VENICE: Penelope Cruz took home the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, the latest success for the all-conquering queen of Spanish cinema.
Cruz won for her starring role in “Parallel Mothers,” her latest collaboration with legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.
It was a surprisingly political turn for the flamboyant filmmaker, exploring the trauma of the 1930s Spanish civil war alongside the tale of two mothers sharing a maternity ward.
It marks a departure into dark historical territory for the director, while still focusing on the themes of motherhood and female relationships that have been central to many of his films.
Cruz described Almodovar as “my safety net” in a press conference ahead of their red carpet appearance in Venice.
“He can ask me to do something that can really scare me but I know he will be there waiting to sustain me,” she said, adding that she was grateful to the director for giving her “so many different, challenging characters.”
Cruz has appeared in seven of Almodovar’s movies, including “All About My Mother” and “Volver.”
She had a busy fortnight in Venice, also starring in the well-received “Official Competition,” a comedy about ego-maniacs in the film business that saw her in a rare appearance alongside her Spanish megastar Antonio Banderas.
Born in Madrid in 1974, she appeared destined for a career in the entertainment, initially studying ballet at Spain’s National Conservatory before winning an acting competition that led to roles on TV and in music videos.
Her break into film came in Spanish director Bigas Luna’s “Jamon, Jamon” in 1992, which received critical acclaim and was notable for its erotic scenes featuring a 16-year-old Cruz and Javier Bardem, who would much later become her husband.
That was followed soon afterwards by “Belle Epoque,” which won the Oscar for best foreign film, and featured Cruz as one of four sisters vying for the love of an army deserter.
The next milestone came in 1997, when she was cast in her first film by Pedro Almodovar.
“Live Flesh” marked the beginning of a decade-long collaboration between Almodovar and the actress which has included roles in another foreign language Oscar-winner, 1999’s “All About My Mother.”
Cruz struggled to establish herself in mainstream Hollywood.
She achieved a rare but unwanted feat in 2001 when she received three nominations in the “Golden Raspberries” Oscars spoof for “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” “Blow” and “Vanilla Sky.”
The latter cast her alongside Tom Cruise, whom she ended up dating for three years.
Other flops followed including “Gothika” and “Sahara.”
But she bounced back, picking up an Oscar nomination for the 2006 Almodovar film “Volver.”
And she made history by becoming the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar in 2009 for her part in the Woody Allen comedy “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
She was again paired with Bardem in that film, triggering a romance that led to their marriage in 2010.
The fiercely independent Cruz is also wary of being type-cast simply for her striking physical beauty.
“The most difficult thing in the world is to start a career known only for your looks, and then to try to become a serious actress,” she has said.
“No one will take you seriously once you are known as the pretty woman.”
Spain’s film queen Penelope Cruz wins best actress in Venice
Spain’s film queen Penelope Cruz wins best actress in Venice
- Penelope Cruz won for her starring role in "Parallel Mothers"
- She described Spanish director Pedro Almodovar as "my safety net"
VENICE: Penelope Cruz took home the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, the latest success for the all-conquering queen of Spanish cinema.
What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars
Authors: Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins
In Salmon Wars, investigative journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring readers to massive ocean feedlots where millions of salmon are crammed into parasite-plagued cages and fed a chemical-laced diet.
The authors reveal the conditions inside hatcheries, and at the farms that threaten our fragile coasts. They draw colorful portraits of characters, such as the big salmon farmer who poisoned his own backyard and the American researcher driven out of Norway for raising the alarm about dangerous contaminants in the fish.
Frantz and Collins document how the industrialization of salmon threatens this keystone species, and they show how it doesn’t need to be this way.
Metallica, Mariah Carey to play New York show for foreign aid
- Rosalia, Charlie Puth, Maneskin and Mickey Guyton will join them in taking the stage at the event
- The Central Park concert is slated for September 24
NEW YORK: Metallica, Mariah Carey and the Jonas Brothers will be among the acts performing in New York’s Central Park at this year’s Global Citizen Festival, the organization announced Thursday.
Rosalia, Charlie Puth, Maneskin and Mickey Guyton will join them in taking the stage at the event, which is now in its 10th year and is aimed at drumming up support for preserving international aid to eradicate extreme poverty, in addition to a number of other causes.
The Central Park concert is slated for September 24 as is a sister show in Accra, where Usher, SZA, Stormzy, H.E.R., Sarkodie, Stonebwoy and Tems are all scheduled to perform.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement his country was “honored” to host Global Citizen.
“We owe to the next generation to live in a world free from poverty, disease and the degradation of the environment,” he said. “We must align forces to make an impact in Africa.”
Taking place since 2012 as world leaders gather in New York for the UN General Assembly, Global Citizen distributes tickets for free to supporters who pledge to take actions such as sending letters to their governments in support of development aid.
The 2022 event, which Priyanka Chopra Jonas will host, calls on world leaders as well as philanthropists to relieve debt, empower girls, improve food access and invest in climate solutions in countries that suffer climate change’s worst effects but whose carbon emissions pale in comparison to the globe’s richest nations.
“Decades of systemic and political failures have led humanity into the midst of converging and rapidly deteriorating crises — climate, hunger, health, war and conflict,” Hugh Evans, Global Citizen’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.
“The most marginalized populations are paying the price of the stagnant inaction of our leaders, and now millions of lives, and the future of our planet, are at stake.”
To beat high obesity rates, Saudi Arabia pushes to promote fitness, active lifestyles
- Obesity and related health implications cost Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone
- According to the World Health Organization, obesity is more prevalent among women than men
JEDDAH: Obesity rates worldwide have been steadily rising over the past half-century, reaching a point at which experts say many nations are way off schedule to meet the World Health Organization’s 2025 global nutrition targets.
Mindful of the pressures that high obesity rates place on local healthcare systems, to the detriment of quality of life, countries such as Saudi Arabia are working hard to promote fitness and challenge people to change their sedentary lifestyles.
According to a recent study by Ohio State University College of Medicine, obesity and the associated health implications cost the Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone, equivalent to about 4.3 percent of the Kingdom’s total annual health expenditure.
Excess weight and obesity — defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that can impair health — is not only a concern in the Arab world. More than a billion people worldwide are classified as obese, which means that they have a body mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of 30 or higher, and the number is rising.
According to the WHO, obesity is more prevalent among women than men, with factors such as sociocultural issues, economics, genetics and biology all contributing factors. Worldwide, obesity affects 15 percent of women and 11 percent of men. In the Middle East and North Africa, this gender gap is even wider, with 26 percent of women classified as obese compared with 16 percent of men.
A recent article published by The Economist attributes the problem in the region to two key factors: Socioeconomics, on the grounds that the cheapest local foods are usually the most unhealthy, such as bread and rice; and culture, on the grounds that pervasive social conservatism in the Arab region can prevent women from participating in outdoor exercise or shedding calories passively in the workplace.
The reality is, of course, more complex than that. The perception of Arab women as mere sedentary housewives appears grossly outdated as women in the region increasingly enter the labor force, take charge of their diets, and seize new opportunities in the worlds of sports and fitness.
Keeping weight under control is nevertheless easier said than done in the age of globalization. Arab countries, too, have experienced significant lifestyle changes and rapid urbanization that have introduced many additional high-fat foods to the market alongside the preexisting unhealthy eating habits, including the traditionally carbohydrate-rich Arab diet.
Nations in the Middle East and North Africa, including Saudi Arabia, have not been immune to such changes. Obesity levels have soared in recent decades owing to a mix of unhealthy eating, inactivity and keeping “fat in fashion” — a stereotype associated with Gulf countries on account of their affluence.
Globally, the perception of obesity varies widely. In many high-income and, increasingly, middle-income countries, weight gain carries a social stigma that fuels a perception of individual weakness that undermines the support for comprehensive prevention, treatment and management measures.
Different ideals associated with weight and body shape can found in various cultures. Specific cultural pressures to be tall and thin are postulated to cause people to misreport their height and body weight in an attempt to appear what is deemed more socially popular and desirable.
A similar situation exists in some places in terms of attitudes to excess weight. Many African and Polynesian, and some Arab, cultures associate overweight women with affluence, health, strength and fertility. In the Gulf region at least, however, being fat is certainly no longer in fashion.
Sulafa Kurdi, a photographer and cafe owner, has been overweight almost all of her life. In August 2020, she took the first steps on a nearly two-year journey to get fit and healthy by signing up with a gym. She chose Sweat Army in Jeddah and began her transformation.
“I was waiting for the right time to make the move and turn my life around,” she told Arab News. “Breaking down that wall was tough but, with the support I received from my coach, the journey was what I needed. I wanted to lose weight the healthy way, the right way and the difficult way.
“Within three months of signing up, I found the discipline to maintain a healthy lifestyle that I still stick to as best as I can. Yes, we all fall off the wagon and feel sluggish at times. With the right support, I’ve managed to get back again and move, breaking my own records.”
Indeed, contrary to the assertions in The Economist’s article, anecdotal evidence suggests more and more women in the Arab world are taking control of their physical lives and setting off on a journey to improved their fitness. This has in turn motivated many to pursue their dreams of becoming professional athletes.
Studies have found that engagement in sports and physical activity has been lower among women than men. Now various government-led and private programs are providing women and girls with access to sports facilities, encouraging them to become athletes and even role models for younger generations.
This has challenged outdated stereotypes about women in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab region and the incorrect notions about social conservatism preventing them from going outdoors both to exercise and to take part in organized sports.
Dubbed “Cleopatra Squash,” Egyptian Nuran Johar has won padel tournaments such as the England Open Junior Championship five times. Meanwhile, Ulfah Alkaabi, one of the UAE’s top padel players, has been making her mark on the court.
Halfway around the world, Saudi Arabia’s female national football team won a silver medal at the Special Olympics Unified Cup in Detroit, Michigan this month.
Although Saudi sprinter and first-time Olympian Yasmeen Al-Dabbagh fell short in her first race in Tokyo 2020, she has set her sights on bringing home a medal from the next Games in Paris in 2024.
By all accounts, women’s participation in sports and fitness boils down to a supportive community. In the Kingdom, the Sports For All Federation has been building community-driven programs to improve overall health through community sports programs, a powerful tool to create a healthy society in line with the Vision 2030 Quality of Life objectives.
SFA says its programs and initiatives are created based on a community’s specific needs and what motivates them, and can be incorporated easily into their daily routines such as walking, running, cycling and other activities. It says the number of female participants in community sports has increased dramatically.
“Since 2018, we’ve seen the numbers reflected across our programs,” an SFA spokesperson told Arab News. “SFA wants to provide women with the right programs and female-driven initiatives to encourage them to go further.
“We provided a special course for ladies in our Spartan race, there was an area for women at SandClash to compete, and the same goes for our Neighborhood Clubs across the Kingdom for women who prefer to have their own spaces.
“SFA has also hosted the Global Goals World Cup, a five-a-side women’s football tournament, and is the first country to add basketball to the games. One of the main objectives of SFA is to enable them, provide them with access to facilities, motivate them and feel that they are part of the community.”
Underscoring the importance of community-based physical activity programs, Haya Sawan, a fitness trainer and the owner of SheFit Gym in Jeddah, told Arab News that having such programs is helping to build a strong fitness culture among women.
“There’s been a huge jump in the past five years and you can see more people engaged in some sort of physical activity than ever before. It’s not just a matter of gyms opening, it’s more about changing the mindset and changing the lifestyle,” said Sawan.
“The region’s climate and unique environment restrict us from walking for miles, so we need to put in extra effort just to stay active all day. We utilize the space that we have and create programs fitting for the space, and using vast spaces such as malls and outdoor pathways designated for walking or jogging is a great way to engage the public.
“Initiatives such as the ones launched by SFA where they cooperated with malls makes it so much easier for people to be active. It’s accessible and you can count your steps. It’s a small gesture that makes a difference in the long run.”
That said, personal motivation remains an integral part of any fitness journey, and changing perceptions among Arab women — and wider society — about their role, status and body autonomy no doubt has a part to play.
“I am a strong believer that your thoughts can really control your life,” said Sawan. “A positive mindset will always believe that there’s room for improvement, and look at challenges as a source of motivation to overcome, rather than challenges that would stop you from moving forward. Everything changes.”
Olivia Newton-John, ‘Grease’ star and singer, dies aged 73
- Olivia Newton-John gained worldwide fame as high-school sweetheart Sandy in the hit musical movie ‘Grease’
LOS ANGELES: Australian singer Olivia Newton-John, who gained worldwide fame as high-school sweetheart Sandy in the hit musical movie “Grease,” died Monday, her family said. She was 73.
The entertainer, whose career spanned more than five decades, devoted much of her time and celebrity to charities after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992.
Newton-John “passed away peacefully at her ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends,” said a statement from her husband John Easterling posted on her official social media accounts.
Hindu nationalists push boycott of Bollywood ‘Forrest Gump’ remake
- Latest example of Bollywood actors, particularly minority Muslims, feeling increased pressure under Hindu nationalist PM Modi
- “Laal Singh Chaddha,” Indian spin on 1994 Hollywood hit with Tom Hanks, expected to be one of India’s biggest films of 2022
NEW DELHI: According to Forrest Gump, life is like a box of chocolates because “you never know what you’re going to get.” Now, an Indian remake of the movie has been hit by boycott calls over years-old comments by its Muslim star Aamir Khan.
It is the latest example of how Bollywood actors, particularly minority Muslims like Khan, are feeling increased pressure under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Modi.
“Laal Singh Chaddha,” an Indian spin on the 1994 Hollywood hit with Tom Hanks, is expected to be one of India’s biggest films of 2022.
This is due in large part to its main star, 57-year-old Khan, one of the Indian industry’s most bankable actors with past blockbusters like “3 Idiots” (2009) and “Dangal” (2016).
But ahead of the August 11 release, the Internet is awash with clips from a 2015 interview when Khan expressed a growing “sense of fear” and that he and his then-wife discussed leaving India.
“She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day,” he said.
More than 200,000 tweets, many from supporters of Modi’s BJP party, have been shared since last month calling for people to spurn the movie with the hashtag #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha.
“Aamir Khan married two Hindu Women, yet named his kids Junaid, Azad & Ira. (Hindu co-star) Kareena (Kapoor) married a Muslim & promptly named her kids Taimur & Jehangir,” said one tweet, referring to the children’s typical Muslim names.
“That’s enough reasons to boycott Lal Singh Chaddha, basically a production from Bollywood’s Love Jihad club. #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha,” it added, using a derogatory term coined by Hindu nationalists who accuse Muslim men of marrying Hindu women and forcing them to convert.
Nicknamed “Mr Perfectionist,” Khan has been credited with pushing films beyond Bollywood’s traditional fare of song and dance into social and cultural issues.
He also hosted a TV chat show — “Satyamev Jayate” — that discussed touchy themes like rape, domestic violence and corruption.
The furor over his new film — which adapts Hanks’ famous line to say that “life is like a golgappa,” an Indian snack — is such that this week Khan stressed his patriotism, a key tenet of the Modi government.
“I feel sad that some of the people... believe that I am someone who doesn’t like India,” he told local media.
“That’s not the case. Please don’t boycott my film. Please watch my film.”
Films have long sparked controversy — as well as violence — in the movie-mad country of 1.4 billion people.
But the heat being felt by Khan, one of a clutch of Muslim megastars in the industry along with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, mirrors growing intolerance, marginalization and vilification of the minority, commentators say.
“There is no doubt that Aamir is being targeted by those spreading hatred toward Muslims,” one commentator, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of becoming a target himself, told AFP.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) owes its origins to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militaristic group espousing “Hindutva,” or making India an exclusively Hindu state.
Lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs over so-called cow protection — a sacred animal for many Hindus — and other hate crimes have sown fear in the 200- million-strong Muslim population.
Social media is full of misinformation claiming that Muslims will soon outnumber Hindus — due to inter-religious marriages — or that the minority is a treasonous fifth column backed by Pakistan.
Critics say that the world’s most prolific film industry and its stars have been gradually changing their output to fit the government narrative since Modi came to power in 2014.
In 2019, the hagiographic “PM Narendra Modi” was too much even for the Election Commission, which delayed its release until after a vote that year.
There has been a recent string of military-themed movies that have been nationalistic, all-guns-blazing stories of heroics by soldiers and police — usually Hindus — against enemies outside and within India.
This year’s “The Kashmir Files,” about the fleeing of Hindus from Muslim-majority Kashmir in 1989-90, saw incidents of people in cinemas calling for revenge killings of Muslims.
Film critic and author Anna MM Vetticad said the methods to “subordinate India’s Muslims and Christians to the majority community... include demonizing these minorities, and constantly demanding proof of their patriotism.”
But little is expected to change.
“India’s tragedy is that a majority in Bollywood... are apathetic, opportunistic or afraid,” Vetticad told AFP.