper, but those ideas couldn’t even win an election in the UK. We also know that socialism, particularly on the African continent, get’s undermined via the west’s steadfast commitment to  intervention and environmentally unsustainable practices. For example, having a workforce available who will accept low wages and industrial jobs which keep them in a cycle of poverty, damages the environment, but keeps business owners wealthy.

Before western presence, African nations practiced social and economic systems based on communalism, small states and harmony with natural resources.  The western model that presses nations to prioritise economic growth over economic parity, that also insists the state has a monopoly on violence will always fail South African and other transitional democracies.

  • Post apartheid deals were too generous – they avoided a race war but at what cost?

De Clerk was awarded the Nobel Peace prize alongside Mandela which is crazy when you think about it because he was an active participant in apartheid (and you don’t get more active than being the president!). So the tone was already set for post-apartheid politicking, acknowledging the centuries of injustice whilst not holding enough people to account for it. This can be seen as reasonable;  creating a wider divide would have been catastrophic. White south Africans who believed in apartheid had proven themselves to be depraved enough to fight a race war viciously,  and would have won as they had money, weapons, education and allies. And they had plenty of allies, don’t forget western capitalism had no problem with a segregated South Africa, western capitalism invented it. So the formation of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ was prescient on the perception of mercifulness on behalf of the Africans who white people had been kind enough to emancipate – which is how some people saw it.

 

Unless you’re on the side of white supremacy, you’re probably not going to win an election in Britain

May 12, 2017

 

It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

I am not saying Labour are perfect. Labour have not been impressive for the past few years. The fact is, JC’s leadership has done nothing to change this. He is pretty left wing. Even I disagree with a few points on the Labour 20 point economic plan (points 2, 3, 4, 10, and 19 if you’re interested).

However, despite my reservations, the Conservatives are there for the taking. They gained power in 2010 and 2015 positioning themselves as stronger on the economy, education and immigration. They promised small government, big society and prosperity for all. They have delivered on nothing.

Their successive governments form a long list of U-turns (1, 2, 3), broken manifesto commitments (4), public spending cuts and unsuccessful welfare reform. They have missed all their economic targets (5) and migration targets (6). Their 24/7 NHS proposals whipped staff into a frenzy unknown to modern British politics. Their education reforms have driven down government spending in schools (7), driven up inequality (8) and been deemed unsuccessful in achieving their objective to raise standards (9).

Council tenants unable to afford private housing are penalised via the bedroom tax. Benefit caps introduced in 2013 have not resulted in claimants moving into work (10) and use of food banks, a service barely in our political lexicon before 2010, escalates every year (11).

This is on top of rises in university tuition fees, VAT, stamp duty, business expenses and income tax for higher earners.

So why is it so hard to win the argument against them?

White supremacy is the one aspect of British life that a Conservative government will never threaten.

Of a population of around 63 million people, only 8-9% of individuals identify as non-white British. This section of the population is then further divided amongst racial, religious and cultural lines that segment it into insignificance. Outside of local and regional elections where concentrations of a BAME population can represent an influential voting bloc, non-white British voices are drowned out by a majority over-represented in media and politics, who can use their vote to express an otherwise suppressed ‘cultural anxiety’ (12).

Othering has worked since 1637 (13) and this principal has been used by every major party since to win elections. Time and time again the British public has proved they will permit personal financial or civil loss if you can make a vote for one party look advantageous for “white Britain” as a whole.

What’s worse, these deluded values are driven by the fear of immigration, not the reality of it. Some of the least diverse areas of the country voted for Brexit. Areas of the country drowning in EU funding voted for Brexit.

Everyone criticised the Brexit campaign for using straight up racism but I don’t recall many Remainers championing migration from people outside of the EU. They were largely silent when it was decided that non-EU immigrants could only settle in the UK if they earned more than £35,000 (14), £8,000 more than the national average. Now the rights of EU (read: white) citizens are under threat and suddenly migration becomes the great cause of the modern age. White supremacy is an issue that affects the left and right.

When the mere thought of the other is considered more harmful than actual economic loss, rational politics don’t cut the English mustard.

It is the privilege of the Labour Party leadership to think the moral high ground is enough. Re-distribution of wealth isn’t attractive to a British population who thinks it’s already in the right hands (the irony being, most of the top 20 richest Britons are immigrants). They don’t care about big business because they have no proximity to these faceless corporations. Besides, big corporations represent the dream – they should exploit the planet and it’s resources, it’s their supreme right. Why should big business pay for the NHS? It’s their money, they worked hard for their money, they’re not the enemy. It’s hard to picture Amazon as the enemy when brown faces and people with unpronounceable surnames are on the high streets of little Britain. Why is it Vodafone’s fault if a person can’t get a GP appointment? People have always been more offended by political correctness than some big company’s tax return.

The truth is, this country is scared. A massive section of the electorate would trade the NHS for the good ol’ days when their needs were prioritised, diversity quotas meant burning corks and playgrounds were death traps.

New Labour won in 1997 by the subtle triggering of ‘cool Britannia’ and fanning the embers of the financial service sector. People could deal with 1/10th of the Spice Girls being Afro-Caribbean because they had 95% mortgages and new cars. The electorate was made comfortable that their perceived superiority would continue unabashed. Now, there is no promise of wealth to distract them, so what do they do? They fall back into neo-conservatism; they would rather have no wealth than wealth that can be shared or taken from billionaires they are more willing to relate to than an immigrant.

The current ‘them’ and ‘us’ politics isn’t working for Labour because for Britain, ‘them’ isn’t defined as Starbucks or people who earn more than £80,000 a year. ‘Them’ is always going to imply people who are coming over here and taking jobs.

JC wants people to think like him. But you need an education for that which can’t be learnt in 5 weeks.

The ratings are in plain sight. The Conservatives run a terrible government but they have never been so popular. We need to stop scratching our heads over this. We need to wake up and smell the bigotry.

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9617519/37-coalition-climbdowns-u-turns-and-row-backs.html
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/28/coalition-u-turn-list-full
  3. http://www.lbc.co.uk/politics/parties/conservatives/theresa-may/theresas-u-turns-key-tory-policy-reversals/
  4. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/yvette-cooper/election-promises-broken_b_7949232.html
  5. http://uk.businessinsider.com/this-is-why-george-osborne-misses-his-deficit-targets-over-and-over-again–and-why-he-might-keep-missing-them-2015-6
  6. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/25/we-dont-want-silly-promises-on-immigration-from-theresa-may—we/
  7. https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8027
  8. http://www.smf.co.uk/publications/educational-inequalities-in-england-and-wales/
  9. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-38157811
  10. https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8717
  11. https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/
  12. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/05/white-working-class-trump-cultural-anxiety/525771/
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbados_Slave_Code
  14. http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7264

Symbolism and Meanings in Get Out

May 11, 2017

THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS do not read this if you haven’t seen the movie

Film Title: Get Out

I can’t remember a film that has made me think like Jordan Peele’s Get Out. After seeing it a second time I decided to compile all the hidden meanings  I uncovered. Some might have been intended by the filmmaker, some may be from my interpretation. Some are just interesting little inserts whilst others are more meaningful symbols. I have definitely missed many explanations. But all combine to make one of the most elaborately textured films of the modern era.

  1. Chris Washington

I think he was intentionally named after George Washington. The first president of the United States owned slaves before becoming an abolitionist.

2. Redbone

Our introduction to Chris and Rose is accompanied with Redbone. A song about unfaithfulness, it’s chorus has the lyric ‘stay woke’ – advice to both Chris and the audience who are being advised to watch the film carefully.

  1. Rose stops Chris from being ID’d, and Chris is grateful

It’s been well documented that this was to prevent documentation of Chris’ journey. However, I am more interested in his response to Rose’s chivalry. It’s a warning for Africans to ‘beware Greeks, even though they bring gifts’. Don’t forget, the film starts with Rose bringing coffee and donuts for their breakfast. Is the film saying Africans are too ready to be grateful for the generosity of white people without questioning their motives? Probably.

  1. Rod gets it

Every time Chris explains to Rod the strangeness of his surroundings, Rod explains EXACTLY what is going on, if in his own unique way. However Chris dismisses his interpretations. This is a metaphor for Africans living in the diaspora today – the unfairness, oppression and racism we experience is well documented, as is our participation in it. It’s explained to us over and over again, but we don’t believe it.

It’s also important that the police officers Rod tries to report the crime to all laugh in his face, even though in managing to locate a missing person he actually presents credible evidence.

  1. The deer represents Africans

I have read a few interpretations that the deer represents the ‘buck’ – a term used to refer to enslaved Africans. It also refers to ‘buck breaking’; the process of sodomising enslaved male Africans in front of children and women to chastise, humiliate and dehumanise them.

However, I think the deer is a metaphor for Africans. Firstly, Chris has sympathy for it, whilst Rose doesn’t care. Also, when Chris and Rose explain that they killed a deer to Dean, Dean’s response is to say they did a good thing, that there are too many, that they are taking over the place. His response is a common refrain used by racists when complaining about immigration and specifically, African people.

Dean is eventually killed by Chris using a deer’s head, perhaps a homage to African uprisings throughout history.

  1. The significance of implied jealousy

All Rose has to do to silence Chris is to tell him that he’s jealous. At various points in the film he’s accused of being jealous of Rod, Walter and even jokingly, of Georgina. No offence to Rod or Walter but it’s kinda crazy that he would see them as threats. This is a mind technique; it positions Rose as an object of desire – a slave legacy white women benefit from – whilst also making him feel stupid for talking. It’s a way of representing how Africans are made to feel that all our problems are inventions in our heads. It’s a metaphor for how conversations get dumbed down.

  1. Are you dealing with a Jeremy or a Rose?

Jeremy and Rose are the two faces of racism, one loud, barely disguised and aggressive, the other incredibly discrete and calculating. Chris gets very clear signals that he should stay away from Jeremy but is oblivious to the racism of Rose. Even after he sees that she’s lied about having African ex-boyfriends, he insists that they leave the house together.

  1. Toe nails

Jeremy says that Rose used to collect toenails in a box as a child, much like the box Chris finds the photographs in. This isn’t the only derogatory metaphor for Africans, Dean advises Chris to stay out of the basement because of  ‘black mould’.

  1. The significance of Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens races a horse in Cuba, 1936

Jesse Owens was one of America’s greatest Olympians but Roses’ grandfather uses his success to reinforce his own mythology about African physicality. This reflects how his country treated Owens after his achievements in Berlin. In his later years, Owens is reduced to racing horses for money.

  1. The significance of the camera flash

Not only a great plot device, the camera flash that awakens victims from the sunken place symbolises the active use of camera phones in recording police brutality and injustice in America today.

  1. Georgina is the only character who breaks free from the sunken place without a camera flash

The implication here is that African men,  flattered by the adulation of white people, need to be woken up to see their mental enslavement. Georgina has some idea of the prison she is kept in. This is seen during two occasions during the film – when pouring the drink for Chris and when apologising for unplugging his phone. It is also highly likely that Georgina left the cupboard door open for Chris to find Rose’s pictures of all her African ex-boyfriends.

  1. British games are everywhere

The auction is disguised as a game of bingo and the room that Chris is trapped in is filled with games of British invention – including darts, a football table and a table tennis table. Chris also kills the crazy brother with a crochet ball. This must be a nod to racism’s origin as British ideology (Africans were first legislated as ‘slaves’ as part of the Barbados Slave Code) and the British direction of the triangular slave trade – half of all Africans enslaved via this passage were taken via British ships. It also reminds white Americans that they are not native to America. They have become the proverbial deer that Dean describes early on in the movie.

  1. Colour blindness

Initially, Chris likes Jim because he is blind and therefore ‘doesn’t see colour’. Jim turns out to be the man who purchases Chris. Not seeing colour makes Jim the most dangerous man Chris encounters because it means he doesn’t see the shady dealing, is least likely to do anything about it and totally happy to benefit. When asked why they only kidnapped Africans Jim response is non-caring to say the least. Don’t trust people who say they don’t see colour guys! How many times do you need to be told?

  1. The weaponisation of white female tears

This has been seen a lot in popular culture, most recently when Frida Pinta cried because someone asked her what ‘political blackness’ was. Rose uses tears to get Chris to stay in the family home, and then tries to use her tears to stop him from killing her (she succeeds). Moments later, Chris is almost made to pay for letting Rose take advantage of him yet again (FFS WAKE UP CHRIS!!) when flashing lights pull up the drive and she calls for help like she’s the victim.

What did I miss?

Being caught out and brown

September 5, 2016

When I first saw the Keith Vaz  piece I felt the absence of the News of the World keenly for the first time. It has been so long since the last hidden camera scandal. It was a bit like smelling something you used to eat as a child that you hadn’t thought about in years. Gossip! I remember that. It used to taste so good.

Complete with totally irrelevant commentary (though the fact he had paid off the mortgage on his flat was the most obscene part for me),  the blurry pictures of his rotund older body against the younger male’s (fully clothed of course) reminded me of how immovable these stories become once they are sensationalised. Vaz’s name is unlikely to be parted from from this.

For me, the most interesting part is the commentary. I have read mostly sympathy for him. It was not a sting – he had used the sex workers before – they went to the Mirror after recognising him – but he was still set up. He didn’t break the law. He clearly stated he didn’t take drugs. And he more than likely comes from a family and community that would have showed intolerance to his homosexuality, if he is gay.

Which for me is the most interesting part. Whatever he identifies as, he obviously had an urge to have sex with men that he felt the need to satisfy with sex workers. That doesn’t necessarily mean he loves his wife any less, nor has any less desire to engage in a hetero-normative family life. Let’s face it, you can’t get more hetero-normative than Stanmore. Incidentally, why does the MP for Leicester East have a main home in Stanmore?

In any case, I would suggest the picture of the long suffering, closeted Asian male may not be applicable here. Let’s not jump to culture bashing because we voted for equal marriage. In Vaz’s formative and adult years, British society would not have encouraged coming out either.

When I heard the audio, I heard a man who wouldn’t change a thing. He was having a great time! A high profile, a good salary, two properties, two cars, two children and, crucially, two lives. All enabled by his privilege.

I am reluctant to position him as a victim. Some people genuinely  want to go out, engage in same-sex activity, then come home to their wife or husband to watch prime-time television and read stories at bed time. Why should living as an ‘out’ gay or bisexual man be his choice just because it was more available to him in a Western country? Is it not acceptable to decide you like both paradigms and create a life that allows you to engage in the two? The ‘undercover brother’ phenomenon is consistent with this.

The familiarity and charm with which Vaz handled the encounter makes it sound like he may be in that camp. I am not saying there are no victims of cultural prejudice – people forced into heterosexual unions because of the pressures of faith or family. But let’s not immediately place him as a victim because he’s brown. Our cultures are not that far behind western ones which are hardly trail-blazing on gay rights. I think he was a perfectly happy man in both worlds. We might call others liberated, why not Keith? His only crime was secrecy. And who isn’t secretive, on some level, about sex?  I bet he is tormented only by the fact he has been caught.

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