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‘Rise of Skywalker’ gets a pass from Chinese censors – but not from toxic fans

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Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Image courtesy of Lucasfilm/DIsney)

The opening weekend for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” brings a mixed bag of news  – some of it good, some not-so-good, depending on how you look at it.

In the former category, as reported in Variety, a same-sex kiss between two female characters slipped by censors in China, allowing the film to be released uncut in a country where government censorship has been historically strict about LGBTQ content, despite the decriminalization of same-sex sexuality and the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness.

The kiss, which takes place late in the film and could easily be described as a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moment between minor characters, was teased by the film’s director and co-writer J.J. Abrams a few weeks ahead of the movie’s release, when he told Variety he has always wanted the people of “Star Wars” to look “more the way the world looks than not,” and that, regarding the LGBTQ community, “it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film.”

The representation can be seen an important step in the struggle for global advancement of LGBTQ acceptance, indicating an erosion of a key roadblock that traditionally serves as an excuse for major studios to balk on featuring LGBTQ characters or storylines – the accepted notion that such material would be denied release in lucrative international markets, resulting in the loss millions of dollars in profits.

Speaking with the Blade in 2018, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis questioned the validity of this argument, saying, “I’ve never seen the science or the methodology behind that and I think if they ever did those studies, they probably did them decades ago,” Ellis says  “There are these false narratives that live within the entertainment community that we all buy into and we’ve all taken them on as the truth.”

The moment in “Rise of Skywalker” is the first time in “Star Wars” history that a same-sex romantic relationship has been depicted in one of the franchise’s films, though a 1999 comic book, “The Bounty Hunters: Aurra Sing,” featured the first LGBTQ character within the “Star Wars” universe, and several LGBTQ characters have since been depicted in “Star Wars” video games.

Onscreen, 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” featured the character of Lando Calrissian, who was confirmed by both screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan and actor Donald Glover as pansexual. More recently, Justin Ridge, executive producer of the kid-friendly “Star Wars Resistance” TV series, said on a podcast that two fan-favorite characters from his show are “absolutely a gay couple,” and Queerty published a story reporting on rumors that an upcoming “Star Wars” series on the Disney+ streaming service will “feature an out-queer lead.”

While most commentators have acknowledged the historic importance of the lesbian kiss in “Rise of Skywalker,” many have also expressed a less-than-positive perspective. An article in Variety lamented that the brief onscreen moment has “zero impact on the story” and features “characters who barely register within the vast tapestry of the ‘Star Wars’ creative galaxy.”

The Hollywood Reporter went even further, publishing an article that characterized it as “a step back for LGBTQ representation” and called out Disney for a history of “queerbaiting” LGBTQ fans, citing as an example this year’s earlier “Avengers: Endgame,” which included a similarly brief and non-essential scene as its sole nod toward LGBTQ inclusion.

Critical response to the film, which is the final installment of the so-called “Skywalker Saga” which originated with the first “Star Wars” film in 1977, has been mixed; audience reactions have been predictably divisive, reflecting a trend in fan culture that was explored in a recent essay in Esquire, which suggests the aggressively hostile reaction of some fans over the newer installments is a response to their frustration “that heroes in ‘Star Wars’ – and in other massive properties – are no longer exclusively straight, white, and male.”

Earlier this month, former Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka made comments on his “America First” radio show decrying Abrams’ hinted revelation of an LGBTQ moment, saying, “Well, you know, if you couldn’t destroy the franchise already, let’s destroy it a little bit more. The last installment of the ‘Star Wars’ saga would include a member from the trans — is it trans? Let’s just say the alphabet soup community.”

His derisive comments echo many of those made by angry fans around the franchise’s most recent rebooted trilogy, which have each featured an increased number of prominent characters who are female or people of color; the backlash reached a peak with the release of “The Last Jedi” in 2017, when disgruntled fans mounted campaigns to have the movie removed from the “official” canon, and some even calling for it to be remade.

In addition, Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran was driven to delete her social media accounts when she was beset by sexist and racist insults by “a legion of trolls,” as detailed in a 2018 Yahoo article which describes the increasing trend toward virulent grassroots activism as “toxic fan culture” and links “ the vile online behavior of a vocal minority” of fans to “elements of the far-right and the misogynist ‘incel’ men’s movement.”

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Celebrity News

British Olympian Tom Daley knits his way to success with a new enterprise

A journey for me that started when I first picked up my knitting needles- fast forward 18 months & I’m so proud to introduce these kits

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Photo courtesy of madewithlovebytomdaley Instagram

LONDON – During the entire course of the Olympic games in Tokyo 2020 this past summer, audiences following the diving competitions were certain to see British Olympian Tom Daley quietly and intently focused in-between matches- on his knitting.

The Gold medalist diving champion only picked up his first set of knitting needles in March of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic first spread across the globe, strangling normal daily routines in its deadly grip.

Now, the 27-year-old British athlete has launched a company to encourage others to take up the hobby.

Photo courtesy of madewithlovebytomdaley Instagram

“It’s been a journey for me that started when I first picked up my knitting needles in March 2020. Fast forward 18 months and I’m so proud to introduce these kits to you all so that you can experience the joy I found learning to knit,” Daley said on his newly launched website.

“I designed these knit kits to help encourage you to pick up those needles, learn the basics, and fall in love with knitting at the same time – all whilst creating something to show off or pass on.

Ready? Pick up your needles, learn the basics and let’s have some fun!”

 

The website offers various kits for beginners, intermediate and experienced knitting and crocheting enthusiasts. One of the kits, a winter warmer hat already sold out but the collection ncludes a vest, scarves, cardigans, jumpers, stockings, and a blanket.

Kits include needles, biodegradable yarn made of Merino wool, and knitting patterns. 

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Online Culture

Critics call gay Santa ad ‘creepy’ accusing it of ‘sexualizing’ Christmas

The ad was posted to Youtube on November 22 to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of Norway’s decision to decriminalize homosexuality 

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Courtesy of Norway’s postal service, Posten Norge

OSLO – A Norwegian Christmas ad for Norway’s postal service, Posten Norge, that depicts a gay Santa struggling to balance his Christmas day duties and a male love interest has sparked an online debate with critics saying it “sexualizes” the holiday figure. 

The ad, titled “When Harry met Santa,” shows a burgeoning romance between Santa and Harry that starts when the two meet one Christmas Eve. As leaves the house through the chimney that night, fireworks fill the night sky. 

Over the years, the two continue to see each other on Christmas Eve and fall in love. Frustrated with only getting to see his lover once a year, Harry pens a letter to Santa that says, “Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is you.”

At the end of the nearly 4-minute ad, Santa and his lover engage in a seconds-long kiss. During their embrace, the camera pans out and a message that reads, “In 2022, Norway marks 50 years of being able to love who we want,” appears. 

The ad, posted to Youtube on November 22 to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of Norway’s decision to decriminalize homosexuality, has garnered over 1 million views. 

“In addition to showing the flexibility of our services, we want to put it in a socially relevant setting,” Posten Norge said in a statement, according to Reuters

“Everyone should feel welcome, seen, heard, and included. This year’s Christmas ad embraces this,” it said.

Many have responded positively to the ad. 

Canadian Member of Parliament Randall Garrison called it “strong and moving,” saying the ad caused him to break his “no Xmas before December rule.”

Former U.S. ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford tweeted: “Oh man I love Scandinavia. Imagine if the US Post Office put out an ad like this.”

Others have voiced issues with the ad, calling it “creepy” and arguing that it “sexualizes” Santa.

English journalist Dawn Neesom, a columnist for the Daily Star, said as much on TalkRadio with James Max. 

“This is an advert for the Norwegian postal service celebrating 50 years of being able to love who you want. However, they have sexualized Santa,” Neesom said.

Max interrupted her, saying, “No they haven’t sexualized Santa, this is a nonsense and you are jumping on a tabloid bandwagon. If Santa came in and kissed Mrs. Claus, you wouldn’t say a word.”

Neesom pushed back and maintained her point, adding that it was different because Santa married Mrs. Claus. She also argued that Harry was cheating on his spouse, but there is no indication in the ad that he has one. 

Commentator Melanie Blake made a similar argument, tweeting: “If #Santa is gay these days then good for him but should we be seeing him getting off with anyone in Christmas adverts?! Seems a bit of an odd concept to me – if he was snogging a woman, it’s still sexualising a figure that’s mainly around for children which looks creepy to me.”

In response to such comments, the Independent published an article that said, “Really? I mean … really?! Now, I know that woke-bashing has become de rigueur, and that, after the backlashes against the #MeToo and BLM campaigns, we’re supposed to protect our precious and delicate cultural icons from the clutches of the baying woke mob – but are we really saying that the heartwarming romance between Harry and Santa is a woke step too far? Has Posten sexualised Santa? Oh, go and stuff your face with a selection box and give it a rest!”

It continued: “The truth is that Christmas and Santa have been sexualised for years already, and few people have batted an eye.”

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Theater

Broadway gathers to honor Sondheim in Times Square

They were gathered to pay homage to legendary Tony, Academy Award, and Grammy Award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim

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Broadway gathers to honor Stephen Sondheim (Screenshot via YouTube)

NEW YORK – Light snow flurries swirled around the stars of theatre and stage of New York City’s ‘Great White Way’ as they gathered Sunday in Times Square- members of every Broadway company assembled singing in a powerful chorus “Sunday,” the powerfully emotional act one finale to “Sunday in the Park with George.”

They were gathered to pay homage to legendary Tony, Academy Award, and Grammy Award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. That piece being performed had garnered Sondheim a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985.

Broadway’s best were joined by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sara Bareilles, Josh Groban, Kathryn Gallagher and Lauren Patton at ‘Sunday’ Performance in Times Square.

The man who was heralded as Broadway and theater’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century died at 91 Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.

“This felt like church,” Bareilles told Variety after the performance on Sunday. “In his remembrance, we did what theater does best. We sang and raised our voices and came together in community.” 

Variety also noted that during the celebration, Miranda offered a sermon of sorts. Foregoing a speech, he opened Sondheim’s “Look I Made A Hat,” an annotated anthology of the composer’s lyrics, and read from a few passages before the crowd.

“Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George memorial for Stephen Sondheim

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