Thoughts and Images from the Manchester #BlackLivesMatter Rally

Photo - NahI think covering the Black Lives Matter rally in Manchester earlier this week is an experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Seeing people of every colour and from a range of communities gathered under one cause was both sobering and inspiring, as was listening to a range of speakers including community leaders, activists and poets give voice to the sense of anger, sorrow and solidarity that had enveloped many who chose to gather beneath the steps of Moss Side’s Alexandra Park on Monday evening.

The rally, organised by a student union leader following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille at the hands of police officers in the US last week, turned into a march that progressed from the inner-city South Manchester district of Hulme all the way to St Peter’s Square in the city centre, with those it passed often choosing to join the crowd of demonstrators as they went.

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The event was somehow sad and uplifting at the same time. As one marcher put it;-

It feels amazing to be here, and quite emotional too, to know so many people feel the same.

Below are some of the clips I filmed for The Nubian Times both before and during the rally. Take a look, and feel free to share your thoughts and feelings on both the march and the events that have led to it… oh, and be sure to check out the powerful spoken word poem (the last video) that was delivered during the demonstration too…

The young woman below had some sharp insights on some of the wider issues contributing to the racial disadvantages in America.

 

Sharing some important thoughts on the need for solidarity.

 

See below for Hafsah Aneela Bashir’s powerful spoken word poem.

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How Will Brexit Affect You?

Well, as you might expect, Britain’s vote to leave the EU has been the topic dominating the news, as well as conversation in my office today.

I expect I’ll probably get around to sharing some thoughts on it in future but in the meantime I’m curious to hear initial reactions – whether knee jerk or considered. So have a watch of the brief video below and if you have a view on things please share it.

Comment below or, if you really wanna broadcast your view and start a conversation around all this, check out and respond to The Nubian Times (the newspaper I work for) via their Facebook page, or Twitter (@thenubiantimes).

‘For me it’s about showcasing quality African content’: An Interview With Debut Filmmaker, Kunmi Ogunsola

kunmi-online-450x300You’ll probably know by now that one of my favourite things is to talk with storytellers, and so I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to interview Manchester-based filmmaker, Kunmi Ogunsola, for The Nubian Times.

We discussed everything from creativity, to family, to diversity and media, as well as Kunmi’s own journey into filmmaking. It was a pretty fascinating conversation, if I do say so myself, so if you’d like to take a look you can do so by clicking right… here.

 

‘Hearing guys that sounded like me opened my eyes’: An Interview With ‘Mic Check’ Founder, Leigh O’Neill

I got the chance this week to interview Leigh O’Neill, the founder and organiser of Manchester’s latest grime and hip-hop night, Mic Check. Right now, grime is growing faster than any other genre in Britain, with some of its highest profile artists – like Skepta and Stormzy – competing with the likes of Drake and Beyoncé in the UK charts. All of which meant I was particularly excited to speak with a guy involved in seeking to foster locally what has been for the most part a grass-roots and underground sub-culture.

So, if you’d like to get caught up on Manchester’s growing grime scene and the conversation I shared with Leigh, you can do so by clicking right… here.

“Music is for people”: The Wisdom of Samm Henshaw

Micah Yongo Samm HenshawSo I had the recent pleasure of sitting down with upcoming UK soul artist Samm Henshaw to interview him for Manchester-based newspaper, The Nubian Times.

Samm, recently signed by Columbia Records, is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboard player… basically he’s a ridiculously talented artist and, pleasantly, incredibly humble too. You can check out some of his music below.

The full recorded interview, along with a vlog of his live performance at one of Manchester’s most intimate venue’s, The Deaf Institute, will be uploaded on The Nubian Times YouTube channel and website in due time, along with my review, and I’ll be sure to share it here too when it is, but in the meantime I thought I’d give a little taster of the conversation via my favourite quote from the interview.

Music is for people

Short and sweet, I know. I won’t elaborate further right now but I thought what Henshaw had to say about the communal aspect of experiencing music was fascinating and insightful. And, also, was perfectly reflected in his live performance later that night.

More on that coming soon…

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Who Do You Think You Are?

I don’t own a television. The one I had broke four or five years ago and with technology being as it is (with smartphones and the internet and so on) I could never really figure a good enough reason to replace it. Which is likely the reason I only recently saw this commercial (see below) and so I’ll apologise if I’m a little late to the party. Take a look.

Watching it, I couldn’t help thinking how refreshing it was – revolutionary almost – to find an advertisement whose aim was to affirm the viewer, rather than persuade her of some existential lack that needed filling by whatever the product or fashion being shopped.

The promotional technique we’re most accustomed to is to be, quite subtly, told we don’t have enough this or that (possessions, property, experiences, position, money, smarts, beauty, whatever), and are somehow behind the times, lacking… stuff, and but here’s what to do to remedy your problem, for just 10.99 (fill in currency as appropriate).

Everything from the photoshopped celeb mag to those strangely arty but ultimately incomprehensible (and accidentally funny) aftershave ads (pouting dudes with tanned six-packed torsos staring meaningfully at the camera to their own breathy – and accented – voiceover) seem designed to deal in the currency of discontent, to emphasise what you’re not and ought to be and what to buy to make it so.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not anti-TV. I love TV. I even like some TV commercials. But the one above, well, I just really liked.

I guess the thing that interested me most was the great yawning disparity between how the people in it thought they looked and how they actually looked. Who they thought they were versus who they actually are. Which, if you think about it, is sort of fascinating.

It got me thinking. Where does our sense of self come from? What’s informed it? What shapes it? Experiences? People? Nature? Culture? TV commercials? All of the above? And if so, how valid can any of these things be if the idea they give us of who we are can be so fickle and so different from the reality?

Does the Media Still Exist?

I should apologize, I’ve been a tad quiet on here as late. Although in my defence part of my tardiness is down to a new job I started, one I’m quite enjoying, at The Nubian Times; a local Manchester based newspaper.

I’m now a staff writer/digital media editor there. That’s me below being all journalisty.

The cool thing about the role is I’m a media nut, fascinated by it in fact. And with, I think, good reason. The media is an industry whose content is proliferating at a rate of knots, and whose lines, it seems, are being blurred and redrawn on an almost hourly basis – I mean, think about it, what exactly is The Media these days?

We mostly keep up with goings on via Twitter or Facebook. It’s through them I’ve learned of the passing of four geniuses this year alone (and what’s with that anyway? David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Prince; I mean give us a break already 2016).

Meanwhile the more familiar mainstream outlets are becoming no more than mop up crews for news that’s breaking on social media way before it can reach the lips of the smartly coiffed newsdesk anchor with his flawless dental care.

Which makes the media, today, a diffuse and nebulous beast, hard to define, treading a faultline of change we’re yet to fully understand.

And so for an industry the late great theorist, Stuart Hall, once referred to as being:

The way power is mediated in societies like ours

it’s truly a fascinating time; and one I look forward to observing from the inside. Wish me luck.

King Lear: A World Where Race Doesn’t Matter?

Thrilling, moving, visceral – at some point you run out of words to explain the feelings that run through you after watching Michael Buffong’s stunning adaptation of King Lear.

I went to the showing at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre last night and loved pretty much every minute of it. The dark, modern soundscape, the ridiculously good set design, the racially diverse cast, the incredible acting – all of it combined to make this famous tale of a mad father and his warring offspring one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had.

Afterwards we, the audience, were granted the chance to remain behind for a Q & A session with the director and cast – an unexpected treat, and one that sparked plenty of engaging conversation as we listened to the likes of Don Warrington (the lead) and Michael Buffong (director) share nuggets about the production’s journey from conception to reality.

One particularly interesting point raised during the discussion was on the issue of race.

Michael Buffong is black, as is half the cast he used for this adaptation, a choice that factored into his decision to stage the play in the traditional period of pre-Christian Britain, rather than following the recent trend of placing Shakespeare’s works in contemporary settings.

‘I wanted for it to be that this royal family, the king and his daughters, could be black without it feeling like a thing,’ Buffong said.

It was a goal the play, for me, more than achieved. The viewing experience felt so immediate and vivid that the race of the characters became, well, not invisible exactly, but something else – transfigured. Like the meaning of skin colour had been translated into another reality, a kind of folklorish apocryphal context between here and fantasy. It made the production, somehow, feel both old and modern at the same time.

It got me thinking about how race is used in other storytelling media – film, television, literature etc.

When should the race of the actor, and therefore the character, be considered important to an authentic telling of a story, and when shouldn’t it be?

For example: When I see Idris Elba play the norse god, Heimdall – a traditionally white character – in Marvel’s Thor movies, it feels utterly right. Yet when I consider whether he should be the next James Bond, a character who is from an aristocratic Scottish background, I’m conflicted.

My question is why?

When is race relevant to the drama, and when is it not? Always? Never? Somewhere in between?

And what exactly governs whether a story – on screen or in print – can be said to have been authentically told?

In other words, when it comes to film, theatre, TV, books or even comics – should a character’s race matter at all?

 

3 Surprising Reasons Batman v Superman is the Worst Superhero Movie Ever

So I finally plucked up the courage to go and see Batman v Superman. I’d done my best to avoid the mounting number of mixed reviews. I’d held the negativity surrounding the release at arms length.

I told myself, whatever my misgivings about the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, and whatever the film’s flaws, at the end of the day this was still going to be a film with Superman and Batman in – two of the most iconic figures in the history of popular culture. Right?

Wrong!

1. This is not a film about Batman or Superman

I know, confusing… I mean, sure, they’re wearing the costumes, and they’re being referred to by those famous character names, but the ‘superheroes’ you see in this movie are imposters, counterfeits, bearing no emotional or philosophical resemblance to their comic book counterparts.

In fact, these iconic characters are so shorn of the traits that have made them so popular it’s hard not to feel the filmmakers have either never read a comic in their life (which I know isn’t true, but watching this film will make you wonder) or, more likely, simply do not care or like the characters as they are portrayed in the source material.

Zack Snyder’s Superman is joyless, spineless and without an ounce of an internal compass throughout his impressively muscled body.

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About half way through the film I began to wish I was watching this version of the movie instead. Photo by Johansphotography

Then we’ve got Batman, who seems to enjoy killing – whether by decapitation via flying batmobile, death by machine gun, hand grenade or just a good old snapped neck – there is none of the pathos or internal conflict that fundamentally makes Batman who and what he is.

His wrestling with the question of how far is too far, the line between heroism and criminality, the refusal to kill which separates him from the Joker in the famous Christopher Nolan iteration – all of this is gone, replaced by a trigger happy fiend in a cape with a penchant for Rocky-style montages and crossfit training.

And I know what you’re thinking. Is that really so bad? After all, the first 20 issues of the original Batman comics had a caped crusader who shot villains too.

But when Batman’s sole reason for opposing Superman in this film seems to be that he views him as an inscrutable figure with zero accountability who thinks he’s above the law – the words ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ come rather swiftly to mind.

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If only this guy were directing. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

On top of all this you’ve got Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor as a jazzed-up mix of Mark Zuckerberg and Max Landis on a fairly heavy dose of speed, rather than the lugubrious and charismatically sinister figure he cuts in the comics.

I mean, I’m all for innovation and re-imaginings, but these kind of personality transplants make seeing this movie as a continuance of the Superman canon nigh on impossible.

And that, for me, is a problem.

Because Zack Snyder is not interpreting or translating these characters for a contemporary audience, he is trying to simply replace them altogether. They have the right names, sure, but everything else is a facade.

2. Ben Affleck is not the problem

Yep. I know. It was shocking for me too. But I actually thought Affleck did a pretty good job with what he was given. He did what I’d imagined unthinkable before seeing the film, he made me forget about Christian Bale and believe that he, Affleck, was Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Considering the clusterbomb of a narrative unravelling around him, the fact Affleck managed to impose himself on his character enough to make him half-way believeable is quite an achievement. I shall never again doubt the man. The only shame was that he wasn’t also given the opportunity to direct the film, a mistake (the above video would suggest he wasn’t happy about, and) that will apparently be rectified in the upcoming Batman standalone in which he is scheduled to star.

3. The film is not ALL bad

And this is really what makes the viewing experience so excrutiating. There are glimpses of greatness here, sequences that feel genuinely fresh and innovative; like the talking head montage with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and others, inviting us to consider how 21st century society – our politics, our religions etc. – would be asked to re-orient itself around the existence of an apparently altruistic and high-powered extraterrestrial. What Superman would mean to a world like ours is a genuinely interesting question, one this film begins to explore.

I even liked the Batman dream-within-a-dream sequence. Seeing the parademons was pretty cool and played into Snyder’s sweet spot. For all his flaws as a storyteller, when it comes to visuals and aesthetic he has a vivid and distinctive imagination.

The problem was that these bright spots were just too few and far between.

The film felt episodic and clunky, there was never the sense of continuity you need for the drama to really build in a meaningful way. You felt like you were watching a series of loosely related shorts rather than a film with a genuine narrative arc.

With the convoluted nature of the storylines, and the conspicuously shoehorned-in set ups for sequels, the whole thing became incoherent and exhausting to watch, compounded by the customary Snyder calling card of rendering as much onscreen destruction as possible in the final act.

In the end I came out of the cinema feeling like I’d had my head held to a 10 ft speaker for the entire duration of a SlipKnot concert. And this, I think, brings us to the film’s main problem.

In Conclusion

Batman v Superman was trying to do way, way too much – a fact demonstrated by the 4 hour running time the movie allegedly had to be cut down from. There are shades of The Death of Superman, The Dark Knight Returns as well as the various Justice League comics, all clumped together in this film.

The thing is, those comics harbour iconic storylines that would each need a film of their own to really do justice to. Which makes me wonder why Warner Bros felt the need to shove them all into one.

In a world where studios typically try to parse well known source material into as many instalments as possible (The Hobbit, which is a pretty short read, becomes a film trilogy. The final instalment of the Harry Potter series is split into two films, as is the final part of The Hunger Games and Twilight), why would they now try and force three separate sources into one film like this? Why have a single potentially lucrative property, when you could have four or five?

  • The Dark Knight Returns
  • Batman v Superman
  • The Death of Superman
  • The Dawn of the Justice League

You’d be sure to get better films with better developed storylines and characters. You’d make way more money, maybe 8-9 billion dollars worldwide. And you’d set up multiple franchises – like Wonder Woman and The Flash – in a more authentic and organic way.

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Gotta be one of the most recognisable emblems on the planet. Up there with the golden arches. Photo by cliffnotes

In short, you’d get to where Marvel is now, except you’d have the advantage of better known characters, and therefore better earning potential (the only Marvel superhero able to rival Batman and Superman for popularity is Spiderman).

And so aside from the fairly significant headache I left the cinema with, and the countless questions about the glaring plotholes in the story, the overwhelming feeling for me wasn’t one of disappointment but something far deeper. Loss.

You see, today our most resonant stories feature dystopian futures in which young protagonists are forced to overthrow a middle-aged and plutocratic hegemony. The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner each share this same narrative trope, reflecting the hopes and anxieties of a generation of millenials who’ve been left a legacy of economic instability, narrow employment opportunities and climate change.

A well rendered Superman film, one that depicts the character as he actually is – incorruptible, altruistic, aspirational etc. – could have meshed well with the zeitgeist and provided a meaningful cultural touchstone. One that is, as corny as it sounds, hopeful.

Instead, it seemed to me the makers of this film were more interested in bending these characters into an agenda with which they are incompatible. An agenda that is cynical and fatalistic, aimed at maligning morality and portraying ideas like ‘change’ and ‘hope’ (i.e. The Hunger Games’ bread and butter) as naive or stupid.

I mean, when you’ve got Superman, of all people, referring to the ideals of the father who raised him as no more than ‘a dead farmer’s dream,’ it’s clear we’re a long way from Kansas.

And it’s then the truth hits you; this film doesn’t want you to believe in better, it doesn’t even want you to believe in superheroes. It wants you to believe, as Superman himself says, that;-

No one can stay good in this world

You see, Batman v Superman is not a superhero film at all. It’s the opposite; the world’s first anti-superhero movie.

And to make a movie this overtly cynical with a character like Superman, and at a time like this, isn’t just ill-advised and disappointing, it’s a staggering waste of what was a pretty special opportunity.

 

Laughter: The Uncivilised Friend

Let me explain… I was directed recently to this clip on youtube. Take a look first (it’s just over a minute long), then read on.

So here’s the thing. I’m not ashamed to say that after watching it I couldn’t breathe for a full minute from the laughter. You know the kind of laughter I mean, that laughter that stretches the expiration point of your lungs until there’s no more air and you can conjure no more sound to even laugh with and you just have to sit there with your shoulders shuddering and quivering in a dry and soundless cackle until whatever part of your psyche decides the full measure of your amusement has been expressed and your insides, clenched and thoroughly — as the expression goes — split along the seams, finally relent from their death grasp of jollity that had for a minute or more (depending on just how amusing you found the clip) claimed you and separated you from your surroundings in a mad chuckling fit.

Then again, maybe your sense of humour isn’t quite like mine. In which case you’ll watch the clip and then re-read this post with a lamenting shake of the head, wondering where the humour’s meant to be, questioning everything from my moral fibre to my intellect, perhaps wondering whether or not you ought ever to return to this blog to read any further content.

That’s the thing about humour, everyone’s sense of it is different. And it turns out those differences have interesting implications. Laughter has been shown to influence problem solving capacities and creativity, amongst other things. Things I aim write about in a bit more detail later, but for now, what’s your thought?

Did the video clip tickle you?

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or come across lately?

And what kinds of things do you tend to find amusing?

Would love to hear your thoughts (feel free to share any links/pics too).