Friday, 28 February 2014

Shots From the Hip by Charles Shaar Murray now an e-book

Shots From the hip, Charles Shaar Murray, Aaaargh Press, ebook, kindle

At last, the new long-overdue edition of Charles Shaar Murray's coruscating collection of journalism — Shots From the Hip (I told him his next one should be called Shots From the Hip Replacement) — first published in 1991, with a new introduction by Joel Nathan Rosen and a new afterword by CSM himself.

It puts together Murray’s writing on music and much, much more from the 1970s and 1980s in New Musical Express and elsewhere, edited and introduced by Neil Spencer. It shows just why Murray acquired the reputation of being the most intelligent and acerbic popular music critic of his generation.

His witty and beautifully crafted pieces – a mix of reviews, interviews and extended critical essays – are as readable today as when they were first written. He was always ahead of the game, noticing up-and-coming artists (and recording sad declines of the once-great) before anyone else. And, almost without exception, his judgments stand the test of time remarkably well.

Shots From the Hip is a classic of its genre, essential reading for anyone with an interest in popular culture, funny, perceptive and energetic.

WHAT THEY SAY

‘One of the best British writers on pop music, and this is a compilation of HIS best.’
SIMON NAPIER-BELL, GUARDIAN

The reason I write is Charles Shaar Murray - collected NME works available again. The R Newman, P Smith & Macca truly great.
DANNY BAKER

‘Charles Shaar Murray was always the best read’
TONY VISCONTI

‘The New Musical Express was one of the big things in my life … there was outrageous writing by Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent and, later, Julie Burchill — what they were writing was unbelievable! The NME was so important for lonely suburban kids. It was a lifeline.’
DANNY BOYLE

‘This is an extremely intelligent man who happens to find expression and pleasure in a genre that many comparable intellects dismiss as worthless. For those whose love of rock music has survived their apprehension of its partial absurdity, this book is there to be savoured, to be read slowly and with a great deal of relevant musical accompaniment.’
THE TIMES

‘Murray’s work is particularly impressive because it was written at the time. Murray ragged on Blondie and the Clash, for example, before anyone had heard of them.’
MICHIGAN DAILY

‘“Some people are born dull,” starts a piece on George Harrison and his 1974 ballad Ding Dong, which the author calls a “hideous piece of garf”. Madonna is “Our lady of hard work”, whose 1990 Blonde Ambition tour was a “Broadway musical in all essentials except for its lack of plot”. This irreverent and colloquial collection of British pop-music criticism spans 20 years and tosses in hundreds of musicians, insights and insults.’
ST PETERSBURG TIMES (FLORIDA)

Published by Aaaargh! Press.

Charles Shaar Murray starts a summer course of his Hothouse Project "Journalism as Craft And Art" writing masterclasses in West Hampstead — eight Thursday evenings from 29th May. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Feng Xiaogang in conversation at the BFI: holding a mirror up to Chinese society


Last night's pre-screening gala talk at the BFI by film director Feng Xiaogang climaxed the Spectacular China season of his films while launching the year-long Electric Shadows collaboration between the BFI and China.

After a start as slow as wet cement, it livened up considerably once Feng and his adroit translator bypassed a disappointingly dull interviewer and some stunningly tedious questions such as, "What inspired you?" "Who were your mentors?" elicited a dry, "I'm sure I had mentors but I can't recall who."

Feng covered the basics of his early career, which began over 20 years ago in the 1990s. His realisation that his contemporaries — the Beijing Film Academy "Fifth Generation" filmmakers like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou and their focus on the deeper meaning of life, humanity, and the whole philosophical shebang — were leaving audiences cold, led him to make films that reflected people's lives. People hadn't fully recovered from the Cultural Revolution and were still suffering, he reckoned, and needed a lighter tone. Working his way up via the hard route as an army set-designer, followed by a spell in TV, Feng's escapist bent and outright commercial considerations, facilitated by a sensitivity to the needs of the market, helped the Chinese film industry grow from mere tens of millions into the $3.5 billion behemoth it is today.

Finding it safer to play with comedy in the post-Tiananmen Square political climate, he helmed the New Year films (hesui pian) trilogy Party A, Party B (1997), Be There or Be Square (1998) and Sorry Baby (1999), light, frothy comedies that took a swipe at authority figures without ever really challenging authority. The huge success of Cell Phone, his 2003 exploration of extra-martial affairs, launched his career into the stratosphere.

Staying apolitical but now confident enough to expand his subject matter, he made the politically neutral but visually dazzling Assembly (2007) about the civil war between the nationalist Kuomintang and Communist forces in the late 1940s, which led to the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949. He admits to being influenced by Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, rather than any of cinema's intellectual heavyweights: no Tarkovsky or Fassbinder here. (He's said to be the "Chinese Spielberg", so make of that what you will.) There was also a Korean movie which inspired him. As the cost of Korean talent was a fifth of Hollywood's, he was soon employing them to make his film.

Aftershock (2010), looking at the devastation of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, is another blockbuster, albeit one which critiques the state of the collective Chinese mindset. At the centre is the Sophie's Choice dilemma facing the mother: which of her twins, son or daughter, should she drag from the rubble?

Feng is ruthless when it comes to actors. He'll have none of that nurturing nonsense and he's happy to sack those who can't cut the wasabi. He says that one way he directs is to use Toms Hanks and Cruise as reference points for the opposite ends of the acting scale he requires. "Can you be like Tom Hanks?", he'll say to his poor thesps; really confusing them when he adds the further refinement that they should pitch their performance "halfway between."

Well into his stride by now, Feng enlarges on what drives him to create film. Talking about Back to 1942 (completed in 2012, China's official entry for this year's Academy Awards, and screened after the talk), an epic tragedy about the Henan famine under Kuomintang rule and Japanese invasion that killed three million, he says he doesn't just want to depict darkness and misery for the sake of it; rather, he wants to draw a connection between contemporary China and what was happening in 1942.

His passionate insistence that he mirrors Chinese society, reflecting back its imperfections in order that they may be corrected, is an indication that, having passed through its Gilded Age, China is entering an introspective phase examining the implications of China's new-found wealth. He detects a spiritual impoverishment, but locates its cause in a lack of religion, castigating hypocritical Buddhists and Taoists whose prayers and sacrifices at the altar of their beliefs are in fact only "doing a deal" in return for health and wealth. He reviles the destruction of the environment for quick cash, and the theft of intellectual property. When the audience laughs at the inclusion of football match rigging in his list of crimes, he chastises them: it's no laughing matter. These are all symptoms of what's going wrong with the Chinese. "You can't be a great people if you only care about short-term values."

The Chinese people having been tortured by misery and wars for a century, Feng says things have been getting better for the past 30 years, and he concludes that the Chinese are now ready to look at themselves. A frisson of discomfort ripples around the room when he compares the Chinese unfavourably with the Israelis, whom he sees as having endured misery and developed courage: "Chinese are less than the Israelis." Your humble correspondent wondered exactly which lessons China was supposed to learn from 'plucky little Israel' but our intrepid interviewer crushed the life out of any possible enquiry by immediately blurting, "I'm not going there."

Feng also took the opportunity to announce his forthcoming remake of A World Without Thieves with British producer Duncan Kenworthy (Four Weddings and a Funeral), and that they already have a first draft of the script.

David Cameron's visit to China last year resulted in a year-long Electric Shadows season of Chinese movies, exhibition and education at the BFI, of which Spectacular China is a part. There's a Chinese-British co-production treaty imminent, and a summer season of Chinese films en route to the BFI. Stay tuned for further updates.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Day of the Locust review: this is us. Now!


The Day of the Locust is a superbly intelligent movie about the madness of crowds and the nightmarisation of the American Dream, which increasingly resembles a documentary about today's collective id. Director John Schlesinger's film adaptation manages to be faithful (if over-literal) to Nathanael West's coruscating book, set in early Hollywood's Sodom and Gomorrah.

Tod Hackett (William Atherton) is an artist employed by one of the major studios in 1930s Hollywood. While he's working on the lavish epic, Waterloo, he meets and hangs out with ("befriends" is too strong a word for such an alienated world) the local characters, mostly deluded and in the gutter but jealously looking up at the stars.

Donald Sutherland is the perfect Homer Simpson, a gangling, lugubrious square; a big lug who's a big fail with the ladies. My viewing companions considered Sutherland too young for the role, but I thought he was just right as a man entering premature middle age. (After all, Matt Groening's Homer Simpson is supposed to be a mere 38.) Like the other men in the movie, Sutherland's Homer falls in love with flighty 17-year old wannabe starlet no-hoper Faye Greener played by Karen Black who, despite a valiant effort, is too old for the role of a lost teenager. Black is beautiful and a terrific actress, but far too womanly to play this fey child-woman.

Burgess Meredith plays has-been vaudevillean Harry Greener, Faye's curmudgeonly father who, even at the end of his life, is still performing, but for nickels and dimes selling polish door-to-door. The film won Meredith both Oscar and BAFTA nominations for best supporting actor.

There's a bitterly funny surreal element running through the movie, such as the horse in the swimming pool and a vicious dwarf. You are made well aware that neither author nor filmmaker have much liking for Hollywood, a bubbling cauldron distilling the worst of America. The centre cannot hold and it goes spinning into deadly lunacy.

The set-piece scenes of the studio accident, with its resulting cover-up, and the cockfight are powerful and disturbing. The nightmare closing sequence outside the Grauman's Chinese Theatre movie premiere is brilliantly done and will stay with you for a long time.

Note who's playing the demonic poppet Adore, a Shirley Temple from Hell. It's a young Jackie Haley who went on (as Jackie Earle Haley) to play the psychotic Rorschach in Watchmen!

However, there's a danger that in drawing such grotesques, Schlesinger misses the underlying humanity that was present in the book.

I loved both but I'd recommend that anyone drawn into the nightmare vision of the movie reads the book as well. It's an easy fast read but fills in much that film can't depict, such as the sequence where Tod searches for Faye through the studio backlots. The madness of the system becomes apparent as he fights his way through the disparate sets and costumed freaks of a society that has no history or heart. It's all jumbled up and crushes everyone like a huge remorseless, relentless juggernaut. West's ability to write visually and fire his damning view of the world straight into your frontal lobe works especially well here.

Twin this movie with They Shoot Horses, Don't They? another wrist-slitting 1970s indictment of capitalism.

Friday, 14 February 2014

How the banks are going to own EVERYTHING: the Vampire Squid, Bill Clinton & Glass-Steagall


Who was it who repealed Roosevelt's Glass-Steagall act that separated savings banks from investments banks? Stand up, Biill Clinton: "I did not have sexual relations with Goldman Sachs." Now we can see how the banks will own EVERYTHING and anyone who doesn't think a revolution is necessary to reverse this is kidding themselves.

From Rolling Stone magazine: The Vampire Squid Strikes Again:
… the famed Glass-Steagall Act separating bankers and brokers, which had been passed in 1933 to prevent conflicts of interest within the finance sector that had led to the Great Depression. Now, commercial banks would be allowed to merge with investment banks and insurance companies, creating financial megafirms potentially far more powerful than had ever existed in America. … it would take half a generation – till now, basically – to understand the most explosive part of the bill, which additionally legalized new forms of monopoly, allowing banks to merge with heavy industry. A tiny provision in the bill also permitted commercial banks to delve into any activity that is "complementary to a financial activity and does not pose a substantial risk to the safety or soundness of depository institutions or the financial system generally."

Today, banks like Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs own oil tankers, run airports and control huge quantities of coal, natural gas, heating oil, electric power and precious metals. They likewise can now be found exerting direct control over the supply of a whole galaxy of raw materials crucial to world industry and to society in general, including everything from food products to metals like zinc, copper, tin, nickel and, most infamously thanks to a recent high-profile scandal, aluminum. ... In Denmark, thousands took to the streets in protest in recent weeks, vampire-squid banners in hand, when news came out that Goldman Sachs was about to buy a 19 percent stake in Dong Energy, a national electric provider. The furor inspired mass resignations of ministers from the government's ruling coalition, as the Danish public wondered how an American investment bank could possibly hold so much influence over the state energy grid. ...
In 2010, in the midst of the economic meltdown, Bill Clinton sort of admitted that he regretted listening to Rob Rubin and Larry Summers (who, like the monster in the final reel, refuses to die and keeps coming back for more) on derivatives, if not the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. But it's a bit late, now, Bill. You were the most powerful person in the world and you screwed us with more than a cigar.

From Businessweek magazine in 2008 where Bill is unrepentant and apparently jonesing after the Continental European system:
September 24, 2008 ...

MARIA BARTIROMO

Mr. President, in 1999 you signed a bill essentially rolling back Glass-Steagall and deregulating banking. In light of what has gone on, do you regret that decision?

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON

No, because it wasn't a complete deregulation at all. We still have heavy regulations and insurance on bank deposits, requirements on banks for capital and for disclosure. I thought at the time that it might lead to more stable investments and a reduced pressure on Wall Street to produce quarterly profits that were always bigger than the previous quarter. But I have really thought about this a lot. I don't see that signing that bill had anything to do with the current crisis. Indeed, one of the things that has helped stabilize the current situation as much as it has is the purchase of Merrill Lynch (MER) by Bank of America (BAC), which was much smoother than it would have been if I hadn't signed that bill.

MB: Phil Gramm, who was then the head of the Senate Banking Committee and until recently a close economic adviser of Senator McCain, was a fierce proponent of banking deregulation. Did he sell you a bill of goods? 
BC: Not on this bill I don't think he did. You know, Phil Gramm and I disagreed on a lot of things, but he can't possibly be wrong about everything. On the Glass-Steagall thing, like I said, if you could demonstrate to me that it was a mistake, I'd be glad to look at the evidence. But I can't blame [the Republicans]. This wasn't something they forced me into. I really believed that given the level of oversight of banks and their ability to have more patient capital, if you made it possible for [commercial banks] to go into the investment banking business as Continental European investment banks could always do, that it might give us a more stable source of long-term investment. "
Thanks for releasing the Kraken Vampire Squid on us, Bill.

Chinese originally Black like everyone else who left Africa 100,000 years ago


Refuting claims that the Chinese are a separate race of Peking Man — an earlier branch off homo erectus prior to homo sapiens — Jin Li, a Chinese doctor, did mitochondrial tests on thousands of people in 2010 and concluded that they were wrong and we'd all walked out of Africa some 70-100,000 years ago.

Non-Africans have an estimated 3 per cent DNA from Neanderthals (with 20 per cent of Neanderthal genetic code existing in the global human population today): could that give Caucasians their brow ridge and deep eye sockets? However, we are all Homo Sapiens and all the same species.

How often have I looked at Black people and seen my nose, my cheekbones, my lips, the other faint traces of a distant cousin?

If a group is cut off and interbreeding, certain characteristics will gradually come to the fore such as paler skin to deal with less sunshine, narrower nostrils for colder climates, and so on. How come the epicanthic fold on east Asian eyelids? They are linked to a flatter nasal bridge and are also found in the San people of southern Africa, Arctic people such as the Inuit, and some European Slavs.

Zhoukoudian National Park has the relics of Peking Man who lived 500,000 - 200,000 years ago and had learnt to control and use fire. Thanks to Jin Li's DNA research, we now know that this was an earlier, separate branch of humans, and not the beginning of the Chinese race.

Research shows "Mitochondrial DNA Evidence for a Diversified Origin of Workers Building Mausoleum for First Emperor of China". That diversity means mostly Han plus workers from southern Asian, a few from the North and a scattering of the ancestors of the Japanese. However, stretch the imagination I can see the movie starring a scarred old ancient Brit played by Russell Crowe.

A couple of interesting articles for further reading: Rasta Livewire's Ancient Black Chinese from Eastern Africa by Professor Jin Li and thanks to Alan Mitchell for showing me Kulture Kritic's DNA Evidence Proves that the First People in China were Black.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Charles Shaar Murray on Resonance FM discussion on the state of music criticism


A most enjoyable evening was had on Monday night with the Resonance FM crew for a fundraiser in support of London's best arts radio station. The Slaughtered Lamb, which is much how freelance writers often think of themselves nowadays, was the Clerkenwell venue.

Neil Denny from Resonance FM's Little Atoms series chaired a panel discussion on music criticism with Jude Rogers, David Stubbs, Andrew Mueller and Charles Shaar Murray.

For anyone who'd like to know more about the nuts and bolts as well as the soaring imaginative heights of great journalism, CSM's next fabulous Hothouse Project writing course — Journalism as Craft and Art — begins 20th February in leafy West Hampstead.

Jude Rogers, David Stubbs, chair Neil Denny, Andrew Mueller and
Charles Shaar Murray at the Resonance FM discussion.

David Cameron's message from the cosmos: IDS to use unemployed as sandbags


VIDEO: David Cameron's cabinet contemplating a mighty wind.

David Cameron's karma runs over his dogma in biblical fashion. Rain, floods, blizzards, storms, and a mighty wind have ravaged these isles, and vast swathes of Britain have been under water for weeks. Cutbacks and cessation of dredging under all governments in recent years have only added to the misery.

Imagine being immersed in raw sewage, not being able to use the loo, and not being dry since new year.

All we need is a plague of frogs, water-borne pestilence and war and we'll have a full set.

Aprés Cameron, le deluge.

Now that the Tory heartland has been hit with Thames waters drowning the playing fields of Eton and lapping at Windsor Castle, His Smugness has had to show his thought-free visage on the scene.

Never have we felt so relieved to have been too skint to buy our idealised riverfront home with parking for boat at the end of the lawn. If it weren't for the innocent civilians losing their homes and living (it's not all bourgeoisie doing the suffering), some might class this as divine punishment for cruelty, callousness and greed on the part of those Tory voters in the Stockbroker Belt who thought they were immune from "austerity".

In his Hunter wellies and Barbour jacket, Cameron did his damnedest to ensure that immunity continues and promised his flooded bredren that money will be no object. Yet the widespread horrors of rising poverty and homelessness elicit no such generous response.

In the Tory hierarchy of need, what's highest? Evicted due to slashed benefits or flooded out? Cameron and the devil take the hindmost.

The Tories are under pressure from their even more right-wingnuts to take the money not just from Britons in poverty but to raid the aid budget for the world's poorest to keep his voters happy. Expect an intravenous treasury fix straight into DFS and Heals to replace all those soggy sofas but heaven forfend that food and medicine should be sent abroad.

He's probably hoping we'll all forget, not only the broken promises of a greener nation, but that the Tories and UKIP voted in the European Parliament against measures to protect against flooding.

The Guardian says:
The Royal Institute of British Architects estimates that 1.5% of the UK is at risk from direct flooding from the sea and about 7% of the country is likely to flood at least once a century from rivers. It says about 1.7m homes and 130,000 commercial properties are at risk from river or coastal flooding in England alone, and the effects of flooding and managing flood risk cost the country about £2.2bn a year, compared with the less than £1bn spent on flood protection and management.

These events are also a dire warning against privatisation. Can you imagine G4S handling this emergency? Yes, it could be worse.

Will Cameron succeed in stealing even more from the poor in order to throw money at his flooded voters? Will IDS use the unemployed as sandbags?

Does this spell the end for the greediest, most shortsighted "anything for a fast buck" government we've seen since WWII? And that includes Thatcher. We can only hope so.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The RSC Orphan of Zhao: one year on, East Asian British in the arts

BEAA founding members at Opening The Door, L to R: Michelle Lee, Lucy Sheen, Anna Chen, Jennifer Lim, Paul Hyu, Amanda Rogers, Kathryn Golding and Daniel York

February 11th marks the first anniversary of the groundbreaking Opening the Door event at the Young Vic. This was the first positive concrete step offered by a slice of the UK theatre establishment following the international protest led by East Asian British artists in response to the Royal Shakespeare Company's shocking yellowface casting for their first Chinese play, The Orphan of Zhao.

Despite the play being sold as the RSC's "Chinese Hamlet", and their marketing being directed at the Chinese — with promotion in Chinese and featuring an East Asian poster boy — the RSC cast only three minor parts out of 17 with east Asians even though this country has a fine pool of East Asian British (BEA) acting talent such as Benedict Wong, Gemma Chan, Lucy Sheen and Daniel York, among others.

One year on, Madam Miaow posts a guest blog by Daniel York. An actor with much to lose who stood up for principles of equality and fairness from the start, York challenged backward yellowface casting in the face of inertia and outright hostility as a founding member of the British East Asian Artists (BEAA), a group that sprung up to combat an antiquated and demeaning worldview we'd hoped was disappearing.

You can watch Daniel addressing the Open the Door event at the Young Vic in this video:



You can also watch the British East Asian Artists (BEAA)— who came together at the outbreak of Zhaogate hostilities to fight this significant battle — discussing the state of play with the Asian Performing Arts Forum in these videos: Part 1 and Part 2.






EAST ASIAN BRITISH INCLUSION IN THE ARTS: ONE YEAR ON
by DANIEL YORK February 2014

We are now one year on from the momentous and ground-breaking event that was the ACE/Equity sponsored Opening The Door Open Space session, where 200 theatre professionals (around half of East Asian descent) came together to reflect/debate/share/argue about the parlous state of affairs that have continually been the lot of East Asians in British theatre and to collectively seek solutions to the problems traditionally encountered.

The year since Opening The Door has certainly been very encouraging in terms of East Asian representation on our stages, though it would also be fair to say there is still some way to go before the East Asian talent that shone so brightly in the various mainstream and fringe productions that populated 2013 becomes more fully integrated into the UK theatrical mainstream and in a way that truly reflects and respects equally the diversity of that talent.

What has been most encouraging in this “break-out” East Asian year has been the sheer diversity of work in the last 12 months. Along with the three “China plays” (The Arrest Of Ai Wei Wei, Chimerica, and The World Of Extreme Happiness) we have seen Yellow Face; Golden Child;  Border Crossings' Consumed; The Storyteller-Curse Of Bakawali; Yellow Earth’s Limehouse project in development; Trikhon Theatre Company; The Steampunk Opium Wars; Lucy Sheen’s one-act double-bill; plus (if I may) my own The Fu Manchu Complex at Ovalhouse, generously supported by the Arts Council.

Indeed, what’s been particularly encouraging is the number of these East Asian initiated projects that have managed to garner Arts Council funding. We have had, for the first time ever perhaps, a true diversity of projects reflecting the fact that, whilst we may well be the smallest minority ethnic group in Britain, we are also the fastest-growing and most diverse. I do hope the Arts Council will continue to encourage that diversity instead of attempting to funnel us under one small and very particular umbrella. There are gate-keepers aplenty in our industry. Do we need more?

One year on from Opening The Door would seem to afford a good opportunity to reflect on how the event came about and who was responsible for it since there has appeared to be a touch of confusion about this lately.

Opening The Door resulted from a mass social media protest against the Royal Shakespeare Company’s controversial casting of the Chinese classic The Orphan Of Zhao. The protest was initiated and organised by members of what is now the British East Asian Artists group who showed tremendous courage and commitment by speaking out and engendering a vibrant and energetic campaign aimed at the world’s most powerful theatre company as well as the main public arts funding body in Britain. Many other individual British East Asian actors also contributed a great deal to the cause, again displaying immense bravery for those who work in a profession where intimidation via employment insecurity is rife.

Our cause was lent enormous support from around the globe, most notably from Tony award winning playwright David Henry Hwang (taking time out from a Broadway dress rehearsal to issue a powerful statement) , Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC), Erin Quill aka The Fairy Princess, Ma-Yi Theater, Pan-Asian Repertory and the tireless Victor Wong from the Chinese Canadian National Council whilst the RSC’s Facebook page was soon brim full with forthright comments from members of what was supposed to be the silent model minority. Closer to home, the movement was inspired by Anna Chen’s ferocious and witty writing on the subject whilst academics Amanda Rogers, Broderick Chow and actress Gabby Wong wrote and blogged insightfully as well. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone out, it was heady stuff. It’s all chronicled here on Anna Chen’s timeline of events.

It was disappointing then that, of the established British“Asian” theatre organisations, only Tamasha showed solidarity with our cause and in the wider BAME theatre sector only Talawa and Eclipse spoke up. Of the leading BAME theatre directors and writers very few had anything to say on the subject. Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in a treadmill of getting the latest grant form filled out and the latest production on but dare I suggest it might be well for those organisations to remember what brought them into being in the first place and to what they owe their continuing existence. Bold talk on websites of “raising profile” and “fighting discrimination and prejudice” surely needs to materialise in bold actions when they’re called for. We were an extremely powerful voice during the Orphan Of Zhao controversy. We would have been even more powerful with everyone on board. Of course, it’s everyone’s choice to not contribute but this should be for ideological, rather than other, possibly more self-protecting reasons, surely.

Nevertheless we prevailed, with the RSC to their credit eager to engage with ourselves, Equity and the Arts Council on an event that would at least attempt to address what is clearly an industry-wide on-going issue. SOLT/TMA (Society Of London Theatres) also came on board as did the Casting Directors Guild and the ITC with the Young Vic generously agreeing to host the event. Myself and fellow BEAA founding member Kathryn Golding as Equity East Asian members were part of the steering committee that planned and organised the day. We decided very early on to go for the Open Space format patented by the theatre company, Improbable. Open Space is a fluid and organic format that involves groups of artists and other interested and concerned parties working together to find common solutions, a powerful and enlightening experience. If you’ve never been to an Improbable Devoted and Disgruntled Open Space event then I advise you to ASAP. At the very least you’ll make new friends and contacts. I had actually, prior to all this, been in discussions with Improbable about an Open Space event on East Asian issues so the serendipity was most fortuitous.

I’m not sure there is any credit to be claimed for the mainstream East Asian inclusion in UK theatre since Opening The Door but going on previous experience it’s entirely possible there may have been one or two non-East Asians cast in East Asian roles and possibly a fair few Asian-American actors being flown in to play some others. I must stress that I welcome seeing our Asian-American brothers and sisters on our stages and I would like to see far more free exchange going in both directions but it should never again be the default position of our mainstream British theatre-makers and gate-keepers that there isn’t the talent and experience available in the UK. That simply isn’t true and the last year has surely proven that.

One last thing. I realize a lot of people are intimidated by protest action. I also realize that what may be regarded as “politics” bores and disengages others. But one thing that should absolutely be spelt out loud and clear is this: expecting the establishment to suddenly be considerate of you if you don’t at least try and engage with them is extremely naïve. The establishment is generally quite satisfied with the status quo because they are, after all, the establishment. No less than the Associate Artistic Director at the Young Vic told a group of us that change will only come about if we continue doing what we did during Zhao-gate i.e. speaking and engaging with mainstream gate-keepers as human beings.

And that is what we’re talking about here. Engagement.

BEAA founding members at Opening the Door, Young Vic, 11 Feb 2013, clockwise from bottom left: Hi Ching, Michelle Lee, Lucy Sheen, Chowee Leow, Amanda Rogers and Jennifer Lim.

For background information, read the chronology of The Orphan of Zhao controversy

BEAA open letter to Minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey.

Lucy Sheen on the RSC Orphan of Zhao campaign one year on.

Press pick up on the BEAA letter to Ed Vaizey.

BEAA Facebook and website.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Letter to Wendi Deng: Tony Blair - what were you thinking?


Wednesday 5th February 2014

Dear Wendi, Uncle Mao says get thee back to the Beijing Academy for Lady Spooks coz it's not just the wrong end of the stick you're grabbing … We had a whole module on HOW NOT TO TURN INTO NINOTCHKA but you missed that session coz you had your botox appointment. OK, so I got the fuzzy end of the lollipop and stepped in some British far left but now that I've scraped it off, we'd better get some results before the motherland hits Number One spot in the fiscal hit parade, which if I'm any judge of horseflesh, should be here in a couple of minutes. http://www.vanityfair.com/society/2014/03/wendi-deng-note-tony-blair


Thursday 6th February 2014

OK, Wendi, you scamp. You've gone and done it now. In the belly of the beast, Mordor itself, and you forget the CCTV? And the staff? And the security squad? What were you, drunk on Tone's pheromones? So now the whole world thinks you "fed" Tony at Rupe's own table (Module No 6 at the Beijing Academy for Lady Spooks, if memory serves me right — was it the old strawberry in the chocolate fountain number?), and that he followed you to your bedroom - led by the short and curlies, no doubt. (I definitely prefer our long and silkies to caucasian kinkies, but each to their own).

Will you please hurry up and come home? I will be in the jet … yes, THAT jet with the engine running. Uncle Mao says I should leave the jet in the hangar with the engine running and you in it but I told him not to despair. Re-education is a marvellous thing even if you won't appreciate it for the first year and a bit. Bring a book. (And, yes, the Sideshow Bob escapades at the Old Bailey are sidesplittingly hilarious. Charlie's mags, huh? Who does Sideshow think she's fooling in her cute Peter Pan collar. Wash that image out of your eyes if you can.)
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2552140/Sexy-legs-piercing-blue-eyes-Wendi-Dengs-explosive-note-Tony-Blair-revealed-magazine-marriage-Rupert-Murdoch-collapsed-amid-rumours-crush-former-prime-minister.html

Ed Vaizey responds to British East Asian Artists open letter on cultural inclusion


Ed Vaizey responds to British East Asian Artists open letter.

The BEAA writes:

Some of you may have seen yesterday an open letter from British East Asian Artists (BEAA) to the Minister For Culture, Ed Vaizey. The letter was in response to Mr. Vaizey’s recent roundtable discussions with leading black actors and industry heads about the lack of opportunities for “Black & Asian” actors in the UK.

We wrote because it’s simply too easy for us, the “third minority”, to be overlooked and ignored.

Today we received this from Mr. Vaizey’s office –

“Excellent points – thank you. Will include you in my thinking and invite you to my next round table”

Harriet Harman, the Labour Shadow Culture Secretary is also keen to meet with us.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who shared, tweeted and supported the open letter yesterday. When more of us speak up we are a powerful voice. Let’s not think of ourselves as the “smallest ethnic group”. Let’s think of ourselves as the third largest and fastest growing.

It’s extremely heartening to see more and more of us moving away from that “silent model minority” stereotype which will only ever renders us irrelevant and invisible.

If you want to be heard In modern Britain, you have to (in the immortal words of the Beastie Boys), “fight for your right to party”.

Let’s continue doing so.

Press pick up on the BEAA letter to Ed Vaizey.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

British East Asian Artists open letter to Ed Vaizey and broadcaster on racial exclusion in the culture


An open letter to Ed Vaizey and heads of broadcasting from the British East Asian Artists group.

We read with interest that the UK Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, The Right Honourable Mr. Ed Vaizey, has expressed concern about the number of black actors who are abandoning Britain for America because of lack of opportunities here. We welcome the concern that Mr. Vaizey and the media at large have expressed on this issue recently. We also welcome his determination to make meaningful changes in this area. In our opinion such an initiative is long overdue.

However we hope that these concerns and efforts will include all minority ethnic groups and not just the catch-all “Black & Asian”. As a group that fights the cause of British East Asian theatre and screen workers, we would like all parties to keep at the forefront of their mind that Asia continues east of India and that East Asia (particularly the East Asian “diaspora”) is not just “Chinese” and “Japanese”.

East Asians are the third largest minority ethnic group in Britain today. We are also the fastest growing and arguably the most diverse.

This is simply not reflected on our stages and screens at present and never has been.

China, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand are among the top ten senders of international students to the UK, which by the government’s own statistics contributed 75% of the UK’s total education export income worth £17.5 billion in 2011. British East Asians contribute much to the economy and general make-up of the modern United Kingdom and to be continually ignored and passed over in this way is surely unacceptable.

As said, we welcome the ministerial and media concern about black actors which is no doubt largely as a result of the recent success of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba.

Let us remember though, that, despite the lack of challenging opportunities, both Chiwetel and Idris had successful enough careers here to enable them to start up in the US.

No such opportunities (barring literally one or two “tokens”) are afforded East Asians in Britain. Recent successful “China plays” aside, East Asians are not seen in our popular media.

In 30 years, except for one Chinese DVD seller who lasted barely three months, the popular soap opera Eastenders has never featured any recurring East Asian characters whatsoever.

The hospital dramas, Casualty and Holby City, have featured only three young East Asian regular characters each despite the high number of (diverse) East Asians working in our health service. Coronation Street, set around Manchester with its long-established Chinatown, has featured only one East Asian character (a female Chinese immigrant) in its entire history.

East Asian males are rarely seen on our screens and mixed-race East Asians are particularly rare, not fitting the generic “Chinese/Japanese” stereotype. When East Asians are featured they are nearly always heavily accented, the women passive and submissive, the men brutish, asexual and devoid of any individualistic character. East Asians are, more often than any other minority ethnic group, rarely seen as indigenous.

In discussions around equal opportunities and social inclusion we therefore urge all parties to consider the full extent of Britain’s multicultural make-up. On our part, we feel that East Asians have been seen as the “model minority” for too long. High-achieving, silent and largely invisible. We feel this needs to change now.

Signed:

Anna Chen
Hi Ching
Dr. Broderick Chow
Kathryn Golding
Paul Hyu
Michelle Lee
Chowee Leow
Jennifer Lim
Dr. Amanda Rogers
Lucy Sheen
Dr. Diana Yeh
Daniel York

About British East Asian Artists

British East Asian Artists (BEAA) is a pressure group comprising actors, performers, writers, film-makers and academics who came together during the controversy over the Royal Shakespeare Company’s casting of the Chinese classic The Orphan Of Zhao with just three actors of East Asian descent in a cast of seventeen with all three in roles described by critics as “minor”. The social media protest initiated went global and resulted in the Arts Council and Equity sponsoring the Opening The Door To East Asians In The Theatre event last February 11th 2013. BEAA’s objectives are to raise the profile of East Asians working in theatre, film and TV and to enable people of East Asian descent to make, and have access to, performing arts work.

Chronology of the RSC Orphan of Zhao campaign ("Zhaogate")": http://madammiaow.blogspot.co.uk/p/rsc-orphan-of-zhao.html

Press pick up on the BEAA letter to Ed Vaizey.

britisheastaa.wix.com/beaactors

www.facebook.com/BEAArtists Twitter @BEAsianArtists

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