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France probes racist backlash against Nakamura over Olympics

France probes racist backlash against Nakamura over Olympics

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France probes racist backlash against Nakamura over Olympics

 French investigators have opened an inquiry over alleged racism against French-Malian pop superstar Aya Nakamura following reports she might perform at the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics, prosecutors said Friday.

With the Paris Olympics still months away, the host country has already won gold in a category it truly owns: divisive racial controversy with “made in France” flair.

That’s how public broadcaster France Inter summed up a row over unconfirmed rumours that Aya Nakamura would perform an Édith Piaf song during the Games’ opening ceremony in front of a crowd of 300,000 gathered along the River Seine.

Nakamura, 28, has become a global superstar for hits like “Djadja”, which has close to a billion streams on YouTube alone. On the international stage, she is the most popular French female singer since Piaf sang “La vie en rose”, a rare case of a French artist whose songs reach well beyond the Francophone world.

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She is also the proud face of the neglected banlieues (suburbs) of Paris, which have produced many of France’s best-known icons of music and sport – and which will soon host the Olympic Village.

On paper, tapping her for the curtain-raiser of “the biggest show on earth” is a no-brainer.

But the mere suggestion triggered a vitriolic response from members of France’s ascendant far right, for whom Nakamura is unfit to represent France. Their sometimes racist arguments have in turn prompted outrage and bafflement, leading government ministers to wade into a debate that has had precious little to do with music.

“If this were about music, we wouldn’t even have a debate – Nakamura is France’s biggest pop star, full stop,” said Olivier Cachin, a prominent music journalist who was among the first to speak out on social media in defence of the singer.

“But it’s not about music. It’s about the colour of her skin,” he added. “It’s racism, pure and simple.”

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‘You can be racist but not deaf’

The controversy follows media reports that Nakamura discussed performing a song by Piaf during a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace last month – though neither party has confirmed the rumour.

On Saturday, a small extremist group known as the “Natives” hung a banner on the banks of the Seine that read: “No way, Aya. This is Paris, not the Bamako market” – a reference to Nakamura’s birth in Mali’s capital.

The next day, the singer’s name was booed at a campaign rally for the far-right Reconquête party of Eric Zemmour, the former pundit and presidential candidate who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred. In a bizarre rant, Zemmour claimed “future babies (…) don’t vote for rap, nor for lambada, nor for Aya Nakamura: they vote for Mozart!”

Nakamura has responded to the vitriol, writing on social media: “You can be racist but not deaf… That’s what hurts you! I’m becoming a number 1 state subject in debates… but what do I really owe you? Nada.”

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The singer was backed by the Olympics’ organising committee, which said it was “shocked by the racist attacks” levelled at “the most listened-to French artist in the world”.

Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra also expressed her support on social media, telling Nakamura she had the people’s backing, while Culture Minister Rachida Dati raised the matter in the French National Assembly, warning that “attacking someone purely on racist grounds (…) is unacceptable; it’s an offence”.

On Friday, Paris prosecutors said they were investigating allegations of racist attacks against the pop star following a complaint filed by the anti-racism advocacy group Licra.

For Whites only

For Karim Hammou and Marie Sonnette-Manouguian, co-authors of a book charting 40 years of hip-hop music in France, Nakamura’s elevation to a “state subject” is part of a concerted strategy of exploiting cultural events to serve the far right’s reactionary, identity politics.

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“The pattern is always the same: far-right leaders voice outrage on social media, until the controversy is picked up by a larger audience in the media and the mainstream right,” they said in written remarks to FRANCE 24.

“Rappers and R&B singers are routinely used as scapegoats in debates that go well beyond them,” they added. “The real question being raised here is that of the participation of people of immigrant background (…) in French culture and in enriching its language and modes of expression.”

If Nakamura were White, there would be no such debate, added Bettina Ghio, who has written several books on the language of French rap, the country’s most popular musical genre – but one that has long been frowned upon by politicians and the musical establishment.

“The far right cannot bear the idea that non-white people of immigrant descent can represent France on the international stage – let alone sing from the repertoire of White artists,” she explained.

Ghio cited the case of Youssoupha, a French rapper of Congolese descent, who suffered similar attacks when his song “Ecris mon nom en bleu” (“Write my name in blue”) was chosen as the unofficial anthem of the French national team at the men’s Euro 2021 football tournament.

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“The Nakamura controversy should not be isolated from past incidents in which the far right has taken aim at artists and athletes based on the colour of their skin,” she said, pointing to the frequent slurs levelled at the racially diverse French squads that won the football World Cups in 1998 and 2018.

Lilian Thuram, the Caribbean-born former international who was part of the Black, Blanc, Beur (Black, White, Arab) squad of 1998, spoke in defence of Nakamura in an interview with France Info radio on Tuesday.

“When people say she’s not fit to represent France, I know exactly what criteria they have in mind because the same arguments were used against me,” said the retired player, an outspoken campaigner against racism in France. He said the question of whether Nakamura should perform at the Olympics was being presented the wrong way.

“If you ask people whether the most popular French artist in the world should perform at the Olympics, a majority would say ‘yes’,” he added. “Like it or not, she’s the best. And that’s why she should represent France.”

A cosmopolitan mix

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Thuram noted that Nakamura was often mistakenly labelled a rapper, a habit he attributed to racial and class-based prejudice.

“Why do people think she’s a rapper? Because she’s Black,” he said. “It’s as if we were discussing some random artist from the suburbs and not France’s biggest star. It’s insulting.”

Nakamura’s music mixes R&B with the highly danceable rhythms of Afrobeat and Carribean Zouk. But right-wing criticism of her work sometimes echoes the prejudice aimed at France’s thriving rap scene, a driver of vociferous social criticism for the past three decades.

“The far right cannot stand the criticism of France’s colonial history voiced by rappers,” said Ghio. “Zemmour has made hateful comments on television about rap, describing it as a subculture for illiterates … that wrecks the French language.”

Zemmour’s deputy Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of rival far-right leader Marine Le Pen, made similar comments on Tuesday, stating on BFMTV that, “Aya Nakamura does not sing in French. She does not represent French culture and elegance.”

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Such claims are “preposterous”, said Cachin, for whom the pop star “simply speaks today’s French, rich in slang and expressions, and does so very well.” He added: “Other more mainstream artists do this as well, without attracting the same kind of scrutiny.”

Nakamura, whose real last name is Danioko, sings in French, but her lyrics borrow heavily from argot, the French slang, as well as English, Arabic and Bambara, the Malian language spoken by her parents. Her cosmopolitan mix is inspired by her upbringing in a family of griots, Malian poets steeped in music.

The term “Djadja”, from her breakthrough hit, refers to a liar who boasts about sleeping with her. It has become a rallying cry for female campaigners against sexism and sexist violence. “Pookie”, the title of another hugely popular song, comes from the French slang term poucave, meaning a snitch.

“Her songs bring vitality to the French language, because there’s a lot of research into sounds and rhythms, and adopting new terms that are popular with youths, particularly in the suburbs,” said Ghio. She drew a parallel with prominent rappers PNL, who experiment with accents, placing them elsewhere in words to generate new sounds.

“To ignore their work is to consider French as a dead language that hasn’t changed one bit over the past 40 years,” Ghio said, adding that she looked forward to hearing Nakamura experiment with Piaf’s repertoire.

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Piaf in the banlieue

The scion of poverty-stricken street performers, Piaf was also once derided for her unorthodox style and frequent use of slang terms that postwar elites frowned upon.

“Popular music has always been attacked by bourgeois commentators and self-styled guardians of proper French language,” said Hammou and Sonnette-Manouguian.

“In her day, Piaf was frequently criticised for her performances, her physique and her morals,” they added, denouncing attempts to create a “false opposition” between the legendary 20th century singer and Nakamura.

Piaf has long been revered in the urban music scene of the Paris suburbs, sung by rapper JoeyStarr and remixed in Matthieu Kassovitz’s seminal film “La Haine”.

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Associating her with Nakamura would be a chance to link the past and present of French popular music, said Ghio, “from the working-class, bohemian Paris of Piaf to today’s post-colonial banlieues with their African diaspora”.

Echoing that theme, the left-leaning daily Libération spoke of “building bridges between generations” and a chance to demonstrate “France’s gratitude towards artists that contribute to its global clout, be they from Montmartre or Aulnay-sous-Bois (a poorer suburb north of Paris)”.

Nakamura’s position as a target of racist, sexist and class-based attacks has made her the unwitting champion of causes she never claimed to carry.

The pop star, whose playful songs touch on relationships, flirting and female friendships, has consistently steered clear of politics. She has previously declined to describe herself as feminist, suggesting such a label would sound “fake”.

But she has also proved her mettle in facing down a torrent of abuse throughout her still-burgeoning career.

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“When you’re a non-White woman in a patriarchal society shaped by its colonial past, you need to find the words to defend yourself,” said Binetou Sylla, producer and owner of Syllart Records, pointing at Nakamura’s social media post this week.

“It’s possibly the first time she uses the word ‘racist’ in a tweet,” Sylla observed. “But she had no choice.”

The music producer stressed Nakamura’s bold personality, adding: “She’s unapologetic, with a loudmouth, provocative side that is also very French – and which further winds up her racist critics.” The racist campaign against Nakamura has now made it imperative that she performs at the opening ceremony, Sylla said.

“If Aya steps aside, if she doesn’t open the Games, it will be France’s loss. That much is certain,” Libération argued, describing Nakamura as a rare “element of French soft power in a pop culture dominated by English and Spanish.”

A curtain-raiser without Nakamura would also mean handing a victory to the far right, added Cachin.

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“Of course she has to perform now,” he said. “Whether she sings from her own repertoire or from Piaf’s or (Charles) Aznavour’s or all of them at once, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, she’ll be in her right.”  

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Amir Khan’s £11.5m luxury wedding venue finally opens for guests

Amir Khan’s £11.5m luxury wedding venue finally opens for guests

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Amir Khan's £11.5m luxury wedding venue finally opens for guests

After a series of delays, Amir Khan’s extravagant £11.5 million wedding venue has finally witnessed its first marriage ceremony.

The grand “Dubai-style” Bolton tower made its debut on May 18, 2024, with a spectacular celebration as the venue’s inaugural bride and groom marked their special day in lavish style.

Amir Khan missed the grand opening of the venue as he was in Saudi Arabia for the Undisputed Heavyweight Title fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk.

Dubbed “The Balmayna,” the venue is situated across from a car wash and a fly-tipping spot, drawing previous criticism for its resemblance to an office building and being labeled as “tacky.”

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In January 2024, broken fridges, sofas and dirty mattresses were seen dumped around the venue, sparking criticism from locals.

One said: “The venue is walled off, but all around it is full of fly-tipping.

“It is absolutely awful and needs cleaning up. It is disgusting. There are black bin bags with rubbish spilling out of them as well as old matrasses and everything else, including broken furniture.

But images from the wedding showed how staff had quickly managed to fix these issues as the building’s lavish marble floors and chandeliers were on display for all guests to see.

A Balmayna spokesperson said: “The first love story at the Balmayna.

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“So elegant, so magical, simply a dream.
“We wish our bride and groom the most happiest of blessings. Such a stunning backdrop for your memories.”

Work on the venue has taken far longer than expected, with Amir Khan investing an initial £5 million since plans were first revealed in 2013.

He invested more money into the project and blamed the delays on “unprofessional management”.

But now, the venue is open for couples wanting to get married and it promises a “royal experience” and “a touch of magnificence and excellence in every celebration”.

The Balmayna features a waterfall and palm trees inside, along with a floral design.

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In another posh room with red velvet sofas and an armchair, books about designers Chanel and Louis Vuitton plus butterflies in a domed display case can be seen.

There are also candles and pamphlets about The Balmayna – which translates as Enamelled in Arabic.

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Gary Oldman talks sobriety and ‘Harry Potter’ at Cannes

Gary Oldman talks sobriety and ‘Harry Potter’ at Cannes

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Gary Oldman talks sobriety and 'Harry Potter' at Cannes

 British actor Gary Oldman, who plays a washed-up alcoholic writer in new Cannes film “Parthenope”, said Wednesday he is celebrating 27 years sober.

  about his role in the “Harry Potter” films, which upset some fans of the boy wizard.

Oldman made the remarks at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival after the premiere of Paolo Sorrentino’s “Parthenope”. The Italian coming-of-age drama, inspired by mythology, traces a beautiful young woman as she drifts through Naples and Capri.

Oldman appears briefly as famed novelist John Cheever, who in real life struggled with severe alcoholism — a part that Oldman said was not much of a stretch. “I just celebrated 27 years of sobriety,” he said, to applause.

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“My wife actually found a quote where (Cheever) says, ‘My shaking hand reaches for the phone to ring Alcoholics Anonymous, and instead it remains at the whiskey, the gin, the vermouth,’” Oldman continued.

“I’ve been there. I know what that means. So coming to this role, there were things that I just instinctively understood. “When Paolo said to me, ‘I want you to play this sad, melancholic, drunken poet,’ I went, ‘Yeah, I kind of know what that is!’”

In the film, Cheever strikes up a bond with Parthenope, who adores the author’s books but has grown disenchanted with her life.

Actors always ‘hyper-critical’

Oldman was also asked about negative comments he recently made about his own performance as Sirius Black in film adaptations of J. K. Rowling’s beloved Potter books.

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Addressing why he had called the role “mediocre”, Oldman clarified that he did not mean to “disparage anyone out there who are fans of Harry Potter and the films”.

Instead, he regretted that he had not already learnt the character’s tragic fate in later books when he first took on the role in 2004 movie “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.

“Had I known from the very beginning — if I had read the five books and I had seen the arc of the character — I may have approached it differently,” he said. “I may have looked at it differently and I may have painted in a different colour.”

Besides, Oldman said, actors are “always hyper-critical” of their own work. “If I watched a performance of myself and thought ‘My god, I’m fantastic in this,’ that would be a sad day. Because my best work is next year.”

Reviews of “Parthenope” ranged from “exquisite” to “utterly vacuous”, though most critics praised Oldman’s fleeting appearance. 

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Palestinian films ‘more important than ever’, directors say in Cannes

Palestinian films ‘more important than ever’, directors say in Cannes

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Palestinian films 'more important than ever', directors say in Cannes

Veteran Palestinian film director Rashid Masharawi was abroad when the Gaza war broke out last year, so he decided to hand over the camera to other filmmakers still inside the besieged territory.

“They are the story” of Masharawi’s project, which he presented at the Cannes Film Festival in France, more than seven months after the conflict erupted. “They were fighting to protect their lives, their families, to search for food, for wood to make a fire,” said Masharawi

The result is a collection of short films called “Ground Zero” recounting the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and ensuing humanitarian disaster from the perspective of civilians on the ground.

In one, a mother displaced by the conflict plops her daughter in a large white bucket and, with a clean Turkish coffee pot, gently pours water over her to bathe her. In another, a man recounts his 24-hour ordeal under rubble after the building he was in collapsed.

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Masharawi directed the 20 teams in Gaza from abroad — a process he described as “very, very, very difficult”.

“Sometimes we needed to wait one week to 10 days just to be in contact with somebody, or just to have internet to upload material,” said Masharawi, who was born in Gaza.

At other times, teams were busy searching for a tent, finding insulin for a director’s mother, or “an ambulance to go and save some kids”.

The films are part of several Palestinian tales screening at the festival, including Mehdi Fleifel’s Athens-set refugee drama “To A Land Unknown”.

‘Gatekeepers’

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Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. Thousands of miles away from the conflict, Israel’s pavilion in Cannes is promoting its filmmaking.

Palestinian cinema does not have its own tent at the event, but Algeria has made space for its filmmakers at the other end of the international market in Cannes. “Our narrative and storytelling is more important than ever,” Norway-based Palestinian director Mohamed Jabaly said.

He finished filming his latest project, “Life is Beautiful”, just before the war started. A close friend who shot the last scene of the film has not survived the war. “He was killed while waiting for food aid,” said Jabaly.

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Munir Atallah, of US-based Watermelon Pictures, is hoping to bring the quirky family portrait to North American audiences, saying Palestinians have “for too long been shut out by the gatekeepers of the industry”.

One Palestinian who has already found viewers in the United States is Cherien Dabis, who made 2009 film “Amreeka” and co-directed hit Hulu series “Ramy”. But the shooting of her latest film — a historic epic — was disrupted by the Gaza war.

One of the crew on the ground in the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah, Ala Abu Ghoush, has responded by making a documentary about the stalled project, which they are calling “Unmaking Of”.

“The film is really asking the question: What is the importance of doing films and art in this kind of situation, in this war?” said Abu Ghoush. 

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