Culture Matters

Spherex's weekly insights into the globalization of entertainment.

Understanding international cultural trends and narratives is critical to the media and entertainment industry’s ability to adapt, evolve and innovate.


Russia Censors Intimate Gay Scenes from 'Supernova'

Russian film distributors have cut out an intimate scene between Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in their new film Supernova before it was distributed to theatres, perhaps in an effort to head off fears that Russian theatres would refuse to screen it. Russian film critic, Konstantine Kropotkin posted to his Telegram account gaybooksfilms, that distributors “are forbidden even to use the word ‘gay’ in relation to the film.” He wants viewers to give the theatre a miss and instead try to catch an uncensored version. “Don’t spoil your experience,” Kropotkin advised. Another Russian film critic points out that the self-censorship “backfired and made this love story even more poignant and delicate.” It also seems to have thrust into the limelight for Russians the vast social difference between societies in Russia compared to the west, with the same Russian film critic noting, “Now the ‘Russian’ version of ‘Supernova’ even more clearly shows the huge social gap between us and the conventional West,” wrote critic Yefim Gugnin.. [Russia]


Kenya Film Board officially suspend comedian Eric Omondi’s “Wife Material”

Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) has officially suspended comedian Eric Omondi’s “Wife Material” Youtube show that was in its second season. Addressing the media on Monday, KFCB boss Ezekiel Mutua said the suspension of the show will only be lifted after a case the board filed against the comedian is determined. matter is set to be determined by a selected mediation committee led by comedians Jalang’o, Churchill, alongside celebrities Big Ted, Refigah, Nonini and other stakeholders. According to Mutua, the committee has four days to look into the said complaint raised by KFCB against Omondi before advising the board on what action to take against him. [Kenya]


Guwahati: Child Rights Activists React to Netflix's Bombay Begums Ban

Alankrita Shrivastava's controversial Netflix show Bombay Begums is facing massive backlash from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) over 'misrepresentation' of children. NCPCR directed the popular streaming platform Netflix to stop the streaming of the show within 24 hours, on grounds of 'inappropriate' content revolving around children. Miguel Das Queah, a Child Rights activist, talking exclusively to G Plus on this issue said, “Childhood experiences are diverse. And filmmakers have the creative freedom to delve into every intricate aspect of human affairs. If a movie were to portray the life of a common street child, it has to show the aspects of sexual abuse and drug dependence”. “Adolescent mental health, drug dependence and sexual health are always considered prohibited subjects. It would be unfair to blame film makers and ban their creative work in the name of some obscure form of morality. Having said this, if any content that glorifies or reinforces objectification, abuse or exploitation of women and children it surely deserves censure,” he further added. The NCPCR report claims that the show normalises minors indulging in casual sex and drug abuse. [India]


Kaouther Ben Hania, historic Oscar nomination for Tunisia

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, speaking from Paris after finding out that her film "The Man Who Sold His Skin" was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film, said, "This is a historic event, a first for Tunisia". Her film premiered in the Horizons section at the 77th Venice Film Festival, where it received the award for best actor (Yahya Mahayni) and the Edipo Re Inclusion Award. The director invited Tunisian authorities to further support national film production. The film, starring Italian actress Monica Bellucci, Tunisian actor Yahya Mahayni and Belgian actor Koen De Bouw, conjures the Faustian bargain between a Syrian refugee and a contemporary artist in order to cross the border into Europe. "I hope that after this event, decisions will be made to push Tunisian cinema forward to better support directors and give more importance to cinema, because currently all of our efforts are individual," said the 43-year-old French-Tunisian director who was born in Sidi Bouzid, a marginalised city in central Tunisia. [Tunisia]


Turkish newspaper blurs the arms of female actresses including Jennifer Aniston in Friends cast picture

A Turkish newspaper has blurred the bare arms of Friends actresses Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow in an editorial pleading for the popular series not to become available in the country. Global streaming service Netflix recently announced the sitcom, which debuted in 1994 and ran for ten seasons, would be added to its catalogue in Turkey from April 1. But the conservative Turkish newspaper, Yeni Akit, claims doing so would infect young viewers with ideas including “homosexuality”, “incest” and “child abuse”. In an article titled, Netflix hopes to target our young people with the depraved TV show Friends, the publication included a cast photo but blurred the bare arms of all three female cast members. It calls on the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), which monitors and regulates media in the country, to stop the series from airing. The series, which is one of the most popular sitcoms in television history, follows the lives of coffee-loving New Yorkers, Rachel, Chandler, Ross, Monica, Phoebe and Joey. [Turkey]


Saudi Arabia's film industry: Between glitz and censorship

It was a cinematic revolution that would have hit the screens – if there had been any. In 2018, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture and Information announced the end of the cinema ban after 35 years. Since then, a whole new industry has emerged and the population of almost 35 million people has embraced the new entertainment opportunities. “Before the pandemic, malls used to be jam-packed on Fridays with people going to the movie theaters,” Zeina Sfeir, an expert on the Arab film industry and director and producer of documentaries in Lebanon, told DW on the phone. In fact, it took only four months after the end of the ban to open the doors of the first cinema in Riyadh on April 18, 2018, with the first commercial screening being “Pink Panther” in front of — a novelty — a mixed audience. On average, however, people are able to choose between mixed, male-only and female-only screenings. By 2030, one of the governing authorities to regulate and operate cinemas, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM), expects there to be around 350 cinemas and 2,500 movie screens in the country, as well as an industry worth around $1 billion (€836,000). The kingdom also aims to see household spending on entertainment to double from making up three percent of GDP in 2018/2019 to six percent in 2030. [Saudi Arabia]


Hong Kong Film Group Cancels Public Screening of Protest Documentary

Organizers have canceled a public screening of a documentary about a Hong Kong university that was besieged by riot police as students fired petrol bombs and other projectiles from behind makeshift barricades in November 2019, amid a city-wide crackdown on criticism of the authorities under a draconian national security law. The Hong Kong Film Critics Society announced it would cancel a screening of "Inside the Red Brick Wall," which had been scheduled to show at the Golden Scene movie theater on Monday evening. The move came after the Wen Wei Po, a newspaper backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), ran a number of articles criticizing the plan as being in breach of the national security law. "The movie incites resistance against the police and the Hong Kong government and spreads hatred for our country," the paper said in one article. The 88-minute documentary, produced in 2020 by a group of anonymous Hong Kong filmmakers, won the best editing award from the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), Europe's largest documentary film festival. The Hong Kong Film Critics Society had also bestowed its annual grand prize on the film. [Hong Kong]


Malaysian rapper Namewee says he will surrender to police over film ‘Babi’

Malaysian rapper Namewee, who is currently in quarantine upon returning to the country, says he will surrender himself to the police over allegations made against his controversial film Babi. The Mandopop artist (real name Wee Meng Chee) is under investigation by Malaysian authorities after Persatuan Seniman Malaysia, an association of Malaysian artists, lodged a police report against Namewee in December over Babi, a film that he wrote and directed. In its report, Persatuan Seniman Malaysia alleged that the film had racist elements that tarnished Malaysia’s image, according to Malay Mail. Seniman secretary-general Mohd Hafiz Mohd Nafiah was quoted as saying after watching clips of Babi, he personally felt that the film contained elements of racism. Namewee has claimed the film was based on a true event – a school riot in 2000 – which had been covered up by the Malaysian government. Seminan’s report follows another police report, lodged in November 2020, by Perikatan Nasional Youth member Mohd Azwan Azmi. He claimed the film’s poster contained phrases and racial slurs offensive to Malay, Indian and Chinese communities. [Malaysia]


Films, religion, KISS posters ... banning Nazi hate symbols is no simple task

Anyone seeking to film a modern-day Romper Stomper in Victoria would first need to convince authorities it was not designed to incite hatred under the terms of a proposed ban on the Nazi flag recommended by a parliamentary inquiry this month. Other states are reportedly considering following Victoria’s lead on the ban, which comes in response to the rise of far-right hate groups inspired by the Nazis’ genocide of more than 6 million Jews during World War II. While Geoffrey Wright’s 1992 film – which included images of the Nazi flag – was widely perceived as a critique of racist attitudes, there were some who firmly believed it was itself racist and might inspire copycat behaviour. Critic David Stratton was so disturbed by the movie he famously refused to rate it on SBS’ The Movie Show. “It’s all about the intent,” says Labor MP Christine Couzens, one of seven members of the multiparty committee that recommended the ban as part of a broader bid to beef up the state’s anti-vilification laws. “Clearly there will be situations like filmmaking where there needs to be some consideration about intent and what it means. Someone might make a film that attempts to incite hate.” But judging intention can be notoriously difficult. Where might such a ban leave the likes of Aron Attiwell, a 20-year-old filmmaker in Perth who has just wrapped shooting on his self-financed short film Fading Numbers? A Holocaust story, the film follows the life of a young Jewish woman through the war years and beyond; naturally, swastikas and other Nazi symbols abound. “I was inspired after learning a little about the Holocaust in secondary school,” says Attiwell, who based his story on real survivor tales. [Australia]


Campaign for Hollywood studios to film in Ireland and boost 'screen tourism'

A virtual trade mission is underway to promote Ireland as a filming destination for Hollywood studios, including Disney. In the wake of yesterday’s Oscar nominations, which saw Kilkenny-based illustration studio Cartoon Saloon in the running for best Animated Feature Film for Wolfwalkers, Screen Ireland is leading a series of meetings with US studios and streamers to encourage more film industries to consider Ireland as a base for shooting and production. Ireland has a history of strong links with the creative screen industry in Los Angeles and this year Irish-produced film and TV projects, including Normal People and Calm with Horses, have featured heavily within the international award season. The film, TV and animation sector in Ireland is worth €692 million. “Since the last trade mission to Los Angeles, US-Ireland industry partnerships have continued to grow with Irish projects achieving critical and commercial success around the globe,” said Désirée Finnegan, chief executive of Screen Ireland. [Ireland]


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