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The Handmaid’s Tale: Making a drama out of a crisis

Handmaids act as reproductive surrogates in the fictionalized Republic of Gilead. Photo: Hulu/George Kraychyk

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The Handmaid’s Tale, an award-winning television series, may be about a fictional “alternative reality”, but the show’s creators have gone to great lengths to ensure that references to themes such as climate change, human rights abuses, and refugees, are as real and accurate as possible, by collaborating closely with UN experts.

The TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the classic 1985 book of the same name by acclaimed author Margaret Atwood, about a dystopian USA, renamed Gilead, ruled by a brutal theocracy in which people, particularly women, have been stripped of their rights.

In the story, an environmental disaster has led to most women becoming infertile, and the small number who are still able to become pregnant are forced to become handmaids, sexual slaves who are raped by the ruling elite in order to provide them with children.

Atwood frequently said in interviews that everything described in the book is happening, or has happened, somewhere in the world. The producers of the TV version, mindful of the status of the book’s legacy, have been careful to take the same approach.

Playwright Dorothy Fortenberry is one of the writers of the show. She told UN news that, whilst the book reflects 1980s concerns about the environmental impact of nuclear incidents, and acid rain pollution, the writing team felt that it was important to make climate change the backdrop to the societal collapse that brings about Gilead.

“We researched how things like higher temperatures and plastic pollution could affect fertility (we’re currently seeing a decline in fertility worldwide), and the emergence of climate-related diseases. We wanted the series to feel as grounded in reality as possible.”

One of the ironies of the show is that the authoritarian rulers of Gilead have successfully dealt with many aspects of climate change, banning fossil fuels, driving in electric vehicles, and ending plastic pollution.

“Climate change is an event, it doesn’t have a politics, and it’s not necessarily the case that accepting and dealing with climate change would lead to progressive  policies: a pro-environment movement could also be fascist, anti-immigrant and repressive”.

Ms. Fortenberry and her colleagues also wanted to ensure that the many human rights issues raised in the show are realistic, frequently discussing the issues with Andi Gitow, who runs the UN’s Creative Community Outreach Initiative (CCOI). Ms. Gitow said that the team took great pains to get the details right.

“We started with open-ended conversations, where the team would ask, for example, what it’s really like to live in a conflict zone, how does international law work in practice. Then I brought in experts, including someone who lived in Aleppo, Syria, and an international human rights lawyer”.

“The team wanted to know what refugees experience emotionally and practically, and how refugee centres operate. For example, when Emily, one of the characters, crosses the border into Canada, she’s met by an all-female team who tell her that she’s safe. And when Hannah (the lead character), is reunited with her daughter, it’s not the usual Hollywood reunion: there’s a mix of fear, anger and misunderstanding, which is what can often happen in the real world”.

The power of drama

The international success of The Handmaid’s Tale has meant that millions of people are now aware of the issues contained within the drama, often for the first time.

“Drama is one of the most powerful mediums”, says Ms. Gitow. “Of course, reports, documents and meetings are very important. But drama give you the ability to reach a mass audience who might not otherwise be exposed to these issues, and might not otherwise seek out information about them”.

However, the writers strive to avoid pushing a particular agenda, and focus on telling strong stories, with complex, three-dimensional characters coping with extraordinary circumstances.

“If you want to get across a certain point of view, it’s better to write an op-ed”, says Ms. Fortenberry. “That said, we consciously show normal, middle-class women in the US going through some of the experiences that are happening right now to women elsewhere in the world. By doing so, we’re bringing specificity and humanity to some of the horrors taking place, from climate change to gender violence. When you see the effects on one person, you can relate to them”.

“With a drama, you see issues lived and played out by a character you connect with”, adds Ms. Gitow. “You think of yourself, your mother, boss, or best friend in that situation, and it becomes very real. You imagine how you would react in that situation. The news can give you detail, but it can’t do that”.

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Rising Pak-Turk Cultural Diplomacy: “Dirilis Ertugrul”- The Prime Catalyst

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Amid massive success of famous Turkish drama series Dirilis Ertugrul, also titled as Resurrection Ertugrul in English for Netflix, is both a fictional and historic story based on the life of father of Osman I; Ertugrul Ghazi- set in 13th Century made records across Pakistan in terms of its views and popularity. It gained massive fan-following among all age groups inspiring them to value integrity, steadfastness and have faith. The current Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan urged people to watch this series to increase their knowledge about the glorious history of Muslims and true essence of Islam and learn from it. The high-budget drama got dubbed in Pakistan’s national language; Urdu, therefore reaching mass audience.

The viewership of the series shoot up primarily during the month of  Ramadan. As a result not only did the people of Pakistan get enlightened and entertained but also the state television earned huge profits. Most importantly it boosted cultural, media and public diplomacy between two Muslim countries; Turkey and Pakistan. The drama serial promoted people-to-people contact, join forces for mutual media and cultural ventures and promote Pak-Turk Tourism, and last but not the least – strengthen relationship between the Muslim countries purely based on love and mutual respect. Therefore, establishing a strong mutual alliance is raison d’être for these potential efforts by the both ends. Pakistan having a strong support-system in Europe and for Turkey to have in South Asia is a prerequisite for both to counter the future challenges – as it has become the need of times keeping the geopolitical dynamics in perspective. Speaking of challenges – Saudi Arab; with whom Pakistan’s relations are already struggling – expressed their reservations regarding the broadcasting of Turkishdizi (dramas) in Pakistan. Irked by the success of Dirilis Ertugrul – Saudi Arab has come up with their own counter narrative version of historical series titled, “Kingdom of Fires”, with an aim to combat Turkish cultural invasion and growing global influence. Fatima Bhutto, in her article for Foreign Policy, ‘How Turkey’s Soft Power Conquered Pakistan’, says that in contemporary times – Turkish dramas has come second only to American ones, otherwise it has toppled the previously most viewed languages in the world, such as, French, Spanish, and Mandarin. Turkish has now become the most watched language worldwide.

Acknowledging the blockbuster success, the lead actors visited Pakistan receiving a warm welcome, immense praise and love from people. The actors too expressed  their gratitude and happiness. Several lead actors of the super-hit series namely Engin Altan Duzyatan aka Ertugrul, Cavit Çetin Güner aka Dugan Bey, Nurettin aka Bamsı and Ayberk Pekcan aka Artuk Bey etc.on their short visits met selected Pakistan’s media personnel henceforth expressed their willingness to strengthen the cultural bond by collaborating with each other in future media-based projects and bring together the people of the two nation. Rumor has it – both the Muslim countries are already in talks to come forth with a Pak-Turk TV series; a Pakistan-original with joint efforts for the project by Ansari Films and TRT Films named, “Lala Turki”, commemorating the Khilafat Movement – with an ultimate aim to aware the unaware about the legacy of Islam.

It must be mentioned here that it is not the first time that any Turkish drama series had been aired in Pakistan. The trend was set few years back by URDU 1 channel which ran mostly Turkish dubbed dramas in Urdu so that people of Pakistan would also get a taste of Turkish flavor of serials. It gained massive popularity. Thereon, the trend to air Turkish productions became a new normal. Another series that gained massive popularity was “the Magnificent Century” locally known as “Mera Sultan”. This was run by the channel Geo Kahani. The trend of Turkish dramas never seized till date. However, what “Dirilis Ertugrul”managed to do in this past year can’t be matched. This is the only drama that started involving the two nations on diplomatic level and opened up new ways for collaboration among the brother countries. It helped people realize that not only the flags but the hearts of the two nations are also very similar united by a shared magnificent past and a hope for an incredible future.

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New European Bauhaus: Commission launches design phase

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Commission launched the design phase of the New European Bauhaus initiative, announced by President von der Leyen in her 2020 State of the Union address. The New European Bauhaus is an environmental, economic and cultural project, aiming to combine design, sustainability, accessibility, affordability and investment in order to help deliver the European Green Deal. The core values of the New European Bauhaus are thus sustainability, aesthetics and inclusiveness. The goal of the design phase is to use a co-creation process to shape the concept by exploring ideas, identifying the most urgent needs and challenges, and to connect interested parties. As one element of the design phase, this spring, the Commission will launch, the first edition of the New European Bauhaus prize.

This design phase will lead to the opening of calls for proposals in autumn this year to bring to life New European Bauhaus ideas in at least five places in EU Member States, through the use of EU funds at national and regional level.

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The New European Bauhaus is a project of hope to explore how we live better together after the pandemic. It is about matching sustainability with style, to bring the European Green Deal closer to people’s minds and homes. We need all creative minds: designers, artists, scientists, architects and citizens, to make the New European Bauhaus a success.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “With the New European Bauhaus our ambition is to develop an innovative framework to support, facilitate and accelerate the green transformation by combining sustainability and aesthetics. By being a bridge between the world of art and culture on one side and the world of science and technology on the other, we will make sure to involve society as a whole: our artists, our students, our architects, our engineers, our academia, our innovators. It will kick-off a systemic change.”

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira commented: “The New European Bauhaus is about how we live together, our values, our common spaces of work and leisure, our collective and private experiences. This is a project for all regions and territories in Europe. In promoting affordable solutions, it should contribute to social cohesion and to solving housing problems. If we want to bring real change around us – for a more beautiful, sustainable life together, we need to think about how the New European Bauhaus can bridge the generation of new ideas with implementation in physical places. We are therefore exploring across the Commission how our tools could be mobilised to launch a first set of concrete New European Bauhaus actions.”

Background

The New European Bauhaus is a creative initiative, breaking down boundaries between science and technology, art, culture and social inclusion, to allow design to find solutions for everyday problems. 

On the dedicated website launched today, artists, designers, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, architects, students, and all interested people can share examples of inspiring achievements for the New European Bauhaus, their ideas about how it should be shaped and how it should evolve, as well as their concerns and challenges.

This is the beginning of an innovative co-design process. Organisations that want to put more effort into their engagement in this process can become ‘Partners of the New European Bauhaus,’ by responding to the call on the website.

In the coming months, the Commission will award prizes to existing examples that represent the integration of the key values of the initiative, and that may inspire the discussions about, and the transformation of, the places where we live.

In the next phase of the initiative – the ‘delivery’ phase, five pilot projects will be set up to co-design new sustainable and inclusive solutions with style. The objective of the third phase – ‘dissemination’, is to spread the ideas and concepts defining the New European Bauhaus via new projects, networking and sharing of knowledge, in Europe and beyond.

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World Economic Forum Announces 2021 Crystal Award Winners

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(foto: IMOVISION/DIVULGAÇÃO)

The Opening Night of The Davos Agenda on Sunday 24 January at 19.00 CET (rebroadcast at 19.00 EST and on Monday 25 January at 20.30 CST), will feature several world-class artists and creative change-makers coming together in a show of togetherness.

The 27th Crystal Awards
Co-hosted by Hilde Schwab, Chair of the World Arts Forum, and photographer Platon, the 27th Crystal Award ceremony honours Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye for his leadership in serving communities, cities and the environment, and French-Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado for his leadership in addressing inequality and sustainability.

“Both Sir David and Sebastião are important storytellers of our time who offer insights into the possibility for change. They connect us to each other, they give us a language to imagine, and they provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking,” said Hilde Schwab.Sir David Adjaye
Sir David and his architecture firm operate globally, with a diverse portfolio spanning private houses, offices, monuments and museums. His largest project to date is the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. He uses architecture as a social act to serve communities and achieve an ambitious environmental agenda.

“For me architecture represents opportunities for storytelling, justice and transformation and my ambition has always been toward projects with these qualities. I am deeply humbled to be recognized with this year’s Crystal Award and inspired to continue to pursue my work with social impact as the guiding force,” said Sir David.

Sebastião Salgado

Salgado’s iconic black and white photographs span decades and more than 100 countries.His work documents life on Earth, revealing both awe-inspiring and horrifying scenes, provoking debate about the human condition and issues of inequality and sustainability. The photographs impart the dignity and integrity of his subjects, without forcing their heroism or implicitly soliciting pity.

“In the late 1960s, I was employed as an economist at the International Coffee Organization and I began traveling around Africa. One day, I borrowed my wife Lélia’s camera and I began to see the world in a different way. Soon I wanted to share what I saw through the lens of the camera. I am deeply honoured to receive the Crystal Award for my work,” said Salgado.

World Premiere of “See Me: A Global Concert”
Immediately following the 27th Crystal Awards, the World Economic Forum will hold the world premiere of its 23-minute cinematic musical production, “See Me: A Global Concert”, an international collaborative effort. Filmed on location from September through December 2020 despite the challenges of COVID-19, it is led by music director Marin Alsop and includes the participation of Yo-Yo Ma (USA), the Chamber Orchestra of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (Afghanistan), the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (Austria), the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra (USA), the Choir of the State Orchestra of São Paulo (Brazil), the Orchestra della Toscana (Italy), the Drakensberg Boys Choir (South Africa), the China NCPA Orchestra (China), and sand artist Jim Denevan (USA). The film includes an original composition, See Me, by Reena Esmail. In addition to Marin Alsop, the creative team behind the project includes Film Director Bernadette Wegenstein, Creative Director Es Devlin and Director of Photography John Benam. The project has been made possible thanks to generous support from Intesa Sanpaolo.

“This project is intended as a shared expression of trust and connection in these tough times. We are so grateful to the hundreds of artists, musicians and film teams who took a leap of faith and collaborated across borders to make this beautiful film together,” said Nico Daswani, Head of Arts and Culture at the Forum and Executive Producer of the film.

Preceding the 27th Crystal Awards and the world premiere of “See Me: A Global Concert”, the Opening Ceremony will begin with a welcome message from Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, followed by a special address from Guy Parmelin, President of the Swiss Confederation.

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