Atomic bomb movie ‘Oppenheimer’ crowned best picture at the Oscars

(L-R) Takashi Yamazaki, winner of Best Visual Effects for "Godzilla Minus One", and Christopher Nolan, winner of Best Director for "Oppenheimer", attend the Governors Ball during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 10, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (AFP)
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Updated 11 March 2024

Atomic bomb movie ‘Oppenheimer’ crowned best picture at the Oscars

  • Oppenheimer, blockbuster biopic about race to build first atomic bomb, claimed seven awards at Oscars
  • A three-hour drama about science and politics, it became an unlikely box office hit, grossing $953.8 million

LOS ANGELES: “Oppenheimer,” the blockbuster biopic about the race to build the first atomic bomb, claimed seven Academy Awards including the prestigious best picture trophy on Sunday as Hollywood celebrated a triumphant year in film.

Irish actor Cillian Murphy won best actor for playing theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the US effort in the 1940s to create a weapon that ended World War Two. “Oppenheimer” director Christopher Nolan took home the directing Oscar.

“We made a film about the man who created the atomic bomb, and for better or worse we are living in Oppenheimer’s world,” Murphy said as he held his trophy on stage. “So I would really like to dedicate this to the peacemakers everywhere.”

A three-hour historical drama about science and politics, “Oppenheimer” became an unlikely box office hit and grossed $953.8 million, in addition to widespread critical praise.

It was the first of Nolan’s films to win best picture. The director has previously won acclaim for “The Dark Knight” Batman trilogy, “Inception,” “Memento” and other movies.

As he accepted his gold statuette, Nolan noted that the movie business was a century old and still evolving.

“To know you think I’m a meaningful part of this means the world to me,” he said.


Emma Stone was named best actress for playing a woman revived from the dead in the dark and wacky comedy “Poor Things.” It was the second Academy Award for Stone, who landed the best actress honor for 2016 musical “La La Land.”

“This is really overwhelming,” she said on stage.

The best actress race had been considered one of the tightest competitions with Lily Gladstone nominated for “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Had she prevailed, Gladstone would have been the first Native American to win an acting Oscar.

In supporting actor categories, Robert Downey Jr. of “Oppenheimer” and “The Holdovers” star Da’Vine Joy Randolph claimed their first Academy Awards.

Downey, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1993 before his career was derailed by drug use, won his honor on Sunday for playing Oppenheimer’s professional nemesis, Lewis Strauss.

“I’d like to thank my terrible childhood and the Academy, in that order,” Downey joked before he saluted his wife Susan, who he said found him as a “snarly rescue pet” and “loved him back to life.”

Randolph received the best supporting actress trophy for playing a grieving mother and cafeteria worker in the comedy set in a New England boarding school.

“For so long, I always wanted to be different, and now I realize I just need to be myself,” she said. “I thank you for seeing me.”

Winners were chosen by the roughly 10,500 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

After 2023 was marred by labor strikes by actors and writers, the Oscars gave Hollywood a chance to celebrate two blockbusters, “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” which brought in a combined $2.4 billion at theaters and made movies the center of pop culture last summer.

“Barbie” ended the night with one Oscar.

Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell landed best original song for the ballad “What Was I Made For?” The pair had performed the song on stage earlier with Eilish singing at a microphone next to O’Connell, her brother and co-writer, on piano.

Ryan Gosling donned a hot pink suit, gloves and a cowboy hat to belt out rock ballad “I’m Just Ken,” surrounded by male dancers dressed in black.

Amid the upbeat moments, international conflicts were on the minds of attendees, winners and protesters outside the theater.

Israel’s war on Gaza plays a role

When Holocaust drama “The Zone of Interest” was named best international feature, director Jonathan Glazer addressed Israel’s war on Gaza in his acceptance speech.

“Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people.
 Whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza. All the victims of this dehumanization. How do we resist?” he said to cheers and applause.

A handful of celebrities, including Eilish, Mahershala Ali and Mark Ruffalo, wore red pins calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Outside, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters angered by Israel’s war on Gaza shouted and slowed traffic in the streets surrounding the Dolby Theatre. “While you’re watching, bombs are dropping,” one sign read.

“The Oscars are happening down the road while people are being murdered, killed, bombed,” said 38-year-old business owner Zinab Nassrou.

On the red carpet, stars strutted in strong silhouettes, sparkles and a splash of Barbie-inspired pink.

Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, hosting the show for the fourth time, opened the ceremony by complimenting, and taking jabs at, many of the nominees and their films.
The comedian praised “Barbie,” the pink-drenched doll adventure, for remaking a “plastic doll nobody even liked anymore” into a feminist icon.

Before the film, there was “a better chance of getting my wife to buy our daughter a pack of Marlboro Reds” than a Barbie, Kimmel said on the broadcast, which was shown live on the US ABC network.

Kimmel said many of this year’s movies were too long, particularly Martin Scorsese’s 3-1/2-hour epic “Killer of the Flower Moon” about the murders of members of the Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma.

“In the time it takes you to watch it, you could drive to Oklahoma and solve the murders,” Kimmel joked.

Late in the show, Kimmel read aloud from a scathing online review of his performance as host, disclosing at the end that it was written by former US President Donald Trump.

Kimmel jokingly asked the audience to guess which former president had written the post and then quipped: “Thank you, President Trump. Isn’t it past your jail time?“


Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

Updated 19 June 2024

Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

  • Anti-Defamation League cannot be trusted as neutral source of information, Wikipedia editors conclude
  • Organization under scrutiny for its methods of tracking antisemitism and its rigid definition of the term

LONDON: Wikipedia has labelled the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Israeli civil rights organization, as “generally unreliable” for its work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, effectively declassifying it as a top source on its pages.

Editors of the world’s largest online encyclopedia concluded that the ADL, known as the premier Jewish civil rights organization in the US, cannot be trusted as a neutral source of information about antisemitism and the Israel-Palestine crisis.

“ADL no longer appears to adhere to a serious, mainstream and intellectually cogent definition of antisemitism, but has instead given in to the shameless politicization of the very subject that it was originally esteemed for being reliable on,” an editor known as Iskandar323, who initiated the discussion about the ADL, wrote in a debate thread.

Editors highlighted the definition of Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement advocating for the creation of an Israeli state, as a key reason for the declassification.

The decision, which equates the ADL with tabloids, is a significant blow to the organization’s historical status as a key source of information regarding the tracking of antisemitism in the US.

The ADL has faced scrutiny for its methodologies and its rigid definition of antisemitism.

Experts repeatedly expressed skepticism about the organization’s decision to classify demonstrations featuring “anti-Zionist chants and slogans” as antisemitic.

Critics argue that this classification does not represent the full spectrum of antisemitism, because it excludes Jewish progressives and others critical of Israel.

The Forward, a US-Jewish newspaper, found at least 3,000 cases that raised concerns about the ADL’s logging system.

This decision appears to reflect ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s position that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism, full stop,” as he stated in a 2022 speech.

Greenblatt has often been criticized for his strong stance on the issue and has been accused of a partisan approach toward Israel.

In November, he endorsed Elon Musk, who had posted an antisemitic conspiracy theory on his X account, while more recently he described US student protests as Iranian “proxies” and compared the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf to a swastika.

In a statement, the ADL said the Wikipedia decision was part of a “campaign to delegitimize the ADL.”

“This is a sad development for research and education, but ADL will not be daunted in our age-old fight against antisemitism and all forms of hate,” the statement said.

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

Updated 19 June 2024

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

NEW YORK: The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Tuesday that it had referred a complaint against TikTok to the Justice Department, saying the popular video sharing app may be violating child privacy laws.
The complaint, which also names TikTok’s Chinese parent company Bytedance, stems from an investigation launched following a 2019 settlement, the FTC said in a statement.
At the time, the US regulator accused TikTok’s predecessor,, of having improperly collected child users’ personal data.
TikTok agreed to pay $5.7 million under the settlement and to take actions to come into compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 law.
FTC chair Lina Khan said Tuesday on X that the follow-up investigation had “found reason to believe that TikTok is violating or about to violate” COPPA and other federal laws.
A separate FTC statement said that the public announcement of the referral was atypical, but “we have determined that doing so here is in the public interest.”
Neither Khan nor the FTC statement further specified the violations TikTok and Bytedance were believed to have committed.
TikTok said Tuesday on X that it had worked for more than a year with the FTC “to address its concerns,” and was “disappointed” the agency was “pursuing litigation instead of continuing to work with us on a reasonable solution.”
“We strongly disagree with the FTC’s allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed,” it said.
“We’re proud of and remain deeply committed to the work we’ve done to protect children and we will continue to update and improve our product.”
The complaint comes a day after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for new restrictions on social media to combat a sweeping mental health crisis among young people.
Among the steps proposed by Murthy in his New York Times op-ed was notably a tobacco-style warning label “stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.”
TikTok, with roughly 170 million US users, is facing a possible ban across the United States within months, as part of legislation signed by President Joe Biden in late April.
The company has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban, which is working its way through US courts.
Meanwhile TikTok has been targeted by several civil suits alleging the company insufficiently protected minors who use the platform.

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality

Updated 18 June 2024

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality

  • Snap hopes special lenses will attract new users and advertisers
  • AI-led Lens Studio reduces filter creation time and enhances realism

LONDON: Snapchat owner Snap on Tuesday launched its latest iteration of generative AI technology that will allow users to see more realistic special effects when using phone cameras to film themselves, as it seeks to stay ahead of social media rivals.
Snap has been a pioneer in the field of augmented reality (AR), which overlays computerized effects onto photos or videos of the real world. While the company remains much smaller than rival platforms like Meta, it is betting that making more advanced and whimsical special effects, called lenses, will attract new users and advertisers to Snapchat.
AR developers are now able to create AI-powered lenses, and Snapchat users will be able to use them in their content, the company said.
Santa Monica, California-based Snap also announced an upgraded version of its developer program called Lens Studio, which artists and developers can use to create AR features for Snapchat or other websites and apps.
Bobby Murphy, Snap’s chief technology officer, said the enhanced Lens Studio would reduce the time it takes to create AR effects from weeks to hours and produce more complex work.
“What’s fun for us is that these tools both stretch the creative space in which people can work, but they’re also easy to use, so newcomers can build something unique very quickly,” Murphy said in an interview.
Lens Studio now includes a new suite of generative AI tools, such as an AI assistant that can answer questions if a developer needs help. Another tool will allow artists to type a prompt and automatically generate a three-dimensional image that they can use for their AR lens, removing the need to develop a 3D model from scratch.
Earlier versions of AR technology have been capable only of simple effects, like placing a hat on a person’s head in a video. Snap’s advancements will now allow AR developers to create more realistic lenses, such as having the hat move seamlessly along with a person’s head and match the lighting in the video, Murphy said.
Snap also has plans to create full body, rather than just facial, AR experiences such as generating a new outfit, which is currently very difficult to create, Murphy added.

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos

Updated 18 June 2024

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos

  • Notes will allow users to provide additional context on videos

LONDON: Alphabet’s YouTube will soon allow users to add ‘notes’ that will provide context on some of its videos as part of a new feature that will be initially rolled out in the United States, it said on Monday.
YouTube will invite certain users and creators, as part of the initial test phase, to write notes that are meant to provide “relevant, timely, and easy-to-understand context” on videos.
The notes, for instance could clarify when a song is meant to be a parody, point out when a new version of a product being reviewed is available, or let viewers know when older footage is mistakenly portrayed as a current event.
Social media platform X has a similar feature called Community Notes through which it allows select contributors to add context to posts including tags such as “misleading” and “out of context.”
The notes feature on YouTube will be available initially on mobile to users in the US and in English. In this phase, third-party evaluators will rate the helpfulness of notes, which will help train the systems, before a potential broader rollout, YouTube said.
Viewers in the US will start to see notes on videos in the coming weeks and months.

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Updated 18 June 2024

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

  • BBC investigation alleges that the Greek coastguard caused dozens of migrant deaths between 2020 and 2023
  • Survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard, accusing it of a slow response despite multiple warnings

ATHENS: Greece rejected Monday a BBC investigation that alleged its coast guard caused the deaths of dozens of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, denying accusations it had broken international law.
In an investigation published on its website on Monday, the BBC counted 43 migrants it said had died in the Aegean Sea after being turned back by Greek coast guards between May 2020 and May 2023.
Nine of the dead were deliberately thrown overboard, the publicly funded British broadcaster added.
Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis denied the claims.
“We monitor every publication, every investigation, but I repeat: what has been reported is in no way proven,” he said, adding the coast guard “saves dozens of human lives each day.”
Greece has long been accused of carrying out illegal operations to force back migrants braving the perilous crossing from Turkiye’s western coast in the hope of reaching the European Union.
Though Athens has always denied the practice, numerous investigations by international media and rights groups have documented its existence, often with video evidence.
The BBC said its investigation examined 15 such pushback operations over a three-year period.
As well as basing its reporting on local media, NGOs and the Turkish coast guard, the BBC was able to interview eyewitnesses.
They include a Cameroonian national who said he and two other migrants were arrested after landing on the island of Samos in September 2021.
He said the police forced them onto a Greek coast guard boat, beating them as they went, before throwing them out into the water.
He was the only one to survive, with the bodies of his two companions — an Ivorian and another Cameroonian — washing up on the Turkish coast.
The eyewitness’s lawyers are calling for the Greek authorities to open a double murder case into the incident.
The EU said it was aware of the “terrible allegations.”
“Greek authorities, as in all EU member states, must fully respect obligations under the asylum and international law,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists in Brussels.
Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, have entered Greece in recent years from the sea and land borders with Turkiye.
The International Organization for Migration has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route.
In 2023, a migrant trawler with hundreds of people on board sank off the Greek coast, killing more than 600 people in one of Europe’s deadliest shipwrecks.
The survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard.
They allege that the coast guard took hours to mount a response to the sinking ship, despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.