J-Rod are done: Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez have split

US singer and actress Jennifer Lopez and former baseball player Alex Rodriguez arrive for the 91st Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 24, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 15 April 2021

J-Rod are done: Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez have split

  • Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez told the ‘Today’ show, in a joint statement, that they are calling off their two-year engagement
  • The couple was given the nickname ‘J-Rod’ three years ago after they landed on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine

LOS ANGELES: J-Lo and A-Rod are no longer J-Rod — officially.
Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez told the “Today” show Thursday in a joint statement that they are calling off their two-year engagement.
“We have realized we are better as friends and look forward to remaining so. We will continue to work together and support each other on our shared businesses and projects,” it said.
“We wish the best for each other and one another’s children. Out of respect for them, the only other comment we have to say is thank you to everyone who has sent kind words and support.”
The couple started dating in early 2017. They issued a statement in March that disputed reports they were breaking up.
The couple was given the nickname “J-Rod” three years ago after they landed on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.


A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

Updated 12 June 2021

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

  • A spirited new anthology of poems and stories by Arab women down the ages overturns common expectations of gender 
  • ‘We Wrote in Symbols’ celebrates the literary works of 75 female writers of Arab heritage spanning five millenia

DUBAI: British-Palestinian author Selma Dabbagh hopes a new book featuring 75 stories of love and desire penned by Arab women will help pave the way for more female authors to emerge from the Middle East region.

The English-language anthology “We Wrote in Symbols,” edited by Dabbagh, was published in April this year, marking a literary first in showcasing the works of women from the region on subjects many might consider bold.

Spanning several millennia, the volume includes the works of classical poets, award-winning contemporary authors and emerging writers.

“It brings together a diverse range of voices who are writers in English, French and Arabic, coming from all of the three main monotheistic religions, as well as those that are not religious at all,” Dabbagh told Arab News.

‘We Wrote in Symbols’ editor Selma Dabbagh. (Courtesy of Sussana Baker Smith)

The idea arose after Dabbagh stumbled on an anthology called “Classical Poems by Arab Women,” which contained writings from the pre-Islamic period up to the fall of Andalusia in 1492.

The collection left a lasting impression. “Some were what you would expect. There were poems lamenting the loss of a brother in battle,” Dabbagh said.

“But other women were talking about sexuality in a way that was very self-assured. Some were being a bit provocative, but others were just content with that aspect of their life. The voices were surprising, but they also felt fresh, contemporary and spirited.”

Dabbagh began to notice similar themes in the work of contemporary female authors discussing issues of love and desire — in some cases dealing with the disconnection between the two in relationships, which were portrayed with remarkable sensitivity.

As a fiction writer, Dabbagh had always found this a difficult topic to handle, partly due to self-censorship stemming from her own notions of shame.

“There is a universal insistence on associating the actions of a character with the behavior of an author, which we need to be freed from,” she said.

Sabrina Mahfouz. (Courtesy of Greg Morrison)

“To be a writer who is able to depict those delicate shifts in mood and connections between people takes an enormous amount of skill and imagination. So, the collection is basically a combination of the older, classical poets and the newer voices looking at this difficult terrain.

“A lot of them are very funny, some are quite daring and explicit, and it’s just a different way for women identified with the region to have their writing viewed — through matters of the heart and the body.”

Dabbagh said there is an expectation among English readers that most Arab fiction is slightly depressing, political or downbeat. In the words of Nathalie Handal, one of the poets featured in the anthology, “people think Arabs don’t love with a beating heart.” The book aims to challenge this misconception.

“It tries to bring that sense of emotional excitement and tenderness to a vast, diverse and varied region through the writing of women,” Dabbagh said.

Indeed, there is much to celebrate about women in Arab literature, which actually predates anything published by a female author in the English language. One of the earliest poems included in the anthology dates back almost 5,000 years.

“You have this tradition, mainly in poetry, of writing and letter writing by Arab women before women started writing in Europe,” Dabbagh said. “I really wanted to show that, because it’s not something that is associated with the Arab world in terms of having higher levels of advancement in female literacy.”

Hanan Al-Shayk. (Supplied)

For Dabbagh, whose debut novel “Out of It” was nominated as a Guardian book of the year in 2011-12, navigating the affairs of the heart is not something that necessarily becomes easier with age.

Although she read the works of Hanan Al-Shaykh and Ahdaf Soueif avidly in her 20s, she wishes there had been more Arab women writers in her youth. “Sadly, I only read fluently in English,” she said.

“It was really radically life-changing for me to read accounts by women of a similar background. I grew up between the Gulf and Europe mainly, and I always found it such a difficult subject matter for me to find my voice.”

Reading their stories made Dabbagh more articulate about her own feelings.

“It just gives you a set of tools with which to negotiate this tricky emotional terrain,” she said. “I think (my book) might help to provide a level of self-knowledge because there are so many different characters in it that readers should be  able to relate to.”

Having read the works of critically acclaimed American writers, whose brash depiction of the hook-up culture she found dulling, her interest returned to the writings of women of Arab heritage to see how their interpretations of romance, sentimentality, vulnerability and desire affected her.

Laura Hanna. (Supplied)

In these works, she found creativity, humor and craft. “We’re always being told to see these two worlds I come from (the West/Europe and the Arab world) as almost antithetical to one another,” Dabbagh said.

“But with the language of love and looking at the Mediterranean as a kind of sea of stories, we can see how there’s been influence over time between Europe and the Arab world.

“In the 19th century, you had a lot of writers and explorers who came to the Arab world because it was a place of freer sensuality. It seemed to be less restrictive than the puritanical backgrounds these writers came from.

“Now that pattern has, to some extent, been reversed.”

During the Abbasid period, the topic  was written about and seen almost as a scientific study. “You could have a book which dealt with astrology and physics as well as expounding on sensuality, because sensuality and getting that harmony right between a couple was something that was indicative of how you can have harmony in the society as a whole,” Dabbagh said.

Elif Shafak. (Supplied)

“So, it was a way of ensuring that the community was in balance and that, to me, is such a beautiful idea. But it’s something that is rarely associated with the religion anymore.”

Nowadays, any associations between religion, women and sexuality appears to be overwhelmingly negative. “I wanted to show that range, to try to break up that stereotype,” she said.

And although one book is unlikely to change opinions overnight, Dabbagh believes women’s voices are gradually subverting traditional methods of censorship.

“The region has been engulfed with images, films and TV for the past 70 years, and most of it was state-run,” she said. “But now with Netflix and online streaming, we have a lot more content coming in and it’s hugely influential.”

Nevertheless, the depiction of Arabs and the Islamic world in Hollywood has improved little in the past century. “There is a kind of mass absorption of negative images of the region from outside, which is going to influence behavior,” Dabbagh said.

“We need to find ways of writing stories which are connected to regional history, cultures, which are exciting, dramatic, sleek and sexy. It’s just about being trained up, opting into it and starting to influence the way these stories are told.”

___________

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Three agreements signed to shoot Hollywood, Saudi movies in AlUla

Updated 11 June 2021

Three agreements signed to shoot Hollywood, Saudi movies in AlUla

  • ‘Film Commission is doing all it can to help local talents to harness the benefits of modern technology’

RIYADH: The Film AlUla department at the Royal Commission for AlUla has signed agreements to shoot three films in the governorate — an American movie directed by and featuring big Hollywood names and two Saudi movies.

The Saudi projects are “In Sands” directed by Muhammad Al-Atawee and “Nourah” directed by Tawfeeq Al-Zayedi. The Hollywood film has not yet been named.

The Film Commission at the Ministry of Culture will finance both Saudi films in full and will coordinate with Film AlUla to meet all shooting requirements in AlUla.

The agreements were signed following the great success of the American movie “Cherry” directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Scenes from “Cherry” were shot in AlUla and Riyadh, a first for Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with Film AlUla, which is working hard to attract Saudi and global talents to shoot movies here.

Mohammad Al-Asmari, a documentary film director, said that the exchange of expertise in the filmmaking industry is a great stimulant for Saudi talent, noting that the industry is a lucrative source of income and a stimulant for domestic and foreign investors.

FASTFACTS

The Saudi projects are ‘In Sands’ directed by Muhammad Al-Atawee and ‘Nourah’ directed by Tawfeeq Al-Zayedi. The Hollywood film has not yet been named.

The agreements were signed following the great success of the American movie ‘Cherry’ directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Scenes from ‘Cherry’ were shot in AlUla and Riyadh, a first for Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with Film AlUla, which is working hard to attract Saudi and global talents to shoot movies here.

Al-Asmari commended the Film Commission for encouraging the success of Saudi production and setting up the regulatory framework to help Saudis make their dreams come true.

The Film Commission is doing all it can to help local talents to develop their filmmaking skills and to harness the benefits of modern technology, Al-Asmari said.

The Film Commission was established in February last year. Its board of directors chaired by the minister of culture is responsible for developing the film sector in the Kingdom and encouraging individuals, institutions and companies to develop content.

Tariq Al-Khawaji, a cultural consultant at Ithra Programs, said the Kingdom’s attractive landscapes, including its historical heritage, have played a key role in promoting the development of the film industry.

Since Saudi Arabia started issuing tourist visas, it has been visited by numerous movie and television production companies exploring shooting in AlUla and other locations.

AlUla’s landscapes are among the best filming locations in the world and Film AlUla is seeking to establish AlUla as international filming and content destination and to create a film infrastructure in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

It provides a package of services to attract international filmmakers. This includes a team of film experts in AlUla to facilitate production and build a suitable ecosystem for filmmaking.

On the practical side, it can handle film crew visas, secure ground and air transportation, facilitate the import and export of cameras and other production equipment, sort out accommodation in Riyadh and AlUla and grant permits.

In addition to its cultural heritage dating back more than 200,000 years, AlUla has a fascinating diversity of terrains covering an area of more than 22,500 km that includes charming valleys and amazing rock formations created by wind and water over millions of years. The governorate’s farms, villages and cities with their range of old and new architecture offer a variety of options for filmmakers.

Film AlUla also works to stimulate local film production, in partnership with other government agencies, based on the Royal Commission’s endeavor to empower national talents in the film industry.


What We Are Reading Today: Life on the Line by Emma Goldberg

Updated 11 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Life on the Line by Emma Goldberg

In her new book, Life on the Line, New York Times journalist Emma Goldberg focuses on six young doctors during the COVID-19 surge in New York City last spring.
Woven together from in-depth interviews with the doctors, their notes, and Goldberg’s own extensive reporting, this page-turning narrative is an unforgettable depiction of a crisis unfolding in real time and a timeless and unique chronicle of the rite of passage of young doctors.
In this powerful book, Goldberg offers an up-close portrait of six bright yet inexperienced health professionals, each of whom defies a stereotype about who gets to don a doctor’s wArab Newshite coat.
Goldberg illuminates how the pandemic redefines what it means for them to undergo this trial by fire as caregivers, colleagues, classmates, friends, romantic partners and concerned family members.
This is a raw and emotional depiction of young professionals thrust into the middle of a crisis.
As the surge of cases “hit New York hospitals like a tsunami” in March and April 2020, some medical schools graduated fourth year students early so they could work at understaffed hospitals.


Indian Miss Universe runner-up’s peace dream inspired by Kuwaiti childhood

Updated 08 June 2021

Indian Miss Universe runner-up’s peace dream inspired by Kuwaiti childhood

  • Adline Castelino tells Arab News about growing up in Arab environment with Pakistani friends, her belief in future for India, Pakistan built on mutual respect

NEW DELHI: Indian model Adline Castelino believes that coming third runner-up in the recent Miss Universe pageant in Florida will provide the springboard to follow her dream of becoming a peace envoy.

The 22-year-old beauty queen recently told Arab News about her childhood years growing up in an Arab culture, the need for peace between rival nations such as Pakistan and India, and her plans to spend time with family and enjoy food when the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic subsides.

Born and raised in Kuwait, Castelino returned to her homeland as a teenager to study in Mumbai and pursue a career in modelling. Instagram

She said: “I would love to don the role of an ambassador of peace. If that opportunity comes to me, I would be the first one to grab that and make the most of it, because I believe that’s what the world needs now.”

Born and raised in Kuwait, Castelino returned to her homeland as a teenager to study in Mumbai and pursue a career in modelling. The multicultural experience of growing up and having the “most comfortable and loving childhood” in the Gulf state has never left her, instilling a deep respect for others.

She represented India at the Miss Universe 2020 pageant where she finished 4th among contestants from 73 countries. Instagram

“I am very grateful to have had the experience of growing up in an Arab culture and I learnt a lot. The amalgamation of both cultures made me the person that I am. I think people over there give lots of importance to children and they really sacrifice a lot for children. I remember how we were so protected from the start,” she added.

With that sense of safety and protection, Castelino, a native of Mangalore in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, could grow up Indian, although away from India. “Even though I was very far away from my motherland, I always had the values and tradition intact.”

Castelino works with a welfare organisation called ‘Vikas Sahayog Pratishthan’ (VSP). Instagram

She was also able to make friends with Pakistanis whose country has long been a bitter rival of India, the two nations having been involved in periods of armed conflict since the independence and partition of the former British-ruled subcontinent in 1947.

Castelino said: “I don’t think this enmity, this animosity needs to continue. There is such a wonderful relation we could share, because of our history, because of where we come from.

“I truly feel that they are part of our family. I have a family in Pakistan, and I really want to tell them that I see a future there where both countries actually join hands and to have very mutually respectful relations. Because we share the same history, because we have shared the same pain and struggle at one period of time.

She became only the second Indian in two decades to achieve major success in the Miss Universe competition. Instagram

“In Kuwait, I have lived alongside Pakistanis, Bangladeshis. And they have been my best friends, they are my family, people who have cheered for me and had my back,” she added.

Her main source of support, however, has been her parents. When she became only the second Indian in two decades to achieve major success in the Miss Universe competition – after actress Lara Dutta won it in 2000 – Castelino immediately called her parents who still live in Kuwait.

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic has been brought under control, she will be off to Kuwait to see her parents and friends. Instagram

“They were very supportive even though they were not there in the entire journey, they were always supportive and trying to guide me. I called up my mom soon after the crowning. It was early in the morning. She was excited and so proud of me,” she said.

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic has been brought under control, she will be off to Kuwait to see her parents and friends, and to enjoy her favorite and “amazing” Arab dishes.

“When I go back, when I think of going back, that’s the first thing I think of after my family. I am going to have amazing shawarma; I am going to have amazing falafel. I am just waiting for the opportunity to go back to Kuwait,” Castelino added.

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Meghan and Harry welcome second child, Lilibet ‘Lili’ Diana

Updated 06 June 2021

Meghan and Harry welcome second child, Lilibet ‘Lili’ Diana

  • Her first name, Lilibet, is a nod to Her Majesty The Queen’s nickname
  • Her middle name is in honor of her grandmother and Harry’s mother

SANTA BARBARA, California: The second baby for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is officially here: Meghan gave birth to a healthy girl on Friday.
A spokesperson for Prince Harry and Meghan said Sunday the couple welcomed their child Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor. Their daughter weighed in at 7 lbs, 11 oz.
Her first name, Lilibet, is a nod to Her Majesty The Queen’s nickname. Her middle name is in honor of her grandmother and Harry’s mother. The baby is the eighth in line to the British throne.
No photos of the newborn or the Sussexes accompanied the announcement.
The birth comes after the Harry and Meghan’s explosive TV interview with Oprah Winfrey in March. The couple described painful discussions about the color of their first child’s skin, losing royal protection and the intense pressures that led her to contemplate suicide.
Buckingham Palace said the allegations of racism made by the couple were “concerning.” The royal family said the issue would be addressed privately.
Winfrey and Harry on mental illness have recently collaborated on the Apple TV+ mental health series “The Me You Can’t See.”
Harry and American actor Meghan Markle married at Windsor Castle in May 2018. Their son Archie was born a year later.
In early 2020, Meghan and Harry announced they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. They live in Montecito, a posh area near Santa Barbara, California.
Last year, Meghan revealed that she had a miscarriage in July 2020, giving a personal account of the traumatic experience in hope of helping others.
Months before the miscarriage, Harry said the royal family cut him off financially at the start of 2020 after announcing plans to step back from his roles. But he was able to afford security for his family because of the money his mother, Princess Diana, left behind.
In the interview with Winfrey, Meghan said she grew concerned about her son not having a royal title because it meant he wouldn’t be provided security. said digesting everything during while pregnant was “very hard.” More than the “prince” title, she was the most concerned about her son’s safety and protection.
Meghan said it was hard for her to understand why there were concerns within the royal family about her son’s skin color. She said it was hard for her to “compartmentalize” those conversations.
Harry, too, said there are lasting impacts about Meghan’s treatment and his relationship with his family.
Harry and Meghan’s departure from royal duties began in March 2020 over what they described as the intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media toward the duchess.