News & Current Affairs

July 2, 2009

Americans seek their African roots

Americans seek their African roots

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey originally thought her ancestors were Zulu

First it was Oprah Winfrey’s wistful reach for the continent, now other prominent African Americans are finding their roots.

In 2005 Oprah Winfrey underwent DNA testing in an effort to determine the genetic make-up of her body’s cells.

The popular American talk show host wanted to know where her ancestors, taken as slaves to the United States, had come from.

Famous genes

Since then thousands of other African Americans have followed suit, many of them household names in the US.

Comedian Chris Rock discovered that he was descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon.

Chris Rock

Chris Rock is descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon

LeVar Burton, an actor who played the slave Kunta Kinte in the TV drama Roots, linked himself up genetically with the Hausa in Nigeria.

Civil rights leader Andrew Young traced his lineage to the Mende people of Sierra Leone and is also believed to be a distant relative of one of the leaders of the 1839 Amistad slave ship mutiny.

DNA testing has also resulted in some African Americans being bestowed with honorary African titles.

The Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, who portrayed the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, was made an honorary chief of Igboland in south-eastern Nigeria.

He was given the title of Nwannedinambar of Nkwerre which means “brother in a foreign land”, during a visit to Nigeria in April.

Getting results

There are more than two dozen genealogy organisations in the US selling genetic ancestry tests but African Ancestry is the only black-owned firm.

It is also the first to cater specifically to African Americans. Of the half a million Americans who have purchased DNA tests, around 35,000 of them are African American.

African Ancestry charges $349 to test either a person’s maternal or paternal lineage.

Once the fee is paid, swabs used to collect a DNA sample from the inside of the cheek are sent to the customer and then back to African Ancestry’s laboratory.

We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up
Lyndra Marshall

The DNA’s genetic sequence is extracted and compared to others in the firm’s database.

The company claims this contains 25,000 samples from 30 countries and 200 ethnic groups, and is the largest collection of African lineages in the world.

African Ancestry say that they are very precise in tracing where a person’s ancestors originate from.

Once this is known, a “results package” is sent out, including a print-out of a person’s DNA sequence, a certificate of ancestry and a map of Africa.

“It’s a kind of welcome to Africa package,” said Ghanaian-born Ofori Anor, editor of the African expatriate magazine, Asante.

Transformation

Gina Paige, a founder of African Ancestry, wants to transform the way people view themselves and the way they view Africa.

When many African Americans visited Africa in the past, they were interested mostly in kente cloths and masks, nowadays they want to know more about the country they are visiting.

A poster for African Ancestry

The company has been accused by critics of being inaccurate

Although they still visit the slave castles, they are now also interested in the price of property.

Purchasing a townhouse in the Ghanaian capital Accra or a commercial property in Sierra Leone’s Freetown feels less implausible.

“What we need now is for people to get deeply involved in one particular country or region or culture,” said Andrew Young, the civil rights leader whose consulting firm acts as a liaison for American companies wanting to do business in Africa.

There has been a change too in the way Africans see African Americans and claims of kinship that were once viewed with amusement are now embraced.

This is partly due to the emergence of President Barack Obama and because of the role played by African Americans in his historic election.

As a result, African politicians and businessmen want African Americans to lobby in the US on the continent’s behalf.

Traditional African rulers have also been busy handing out honorary chieftaincies to African Americans in the hope it will lead to an increase in investment and a boost in tourism.

With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from
Lyndra Marshall

Guinea-Bissau’s Tourism Ministry encouraged comedian Whoopi Goldberg to visit when in 2007, DNA tests showed she was descended from the Papel and Bayote people of the country.

Unfortunately, Goldberg has not taken up the offer as she has a fear of flying and has not been in an aeroplane for 20 years.

Unlike the Hollywood actress, as soon as Lyndra Marshall, a 56-year-old retiree from Maryland near Washington DC discovered her African heritage, she immediately boarded a plane for Ghana’s Ashanti region.

“We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up,” said Ms Marshall.

Since she found out she was of Ashanti descent, she has been trying to get other people to visit and invest in the country.

Along with DNA technology, Ms Marshall credits President Obama with kindling an interest in Africa.

“With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from, too.”

Getting it right

Although many people are excited about the prospect of tracing their ancestry, critics say the work of America’s genealogy companies is far from accurate.

African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world
Ofori Anor
Editor, Asante magazine

On a visit to South Africa in 2005, Oprah Winfrey said that DNA testing had conclusively revealed where she is from. She thought she was Zulu but subsequent DNA testing showed she was a descendent of the Kpelle people of Liberia.

Professor Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas is particularly critical of African Ancestry.

She says its database is too small to fulfil its marketing promise that it is “the only company whose tests will place your African ancestry in a present day country or region in Africa”.

“Consumers should know the limitations and complexities before they spend hundreds of dollars thinking they’re going to find an answer to who they really are,” said Professor Bolnick.

“It’s really much more uncertain than the testing companies make out.”

Despite these limitations, African Ancestry customers like Ms Marshall are convinced her results are correct.

“I have lots of family that look very Ghanaian, they are short like them, dark like them and I have a cousin that looks just like the Ashanti king.”

However, comments like this offend the Editor of Asante magazine.

“African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world,” said Mr Anor.

He feels that African governments and traditional rulers should stop the practice of granting citizenship and chieftaincies to African Americans.

“Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?”

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July 1, 2009

Hollywood actor Karl Malden dies

Filed under: Entertainment News — Tags: , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 9:02 pm

Hollywood actor Karl Malden dies

Karl Malden and Michael Douglas in 2004

Malden starred with Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco

US actor Karl Malden, best known for his roles in films such as A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, has died at the age of 97.

He was also famous for playing Lt Mike Stone in the long-running TV series, The Streets of San Francisco.

Malden won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1951, for his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, and was nominated again in 1954.

Malden, who died at home, had been in poor health for several years.

His family said he had died of natural causes.

Early on in his career, Malden said he realised that his average looks and distinctive nose – twice broken on the sports field – were unlikely to make him a leading man.

Many of his more memorable performances came in supporting roles.

Homicide detective

His film career flourished in the 1950s and ’60s, with parts in movies such as Birdman of Alcatraz, How the West Was Won, Gypsy, The Cincinnati Kid and Patton.

He avoided moving into television for many years, but succumbed to the role of the gruff homicide detective Mike Stone in The Streets of San Francisco, which ran from 1972 to 1977.

His young on-screen police partner, Insp Steve Keller, was played by Michael Douglas.

Malden was nominated four consecutive times for an Emmy for The Streets of San Francisco. He finally won one in 1984, for the mini-series “Fatal Vision”.

He was married to actress Mona Graham for more than 70 years, one of the longest partnerships in Hollywood history.

March 28, 2009

G20 protesters marching in London

G20 protesters marching in London

Young World Vision supporters from Luton and Milton Keynes gather with Yes You Can placards and t-shirts by Westminster Bridge

Children are also joining the heavily-policed march

Thousands of people are marching through London demanding action on poverty, climate change and jobs ahead of next week’s G20 summit.

The Put People First alliance of 150 charities and unions are marching from Embankment to Hyde Park for a rally.

Speakers will call on G20 leaders to pursue a new kind of global justice.

Police say protests over the coming week are creating an “unprecedented challenge”. Campaigners have rejected claims the march could turn violent.

Marchers gathered near Embankment spoke of “a carnival atmosphere”.

“The sun is shining – there are lots of banners and flags and everyone is in good spirits,” said Chris Jordan, an Action Aid campaigner.

A huge security operation is being launched before and during the G20, at which world leaders will discuss the global financial crisis among other issues.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he is optimistic that a consensus can be reached on how to tackle the problem but other leaders are less convinced.

In an interview with Saturday’s Financial Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel dampened expectations of a significant breakthrough.

She said one meeting would not be enough to solve the economic crisis and finish building a new structure for global markets.

Ahead of the summit, there are fears that banks and other financial institutions could be the focus for violent protests.

Organisers of Saturday’s Put People First march say police have no evidence anyone intends to take part in violence or disrupt the march, which has been organised in full co-operation with the authorities.

Commander Simon O’Brien, one of the senior command team in charge of policing security, said: “It’s fair to say that this is one of the largest, one of the most challenging and one of the most complicated operations we have delivered.

“G20 is attracting a significant amount of interest from protest groups. There is an almost unprecedented level of activity going on.

“The unprecedented nature is about the complexity and scale of the operations over a number of days.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, who is due to address the rally, said there was no room for violence at the march.

“If there are other groups who want to cause trouble, I don’t want to see them anywhere near our event,” he told the Today programme.

He said he wanted to see G20 leaders agree a plan of action to deal with the financial downturn.

“Where I hope we will see a consensus emerge is in the recognition that unless they act together, then the problems are only going to get worse.

“This, unlike any other recession, is a recession right across the world.”

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, who has met some of the groups taking part, said he expected “the vast majority” to stage a peaceful protest.

He said he agreed it was important for the G20 to make commitments on helping the environment as well as the economy.

“There are some people who will say you can either tackle the economic crisis or the climate crisis.

“But the truth is that both come together with this idea of a Green New Deal, of investing in the jobs of the future, which are going to be in the green industries of the future.”

‘Better world’

Actor Tony Robinson suggested the talk of violence was distracting from protesters’ demands for greater government commitment on the environment and local communities.

Jake Corn, from Cambridge, said he was joining the march to show his support for a more sustainable future.

“We feel this is an important moment with the G20 coming here. We want to get our message across to as many people as possible,” he said.

Italian trade unionist Nicoli Nicolosi, who had travelled from Rome, said: “We are here to try and make a better world and protest against the G20.”

Saturday’s march will be followed by a series of protests on Wednesday and Thursday by a variety of coalitions and groups campaigning on a range of subjects, from poverty, inequality and jobs to war, climate change and capitalism.

In the run-up to the summit, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been visiting a number of countries seeking support.

On Friday, during a visit to Chile, he said people should not be “cynical” about what could be achieved at next week’s summit, saying he was optimistic about the likely outcome.

Map of the march


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September 27, 2008

Movie legend Paul Newman dies, 83

Movie legend Paul Newman dies, 83

Hollywood legend Paul Newman has died of cancer at the age of 83, his spokesman has confirmed.

The blue-eyed star of films like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid had died at home on Friday surrounded by family and close friends, said Jeff Sanderson.

Newman was nominated for an Oscar 10 times, winning the best actor trophy in 1987 for The Color Of Money.

In May 2007, he said he was giving up acting because he could no longer perform to the best of his ability.

“I’m not able to work any more… at the level that I would want to,” he told US broadcaster ABC.
I was always a character actor – I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood
Paul Newman

“You start to lose your memory, you start to lose your confidence, you start to lose your invention.

“So I think that’s pretty much a closed book for me.”

Earlier this year, he pulled out of directing a stage production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in Connecticut because of unspecified health problems.

Broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson said Newman had been “a real giant of the cinema”.

“He was the link between the great time of Hollywood, the Cary Grant and people like that, and Tom Cruise,” he told BBC News.

“He fills the gap between the two, and fills it in a most extraordinary, dominant manner.”

Hit films

The star won a total of three Oscars

Although his handsome looks and piercing blue eyes made him an ideal romantic lead, Newman often played rebels, tough guys and losers.

“I was always a character actor,” he once said. “I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood.”

He appeared in some 60 movies, including Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, The Sting and Hud.

Along the way, he worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood – including Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall and Tom Hanks.
YOUR MEMORIES
His acting skills will be missed, his films will be watched endlessly
Maggie Jones, Cheltenham, UK

He also appeared with his wife, Joanne Woodward, in several films including Long Hot Summer and Paris Blues. The star later directed his wife in movies such as Rachel, Rachel and The Glass Menagerie.

But his most famous screen partner was undoubtedly Robert Redford, his sidekick in both Butch Cassidy and The Sting.

In addition to his Academy Award for best actor, he was given an honorary Oscar in 1986 “in recognition of his many and memorable compelling screen performances and for his personal integrity and dedication to his craft”.

Newman became a professional racing driver and took second place at Le Mans in 1979

In 1994, he won a third Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for his charitable work.

His philanthropic efforts included the establishment of summer camps for children who suffered from life-threatening illnesses.

He also donated profits from his Newman’s Own food range to a number of charitable organisations.

Newman’s last film role was as the voice of Doc Hudson, one of the most famous racing cars in history, in the Pixar animation Cars.

It was perhaps a fitting epitaph for the actor, who had a lifelong fascination with the sport – and put his film career on hold in the 1970s to become a professional racing driver.

He is survived by his wife, five children, two grandsons and his older brother Arthur.

September 22, 2008

Murder trial for Sopranos actor

Murder trial for Sopranos actor

Lillo Brancato Jr

Lillo Brancato Jr is due to go on trial on 28 October

Sopranos actor Lillo Brancato Jr will go on trial next month charged with the murder of an off-duty police officer shot dead in New York in 2005.

A judge has ruled that the actor, who played Matt Bevilacqua in the drama’s second series, will be tried separately from co-defendant Steven Armento.

The two men were allegedly carrying out a burglary at the time of the killing.

Mr Armento is accused of firing the fatal shot. Mr Brancato, 32, says he did not know Mr Armento had a gun.

Prosecutors had wanted the two of them tried together.

They say that, on 10 December, the two defendants broke into an apartment in search of prescription drugs after visiting a strip club together.

They were then confronted by off-duty officer Daniel Enchautegui who was killed in an alley after a shoot-out, prosecutors add.

Mr Brancato made his screen debut opposite Robert De Niro in 1993’s A Bronx Tale and appeared in a number of other films before appearing in The Sopranos.

Mr Armento will go on trial on 29 September while Mr Brancato’s trial date has been set for 28 October.

September 7, 2008

Poles first in Euro dance contest

Poles first in Euro dance contest

Polish Eurovision Dance Contest winners Marcin Mroczek and Edyta Herbus

The Poles beat 13 other couples to win the Eurovision title

Poland claimed first place in the Eurovision Dance Contest, which was held in Scotland on Saturday.

Actor Marcin Mroczek and dancer Edyta Herbus won the votes of watchers throughout the continent with a routine set to Michael Jackson’s music.

Russia finished second and Ukraine were third, while hosts UK finished ninth out of 14 competitors.

A television audience of millions watched the 135 minute program, which came from Glasgow’s SECC.

Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman hosted the show, which featured 14 couples from Austria, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Each couple – one celebrity and one professional dancer – performed a freestyle dance with a national flavor which could have elements of Latin and Ballroom.

Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman

The show was fronted by Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman

A panel of expert judges as well as the TV audience voting from home then decided on the winner.

The UK was represented by Vincent Simone and Eastenders actress Louisa Lytton.

It is the second time the contest has been run. Finland won last year’s vote.

“With this competition, we created a fantastic new Eurovision tradition, which we are confident will last for many years to come,” said Bjorn Erichsen, Director of Eurovision TV.

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

VISTA, California (AP) — Prosecutors have brought additional charges against a Hollywood actor accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend 20 times.

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Shelley Malil, 43, who played a supporting role in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” was charged Friday with residential burglary and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly attacking a man who with Malil’s ex-girlfriend, Kendra Beebe, on August 10.

Prosecutors say that was the day Malil stabbed Beebe with two knives while chasing her in and around her San Marcos home as her two children slept.

A man who was with Beebe at the time grabbed one knife, but Malil found another and continued the attack until a neighbor disarmed him, prosecutors said.

Malil previously pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted murder with a special circumstance of premeditation and one count of personal use of a knife and inflicting great bodily injury. He faces life in prison if convicted.

During a Superior Court hearing Friday, a judge reduced his bail from $10 million to $3 million. Malil’s attorney, Steve Meiser, argued that the higher figure was unreasonable and that his Indian-born client was not a flight risk.

Malil has been jailed since August 11.

Beebe, 35, suffered deep wounds to her lungs and throat, but prosecutors said she was expected to recover.

Malil played a co-worker, Haziz, to comedian Steve Carell’s title character in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” He has appeared on dozens of TV shows, including “NYPD Blue” and “Scrubs.”

Venice wowed by Rourke comeback

Venice wowed by Rourke comeback

A new movie starring Mickey Rourke as a professional wrestler has received a rapturous response at the Venice Film Festival.

Mickey Rourke

Rourke’s performance is already being tipped for awards recognition

Actor, hellraiser and one-time professional boxer, Mickey Rourke has taken plenty of punches over the last 15 years.

But a film in which he plays an aging wrestler could put the ’80s heart-throb back on his feet.

In The Wrestler, the 51-year-old plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up fighter who is told another bout in the ring is likely to kill him.

Screening in competition at this year’s festival, it is directed by Darren Aronofsky of Requiem for a Dream fame.

According to Rourke, the filmmaker didn’t pull any punches. “He was brutally honest,”.

“He sat there and said, ‘You’re a great actor but you messed up your career and no one wants to hire you.’

‘Blessing’

“‘I have a film I want to do with you. But you have to listen to me, you must never disrespect me, you can’t go out every night – and I can’t pay you either.'”

Rourke got off to a promising start in acting in the 1980s with films like Diner, Angel Heart and the infamous Nine-and-a-Half Weeks.

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke

The actor at the festival with co-star Evan Rachel Wood and a dog, Rocky

But he failed to live up to his potential and became better known for his off-camera activities. In the 1990s he briefly returned to his original career of boxing.

“I didn’t mind what Darren said about screwing up my career, because I did do that,” says Rourke. “I didn’t know how to get it together for a long time.”

A chance to return to the limelight came and went when Rourke turned down a part in Pulp Fiction.

In 2005, though, he gained rave reviews for his supporting role in dark comic-book saga Sin City.

The Wrestler, he says, is the next step on the comeback trail. “I’m thrilled about this movie. To me, it’s a blessing.

“I’ve been out of work for 15 years and I truly believe this movie will turn things around.”

His role as a scarred, pumped-up fighter with long blond tresses and a capacity for self-destruction has impressed the critics at Venice.

I realised Darren needed me to revisit some dark places where I didn’t want to go
Mickey Rourke

According to Variety, it is “a galvanising, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances.”

Rourke says his boxing background was no help for the intensive three months of training he had to do for the gruelling wrestling scenes.

“I didn’t have a lot of respect for wrestling,” he reveals. “I thought it was just entertainment.

“Then I found out these guys take 10 years to learn how to land on the floor without hurting themselves.

‘Pound of flesh’

“I just landed like a brick. My neck went, my back went and I spent more time in the doctor’s office than I ever did in six years of boxing.”

Even more painful was the realisation he would have to delve into his own past in order to bring “The Ram” to life.

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

The Wrestler sees Rourke playing a fighter who has seen better days

“What frightened me was I realised Darren needed me to revisit some dark places where I didn’t want to go,” he explains.

“I didn’t want to think about my ex-wife, or my family. But I knew he would want his pound of flesh and there was no way I could skirt round it.”

The actor even admits relief when the film was temporarily canceled. Now, though, he acknowledges he has been given a second chance.

“I didn’t realize it would take so long for me to patch things up,” he says. “But it’s not about raising hell and thumping my chest with me now.

“I don’t have another 15 years to sit on the bench. Hey, I have splinters in my ass from sitting on the bench for so long.”

The Wrestler will be released in the UK in 2009.

August 14, 2008

No assault charge for Batman Bale

No assault charge for Batman Bale

Christian Bale

Christian Bale attended a police station by appointment

Batman star Christian Bale will not face charges over an alleged assault on his mother and sister during a row, the Crown Prosecution Service has said.

The actor, 34, was arrested in London last month and questioned over claims he had lashed out at his family members while staying at the Dorchester Hotel.

Mr Bale, who was in the UK to promote The Dark Knight, denied the charges.

A spokesman for the CPS said there was “insufficient evidence to afford a realistic prospect of conviction”.

“The police have been advised that no further action should be taken against Mr Bale.”

The actor’s publicist, Jennifer Allen, said in a statement that he was “relieved that this issue has been resolved and hopes to put the matter firmly behind him”.

She added: “Mr Bale considers this to be a deeply personal matter and would ask that the media respect both his and his family’s privacy.”

The star had earlier appealed for privacy when asked about the incident at a press conference in Barcelona last month.

Child star

Mr Bale’s sister Sharon, 40, shouted “it’s a family matter” at reporters who visited her home in Corfe Mullen, near Wimborne, Dorset.

And a man who answered the door at the home of his mother Jenny, 61, in Bournemouth, said she did not want to comment.

Mr Bale rose to fame as the child star of Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.

He went on to play Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, and had leading roles in Shaft and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

In 2005, he took on the role of the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins, and reprised the role in The Dark Knight.

August 8, 2008

Potter star used to crack crime

Potter star used to crack crime

Robbie Coltrane poster

The poster has been distributed around the local area

A wanted poster featuring Robbie Coltrane is being used by police in New Zealand to try to catch a teenage burglar who resembles the actor.

Detectives stressed the Cracker and Harry Potter star is not suspected of any crimes, but said the thief looks like a 16-year-old version of him.

The poster has been distributed to homes in the Christchurch area of the South Island.

New Zealand law bans the publication of pictures of juvenile criminals.

Below the heading ‘Wanted’ is the picture of Coltrane, underneath which are the words ‘Active burglar in this neighbourhood’.

Bicycle burglar

The text below explains that the photo is of Coltrane and continues: “Robbie Coltrane is not the burglar but imagine him aged 16 with lank greasy hair and you have the picture.

“He is 16-years-old, lives locally, travels by bicycle and burgles houses in your street.

“He will break windows to gain entry and ransack the property targeting electronic items, cash and jewellery.”

It explains the reason for the use of the Scottish star, who the New Zealand police describe as English.

“Because of the Children and Young Persons Act 1989 Police cannot show you a picture of the 16-year-old burglar operating in your neighbourhood,” it states.

Residents reportedly welcomed the leaflets and praised the ingenuity of the police. Coltrane was unavailable for comment.

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