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Chanel hosts fashion show on Cuba’s streets

It was a special kind of revolution: the first Chanel fashion show in Cuba took place on a beach boulevard in Havana. Dressed in bright colors and wearing sombreros, the models presented the French fashion house's latest collection on the open-air catwalk on Tuesday evening (03.05.2016) in Havana. The spectators were local residents, as well as celebrities like Hollywood actors Tilda Swinton and Vin Diesel. Only those with an invitation were allowed to see the presentation of the 2016/17 collection - many Cubans had to watch from a distance. The balconies and terraces near the boulevard were full of people trying to catch a glimpse of the show. "Finally Cuba is opening up" The Paseo del Prado is located in a poor area of Havana. "Finally Cuba is opening up," says Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro and known homosexual activist. "Everyone wants to taste the forbidden fruit. They all want to discover and enjoy Cuba." After the half-hour show, Karl Lagerfeld presented himself on the catwalk - as usual in a dark suit, sunglasses, powdered ponytail and black gloves. The Chanel fashion show is one in a series of international events that have taken place on Cuba since the Communist-ruled island opened up diplomatically, politically and culturally. The United States and Cuba introduced a normalization of their relations in late 2014.

It was a special kind of revolution: the first Chanel fashion show in Cuba took place on a beach boulevard in Havana. Dressed in bright colors and wearing sombreros, the models presented the French fashion house’s latest collection on the open-air catwalk on Tuesday evening (03.05.2016) in Havana. The spectators were local residents, as well as celebrities like Hollywood actors ... Read More »

Jan Böhmermann nominated for Grimme Online Award

German comedian Jan Böhmermann has been nominated for the Grimme Online Award following the uproar surrounding his poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The 35-year-old was submitted in a "special" category. The Grimme jury said the decision to nominate Böhmermann had predated the recent controversy surrounding his rendition of a snide poem about Turkish President Erdogan. The poem, delivered in front of a Turkish flag, was originally intended to exemplify the difference between rightful satire and legally prohibited diatribe, said Böhmermann. Erdogan seems to disagree with Böhmermann's interpretation and has filed a defamation suit against the comedian. Others think that Böhmermann's unapologetic style amounts to much-needed comic relief in today's political climate. Frauke Gerlach, director of the Grimme Institute, which examines media culture in Europe, said that the awards committee decided to submit Böhmermann's name on account of his eligibility as an online personality. "He manipulates the mechanisms that govern the internet as well as with the reactions he receives," she said. If Böhmermann wins the award it would be his second Grimme Prize. He received the award in a different category for his 2015 satire about former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. The prize ceremony was held at the beginning of April, amidst Turkey's initial reactions to his controversial poem: The comedian did not attend the ceremony, shaken by the turn of events. The Grimme Online Awards ceremony is due to be held in Cologne on June 24.

German comedian Jan Böhmermann has been nominated for the Grimme Online Award following the uproar surrounding his poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The 35-year-old was submitted in a “special” category. The Grimme jury said the decision to nominate Böhmermann had predated the recent controversy surrounding his rendition of a snide poem about Turkish President Erdogan. The poem, delivered ... Read More »

Immersive experience: Testing out Germany’s first virtual cinema

One of the world's first virtual reality cinemas has opened its doors in Berlin. DW's Elizabeth Grenier tried it out, survived - and was surprised to find a quirky atmosphere and a short film on the refugee debate. I was a bit nervous on my way to the Virtual Reality Cinema. I wondered: To avoid the famous virtual reality sickness, was it safer to go on an empty stomach or should I quickly gulp down a sandwich? I decided to avoid eating - I didn't really have time anyway. The Virtual Reality Cinema in Berlin was established by &samhoud media, a Dutch production company led by the 26-year-old entrepreneur Jip Samhoud. The other one he previously opened in Amsterdam, in March 2016, is said to be the first virtual reality cinema in the world. The Berlin cinema is not too far away from Alexanderplatz, behind the Rotes Rathaus, Berlin's town hall. One has to go through a couple of huge courtyards before reaching the actual building of the cinema. A wooden corridor decorated with hipster-style party banners and urban art leads to the entrance. This wasn't what I was expecting. It felt more like one of Berlin's cool clubs along the Spree River than a high-tech VR cinema. The girls greeting us at the entrance confirmed my impressions: "This whole building complex houses a club and workshops for artists - the Spreewerkstätten," they told me. I then went up the stairs of an old factory building, landing in a couple of old restrooms before actually reaching the lobby of the cinema that looked like a speakeasy-style bar. Going with the flow of the atmosphere, I decided to forget my empty-stomach rule and grabbed a glass of wine and the complimentary popcorn. Retro meets the future The location manager, Michael Yosef, told me more about the location he was asked to find: "They basically wanted 'something cool'." He then pointed to another room with (no longer functioning) showers, explaining this used to be a washroom for factory workers. The techno club, Praegewerk, still runs downstairs. Retro objects and quirky paintings decorate the space, as well as quotes from the early ages of cinema, such as from the 1916 manifest of Futurist Cinema by F.T. Marinetti: "We shall set in motion the words-in-freedom that smash the boundaries of literature as they march towards painting, music, noise-art, and throw a marvelous bridge between the word and the real object." "The goal was to create a mix between the future - with virtual reality cinema - and a retro atmosphere bringing us back to the beginnings of cinema," said Pascal Steeghs, spokesperson for the VR cinema. Amidst Dali's world It was time to face virtual reality. We all entered a second room, where swiveling chairs, special VR glasses and headphones were awaiting us. I was confirmed I could use the VR gear without my glasses, so I took them off - and automatically fell into my clumsy mode. "Don't forget to turn your head and move around during the film," said the founder of the cinema, Jip Samhoud, during his short introduction. That's when I realized that my bags and glass of wine were in the way. Getting my stuff together was another overwhelming challenge in my awkward blind state. Reassuringly, several employees were running around to help us get started. And off I went, right into Salvador Dali's universe, as long legged elephants walked all around and over me amidst a surreal desert. Swiveling in a VR bubble Although we were all sitting together, there's no official beginning to the films. Everybody drifts off in their own VR bubble - though you might rub knees with your neighbor while rotating on your chair. Along with the Dali dream sequence, a series of different short films made up the 30-minute program: an animated short, a music video clip with musicians doing funky stuff all around the viewer, another trippy sequence and finally a short film directed by the founder of the cinema himself. A refugee on virtual reality TV Jip Samhoud's film, called "In Your Face," stars two top Dutch actors - a couple in the film - who get a sudden visit from a reality TV crew. They put the stars on the spot by asking them if they could host a refugee in their trendy apartment. After all, the two celebrities have often publically claimed their support for refugees, so they should naturally be ready to welcome one into their lives. As the couple tries to keep their professional smile while uncomfortably debating on what to do, they finally turn to us, the viewer, breaking the fourth wall - or whatever you might call it in virtual reality - to confirm that if they're just virtual, we can take action in real life. "I wanted to inspire people to see a new reality," director Jip Samhoud told me afterwards. He knew he wanted to address a social issue in his first VR film, and the refugee crisis is a hot discussion topic in the Netherlands, just like in Germany. Just an appetizer The mix of genres in the film program makes it difficult to recommend the experience to a specific public. Samhoud is aware of that: "We wanted to show a broad overview to start out with, but we'll be adding new programs every month, and eventually we'll offer special horror or romantic compilations, for example," he said. For now, they are still working on collecting material, a challenge in itself in these early days of VR cinema: "We're currently in touch with every VR producer in the world," explained the young businessman. Still in the early phases Virtual reality cinema is still in its first steps. It's a challenge as a director, for example, to get the viewer to focus on something specific. "In horror movies, they might use eight zombies to make sure you experience it fully," Samhoud explains. Luckily for me, there weren't any hardcore roller-coasters or eight-headed monsters in the program that night. Because of my poor eyesight, I wasn't quite sure about the focus, which reminded me of the stress I feel at an eye doctor's test, when asked to decide which of two OK pictures is best. I felt a slight headache coming on but didn't get nauseous despite the wine. Jip Samhoud confirmed that even though my short-sightedness probably didn't help, the images aren't perfect yet. "We're still on the ground level of virtual reality. It's not like real life yet - but it will get there," he said with a charming smile. Whether this perspective is attractive or not can be debated. However, as one of the pioneers of VR cinema, the young entrepreneur and film director Jip Samhoud will definitely be in a good position whenever that happens.

One of the world’s first virtual reality cinemas has opened its doors in Berlin. DW’s Elizabeth Grenier tried it out, survived – and was surprised to find a quirky atmosphere and a short film on the refugee debate. I was a bit nervous on my way to the Virtual Reality Cinema. I wondered: To avoid the famous virtual reality sickness, ... Read More »

Young Syrians rap for revolution on Berlin’s stages

Jailed for his activism in Syria, the rapper Abu Hajar and his band Mazzaj Rap are pursuing their fight for justice in Berlin. They've found freedom of expression in the city - but also face humiliation as refugees. It's after midnight in one of Berlin's oldest surviving squats and around 200 people are rocking to the beat of a Syrian rap band, the lead MC singing about his and his band mates' persecution at the hands of the Assad regime. "You want freedom?" implores the young man in Arabic as English lyrics flash on the back wall amid silhouettes of torture and interrogation in a Syrian jail. "Yes, and we want all the detainees!" he rejoins, the words echoed loudly by a group of Syrian men and women at the front of the packed room who raise their arms in solidarity. In ways, it's a fairly typical night in Berlin as punks, activists, rap music lovers (six such bands will perform till 3:00 am) and exiles from the Middle East, Africa and beyond move to infectious electronic beats, high-energy live percussion and politically charged rhymes. Yet the young men on stage made an improbable journey to get here. Banned from playing rap music in the country they fled, some made it out of prisons where friends and family continue to languish - if indeed they are still alive. Fleeing persecution Before Mazzaj Rap start their set at Köpi, a cavernous old tenement building squatted in 1990 and a bastion of alternative culture in Berlin, a man on crutches excuses himself as he negotiates the crowd. "I'm sorry, I was shot by the Syrian regime," he says. But like the band on stage, the man did not seem to be looking for pity. Despite the harrowing stories that were being told (the "We Fed Up" is "dedicated to all the political detainees and their mothers"), this was a show of defiance, the continuation of a popular revolution, a struggle for freedom and dignity in the face of decades of oppression (under Bashar al-Assad and now ISIS) that is often lost amid media hysteria over faceless refugee hordes breaking down European borders. MC Abu Hajar is the 29-year-old lead rapper and chief songwriter for Mazzaj Rap. Granted political asylum in Berlin in late 2014, Abu Hajar calls himself an economist, musician and political activist. He was jailed for his music and activism by a Syrian dictatorship that has long used arbitrary detention to crush dissent. When first detained by police as a university student in 2007, Abu Hajar was charged with distributing political pamphlets. But the real reason for his capture was the outlawed rap music he played, and a song he wrote that criticized honor killings of women by men in Syria. Banned from university, Abu Hajar relocated to Jordan to continue his studies but returned to Syria more regularly in early 2011 to join the first peaceful protests for civil rights. Within months, a revolution had spread across the country and Abu Hajar believed the regime would soon fall. But on the first anniversary of the protests he was back in detention, the victim of a vicious crackdown. Telling his story in a Syrian cafe in the polyglot Wedding district of Berlin, Abu Hajar points to a man at the next table with long hair, the Mazzaj Rap percussionist with whom he was arrested in March 2012. The two were beaten and accused, without evidence, of unauthorized political activity. They shared a cell as they underwent daily torture, from whippings to hits with electric prods. Fearing that he would die like many other detainees, Abu Hajar was unexpectedly released two months later. But he was soon pursued again by secret service agents and fled to Lebanon before traveling to Europe. After studying in Rome, Abu Hajar decided to move to Berlin as the war in Syria escalated. Fighting humiliation Abu Hajar came to Berlin because its reputation for tolerance and diversity had long attracted Syrian political refugees. Since arriving, he has helped form a Syrian activist network that rallied hundreds at Brandenburg Gate in March to mark the fifth anniversary of the revolution. His music has also flourished as he records, performs and collaborates with musicians from around the world. But despite his newfound freedom of expression, and a relationship with a German woman, Abu Hajar expresses deep frustration at living as a "humiliated refugee in Germany." For all the "Refugees are Welcome" signs in the capital, he says he has seen and experienced much racism. Watching newly arrived refugees stand for days in the cold while waiting to be processed, Abu Hajar has documented how some were beaten and insulted by guards. The subject is a major theme of the new album he is now recording. "And who will give housing to a refugee?" he asks. "On every application I write: I'm Mohammad, I'm not a terrorist." Talking soon after the March terror attacks in Brussels, Abu Hajar fears that Syrian refugees will suffer the consequences - even if many, like himself, do not follow Islam. As far right anti-immigration sentiment appears to be gaining ground throughout the country with popular movements like PEGIDA and the political party Alternative for Germany, Abu Hajar says he would go home if he could. In the meantime, he wants to study to get a PhD in Germany, to continue the revolution in exile, to tell, through his music, the true story of why he and many other Syrians came to Europe. Back at Köpi, the Mazzaj Rap members smiled as Berliners cheered, whistled and demanded an encore. For them, and perhaps their injured comrade on crutches, the moment was a short triumph in a long fight for dignity.

Jailed for his activism in Syria, the rapper Abu Hajar and his band Mazzaj Rap are pursuing their fight for justice in Berlin. They’ve found freedom of expression in the city – but also face humiliation as refugees. It’s after midnight in one of Berlin’s oldest surviving squats and around 200 people are rocking to the beat of a Syrian ... Read More »

The quotable maestro Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Hardly any other musician has been the source of so many thought-inspiring quotes. Here are some of Nikolaus Harnoncourt's notable sayings - and those of others about him. "The term 'loss' doesn't suffice for what I feel," wrote conductor Franz Welser-Möst on the death of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Pointing to his late colleague's "unshakable creativity," Welser-Möst placed Harnoncourt in the context of those performers "who changed our world in the past 50 years more than any other." Deep sadness was also expressed by Mathis Huber, director of the Styriarte music festival in Graz, Austria founded in 1985 by Harnoncourt. Huber's only consolation: "Now he can ask Mozart and Bach those questions he hasn't been able to answer himself yet." On behalf of the Vienna Philharmonic, orchestra manager Andreas Großbauer added: "His trailblazing interpretations took us to the limit and beyond. They alienated, shocked - and convinced us." From the arts pages Practically every serious newspaper in the German-speaking world elaborately summed up the conductor's life and work. Germany's "Die Welt" dubbed him "the big bang of historical performance practice and the most important conductor after [Herbert von] Karajan," adding, "Harnoncourt made the familiar dangerous again. And sharpened what had grown dull." The "Frankfurter Rundschau" concurred: "Harnoncourt restored music's cutting edge and its decisiveness, its charm and its wit." The reviewer went on to stress Harnoncourt's lasting influence on the world of music: "Nowadays, hardly any conductor or orchestra doesn't [emulate him by seeking] the rhetorical, breathing gesture within music." Rebellious nobleman Harnoncourt was born in Berlin in 1929 into a family of nobility from Luxembourg and Lorraine, christened Count Johannes Nikolaus de la Fontaine und d'Harnoncourt-Unverzagt. His mother was the great-great-great granddaughter of Emperor Franz I. The musician must have radiated an aura of nobility as a young man. When Harnoncourt applied for a position as cellist in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1952, its principal conductor Herbert von Karajan engaged him without an audition, finding sufficient reason "just in the way he sits." It wasn't a mutual admiration society. In later years, Harnoncourt found words of recognition for Karajan's transparent musical lines and sense of structure but always vehemently opposed the older maestro's "beautiful sound." For the young artist, Karajan stood for everything he opposed in music making. The two parted ways over Harnoncourt's remark that Karajan was "a good Porsche driver." The older musician never forgot it. Was he a privileged nobleman who didn't have to work hard? Far from it, as his website proves. A black-and-white photo on the site shows Nikolaus Harnoncourt as a young man, napping on a sofa, cello resting on his stomach. Then, to musical accompaniment, a musical score sweeps past with his achievements summed up in numbers: "1 life to music / 1 conductor / 2 New Year's Concerts / 9 World Tours / 28 Tailcoats / 43 Operas from Monteverdi to Gershwin / 1,938 Gut Strings / 7,240 Hours at the Conductor's Stand / 12,842 Liters of Sweat / 293,218 Sheets of Music / 48,849,000 Burned Calories / 1,000,000 Pieces of Information." One statistic is missing: nearly 500 recordings for record and CD. Apart from Herbert von Karajan and Neville Marriner, no conductor made as many as Harnoncourt. Harnoncourt described himself as "resistance personified" and as someone "who questions everything," a characteristic that he said emerged in childhood. "Even when I was small, I always took the opposite point of view. I'm not someone who agrees," he once said. And: "It's true. At age 10, I told my father out of the blue, 'Politeness is a lie'." Laughed at, then loved In the early years of playing on period instruments with his wife Alice and cohorts, he was derided as the "knight of the gut strings." People in Vienna said, "The Harnoncourts sit on apple crates beneath their expensive violins, eating potatoes and salad." Beyond the rediscovery of early instruments, it was painstaking source research that made Harnoncourt a highly-emulated model in the early music scene. "Historically informed" was the catchword - to which the conductor had this acerbic remark: "The expression 'historically informed' makes me sick." Instead, he considered himself "not informed, but curious." "Art has many correct interpretations, but also many wrong ones," said Harnoncourt in an interview with the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard." That might indicate a dogmatic stance, but it was anything but. "I know of course that with nearly every opinion and piece of knowledge, the opposite opinion and piece of knowledge is equally true. Life isn't that simple. I can only learn through criticism." That basic openness was reflected in Harnoncourt's work with orchestras. "I have always encouraged musicians to tell me immediately if something in my explanations sounds suspicious. And if, in return, they can convince me of something - and that has happened - then that's what we'll do." Conducting without a baton, Harnoncourt used his hands, eyes - and his emotional and intellectual presence. Lacking in his gestures, however, was a clear indication of the beat. "We don't even look at him," one orchestra member revealed. Added a colleague, "We only play to see him look happy." Praise and recognition from external sources seem to have made Harnoncourt less content, however. "Now they're lavishing praise over me for my lifetime achievement. Terrible. It sounds so final. I'm not finished yet! Or do you want this feeble old man to quit?" he asked rhetorically after winning the Echo-Klassik lifetime achievement award in 2014. Art is universal but rare The conductor who delved just as seriously into George Gershwin and Johann Strauss as he did Claudio Monteverdi and Johann Sebastian Bach never distinguished between serious and entertaining music. Harnoncourt had "blues in his blood," wrote the newspaper "Die Welt" in 2009 after hearing his rendition of Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess" in Graz. "With jazz singers like Frank Sinatra," he explained, "I started wondering: Why do they sing that way, and why does a classical singer stand there and just sing the notes?!" His artistic interests were wide: "To me, Shakespeare is very contemporary, and I don't see Michelangelo as an old sculptor. Bach and Monteverdi are not of their own times, but rather universal. But that, of course, applies to only few artists." Taking music to the limits Harnoncourt's artistic approach might be summed up in hi statement: "Music should rip the soul apart." "Art isn't a pretty accessory - it's the umbilical cord that connects us with the divine. It insures our humanity," he wrote. And: "To be beautiful, music must operate on the outer fringes of catastrophe." That stance came at a price, and had an effect: "If something in me were to stay the same, I'd be ashamed. In truth, I am not the same person I was yesterday." A penultimate quote: "Impossibilities are the most beautiful possibilities." Only a person of unshakable optimism could say that, one might think. Wrong again. Even here, Harnoncourt begged to differ: "I think there are only few intellectually interested people who are optimists - because optimism always requires a certain degree of stupidity."

Hardly any other musician has been the source of so many thought-inspiring quotes. Here are some of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s notable sayings – and those of others about him. “The term ‘loss’ doesn’t suffice for what I feel,” wrote conductor Franz Welser-Möst on the death of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Pointing to his late colleague’s “unshakable creativity,” Welser-Möst placed Harnoncourt in the context ... Read More »

Former US first lady Nancy Reagan dies at 94

Nancy Reagan, the former actress who was fiercely protective of her husband Ronald Reagan through a Hollywood career, eight years in the White House, an assassination attempt and Alzheimer's disease, has died. Joanne Drake, a spokesperson for the Reagan Foundation, confirmed the death of the former first lady Nancy Reagan. "Nancy Davis Reagan, former first lady of the United States, died this morning at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 94. The cause of death was congestive heart failure," read a press statement from the foundation. Michael Reagan, the adopted child of Ronald Reagan and his first wife Jane Wyman, said he was saddened by the news, first reported by celebrity news site TMZ. "I am saddened by the passing of the step mother Nancy Reagan. She is once again with the man she loved. God bless," said Michael in a tweet. The former first lady was widely known for her widely-publicized "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign while her husband served in office. During her stay at the White House from 1981 to 1989, she went from being considered a pre-feminist throwback to a revered "dragon lady" who heavily influenced Reagan's administration. 'A final goodbye to the days of Reagan' Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said Nancy's "charm, grace and passion for America" shined throughout her life. "With the passing of Nancy Reagan, we say a final goodbye to the days of Ronald Reagan. With charm, grace and a passion for America, this couple reminded us of the greatness and the endurance of the American experiment," Romney said in a statement posted to his Facebook account. "Some underestimate the influence of a first lady, but from Martha and Abigail through Nancy and beyond, these women have shaped policy, strengthened resolve, and drawn on our better angels. God and Ronnie have finally welcomed a choice soul home," the former presidential candidate noted.

Nancy Reagan, the former actress who was fiercely protective of her husband Ronald Reagan through a Hollywood career, eight years in the White House, an assassination attempt and Alzheimer’s disease, has died. Joanne Drake, a spokesperson for the Reagan Foundation, confirmed the death of the former first lady Nancy Reagan. “Nancy Davis Reagan, former first lady of the United States, ... Read More »

Celebrated conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt dies, aged 86

World-renowned Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt has died at the age of 86. He was a leading pioneer in "period performance practice" of renaissance, baroque and classical works. The Austrian Press Agency reported on Sunday that Harnoncourt had died surrounded by his family, after succumbing to a serious illness. One of the most highly regarded classical music conductors of recent times, and a pioneer in early music, Harnoncourt had only announced his retirement in December. At the time, the octogenarian had cancelled plans to conduct two concerts at the Musikverein by the Concentus Musicus, the ensemble he created in 1953. Harnoncourt was born in Berlin in 1929 to a granddaughter of a Habsburg Archduke and an Austrian count, but he grew up in Graz, Austria. A musical maverick He trained as a cellist and embarked on intensive research into historical instruments and period performance, which led him to set up the Concentus Musicus. The ensemble began giving concerts in 1957 and specialized in renaissance and baroque music as well as classical works by the likes of Bach, Beethoven and Haydn. Harnoncourt quit the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1969, after causing upset by his questioning of the established norms of the classical music scene. His ideas eventually gained wider acceptance even in the mainstream, and now influence performances of older music by some of the world's greatest modern-instrument orchestras, including the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics.

World-renowned Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt has died at the age of 86. He was a leading pioneer in “period performance practice” of renaissance, baroque and classical works. The Austrian Press Agency reported on Sunday that Harnoncourt had died surrounded by his family, after succumbing to a serious illness. One of the most highly regarded classical music conductors of recent times, ... Read More »

‘Spotlight’ wins best picture at Academy Awards, DiCaprio takes home first Oscar

Amid the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, journalism drama "Spotlight" has won the Oscar for best picture. First-time winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson took home top acting honors. Hollywood's biggest night was an evening of surprises and long-awaited wins, as five-time nominee Leonardo DiCaprio finally snagged a golden statuette for his role in the snowbound survival epic "The Revenant." DiCaprio's win for best actor earned the 41-year-old a standing ovation, and he used his acceptance speech to talk about climate change, recalling how the cast and crew of "The Revenant" had to travel to South America to find snow. "Climate change is real," said DiCaprio. "It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species," he said. "Let us not take our planet for granted," he said. "I do not take tonight for granted." Joining DiCaprio in the acting honors was first-time nominee Brie Larson, for the hostage drama "Room." In one of the night's few surprises, British stage actor Mark Rylance beat out sentimental favorite Sylvester Stallone for the best supporting actor nod, winning for his role in Steven Spielberg's Cold War-era drama "Bridge of Spies." And Sweden's Alicia Vikander took home the award for best supporting actress for her role as the wife of a transgender artist in "The Danish Girl." Big winners: 'Spotlight,' 'The Revenant,' 'Mad Max' Winning the Oscar for best picture was the journalism drama "Spotlight," Tom McCarthy's film about the "Boston Globe" and its investigative reporting on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests. It beat out other top contenders "The Revenant," "The Big Short" and "Mad Max: Fury Road," though the latter still managed to grab six awards in the technical categories, making it the night's most awarded film. Despite its loss in the best picture category, "The Revenant" did earn its director Alejandro G. Inarritu a win for best director, a year after his statue for the dark comedy "Birdman." "What a great opportunity for our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and this tribal thinking and to make sure for once and forever that the color of our skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair," said Inarritu on accepting his award, touching on one of the night's recurring topics. Inarritu's win marked the third time that a director has won back-to-back Oscars, after John Ford for "The Grapes of Wrath" and "How Green Was My Valley" in the early 1940s and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for "A Letter to Three Wives" and "All About Eve" in the 1950s. It was also the third straight win for a Mexican filmmaker in the best director category. #OscarsSoWhite Black comedian and actor Chris Rock, back to host the awards for a second time, started off with a biting monologue that referenced the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign that has dogged the Academy since an all-white group of actors was nominated in January, the second straight year. Earlier in the evening, civil rights leader Al Sharpton led a protest outside the awards venue, calling for a boycott of the ceremony. Rock set the tone early on, welcoming the audience to the "white people's choice awards" and referencing racial politics and representation in Hollywood throughout the evening. At one point, he introduced a bit that, with the help of a green screen and black actors Whoopi Goldberg, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan, attempted to add some diversity to last year's movies. Later on, he did a taped bit outside a theater interviewing black moviegoers who said they'd never heard of nominated films like "Spotlight," ''Brooklyn," ''Trumbo" or "Bridge of Spies." Social consciousness continued with an appearance by US Vice President Joe Biden, who urged a stronger stand against sexual violence on college campuses as he introduced an energetic Lady Gaga, who performed the nominated song "Till It Happens to You" - her song about sexual abuse on college campuses from the documentary "The Hunting Ground." Full list of 2016 Oscar winners Best Picture: "Spotlight" Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, "The Revenant" Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant" Best Actress: Brie Larson, "Room" Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies" Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl" Best Original Screenplay: "Spotlight"" Best Adapted Screenplay: "The Big Short" Best Foreign Film: "Son of Saul" (Hungary) Best Documentary Feature: "Amy" Best Animated Feature: "Inside Out" Best Film Editing: "Mad Max: Fury Road" Best Song: "Writing's On The Wall," Sam Smith, "Spectre" Best Original Score: "The Hateful Eight" Best Visual Effects: "Ex Machina" Best Cinematography: "The Revenant" Best Costume Design: "Mad Max: Fury Road" Best Makeup and Hairstyling: "Mad Max: Fury Road" Best Production Design: "Mad Max: Fury Road" Best Sound Editing: "Mad Max: Fury Road" Best Sound Mixing: "Mad Max: Fury Road" Best Live Action Short Film: "Stutterer" Best Short Film, Animated: "Bear Story" Best Documentary Short Subject: "A Girl in the River"

Amid the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, journalism drama “Spotlight” has won the Oscar for best picture. First-time winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson took home top acting honors. Hollywood’s biggest night was an evening of surprises and long-awaited wins, as five-time nominee Leonardo DiCaprio finally snagged a golden statuette for his role in the snowbound survival epic “The Revenant.” DiCaprio’s win for ... Read More »

#OscarsSoWhite: Is Hollywood part of a much bigger problem?

After an onslaught of criticism from Hollywood stars and film fans over lack of diversity at the Oscars, the Academy promised to reform itself. But critics say the changes don't go far enough in addressing racism. "Enough is enough," said Frederic Kendrick, communications professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. "We've had it up to here." That once again black actors are missing from the nomination rosters at the 88th annual Academy Awards is, for Kendrick, just the tip of the iceberg. "The US has a lot of problems when it comes to race and culture." That's a sentiment many have shared over the last six weeks, ever since the nominations were announced. The Oscars, scheduled to be awarded on February 28, unleashed fury towards Hollywood's Academy - a group of 6,261 prominent members of the film industry - and comprised, for the most part, of older white men. #OscarsSoWhite The hashtag #Oscarssowhite started by editor and public speaker April Reign first began appearing just hours after the nominations were announced in mid-January. A glance at social media platforms shows that the outrage hasn't cooled since then. "If a white man were to play Michael Jackson, he'd be guaranteed an Oscar," according to numerous sarcastic tweets in response to Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in "Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon." The short British comedy sees the King of Pop joining Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando on a road trip together in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York. The protest, which counts director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith as two of the most vocal early adopters, has also been taken up by the "New York Times," which claims that Hollywood has a "race problem." In a statement, President Barack Obama went one step further, asking whether the discrimination against black actors is part of a larger problem. "Are we doing everything to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance?" he asked rhetorically. The good old (white) boys club For many blacks and other minorities in the US, the answer to that question is no. Despite the election of a black president, not much has changed for the better. For some, Hollywood plays a role in this discriminatory system. Author Earl Ofari Hutchinson told DW that he sees Hollywood as a "skewed and deeply-rooted, party of white boys," whose only role in life is to defend privilege. "Hollywood has repeatedly seen to it that white talent not be excluded," says Hutchinson, whose widely-acclaimed books include, "A Colored Man's Journey Through 20th-Century Segregated America." Just how great a disparity between roles for white and black actors exists is something that media students at Howard University wanted to know. That's the impetus behind "Truth Be Told," a fact-checking project aimed at uncovering whether those criticisms against Hollywood and the Academy are fair. At first glance, the numbers don't look good: In the 87-year history of the Oscars, just 32 of the winners were black. A discriminatory dynamic With two Oscars, Denzel Washington is the exception to the rule. "Blacks weren't envisaged when Hollywood was founded," said Kendrick, the professor who started the project. He refers specifically to the silent film "Birth of a Nation," which was produced in 1915 by one of Hollywood's founding fathers. In it, blacks are portrayed in a negative light and practices of the white-supremacy group Ku Klux Klan are glorified. Many Americans believe their country has already arrived in a "post-race era," but they are getting ahead of themselves, says Kendrick. The "Hollywood dynamic" is evidence of the opposite. In the eyes of the critics, last year should have been a banner year for blacks with several very good films produced featuring black actors in the lead. As examples, they cite the roles played by Will Smith in "Focus" and Michael B. Jordan in "Creed." Despite being considered as top-notch quality and successes at the box office, neither of the films gained nominations. Reforms in the wings In the meantime, the uproar has led the Academy to promise that the number of minority members in its midst be incrementally increased in order to promote diversity. It's too little, too late, however, says Earl Ofari Hutchinson. "That's not a dramatic shift," added the author, whose role as president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtables has him lobbying for filmmakers. In his statements, one hears a bit of a warning: If the Academy stays so stubborn, the changing tide will roll over their heads. Their glitzy exterior and influence could soon be history. Robert Redford, who was awarded an Oscar for his life's work, has not paid the critics much mind. He's interested, he says, "only in the work" and the on-screen results. "The elite good old boys, who want to secure their position of power," criticizes Hutchinson. An online protest for diversity And so the discussion about Hollywood's race problem carries on. Is it, as Frederic Kendrick of Howard University has said, just one element in a larger debate? Either way, protestors have already declared a massive anti-Oscar campaign on social media for Sunday night. It may just be that these online activists steal the spotlight from the stars on the red carpet.

After an onslaught of criticism from Hollywood stars and film fans over lack of diversity at the Oscars, the Academy promised to reform itself. But critics say the changes don’t go far enough in addressing racism. “Enough is enough,” said Frederic Kendrick, communications professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “We’ve had it up to here.” That once again black ... Read More »

Eurovision Song Contest changes voting rules

From this year, Eurovision votes cast by professional juries in each country and viewers will be announced separately. Organizers hope the change will help keep viewers guessing about who has won until the end. Eurovision officials said the current voting system ruined the surprise for viewers, as it often becomes apparent who has won long before the end of the marathon finals show, which usually lasts over three hours. Until now, each country has presented a single set of votes, meaning it was possible for one or two acts to quickly build an unassailable lead, leading to a premature climax of the kitsch music spectacle. "In previous years the winner has been known for up to 20 minutes before the end of voting and that's not good TV," this year's executive producer Martin Osterdahl, responsible for organizing the 2016 show in Stockholm, said in a statement late Thursday. From now on, the presentation of scores will be split between national juries and viewers' votes under a system that organizers hope will add more suspense to the big night. Keeping viewers on the edge of their seats In a new twist, the highest score of 12, the competition's famous "douze points," won't be handed out by the juries until the lower points (one to eight and 10) from all countries have been revealed. "This format change will inject a new level of excitement into the finish," Osterdahl said. Votes from all countries will be combined and announced together after the jury scores, meaning an entry could be awarded hundreds of additional points to claim victory in the show's final moments. Eurovision voting has long been dogged by controversy, with countries accused of awarding the maximum 12 points to neighbors and allies rather than according to the acts' musical merits. This year's contest will be held in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, after Mans Zemerlow won the country its six crown last year.

From this year, Eurovision votes cast by professional juries in each country and viewers will be announced separately. Organizers hope the change will help keep viewers guessing about who has won until the end. Eurovision officials said the current voting system ruined the surprise for viewers, as it often becomes apparent who has won long before the end of the ... Read More »

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