Reviewing The Stuart Hall Project…

Revelling in having delivered my review of the Stuart Hall Project I rue the fact that he’s so little known in Jamaica…

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Deadlines…what would I do without them? They hem my life into productive segments and I feel slightly lost when I’ve just slain a big one. Like now. I was asked to review The Stuart Hall Project, for the Caribbean Review of Books–in case you don’t know that’s the new John Akomfrah film about one of the major intellectuals of the 20th century–the deadline dogged me all through my recent trip to New York and back. I finally delivered it today and now feel light as air, positively giddy at the thought that for the rest of the week, i can read what i want, watch what I want and basically lounge about as much as I want.

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One of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, Stuart Hall, was born and brought up here, made his career in Britain, become an intellectual powerhouse there, and is virtually unknown in the land of his birth.  So true what Jesus said: A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. Ah well.

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Here’s a handful of links to articles in case you want to know more about him:

Jazz fan, hipster and a leftwing hero; the remarkable journey of Stuart Hall

From 50s migrant to 80s Thatcher critic, the cultural theorist has long led the debate on race and politics. A new film charts his life and his decades-long influence on the culture of modern Britain (UK Guardian)

Stuart Hall: “We need to talk about Englishness”

Born in Jamaica, Stuart Hall is the éminence grise of the British intellectual left and one of the founders of cultural studies. He coined the word “Thatcherism” and, aged 80, he remains one of our leading thinkers. (New Statesman)

And from Caryl Phillips’ 1997 interview with Hall in Bomb magazine:

Stuart Hall was born in Jamaica in 1932 and came to England to study at Oxford in 1951, as a Rhodes Scholar. His curriculum vitae is an awe-inspiring document. The list of publications, honorary degrees, awards, and teaching positions span 24 pages. A sociologist, writer, film critic and political activist, his achievements are an extension of the work of a man he greatly admired, the Trinidadian intellectual, C.L.R. James.

I remember back in 1979, during my final year as a student at Oxford, contemplating whether to take the low road toward a career as a writer, or stay on the academic high road and attempt to put some more initials after my name. Stuart Hall, at that time Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, was the only person that I wanted to study with. I applied to his Centre and then, at the last minute, changed my mind and opted for the low road.

Just thought I’d share this so that young people here realize that Jamaicans excel not only in track and field and music but also in the intellectual arena…

‘A Scared Actress’ speaks to Neil Gaiman about acting in Innocence of Muslims…

Anna Gurji speaks to Neil Gaiman about role she played in Innocence of Muslims

Georgian actress, Anna Gurji

Continuing with the theme of why i find Twitter compelling enough to spend significant time on it (see previous post), one of the handful of celebrities I follow is Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and much else. He tweets like a normal person about his work, his wife who is singer @amandapalmer, and generally about his day to day stuff. This morning he tweeted that he had posted a distressed email he received from Anna Gurji, one of the actresses in the film Innocence of Muslims, on his blog. He’s known her for some time and finds her a credible source; a good thing because her story is pretty sensational. She says she was one of a group of “People who were tricked into believing that we were making an adventure drama about a comet falling into a desert”. In her words they “did nothing but take part in a low budget indie feature film called the “Desert Warrior” that WAS about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it.”

She has now discovered that the film people are rioting and losing their lives about is none other than the film she acted in. “Desert Warrior” was transformed thru clever editing and dubbing into the infamous “Innocence of Muslims”. Neil Gaiman asked her to write up her experience so he could put it on his blog. I’ve cut and pasted relevant parts of that statement below. Please visit Gaiman’s blogpost A Letter from a Scared Actress for the rest and for further details on Anna Gurji and his own acquaintance with her.

Everyone who wishes to find out the truth about the movie now known as the Innocence of Muslims, please read the letter below. I, Anna Gurji, as one of the supporting actresses in the film will share with you what really happened.
A year ago, in the summer of 2011, I submitted my materials to various projects on the Explore Talent web-site. I received a call from the casting director of the movie “Desert Warrior”, and my audition date was scheduled. I auditioned for the role of Hilary. Several days later, I was informed that I got a callback. I did the callback. Several days later, I was informed that I landed the role of Hilary in the movie called “Desert Warrior”.
The filming of the movie was done in August of 2011. We were filming the movie in a studio warehouse with a green screen in Duarte, CA. The project was a low budget, independent feature movie.
The filming of the movie was beginning soon after the day I was told I got a role. The script was not sent to me. When I got to the set, I was merely provided with the scenes my character was in.
I did not consider this to be an unusual thing, seeing as I have had an experience with something like this before. I did a movie once where the script was written in a foreign language and only my parts were translated into English and accordingly, I was provided with my scenes only. Having experienced that, I thought the same thing was happening with “Desert Warrior”. Aware of the fact that the supposed producer and the script-writer of the movie (known as Sam Bassil) was a foreigner (thanks to his accent), I thought that the original script was written in his native tongue and that not all scenes were translated into English. Also, the filming dates of the movie had to be rescheduled last minute to fit my schedule (I had other films to do right after the “Desert Warrior” outside CA). Because of this rushed rearrangements, I thought that the production first forgot and then did not consider it necessary to send me the script, and again – I did not find this unusual, since I knew what role I had, I knew about my character and I knew about the story of the film.
My character Hilary was a young girl who is sold (against her own free will) by her parents to a tribe leader known as GEORGE. She is one of his (most likely, the youngest) brides in the movie.
The film was about a comet falling into a desert and different tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it for they deemed that the comet possessed some supernatural powers.
The movie that we were doing in Duarte was called “Desert Warrior” and it was a fictional adventure drama. The character GEORGE was a leader of one of those tribes fighting for the comet.
There was no mention EVER by anyone of MUHAMMAD and no mention of religion during the entire time I was on the set. I am hundred percent certain nobody in the cast and nobody in the US artistic side of the crew knew what was really planned for this “Desert Warrior”.
The atmosphere at the set was as friendly as possible. We all knew that we were doing an adventure drama for a very low budget financing. The director Alan Roberts even had plans that with this low budget product he would be able to get some more money to make a good quality version (by shooting it in the real desert and having better product in every category) of the “Desert Warrior”.
I had interactions with the man known as Sam Bassil on the set. He was very amiable, respectful, soft-spoken, always making sure that the filming was running smoothly and everyone was satisfied. He even told me the premiere of the movie was going to happen sometime soon and I would get a good amount of tickets to invite my friends and family.
I have never been informed about the premiere after that (if it ever happened) and have not seen the final product (if there is any, except for the short one that is uploaded online).
People ask what’s my reaction after seeing that.
Shock.
Two hours after I found out everything that had happened I gave Inside Edition an interview, the duration of which I could not stop crying.
I feel shattered.
People who were tricked into believing that we were making an adventure drama about a comet falling into a desert did nothing but take part in a low budget indie feature film called the “Desert Warrior” that WAS about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it.
It’s painful to see how our faces were used to create something so atrocious without us knowing anything about it at all. It’s painful to see people being offended with the movie that used our faces to deliver lines (it’s obvious the movie was dubbed) that we were never informed of, it is painful to see people getting killed for this same movie, it is painful to hear people blame us when we did nothing but perform our art in the fictional adventure movie that was about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it, it’s painful to be thought to be someone else when you are a completely different person.
Like I explained to Inside Edition, I feel awful.. I did not do anything but I feel awful.
I feel awful that a human being is capable of such evil. I feel awful about the lies, about the injustice, about the cruelty, about the violence, about the death of innocent people, about the pain of offended people, about the false accusations.
I don’t know what else to do but speak the truth. I will not go into hiding (since I have nothing to hide), because if we don’t speak the truth, there is no world worth living for.