Sunday 29 November 2015

Heaven Sent Doctor Who episode satisfies this SF critic at last: five-star review


It is always good to be brought into the light, even though it may take an age: better late than never. And so the theme of Heaven Sent, the penultimate episode in the latest series of Doctor Who, brings me to my knees in grateful awe. Heaven Sent knocked me off my cynical perch where I've been nailed ever since Russell T Davies rebooted the Time Lord franchise to dreary derivative effect. And may I say I have never been happier to have had my opinions reversed so totally even if this turns out to be one glorious, single, solitary, diamond-perfect episode before it all goes back to normal.

Quite staggering in its concept and clever in its execution, this episode never makes a wrong turn. Blessed relief to find histrionics kept to a minimum, only reflecting the Doctor's impossible predicament and thus earning him the right to emote furiously, epically and truthfully. At last, Steven Moffat gives Peter Capaldi a script worthy of his talent and our expectations.

A grieving Doctor is deposited in a vast unrealisable castle, who-knows-where, which turns out to be a gigantic puzzle reminiscent of the classic The House That Jack Built episode (1966) that had Diana Rigg's Emma Peel so thoroughly trapped and beaten in The Avengers series.

Pursued relentlessly by The Veil, a monstrous shade of Death, it is only when the Doctor solves the first bit of the puzzle that we realise how difficult this challenge is. He is forced to struggle across all his levels of existence, from his deepest inner nightmares, to engagement with the ghost of Clara, to his survival on a colossal cosmic scale, and is tried to his utmost ingenuity and courage.

"How many seconds in eternity?", he asks. Not such an empty question as you might think.

A truthful confession dredged out of his deepest recesses stops The Veil in its tracks and resets the castle, whose floors and rooms rotate and move, for the next stage of the chase. Here, even the constellations are all wrong: the stars tell him that his very own torture chamber is 7,000 years in the future. How long has he been playing this game? Will he work out his ultimate escape? Will he run out of confessions?

Piece by piece he solves the puzzle and escapes death time and time again. Who was the owner of the skull he finds at the top of the tower still attached by electrodes? What is the meaning of the word written in the dust? He discovers that the castle is an island surrounded by a sea of human skulls. What cruelty has the castle's creator unleashed on these poor souls?

And yet, as in all the best stories, beneath the byzantine puzzle, there is a simple explanation whose driving force shoots this episode to the front of the SF screen rankings.

Our Doctor finally reaches the Home room, the square at the end of the game, where the Tardis and escape is set tantalisingly the other side of a crystal wall. At 400 times the hardness of diamond and twenty feet thick, it is impossible to penetrate. And yet, this surely has to be the moment he vanquishes? Well, yes, but not in the way you might expect.

What follows is a tour de force sequence that satisfies every demand for great story-telling. The moment you realise how the Doctor is going to win takes your breath away and is beautiful in its simple, profound truth. Here is eternity in a grain of sand, heaven in a flower. You could almost call this Triumph of the Will, but let's not go there.

So, bravo, Steven Moffat. It didn't take you a billion years to get here after all. It only felt like it. Salud.

Where to watch Heaven Sent.
On iPlayer.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Terminator Genisys review: a tragic thing to do to an old friend


Oh the excitement as the Amazon package containing another 3D blu-ray movie drops through the door. This week it's the fifth in the much-loved Terminator franchise, Terminator Genisys which I've had on order for weeks and which was at long last released on November 2nd.

But yikes ...

After a promising start with Arnie doing a decent job reprising his original role as a craggily Johnny Cashesque aging Terminator, the movie ultimately proves itself a truly godawful stinker.

There's no sense that smug well-fed Jai Courtney as the tragic Kyle Reese is a top trooper who has endured a lifetime of apocalyptic nightmare under the tyranny of Cyberdyne and their Skynet artificial intelligence system. Instead, he looks like a jock goon straight out of a National Lampoons movie, dishonouring the memory of Michael Biehn, who wrung our hearts in the original.

It took me a while to realise that the one-note brat playing Sarah Connor is Emilia Clarke, Danaeris from Game of Thrones. I may have to wait and forget her performance in Genisys before I resume watching GOT season 4 but I fear my viewing may be irreparably harmed by her feisty feistiness. I may even take to referring to her as Her Feistiness. In case you hadn't guessed, I HATE feisty. Too cutesy, and insufficiently endowed with guts to be as truly challenging as demi-goddess Linda Hamilton (all hail).

What happened to Clarke's GOT co-star, Lena Headey, who made such a magnificent Sarah in the TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles? Did she take one look at the script and scarper?

Both Courtney and Clarke lack sensitivity and depth, and fail to recreate the mythical grandeur of the original movie, not helped by witless lumpen dialogue that a smart 11-year old would find embarrassing.

It says a lot when, aside from Arnie, the best acting comes from the T-800 (Brett Azar with Arnie's CGI'd face) and the T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun doing a great Robert Patrick). Not to mention JK Simmons spanning the years as Detective O'Brien.

The writers should be made to sweep streets for turning out this time-travel mess in which five dates figure: 1984, 1997, 2014, 2017 and 2029, plus the year when Sarah Connor was nine years old and got herself a pet "Pops" — an Ah-nuld Terminator. Got it?

The film opens with the messianic leader of the Resistance, John Connor (played by the decidedly UN-messianic Jason Clarke, meh!), sending his best buddy Kyle back in time from their offensive in 2029 to 1984 to protect his mum. So far, so like the original. However, in this timeline, it's all different and in the new 1984, Sarah is already hardass and familiar with the plot (aren't we all, dear) and now has that (rather emasculated) pet T-800 in tow. The other thing that is different is that Sarah and her cyborg minder have knocked up a little time machine. In 1984. Yeah, right. Never mind protecting Sarah, protect the crock of a plot at all costs.

Anyhow, I digress. The subsequent John Connor twist is severely mishandled, throwing away this key character. And the plot holes ... So if John Connor is transformed into a nanocyte prototype Terminator-3000 and goes back to 2014 in order to develop Genisys, Skynet's global operating system, in time for its deployment in 2017, and also to kill his parents, how can he be born and go back to 2014 in order to ... This conundrum is crudely plugged by nicking directly from the charmingly effective method in the original to the effect that someone says, "a person could go mad working this out". It's meant to work under cover of a witty callback to the first movie but just ends up calling attention to its own ineptitude.

There's not enough emotional pacing to transmit the horror of the situation in which JC and the family finds itself and results in just another over-complicated blah sci-fi movie when I wanted epic SF that explores big themes. In the wake of so much brilliant writing emerging from America, from Buffy to Breaking Bad, this is unforgivable.

I was optimistic about this movie, having seen what a glorious job the makers of the new Mad Max, Fury Road, did with the franchise. Terminator Genisys may have done well at the box office but I wonder how many viewers were pleased with the experience.

The brief presence of Matt Smith as the evuhl T-5000 who turns John Connor into a machine indicates intentions to make another sequel. It'll be back.

Sunday 11 October 2015

All white at the BBC: South Africa would be proud of Newsnight

I've had the good fortune to be one of the few ethnics who have slipped through the cultural net and been able to make a few good programmes at the BBC, having a great face for the radio. But it's shameful that there's still so much unconscious racism as inadvertently exposed in a recent BBC recruitment film which neglects to mention their Black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) audience and production staff (absence of). That's how unaware they are in this age of diversity. After all, the Beeb is based in a city that's 44 per cent non-white, so what is their excuse?

"I set the general editorial direction of travel," says Newsnight editor Ian Katz at a meeting rammed with white faces.

I found it useless trying to talk to Katz when he was editor of the Guardian's G2 supplement in 2000. They'd run a controversialist piece by Charlotte Raven about the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which was storming the box offices: " ... Because they were oriental, everyone presumed this was understatement, rather than woodenness. ... In Chinese, delivered inscrutably, it seemed to contain multitudes."

My disappointment wasn't so much that one writer had written this casual othering of a racial group but more that the G2 editors — the Guardian institution — hadn't sounded alarm bells. I can only guess at how richly ethnically diverse they weren't. I was met with hostility for raising the issue, so I'm hardly surprised that Katz now works in an all-white environment at the BBC. (Here's how it panned out.)

When working on my my play for Radio 4, Red Guard, Yellow Submarine, drawn from my memoir of the same name about being brought up by Chinese communists in Hackney, I walked through Broadcasting House with my producer, Pam Fraser-Solomon, who is Black, and it was notable that the only other non-white face at the time was the cleaner.

It's assumed that white folk do everything best and that any person of colour is there as a token.

Every time we stick our heads up the dominant white establishment tries to shoot us down. East Asians actors were give four minuscule roles out of 17 in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Chinese classic, The Orphan of Zhao — which the RSC then had the cheek to market to Chinese audiences. Trevor Nunn wants to produce all-white Shakespeare histories in the interest of verismilitude, minus the bad teeth and buboes, of course.

The latest lazy dismissal in the Guardian of a rare project made by a non-white team, Reggie Yates: Race Riots USA, would indicate that the liberal media are in nightmarish free-fall into some inner apartheid hell zone. I mean, accusing the lovely calm Reggie Yates of the crime of swagger? How submissive must a Black man be to assuage the white writer's fear?

I suggest they seek help. And I said, "seek help", not "sieg heil".

The Independent: Behind the scenes Newsnight new show blows the lid on the lack of racial diversity on the BBC.

Thursday 1 October 2015

Reggie Yates Race Riots USA review: white liberal Guardianista requires smelling salts

Reggie Yates: Race Riots USA review

BBC3 Tuesday 29 Sept 2015

There's a lot of shark-jumping going on down Fleet Street. You may have observed the liberal press laying into the resurgence in progressive politics of late with a hysteria largely missing in action when it comes to the current assault on the poor, about which they are remarkably sanguine. I haven't seen such a screeching mess since the Mogwais were last fed after midnight.

Bankers break the economy and lie about Libor; the top percent double their dosh since the crash while the poor are driven to debt and suicide to better recapitalise the system. However, it's not the brutal transfer of wealth from poor to rich that's driving them to frothing fury, but Jeremy Corbyn's vest. How dare the new Labour leader lack vanity, have principles and, at long last, give hope to the weakest after three and half decades of Thatcherism?

When the oppressed and their champions mount a challenge, the liberal press turn out to be not quite so liberal after all. Just as the French government put their war with Prussia on hold in 1871 to team up with their 'enemy' to massacre the Paris Communards, you can barely squeeze a cigarette paper between the Guardian and their New Statesman stablemates on one side, and the Daily Mail et al on the other when it comes to maintaining the status quo (emphasis on status. And privilege.)

It's crept into every nook and cranny of the culture like the noxious diesel fumes invisibly killing us while someone makes a profit.

And lo, black Londoner Reggie Yates makes a thoughtful piece about the killings of black men by police in America — Race Riots USA — and what is the Guardian's chief concern? "Yates can’t seem to decide if he’s supposed to go with the poker face or let rip with his own opinions." Or as the headline has it, "an impartial observer's indignance leaks through." (Did they mean 'indignation', by any chance?) Uppity Reggie! Heaven forfend that a journalist is able to tell this story from the inside out like a human being, not a robot. What does he think this is? Jezza's vestgate? He's reasonable, puzzled, enquiring and moved rather than the easy-to-dismiss raging black man some of the media might prefer.

In case that didn't convince you to move along, nuthin' to see, the Guardian chips away with the flimsiest justification: ' ... “It could have been me” pronouncement while a driver holding a “Reggie Yates” sign meets him at the airport and takes his bags to the car. It confuses his status: is he the inquisitive everyman, there to guide us through the subject, or a celebrity who doesn’t carry his own bags?'

Perhaps it shows him as an ordinary dude who has booked a cab to meet him at the airport and, as is common practice, the driver's waiting with a hand scrawled sign of his passenger's name. It begins the story with his arrival and makes the point that he is from the outside ... and yet not.

Unarmed men and women are being murdered by white police and will never receive justice because of the colour of their skin, a skin they share with Yates. Some 176 in one year alone. Neither are women and children safe: a pregnant woman thrown to the ground; a bikini-clad adolescent manhandled by a cop at a pool-party; the boy with a toy gun shot dead; the teenager killed in the back of a police van. And still they keep on coming.

It is a scary, distressing and enraging catalogue of horrors. But the author of the Guardian review is most concerned about Yates getting above himself at the airport. Such was her snide hostility that I thought this couldn't possibly be a white writer as any halfway competent editor would have spiked such naked spite by a representative of drearily dominant whiteness, and that this must have been written by one of the house slaves. But no, Julia Raeside is white. And protecting her patch.

It is a bullshit piece. Obtuse, deliberately not understanding the issue. How could a journalist write something so hostile, so blatantly ignoring what Yates has done here? He's taken us into the belly of the beast and introduced us to its ugly complexities so effectively that, despite herself, Raeside almost praises him, but then catches herself and has another snipe in parentheses:
'When the rally is approached by two young black men, one in a Peace & Unity T-shirt, both of them filming with their phones, the unease is palpable. But a quick intervention by Yates (he gets away with a lot here by having a camera crew in tow) begins a dialogue between a blonde woman and the T-shirt pacifist, in which they largely agree on the need for cooperation.'

Yates also performs a fine journalistic function (unlike Raeside) in revealing that filthy lucre, not just blind prejudice, plays a key role in the collective tragedy that is Black America. The police force, which is around 94 per cent white, pays for itself with the fines on the Ferguson community, which is 70per cent black. Some of the people dragged into court owe five thousand dollars in what is an institutional shakedown with menaces. And on the day that Yates visits the court, they are all black. See what happens when you have a service based on profit? Which brings us neatly full circle to Jeremy Corbyn and yet more reason Labour must make the crucial challenge to austerity, exclusion and privatisation.

How often do you see a black person in Yates's position with a VOICE, who isn't a white person's stereotypical creation? The Guardian piece, people of colour, is the slap down you get for doing white folks' job and doing it well. Can't have young black people inspired like this. They might start demanding equal rights and opportunity. By the way, I'm delighted to note that Reggie and I went to the same school: Central Foundation Boys (in Old Street) and Girls (Spitalfields).

One question I would like answered is whether this wave of killings of unarmed black men and women has risen since Obama became President. His ascent to power seems to have driven Republican whites mad and you wonder if, unable to reach the interloper in the Oval office, the grim truth is that any black person will do.

EDIT: even sweeter, this was filmed, directed and produced by Ruhi Hamid and produced by Kandise Abiola, two women of colour aiming to "reflect the mood of Ferguson ten months after the riots and protests that followed the fateful shooting of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson."

Postscript: Julia Raeside thought it was a good idea to advertise her nasty clickbait piece with this tweet. I looked from Guardian to Daily Mail and back again and already it was impossible to tell which would look better in a cat tray.

Friday 4 September 2015

Eggheads Against Jeremy Corbyn: right-wing academics phone it in to the FT

It's taken the right wing ages to muster 55 Jeremy Corbyn-bashing academics in the FT. (They include Alastair Milne, Professor of Economics at the University of Loughborough. Any relation to Seumas?)

I hate to mock the afflicted but they really are flailing like punch-drunks and have tacked together an argument most of us can answer in our sleep (hello, railways!).

It should be noted that while JC's People's QE's is far too good for the likes of us, Draghi is promising yet more money printing for the banks.

And I swear to you, the list includes a Ronald MacDonald.

For those of you with FT access, the comments are the best thing about this desperate gesture. For those without, here are the salient bits of the letter:

Corbynomics has not been thought through seriously

We wish to register our opinion that the economic policies sketched by Jeremy Corbyn are likely to be highly damaging, and send this message to counter the impression that might be got from the previous letter of “41 economists” that Mr Corbyn’s policies command widespread support in the mainstream of the discipline.

Renationalising industries is highly unlikely to improve the performance of its targets, and very likely, if history is anything to go by, to make things worse. If compensation is paid, it will be a waste of fiscal space, even unaffordable; in case it is not, it will be extremely damaging to the climate for enterprise in the UK as other companies fear the government would get a taste for it.

“People’s QE” would be a highly damaging threat to fiscal credibility, and unnecessary, since at this time of very low interest rates and tolerable debt/GDP public investment — in many areas much needed — can be financed conventionally. Figures put on money that could be found from ending “corporate welfare” and combating tax evasion are almost unbelievable and add to the sense that Mr Corbyn’s plans have not been seriously thought through.

Paul Levine
Professor of Economics,
University of Surrey
Tony Yates
Professor of Economics,
University of Birmingham
Wouter den Haan
Professor of Economics,
London School of Economics
John van Reenen
Professor of Economics,
London School of Economics
George Magnus
Associate, China Centre,
University of Oxford
Ronald MacDonald
Professor of Economics,
Glasgow University
Cristiano Cantore
Senior Lecturer in Economics and
Deputy Head of School, University of Surrey
Joe Pearlman
Professor of Economics,
City University
Kent Matthews
Professor of Economics,
University of Cardiff
Costas Milas
Professor of Economics,
University of Liverpool
Akos Valentinyi
Professor of Economics,
Cardiff University
Valentina Corradi
Professor of Economics,
University of Surrey
Alex Mandilaras
Senior Lecturer in Economics,
University of Surrey
Cian Twomey
Lecturer in Financial Economics,
National University of Ireland, Galway
Miguel Leon-Ledesma
Professor of Economics,
University of Kent
Alexander Mihailov
Associate Professor of Economics,
University of Reading
Peter Sinclair
Professor of Economics,
University of Birmingham
Christopher Martin
Professor of Economics,
University of Bath
Richard Disney
Professor of Economics,
University of Sussex and Institute for Fiscal Studies
John Fender
Professor of Economics,
University of Birmingham
Chris Florakis
Associate Professor of Finance,
University of Liverpool
Philip Rothman
Professor of Economics,
East Carolina University
James Foreman-Peck
Professor of Economics,
University of Cardiff
Juan Paez-Farrell
Lecturer in Economics,
University of Sheffield
Mike Wickens
Professor of Economics,
University of York
Michael McMahon
Associate Professor of Economics,
University of Warwick
Michael Ben-Gad
Professor of Economics,
City University
George Bratsiotis
Reader in Economics,
University of Manchester
Dr Rebecca Driver
Economist, Analytically Driven
Phillip Booth
Professor of Insurance and Risk Management,
Cass Business School
Theo Panagiotidis
Professor of Economics,
University of Macedonia, Greece
Ali Al Nowahi
Professor of Economics,
University of Leicester
Manthos Delis
Professor of Financial Economics and Banking,
Surrey Business School, University of Surrey
Martin Ellison
Professor of Economics,
University of Oxford
Christopher Spencer
Lecturer in Economics,
University of Loughborough
Alastair Milne
Professor of Economics,
University of Loughborough
Tom Holden
Lecturer in Economics,
University of Surrey
Patrick Minford
Professor of Economics,
University of Cardiff
Mark Koyama
George Mason University,
Washington DC, US
Ettiene Farvaque
Professor of Economics,
University of Lille
Stephen Hall
Professor of Economics,
University of Leicester
Stephen Wright
Professor of Economics,
Birkbeck College, University of London
Ray Barrell
Professor of Economics,
Brunel University
Ben Ferrett
Senior Lecturer in Economics,
University of Loughborough
Roy Zilberman
Lecturer in Economics,
University of Lancaster
Richard Dennis
Professor of Economics,
Glasgow University
Peter Doyle
Former senior manager,
International Monetary Fund
Todd Kaplan
Professor of Economics,
University of Exeter
Bob Rothschild
Emeritus Professor of Economics,
University of Lancaster
James Davidson
Professor of Economics,
University of Exeter
George Kapetanios
Professor of Economics,
Queen Mary College, University of London
William Tayler
Lecturer, University of Lancaster
James Malley
Professor of Economics,
University of Glasgow
Kitty Ussher
Managing Director,
Tooley Street Research
Geraint Johnes
Professor of Economics,
University of Lancaster
Ethan Ilzetzki
Lecturer in Economics,
London School of Economics

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Cat conversation on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership contest

Madam Miaow of Cats for Corbyn translates:

"Waddya think of this leadership contest?"
"It don't half exposes the contradictions in the bourgeois democracy."
"Ya reckon?"
"Just a bit!"
"They really don't want the one with the beard to win, do they?"
"The one with the eyelashes fancies his chances."
"I don't. He's deader than that mouse you found."
"At least the mouse didn't beg for his life the way eyelash boy did."
"The little one looks like she'd confiscate your bikkies given half a chance."
"And the other one would rub your nose in your own poo if you even looked at her funny."
"Better than rubbing it in her poo, for which I hear she has form."
"Beardie would give you the prawns off his own plate. 'Stroo!"
"Let's go and rub ourselves against his legs."
"Okay but try not to trip him up. No point doing their job for them."
"Race ya. Last one on his lap's got fleas!"
'C'mere. You need a wash first. You always show me up."

Monday 24 August 2015

Poem for Jeremy Corbyn: Labour Pains by Anna Chen

No slouching towards Westminster by JC.

Here's my poem about the current welcome rush to the heart and head. I guess that makes me a Poet for Jeremy Corbyn too.


We snapped on a light
and in the glare all was laid bare.
Suddenly Yvette Cooper wasn’t so super,
Kendall won’t mend anything at all
‘cause Liz fights tooth and claw for biz.
As for principles, Andy says burn ‘em.
But the latecomer nails jelly to the wall,
walks tall among the fallen,
cuts a swathe through those in thrall
to the false gods in the shopping maul.
Looking like Santa, cast as Satan,
working like a dynamo, everybody’s smitten.
Bottle what he’s made of, someone nab the patent,
before the bloody Blairites get their twisted knickers straightened.
Groping in the gloom we’d forgotten how to stand,
the air up here so fresh and clean, the view they tried to ban.
Blinking in the sunlight, nerves and sinews flex,
this is how hope feels, it’s betterer than sex.
A pole star restored, a fiery dawn,
this way something bright is born.

Anna Chen
3rd August 2015

Anna Chen's collection of poetry, Reaching for my Gnu, is published by Aaaargh! Press

Margaret Thatcher Died at the Ritz (2013)

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Chopsticks At Dawn on BBC Radio 4 Extra, Thursday 2nd July

My programme, Chopsticks At Dawn, about chinoiserie clichés in music, is on tomorrow BBC Radio 4 Extra & iPlayer.

It's on four times: 6:30; 13:30; 20:30 and again the next morning at 01:30, so no excuses.

First broadcast 2010 on BBC Radio 4.

Produced by Chris Eldon-Lee and Mukti Jain Campion for Culture Wise.
With musicologist Dr Jonathan Walker

Chinese decorative arts are revered in the West. From Willow pattern dinner plates to the Brighton Pavilion, their designs are regarded as beautiful and sophisticated. But for the past two centuries European composers and musicians have had no qualms about mercilessly parodying what they thought of as 'Chinese tunes'.

As a girl growing up in Hackney, the opening orientalised-flute strains of the 1970s pop record Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas were enough to send future comedian Anna Chen running for cover.

The same cliches haunt Turning Japanese by The Vapours, Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie And The Banshees and David Bowie's China Girl. They have all followed a pattern set by Claude Debussy, Malcolm Arnold, Albert Ketelbey and Lancashire Linnet George Formby, who were equally guilty of taking Chinese musical motifs and mangling them - or simply making them up!

How did this mocking abuse of a handful of venerable Far Eastern notes begin?

Musicologist Dr Jonathan Walker accompanies Anna on a historical mission, picking out examples on the piano and explaining why and how our western ears hear certain note configurations as "oriental" - from Chopsticks to Chopin.

They explore the pentatonic scale that chartacterises so much Chinese music, delve into the story of the Opium Wars which triggered a deep British disrespect of Chinese musical culture and unveil the earliest dubious examples of Chinoiserie in Western Music.

And we hear from a new generation of British born Chinese musicians who are putting right the discordant wrongs of the past 200 years.

Chopsticks At Dawn
Producer: Chris Eldon Lee
A Culture Wise production for BBC Radio 4.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Austerity, economics and a sense of proportion ...

... instead we get lies, damned lies and government spin. A simple placard tells us what the forces of ehvul and their media wing don't want us to know.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Thousands of Chinese seamen forcibly repatriated after WWII deserve justice

Peter Foo writes in his petition, addressed to Home Office Minister Theresa May, seeking justice for men who risked their lives for this country and Allied interests in World War Two:

We are seeking an acknowledgement and apology from the Home Office for the 1946 Forced Repatriation of thousands of Chinese Seamen based in Liverpool on behalf of their families, wives, children and grandchildren.

On behalf of all of the children, I have started this petition because my father disappeared in 1946 and this event has had a bad reflection on my life.

It is reasonably well known and well documented that thousands of Chinese seamen made up the numbers to crew the British merchant ships during the Second World War, the majority manning cargo ships on the renowned North Atlantic run. They all played a part in the allied forces victory.

It was brought to light and made available to the general public in 2002 that in July 1946 the police under the supervision of UK government agents indiscriminately rounded up thousands of these Chinese seamen and forcibly deported them from the UK to the Far East.

Due to civil conflict between the Communists and the Republicans the coastal areas of main land China being inaccessible the majority of these seamen were not repatriated but were put ashore in foreign countries thousands of miles from their homes.

The families of these seamen were totally ignorant of these events thinking that the men were killed at sea or they had been deserted and left abandoned with no form of income.

A number of the Liverpool Chinese seamen forcibly deported over a period of two days, were married to Liverpool women or were in relationships with British women and were fathers to young children.

These ‘children’ are now in their late sixties - early seventies and have realised that their lives have been affected by the emotional upset of finding out that their fathers who had disappeared had probably been forcibly repatriated. Some of the women affected have found out in the last three years that they had been adopted and this has caused much upset to them and their children and grandchildren.

On the 18th October 1945 representatives of the British government along with the Chief Constable of Liverpool, Herbert Winstanley and the Liverpool Immigration Inspector, Ted Holmes attended a meeting chaired by a Home Office civil servant, Carew Robinson representing the Ministry of War Transport to organise the expulsion of 2000 ‘undesirable’ Chinese seamen. A decision was made that the women who were in relationships with Chinese seamen were prostitutes.

The consequence of this historic illegal deportation created a detrimental effect on the lives of innocent British citizens and has arguably had tragic and psychological life changing implications including financial difficulties and cannot be measured in any shape or form.

Peter Foo

Please sign

Friday 29 May 2015

BBC gladiatorial combat and poverty porn in Britain's Hardest Grafter

Beyond satire! The BBC has commissioned Britain's Hardest Grafter, a "game" series described as "Benefits Street meets The Hunger Games" which pitches the poorest among us — the unemployed and the low-paid — against each other for a cash prize. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is an early model for this latest hate-fuelled poverty porn but they should actually be shooting (metaphorically, anyway) the inhumane nobs at the once-great BBC who are making this garbage.

In one fell swoop, BBC controller Kim Shillinglaw flushes any remaining dignity enjoyed by her employer down the waste-pipe.

Few members of a civilised society would derive pleasure from the suffering of the weak unless they were either only an inch away from falling through the gaps themselves and harbouring a lot of fear, or else they were themselves doing well off the backs of such inequality. As the master of ceremonies (played by Gig Young) says of his revolting audience in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, "They just want misery to make them feel better."

In case we need reminding, it is the government's job to run an economy that provides proper jobs, housing and health for Her Majesty's subjects (for we are still denied the grown-up status of citizens). It is neither moral nor ethical to have their propaganda wing sow even more hatred for Brits laid low by the failings of their own government.

Emboldened by the Tory victory in the general election, all sorts of creeps are crawling out from under their stones and revealing themselves. Not that it should have come as much of a surprise to see Prince Harry, the druggy, womanising second-born to Prince Charles and the sainted Diana, (he who threatened to have his inferiors beheaded when he was at school), demanding that the lost generation of youth on whom the government has given up be compelled to do "national service"; fight and be killed in his granny's army.

The wealthy heaved a sigh of relief when the Tories won. No mansion tax, no extra homes built or protection for hard-working, rent-paying tenants. Instead, Foxtons, the rich persons' estate agency, saw an immediate jump in their stock value of 14 per cent while the buy-to-let sector rolls on like a big tax-sucking juggernaut. Especially ripe for picking under the proposed new Right To Buy rules, is the last remaining sector of semi-public affordable housing now fated to end up in the hands of private landlords via Housing Association residents who've lived there for three years or more.

And yet it is still the poor who have to pick up the bill for bankers' profligacy. To people using food banks as a result of institutional misfeasance, cruelty (hello, IDS), and a bad case of couldn't-give-a-fuck-itis, our rulers are asking, "Do you want relish on that?"

BBC output stormed to the right under Chris "Lord" Patton's reign as chair of the BBC Trust, and the odious former Director-General Mark Thompson. Barely a day passes without the glorification of the armed forces in drama and documentary, or the promotion of demagogues like Nigel Farage and shrink-the-state tycoons such as vulture capitalist Jon Moulton given airtime way beyond that accorded to left-of-centre progressives such as the Greens. Now that we have a Culture Minister in John Whittingdale who is virulently opposed to the entire raison d'être of the TV license that allows the BBC to produce quality without commercial pressure, we can wave bye-bye to the glory days of a benign public service (up to a point!).

I hear that there's more blue-sky thinking at the Beeb concerning an exciting new witch-burning series. A cross between Judge Judy (for it must always be a woman who is seen to do the patriarchy's dirty work and, as they couldn't find Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, they're getting Katie Hopkins to front it), Jeremy Kyle and It's A Knockout (the hilarious ducking-stool section of the show), with a star of ISIL regularly on the panel.

Watch this kids — THIS is your future ...

Here's a petition to sign.

Monday 27 April 2015

General election 2015: "It pumps me up!!!" not a lot


I KNEW David Cameron would try the Obama "anger translator" trick and screw it up. His speech today launching his small business manifesto (sic!) in London was made even more hideously embarrassing by not actually hiring in the translator. Perhaps it's an English flaw, confusing mere rich-kid petulance with the fiery passion he'd dearly love to exude but can't. And, one mo' thang, Dave, it's "you've got another THINK coming," not "another thing" (which is what I heard mumbled on Radio 4's World At One programme just now). Perhaps Dave should be given the opportunity to spend more time with his book after 7th May.

Team Cameron are making much of Dave's claim that he has plenty of other things to do with his life and that being Prime Minister doesn't mean as much to him as it does to the other party leaders in the general election. Smell the BS, taste those sour grapes and pucker up. Surely the role of PM is supposed to be the greatest honour this nation can offer short of tea and crumpets with Her Maj.

Ed is much more likeable, especially as the right's relentless Bullingdon bully-boy tactics have won him the sympathy vote with the nation's young women and given rise to the phenomenon of the Milifan. This is almost as bizarre to me as when mighty efforts were made to transform Margaret Thatcher into a sex symbol in the 1980s and overnight she was turned into Marilyn Monroe ... at least in the eyes of old colonels, Little Ingerland and Alan Clark (who perved about her ankles). I felt like the little boy who saw that not only did the King have no clothes, he was wrinkly and ponked of formaldehyde as well.

Same thing happened with Tony Blair. Was I the only person on the planet who saw a bland posh-git Nigelesque twit whose only stand-out character trait was acquired when he achieved war criminal status over Iraq?

It didn't bother me that Ed was caught inelegantly chowing down on a messy bacon sandwich, not a fraction as much as that Labour "immigration controls" mug (and I don't mean Ed Balls). Re housing — which is surely part of the Labour USP — he's tinkering at the edges, bringing in a mansion tax that catches accidentally asset-rich but income-poor Londoners; bashing the Buy To Let sector, which is a nice juicy target for skint governments, instead of tackling the root cause — NOT ENOUGH HOUSES BEING BUILT FOR THE PAST DECADES. Try that one, Ed, along with increasing decent social housing stock ... and watch those pesky BTL landlords wither away as fast as their savings in the age of deflation.

While Austerity Bastard and Austerity Lite battle it out, we almost missed the super-rich doubling their wealth in the last ten years, thanks to the main parties politely pretending it didn't happen like a fart at that tea with the Queen I was talking about.

It took the Labour Party more than a year to decide that the bedroom tax was a travesty and even longer to challenge the Tory narrative about the deficit, which has now set like concrete and for which you'd now need the equivalent of a political pneumatic drill to break through the lies accreted during the past five years. This election should have been a walk-over after the cruelty, theft and vandalism of the Tory/LibDem Coalition. Ed should heed Aditya Chakrabortty's warning highlighting parallels between Labour and Greece's Pasok party.

Who voted for the Royal Mail firesale? For tuition fees trebled, for tax breaks for the rich, the poor and disabled hounded to suicide? The explosion in food bank use? The whole IDS DWP nightmare?

On the other hand, look at the overlaps of ghastliness with the last Labour government. Who can forget the Private Finance Initiative, loving up to non-doms like Lakshmi Mittal (yes, Ed is doing something now), the near-complete collapse of house-building? Who was it who brought in tuition fees in the first place? How many in the Labour camp have financial interests in privatising the NHS (hi, Alan Milburn and Cherie Blair!). How many Labour peers voted for the NHS Privatisation Bill ... and then it turns out they have financial interests? Former Home Secretary Dr John Reed a director of G4S, Jack Straw selling himself ...

Ach! They're all awful. Having personally witnessed how the far left is just another ruling class in waiting, I'll probably vote Labour just to get rid of the Tories. It pumps me up not a lot!

Monday 13 April 2015

Britain's "liberal" media and UK Chinese: from London Chinatown to the general election

The Guardian has always been sloppy about China matters, but its publishing stable now appears to have given up any pretence of writing about UK Chinese issues informatively.

"It was a genuine community built by the emigrants from Hong Kong who, having been bombed out of Limehouse in the East End in the 1940s, made this patch of London, with its cheap commercial rents, their own," writes Daniel Boffey in the Observer about Soho's Chinatown

Er ... I don't think so. I know we all look the same to the "liberal" media but it was Cantonese and Shanghainese sailors and their families living mainly in the two streets of Pennyfields and Limehouse Causeway, not Hong Kong migrants, who were bombed out during the war: a large number were rehoused in Poplar.

My father was an early Chinese occupant in Soho's Chinatown from 1947 when it was mostly Indian and Jewish. It wasn't until the 1950s — but really the '60s — that waves of Hong Kong migrants got the takeaway industry going after the domestic washing machine rendered laundries largely obsolete. They bought up the fish 'n' chip shops that were going under and started serving their own food.

You wouldn't find many HKers in that early Soho mix. A few Kuomintang diplomats finding new ways to make a living and former Cantonese and Shanghai sailors, but hardly anyone from HK.

In the ten-part series Chinese in Britain, which I presented on BBC Radio 4 in 2007 (repeated last year), we looked at the history of UK Chinatowns including Limehouse and Soho, but the pattern of not allowing ethnic minorities to tell their own story persists in some organs which continue to get it wrong.

At best, invisibility is thrust on us; at worst, the Chinese are still defined as villains. From the yellow-peril Fu Manchu books by Sax Rohmer to the BBC's Sherlock reboot, where even innocent Chinese passers by in Soho Chinatown were portrayed as sinister and "other", the Chinese are dehumanised and excluded. Yet none of the liberal media paused for breath between BAFTAs and plaudits to question why, well into the 21st century, the publicly-funded British Broadcasting Corporation was breathing life back into what should be moribund racist tropes.

In Channel 4's recent  debate concerning the role of the ethnic vote in the imminent general election, chaired by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, only one single solitary east Asian face could be seen in the audience — placed on the corner in the seat nearest to Krishnan where he stood more chance of being picked up by the cameras, presumably after someone panicked on the night at the oversight. None on the platform. Yet Chinese are Britain's third largest Black and Asian minority ethnic minorities (BAME) after South Asians and African Caribbeans.

In a piece for the South China Morning Post magazine last October, I outlined how the ethnic vote could swing results in the marginal seats, with the Chinese key to the outcome in 36 seats including Barnet in May. Still, here are the Chinese being excluded yet again.

So when the Chinese are next accused of being the authors of their own exclusion ... think on.

My article on the Ming Ai Chinese in Britain project for the South China Morning Post magazine.

Pic from Red Scarf

Friday 10 April 2015

Don't let Disney whitewash Mulan

This is modern identity theft on a grand scale. All those east Asian girls in the West already rendered invisible being denied their greatest positive role model in the popular culture. Please sign the petition.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

The Great Wall at Mutianyu: Anna and Paul in China

Another movie from the China trip last month. The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, an hour and a bit drive north of Beijing, which is not only less touristy but has the advantage of a chair lift so you can be right in the landscape, and a toboggan run back down!!!

In between, some awesome history, breathtaking scenery, blue skies and lovely mortar work.

Sadly, I obeyed authority and put away my camera for the toboggan ride. Now regretting it. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Thanks to all at the Bookworm Literary Festival for getting us there. With Paul Anderson, Frané Lessac, Mark Greenwood and Pornima.

More videos of Anna and Paul in China:
The Kung Fu Pandas of Chengdu.
Anna and Paul in The Forbidden City.

Monday 6 April 2015

The Forbidden City video: Anna and Paul in China

In China for the Bookworm Literary Festival and only a day left in this astonishing city of 30 million, so what to do? You can't visit Beijing and not see the old quarter, the hutongs, Tiananmen Square and, of course, the vast Ming era (15th century) Forbidden City.

It makes a welcome relief from the endless glass and steel towers of modern China. Imagine Canary Wharf. Now multiply it by dozens, going on for miles. That's what the big Chinese cities look like, even the secondary ones. Lil ol' Chengdu, nestled in the Himalayan foothills in the middle of the country, has a population of 14 million. Five more than London. Think on that.

The low-lying Forbidden City and its environs are exactly what these tourists craved. The air may be polluted but the streets are the cleanest you'll find anywhere, due in part to the government's Keynsian employment of human beings to sweep the streets with old fashioned twiggy brooms and cute little motorised carts.

We were supremely lucky, according to our friends, to enjoy a rare run of blue skies and warm spring weather for our sightseeing. The first time I'd seen Beijing was on a trip with my parents in the 1970s, where everything was Mao suits and bicycles and not a grubby thought to be had. Now everyone has pollution-gauge apps on their smartphones and shops at every familiar western outlet from Gucci to H&M.

We were as fascinated by watching ordinary Chinese at play as they were by my lovely companion, Paul Anderson. The young people like their fashion and electronic kit. The elderly marvelled at the inner sanctum of imperial life that had always been denied them, despite being built on the backs of their ancestors. They were all eager to learn about their own history and grab a little piece of it on their smartphones, as was I — watch the scrum around the throne pavilion in the video. We are indeed all more alike than different.

The fact that the Chinese have any access at all to this beautifully preserved city — now known as the Palace Museum — is fortunate, considering the looting and destruction perpetrated by both the Kuomintang and the Japanese during the first half of the previous century. When I saw it in the 1970s, the painted woodwork was faded, with many of the tiles broken and fallen, and there were few tourists. It's undergone a transformation as stunning as the Chinese economy.

We arrived earlyish at around 10.30am and the place was already thronging. The long queues through the airport-style security outside Tiananmen Gate were packed into narrow avenues protecting us from terrorist attacks such as the one a couple of years ago that killed several tourists when a jeep ploughed into the crowd and exploded in a fireball – but they got us through quickly enough.  

By 4.30pm, when the kicking-out music was played over the loudspeakers, we'd barely seen a quarter of it. You can sense the ghosts of residents past and trace the route taken by emperors borne in palanquins by eunuchs over magnificent stone carvings. Imagine the imperial writhings on the silk beds in the private quarters; hear the pillow talk, the intrigue. What must the palace politics have been like? What must it have been like to be a minion? A concubine? Trapped, never seeing the world outside these dusty red walls for an entire lifetime?

It must have felt eternal, as if it would continue for another five hundred years at least. But nothing lasts forever, especially if rulers grow complacent and forget the interests of the wider population. That's a lesson we're learning in the West, a lesson that knows no national boundaries.

The first movie I stuck on the telly when I returned home? The Last Emperor, natch, shot in the Forbidden City itself by Bertolucci nearly thirty years ago in 1987. Reader, I woz 'ere!

More videos of Anna and Paul in China:
The Kung Fu Pandas of Chengdu
The Great Wall at Mutianyu

Sunday 5 April 2015

The Kung Fu Pandas of Chengdu: video

I'm back!

I saw pandas running. I saw pandas rollin' and a tumblin'. I saw pandas sprawling with a filthy "come 'n' get me, boys 'n' gurls" look in their over-kohled eyes. I saw marzipan pandas and made short work of them. I saw flaming pandas off the shoulder of Orion. And, yes, I saw pandas doing kung fu with some mighty nifty left and right jabs.

What's more, dear reader, I videoed them at it.

I have tales of my return to the motherland of my fathers to enthral you here in the fatherland of my mother, but Paul Anderson has written a thorough overview of our China trip so I don't have to. Yet.

First, the holiday snaps. As indeed it did. Let us begin at the beginning, with the furry chaps and chapesses (video above — you tell me which is which!). Black and white, unite and fight!

I still have jet lag and the bronchitis I went out with, but I'm a happy bunny, inspired and ready to roll. A big thank you and a massive panda bear hug to all at the Bookworm Literary Festival: Peter Goff, Mojdeh Sheik, Tom Price, Anthony Tao, Julia, Alana, Pornima and all in Beijing; Catherine Platt and the team in Chengdu — not forgetting William Hall of the Crowne Plaza hotel who laid on the marzipan pandas, Earl Grey tea and unforgettable breakfasts; Daniel Clutton and Tammy in Suzhou; Alan McCluskey in Ningbo; Wena Poon and Xiaolu Guo, two utterly different writers but amazing women who I now hope to count as my buddies; and Bidisha, part fairy godmother, part martial arts master/mistress without whom ...

When pandas get biblical, we're living in interesting times. The pandas know.

This one's from the Panda Channel:

More videos of Anna and Paul in China:
The Great Wall at Mutianyu

The Forbidden City

Thursday 12 March 2015

Off to the Bookworm Literary Festival in China

The kind people at the Bookworm Literary Festival have invited me to speak at their events this year, in Chengdu, Suzhou, Ningbo and Beijing.

Which is why I'm waiting for the cab to take me to trains and airport. The longest journey begins with the first taxi, grasshopper.

I'll be talking about Anna May Wong and reading poetry from Reaching For My Gnu, published by Aaaargh! Press. Plus I'll be holding a poetry workshop: Poetry Against the Machine.

Also from Aargh! Press, Paul Anderson will be there too talking about communism in the UK.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Minority ethnic actors ask why is Equity scared of doing their job?

It really is about time trade unions started fighting for those they are supposed to represent, rather than sliding out of their responsibility at every twisty-turny opportunity. For some workers it's like nailing jelly to a wall — jelly on a jolly nice salary paid for by their members.


The problem for Equity and minority ethnic actors
March 4, 2015

Actors, like any other profession, benefit from a Trade Union, which represents them in matters relating to work. Equity has been this body, representing actors for a long time. An Equity Card formerly stood as a status symbol – a badge of honour.

I became a member in 1989. I did a tour in a smoky van for 6 months doing TIE in schools to become eligible and get my card. Today it is not as difficult as it was then to become a member and membership numbers are flourishing, with over £4 million of income from subscriptions alone in 2013. According to the latest statement available, 2013, Equity are doing pretty well with over £9 million in cash.

I have been working with actors for approaching 30 years and they are not in the least bit racist. The acting profession is one of the most inclusive, it seems. The people are nice and reasonable and it’s a pleasure to be one of them.

The year I joined Equity, 1989, was the year that Miss Saigon opened in the West End. I ended up in that show in 1992. I was cast in 1989 instead in the German language premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Tony-award winning play, M. Butterfly, in Hamburg. I left the UK to do that and was pretty much out of it, being as I was in Germany before the Berlin Wall even had come down.

I did not think of it at that time, but Equity did not make any noise whatsoever about the fact that Jonathan Pryce was playing an East Asian part, complete with make up. It was a different time, with Michael Gambon yet to play a blacked up Othello (as an Arab) and the theme tune of It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum was still well known. I only started to think about the issue when, a year later in 1990, US Actor’s Equity kicked up an enormous fuss – in the US the protests were fronted by the playwright, whose play I had been working on, David Henry Hwang.

We all know what happened. Actor’s Equity backed down. Miss Saigon was a big hit. Everyone seemed to forget about it.

But who was right? What is the right side of the argument? As time passes, do the choices seem more or less acceptable?

No one said much (to my recollection) at the time about Gambon’s Othello, but which white actor has plans to play him as a black man today?

25 years is a long time. A generation. A different time. It couldn’t happen today. But are arguments about black representation equally applied to East Asians?

Last year, 2014, very much in the now, Miss Saigon reopened with an East Asian actor, Jon Jon Briones in Pryce’s controversial part. Jon Jon was the actor I replaced in 1992, as it goes. Jon Jon has won awards for his work in the reboot. He does it very well.

In 2013, Cameron Mackintosh’s casting department was unable to rule out again casting a white actor in this role. It seems ridiculous now the point has been tipped, but it’s the truth. I even invited head of casting Trevor Jackson to speak to Equity’s BAME members to tell us about his dilemma, which he gamely accepted. Standing in front of 50+ Equity members, Trevor told us he wanted to do the right thing but could not promise anything. The talent just wasn’t there, or he could not find it. He knew it was the right thing to do but what if he couldn’t? Trevor simply could not make promises.

Those of us present were seeing for ourselves whether society had indeed moved on in 25 years; whether we were indeed living in another time and as this episode unfurled, we looked on, mouth agape. Could it actually be possible that a white actor could play this part? And could Cameron Mackintosh really come to Equity and say it is so without Equity saying a word?

Yes! That is exactly the situation! It appeared as though Equity could and would make no statement about this – even though US Actors Equity did exactly that 23 years previously. As far as Equity was concerned there was no generation gap. It was not a different time at all. Equity was still rooted in the 80s.

In 2012, the RSC decided to produce the play, The Orphan of Zhao, sometimes known as the “Chinese Hamlet”. When casting was announced, of a cast of 17 (yes, seventeen) only 3 (yes, three – minor) roles were actually filled with East Asian actors, the other 14 (fourteen – 82%!) were not. A quick check of the history of the RSC revealed that the last Chinese actor they had ever cast at all was in 1992, 20 years previously! No actor with Chinese heritage at Stratford for 20 years.

It came as a surprise to us all. We know that actors and people who work in acting are not racist. They are in fact very much for inclusivity. Yet somehow here were statistics and proof that Chinese actors had been excluded. Somehow. And to compound the matter, two of the three East Asian actors cast in this production were playing a dog – paying little heed to the long established and well known historic racist conflation of “dogs and Chinamen”. It seemed incredible to East Asian actors, Chinese or not, and to broader members of the theatre community.

So where did these actors turn to make these points on their behalf? Their trade union, of course. Equity. Equity is comprised of these very inclusive and non-racist people. Could Equity speak for them in this matter?


What I discovered shocked me again. I was at that time a member of Equity’s “Minority Ethnic Members” committee – an anachronistic term in itself. The only other East Asian on that committee at that time was Daniel York and we both asked why Equity would not say anything on our behalf. Make a statement. Do something – anything – for the right side of the argument.

What was wrong with Equity? We could not believe they were twiddling their thumbs. We were long standing members and yet, looking back, they had done very little on the behalf of BAME members that we could recall. In fact, Equity’s record on this was not very good. Anthony Hopkins played a blacked-up Othello for the 1981 BBC film, after Equity had refused to allow James Earl Jones in to play the role. Mike Newell has also stated recently that when he was casting Sour Sweet, he had a meeting with Equity, which actually advised him to cast white actors and make them up.

It often seems as though Equity has a legacy of favouring white actors over BAME actors.

So it was in keeping with this legacy that in 2013 Equity would not make a statement backing the BAME actors, who felt so discriminated against. Equity could not support them.

To make matters worse, the BAME actors were told that it was actually their own fault.

You see, Equity follows a Policy, for which we, the BAME members, are apparently responsible. If that Policy doesn’t translate into Equity being able to act in a way to support and protect us from being excluded, then we, the “Minority Ethnic Members Committee”, have to change it. We shouldn’t expect non-BAME or majority ethnic (aka white) actors to do it for us. But here is the rub: it’s not easy to do.

We can propose what we like, but the other Equity members need to vote for it - and the membership is 98% non-BAME. These 98% are the same people who I have worked with for decades, am friends with and like. They are not racist. If they understood how we have been discriminated against (20 years without a single Chinese actor working at the RSC has affected me personally, for instance), they would surely listen, sympathise and be willing to help. In theory we thought it would be easy enough to get the changes through and approved. Sadly it hasn’t been.

It is now nearly three years since that meeting and that original ineffective Policy is still in place. Equity appears still unable to say anything in any matters of casting controversy to do with race. And these controversies are still happening. The film, Exodus has had its share, with one of the actors actually apologising for it. We don’t blame Joel Edgerton, he’s one of us. An actor. But we do blame whoever thought it was a good idea to cast him and make him up dark-skinned – as do a lot of people all around the world.

Equity should be able to make these statements on our behalf, so we don’t jeopardise our careers, which may or may not have already happened in the case of Daniel and me. Equity in actual fact, however, said precisely nothing at all: leaving us in effect isolated by making public protestations such as this.

How could a trade union, supposedly set up to protect actors’ work rights, who supposedly agrees with casting inclusivity not do anything to protect its BAME members? How could it stand by and say nothing as their two East Asian “Minority Ethnic Committee” members denounced the decision as individuals?

During the last 3 years, we on the “Minority Ethnic Members Committee” have tried to remedy this (seemingly obvious) contradiction in Equity, and have failed. Now in 2015 we are still concerned that the same outcome would happen again, were the Zhao situation to repeat itself. Would Equity say nothing at all and again leave those of its membership brave enough to speak out (for what most people believe in, lest we forget), hanging out to dry?

However, Equity is now on the cusp of making a change. The “Minority Ethnic Members Committee” has drafted and sent to Council a rewrite of the unfit-for-purpose Policy, in which Equity now “advocates” good practice. The council needs to approve it and that is why I am writing this. To encourage them to vote for it while perhaps feeling a touch guilty that this has not happened years ago.

Getting to this stage, the Committee met with obfuscation, mis-direction, needless arguments and bad temperedness. It has not been easy. We were told by Equity staff we would get professional help to word the Policy. None came. Daniel York resigned in frustration – a sad end for the most effective member the “Minority Ethnic Members Committee” has ever had. Equity, it seemed, did not want to change. I have been close to resigning, also out of frustration at the slow pace and seeming resistance to what I consider to be just the right thing.

At our last meeting, we were warned by an experienced Equity staff member that the new wording , below, would not be accepted by the Equity’s Council. Look at it, the proposed new “Inclusive Policy Statement”. It is puzzling to imagine what any of the actors on Equity’s Council could possibly object to and yet we really remain worried that it will be rejected by our friends and colleagues and fellow Trade Unionists. No one on our side can understand how this can possibly be.

Proposed new wording for Equity's Policy on Inclusive Casting:
Proposed new wording for Equity’s Policy on Inclusive Casting – which has taken 3 years to write

But something seems to scare Equity from simply adopting this. At the first reading, the Council decided upon a tactic, which an old Equity Council member recalls as “kicking into the long grass” – a tactic, which I have never before in 4 years encountered; not voting straight away, but first asking other committees to examine it and take a view.

This is OK, but when I asked why we were not told this might happen, so we could have saved time by contacting them first, instead of wasting even more time than the present 3 years and counting, I was openly pilloried by an Equity staff member.

I was used to that by this stage, though. This is my own trade union, just to remind you!

The situation can be summed up as: Given that actors are not racist, Equity members are not racist and Equity staff are not racist; yet Equity’s BAME members feel that they are discriminated against (as in these two specific examples of Miss Saigon and Orphan of Zhao alone), what is going on?! Is Equity itself racist?

Equity have, at long last, hired an equalities officer, who I imagine will examine this possibility and determine whether this is the case or not. I will be interested to see what she comes up with.

Equity does not want to commit to the generally accepted correct side in the above inclusive casting arguments. Equity does not want to commit to making any statement on matters such as the ones outlined. Why? Because Equity views that by doing so it would in effect be criticising (albeit on behalf of its BAME members) other members (ie the actors who have been cast ). I think the staff believes this scenario can’t and won’t work and foresees it eventually becoming a potential ethical nightmare.

Why is Equity scared?

Equity, you understand, does not want to get involved in matters of artistic choice. Equity believes that the decision to cast a white actor in a BAME part is an artistic one, so they must not interfere. This point of view – for an arts organisation – would be acceptable.

However Equity is not an arts organisation. First and foremost it is a trade union, protecting its members working rights, which includes protection from discrimination. And the question for Equity is whether artistic rights trump workers’ rights.

What about the BAME member of Equity, whose right to be seen and considered for this part has been harmed by an artistic decision? Who is speaking up for them? Protecting them? When the outcome of these artistic decisions always seems to exclude actors of colour, someone needs to speak. When the artistic decisions all seem to be exactly the same i.e choosing a white actor and excluding an actor of colour even from the casting process, it is not artistic. It is prejudice, bias and convention.

Equity is compromised and has chosen to hide behind the status quo, which everybody accepts provides poor outcomes for BAME actors.

Equity feels scared because it has placed artistic license extremely high up on their priority list. Equity needs to look at this and re-set the dial. Surely when the right of the BAME member to work is in direct opposition to an artistic ideology, at least in cases such as this, then the actor – the member who pays his subscription fees – should be a higher priority to his Trade Union? In this day and age (after all), which of the two oppositional standpoints do you think should be set as a higher priority for Equity?

I believe that Equity needs to re-prioritise itself. I also believe Equity is the correct place BAME actors should turn to in cases like this. Equity should be proud to support its BAME members instead of running scared and saying nothing.

Why is Equity scared?

The fact that Act for Change and British East Asian Artists have formed in the past 3 years to make these arguments, shows that these arguments have a great deal of support among UK’s BAME acting community. Equity has donated money to Act for Change, supporting their ideology. Lenny Henry argues the point so very well. There is a general feeling in society that it is time for a change with regards to depictions of race, portrayal and representation. Yet Equity itself stays silent, rooted in the ’80s (and arguably before even then).

Equity, I believe, wants to support its BAME members but is scared of being compromised. I don’t think it should be. I believe it should be bold and brave and be leading from the front, not playing catch-up from a generation ago.

The rewritten policy document states :

Because African, Caribbean, South Asian, East Asian, Arabic and other minority ethnic artists continue to be the subject of discrimination they should be given preferential consideration in the casting of parts specifically written for these ethnic minority groups. Equity calls for this to be attempted wherever possible.

To lead from the front, Equity and its members must try and redress historical imbalances before worrying about any artistic points of principle. It should not tacitly approve of any productions casting a white actor in a black role or any role of “colour” by making no comment. This lets down its BAME members and is not the way forward.

The change in Policy does not call on Equity to denounce the actor – but to disapprove of the process of making that choice as not being best practice. It’s simple, and to us all paying our subs, very important.

If Equity can’t do that then no matter how nice the members are and how non racist they are, if they don’t allow this change to become Equity’s policy, they are supporting an old fashioned status quo, which discriminates against BAME members and puts the white members in a position of privilege, wittingly or not.

By adopting this new policy as best practice, Equity will, for the time being at least, be redressing the historic imbalance that has long seen minority groups be discriminated against in the past. Equity will become truly a vocal supporter of inclusivity. It is long overdue and about time too.

by Paul Hyu
Read original article here.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

A banker, a worker and an immigrant walk into a bar … TED Talk by Anna Chen

My TEDxEastEnd talk has just been posted on You Tube.

Genetic science has definitively proved that all humans originate from the same group of East African ancestors. So why do people insist on trying to create divisions between races or nationalities? Anna Chen suggests this is more than instinctive racism – there are economic interests at stake. Political rhetoric about migrants exists to justify exploitation and create divisions. A better world is possible.

Anna Chen is a writer, poet and broadcaster who was born and raised in Hackney, east London, by a Chinese father and an English mother. She is an Orwell Prize shortlisted blogger, and writes and presents programmes for BBC radio and Resonance FM. Her collection of poetry — Reaching for my Gnu — is published by Aaaargh! Press.

Saturday 31 January 2015

My TEDxEastEnd talk: Migration and Diversity, mirrors and diversion

I had a great time last Saturday as one of the speakers at the TED x East End event. I talked about migration and diversity, mirrors and diversion, looking at how politics and economics distort the history of human migration since we all walked out of Africa 60,000 to 120,000 years ago.

A banker, a worker and an immigrant are sitting at a table ...

The link is here:

Books by participants at this year's TEDxEastEnd Talks, including mine.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

BBC Newsbeat crocodile tears over anti-Chinese racism

While it is always uplifting to see the wicked repent and mend their ways, the BBC Newsbeat item — acknowledging how racism against Chinese Brits is largely ignored — is in danger of providing the corporation with bleeding-heart cover in the absence of measures to rectify the injustice.

The Newsbeat article quotes Michael Wilkes of the British Chinese Project as saying:
"Essentially Chinese people don't like to worry other people. There's a mindset within the Chinese community that we need to keep our business within ourselves, within our own family unit. I'm saying to young British Chinese people now that we can speak out. It's our responsibility - when you're being prejudiced against, you've got to speak up."

Well, that's a powerful get-out-of-jail-free card, allowing the protectors of Jeremy Clarkson's Top Gear petri dish to wriggle off the hook. Blame the victims and take a bow.

It's hard to ignore the utter hypocrisy of the publicly-funded BBC (barring a few enlightened individuals fighting the good fight for genuine balance and justice). The corporation notoriously runs its employment of women along the lines of Logan's Run, where we're mostly bumped off at 50, but also renders east Asians invisible. It declines to cast us in normal roles, which would show us as part of the fabric of British society — which is exactly what we are.

I mean, no regular Chinese characters in Eastenders? Really? Still?

There are plenty of examples of the establishment's fear and loathing of East Asians in general and the Chinese in particular. In Beebland, we are either invisible and excluded or else we turn up once in a blue moon to embody the ugly stereotypes lurking in the fantasy world of the white-bread powers ruling that particular roost.

Their nadir for many was the  Sherlock: The Blind Banker episode: a vivid illustration of the routinely-ignored racism against us. Instead of acknowledging and tackling the glaring and hateful dehumanisation contained therein, they gave the creeps a BAFTA.

The BBC is a BIG part of the problem, rather than even a part of the solution. If the corporation was sincere, there would be east Asians on their channels every night, depicted as normal folks alongside everyone else. The media are lagging way behind the advertisers, who've included increasing numbers of us in the past years because the ad men and women understand that we are not only human beings deserving of equal treatment and representation, but also (in purely monetary terms) a worthwhile slice of the market.

Our absence reflects the prejudice of media gatekeepers, management strata and the theatre establishment (hello, Royal Shakespeare Company). When you create a vacuum, this in turn creates space for nightmares: a blank canvas for the most ghastly of projections. The sleep of reason produces monsters and the BBC has played its part.

It's encouraging to see journalists, editors and producers finally taking this on in the Newsbeat article. However, in context, that piece is a sop thrown to the youth market (which has a more enlightened attitude towards issues of race, gender and sexuality, as well as growing numbers of east Asians) by one hand, while the other ensures the continuation of the conditions that allow such racism to maintain its foothold. Enough of the crocodile tears. Let's see some action.