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Editorial Cartoons Pack Powerful Messages

Editorial cartoons — also known as political cartoons — have been around as long as there’s been political discourse and dissent. 

In the U.S., they’re a vibrant part of American culture and history, and no matter how controversial, are protected as free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the late Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Doug Marlette described them as “the acid test of the First Amendment.” 

An unusual calling

Matt Wuerker is a staff cartoonist for Politico, an American political journalism company based just outside the nation’s capital. 

He says it’s an unusual job.

“We’re a strange mix of things in that we are making serious commentary on serious topics, but we’re doing it not so seriously,” he says. “We like to see ourselves as opinion columnists that you’d see in a newspaper or somebody on TV who’s offering their opinion… and we get to draw our opinions with silly pictures!”

The Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist says the main advantage of a political cartoon is being able to communicate an opinion very quickly. 

“I can draw a picture and put in a little word bubble and you can read it in about four seconds and you get it,” he says. “So it’s a very interesting vehicle for expressing an opinion if you do it right.”

“It has to hit you in the face kind of hard and fast and you know it when you’ve been hit.”

A good example of that is his popular Thanksgiving cartoon where he shows a family gathered around the dinner table about to partake in the much-revered Thanksgiving meal. While Mother brings the turkey to the table, family members are shown immersed in their mobile phones instead of paying attention to this time-honored ritual.

He was inspired by a popular painting by American artist Norman Rockwell who painted idyllic scenes reflecting American culture. 

While Wuerker created the cartoon for an American audience, its message is universal; a striking example of how technology is disrupting such simple rituals as meal time.

A variety of styles

Wuerker’s cartoons are very ornate and detailed and painted in a variety of colors. But he’s a bit envious of other cartoonists he says, who can express themselves with a simple line drawing. They can “make the statement with very little drawing and it can be just as effective, if not maybe more effective,” he says.

The format of cartoons has evolved, he says.

“When I started 40 years ago doing cartoons, an editorial cartoon was a black-and-white single-panel cartoon in a newspaper. And now cartoons can be color, they can be animated, they can be graphic novels that are political.”

Like the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning work by journalist Jake Halpern and illustrator Michael Sloan currently on display at the Newseum in Washington. 

“They did something quite extraordinary,” says Patty Rhule, Vice President of Exhibits at the Newseum. “They did a 20-part series in the New York Times following the story of two Syrian immigrants who fled the war in Syria to come to this country and start a new life with their families.”

It marked the newspaper’s first Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.

Rhule says editorial cartoons “bring faces and art to current events and tell stories in a way that journalists who are reporting strict facts can’t always do,” adding that the graphic novel format the two journalists used “takes cartooning to a whole new level; they add a note of commentary on what is happening in the world.”

Editorial cartoons have always been an important part of American culture, she adds.

“Since the beginning of this country, editorial cartoons have been framing issues and framing debate — from Ben Franklin’s Live Free or Die [Join, or Die], the segmented snake that rallied the 13 colonies together. So it’s always been a part of this country and the world’s way of freely expressing ideas and debate, and so I hope they never go away.”

Cartoon backlash 

But free expression sometimes comes at a heavy price. 

In 2015, Islamic terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, after it published unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Twelve people were killed in the attack, including several prominent cartoonists.

“And within their [Islamic] culture they are certainly entitled to be offended, but they’re not entitled to decide that they’re going to go to Paris and kill the people who created that cartoon that was really intended for a French audience,” Wuerker says.

He has great respect, he says, for cartoonists who keep working despite the dangers.

“In the course of my career I’ve gotten to know a lot of cartoonists from different parts of the world, and the ones that really impress me are the ones that keep drawing despite having to live with constant threats all the time.” 

“Many cartoonists have had to flee their country because they were brave enough to take on regimes or political figures that don’t understand that a free press is a salutary thing,” he adds.

He hopes that in these troubled times, people will appreciate cartoons for what they are.

“The times have become so vitriolic and people are so quick to anger. I think the good kind of political cartooning is something that slips in a really good political point with a certain amount of good humor and wit that people will process and hopefully won’t make them angry but will make them think.”

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One House, Many Voices: Art Depicting the Best of US

Three hundred local artists in the Washington DC area came together to showcase the American values using their visual art skills. The installation art they created featuring immigration stories makes a powerful visual statement that diversity is the strength of the US. VOA’s June Soh visited the One House Project exhibit at the BlackRock art center outside the capital.

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One House, Many Voices: Art Depicting the Best of US

Many different countries, voices and eras, but only one house.

Americans “find strength in diversity,” explains artist Ellyn Weiss, who curated the One House art exhibit outside of Washington D.C. The display demonstrates the richness and complexity of U.S. culture.

The exhibit, a large house structure at the BlackRock Center for the Arts, contains 300 panels, each representing a different ancestor. A few depict the country’s earliest inhabitants, American Indians, but the rest are immigrants, starting with some who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. 

“It goes through all of the major waves of immigration from Europe, from Asia, from South America, up to artists who arrived themselves from the Middle East about a year or two ago,” Weiss says.

The artists

For her panel, Shante Bullock chose her grandmother, who descended from American slaves and lived in North Carolina: “Even when we became free my grandfather still picked cotton.” But beyond that Bullock knows little about her family. “I have like the date when she was born and when she died, where we came from and that’s my piece. I would love to know like some people here do, where (my) ancestors came from or the ship they come from… but it just stops. Even though we were brought here involuntarily, we also believe in hope and opportunity.” 

Jamie Downs evoked his great-grandparents who came to the U.S. just before the Civil War: “They came here from Prussia on their honeymoon to north central Pennsylvania. They got some land, and he ran a fruit orchard and she taught Latin. Just hard to believe in very, very rural central Pennsylvania that there were people there to teach.” 

Ric Graves’ parents came from Cuba when they were recently married to settle in New York: “It was as a result of a political revolution on the island… They were looking for opportunity, and they wanted to start a family, and they chose to come to this country that was offering asylum, and they came to the Port of Miami, and they were processed through a central building that used to be a Sears Tower.”

Kyujin Lee depicted her own departure from South Korea: “So to represent that I use the image of a pair of hands stitching or knitting from unraveled threads, and so unraveling represents the separation part of my journey to this country and a rethreading is sort of my reconnecting to adapting to a new land.”

The project

The One House Project is the work of a group of artists from the Washington DC region, who formed the group ArtWatch in January 2017, the same month that Donald Trump was sworn into office.

“We formed about two years ago to develop projects that use our visual arts skills to stand up for the values and the principles about America that are right: democracy, inclusion, unity, tolerance. And this is the largest project that we’ve done so far,” Weiss said.

Weiss dedicated her own panel to her grandfather, who fled religious persecution in Romania in 1900. 

Abraham Miller was “into the wholesale [tableware] business. He bought a building in downtown Philadelphia,” Weiss said. “In those days, it was a pretty shabby part of town. Now it’s a historical area building. It had two basements, one below the other, and it was a perfect place for him to store his stock and have easy access to it.”

Later, the Philadelphia Historical Society certified that the building was a stop on the Underground Railroad, used to help slaves escape from the south before the Civil War. 

“I just thought that was such a beautiful story about how we are all intertwined in this country,” Weiss says.

To her, the One House Project is a testament to the continuing American dream.

“We represent a very wide swath of the world that’s come to the U.S. fleeing persecution, seeking a better life, fleeing extreme poverty. And these are the elements that still drive migration today. It never has changed.”

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Transgender Boxer Wins First Professional Fight

A 33-year-old boxer entered the history books Saturday.

Pat Manuel is the first transgender male to fight professionally in the United States.

In a unanimous decision, Manuel was declared the winner in a fight against Mexican super-featherweight Hugo Aguilar in Indio, California.

“I’m a professional boxer now,” Manuel told the Los Angeles Times.

Saturday was not Manuel’s first foray into the boxing ring, however.

Olympic trials

He competed as a female in the 2012 Olympic trials for the London Games. A shoulder injury after just one fight dashed his Olympic dreams of competing in the first Olympic boxing tournament for women.

The end of one dream allowed him to pursue another dream he had held even longer — transitioning from a female to a male.

After months of hormone replacements and surgery, Manuel was ready to enter the ring again, but this time as a male.

California boxing authorities were not sure about issuing Manuel a boxing license. That all changed, however, when the International Olympic Committee ruled before the 2016 Rio Games that female-to-male transgender athletes could compete “without restriction.”

California license

California issued Manuel a license.

Aguilar, Manuel’s opponent Saturday, learned only two days before the fight about Manuel’s transition.

“It doesn’t change anything for me,” Aguilar said. “In the ring, he wants to win and I want to win, too.”

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IOC Eases Off Support for Electronic Gaming as Olympic Event 

The International Olympic Committee has slowed its support for recognizing electronic gaming as a sport. 

 

After an Olympic leaders’ meeting on Saturday, the IOC said “discussion about the inclusion of esports/egames as a medal event on the Olympic program is premature.” 

 

Enthusiasm has seemed to dim since the IOC hosted a July conference with esports organizers and players. 

 

Sports bodies are now advised to “continue to engage with this [gaming] community, whilst at the same time acknowledging that uncertainties remain.” 

 

The IOC rules out cooperation with violent games, and suggests virtual and augmented reality could become more popular with young people. 

 

“Commercially driven” gaming was also compared unfavorably with “values-based” sports. 

 

The IOC said governing bodies would continue meeting gaming industry officials “to explore jointly collaborative projects.”  

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Rome Opera Hires Gatti, Who Lost Job Over #metoo Allegations

Rome’s opera house on Friday defended hiring conductor Daniele Gatti, who was fired by an Amsterdam-based orchestra last summer over sexual misconduct allegations.

Teatro dell’Opera di Roma spokesman Renato Bossa said that the theater signed Gatti this week to a contract running through December 2021 as musical director because, in a country with “rule of law, one is innocent until a trial proves otherwise.” Still, Bossa termed the allegations “certainly very grave.”  

Gatti has denied the allegations that triggered his firing by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Conducts Rome opera season premiere

He conducted the Rome opera house’s season premiere, Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” earlier this week, the third straight year he has led the theater’s season opener. 

The Rome opera theater quoted Gatti as saying about his new role: “I am particularly happy to be able to intensify my work here and link myself to a theater that has recently distinguished itself for the outstanding quality of its projects and the work of all the people involved in realizing them.”

But the theater announced the 57-year-old maestro had to skip Thursday’s performance due to a heart arrhythmia. Playing a role in the health setback could also have been “the strong emotions” Gatti felt when the theater announced the signing to the audience on Tuesday, Bossa said.

He added that Gatti was feeling better and would conduct the orchestra, in the same Giuseppe Verdi work, on Sunday.

Gatti has ‘health problems’

But separately, Gatti’s personal spokesman, Paolo Cairoli, said that the conductor “due to health problems” was canceling several 2019 engagements in Germany as a precaution.

Engagements being scrapped include those with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig on Feb. 21 and 22, and staged performances of Verdi’s “Otello” with the Berlin Philharmonic at Baden-Baden in April followed by concert versions at Berlin’s Philharmonie, along with a concert leading the German National Youth Orchestra.

“Maestro Gatti expresses all his regret and looks forward to future collaborations with all musical institutions involved,” Cairoli said in a statement.

The Berlin Philharmonic announced that Zubin Mehta will replace Gatti for the “Otello” performances.

Hiring to boost profile

For several years, the Rome institution has been intent on improving its profile in a country where Milan’s La Scala reigns supreme in the opera world. The theater suffered a hard blow a few years ago when conductor Riccardo Muti, weary of union disputes, abruptly ended his collaboration with Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. 

The theater’s top executive, Carlo Fuortes said that hiring Gatti “will complete our plan to revive the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.” 

Fuortes lauded Gatti’s “extraordinary artistic career” as well as the “reciprocal establishment of trust he has nurtured with the orchestra and the chorus.”

Earlier this year, the Concertgebouw said ended its affiliation with Gatti as chief conductor in the wake of a Washington Post story in which the conductor was “accused of inappropriate behavior.” It also cited reports from women who came forward after the article’s publication. The orchestra said the developments “irreparably damaged the relationship of trust between the orchestra and the chief conductor.”

‘Smear campaign’

Gatti’s lawyer denounced the allegations as a “smear campaign” and said the maestro had asked his lawyers to “protect his reputation.” Gatti had become the Dutch orchestra’s chief conductor at the start of the 2016-2017 season.

The Milan-born Gatti has in the past been principal conductor of Rome’s Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and chief conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Gatti was the third important conductor in the past year to lose his job over allegations of inappropriate behavior. 

Charles Dutoit resigned as artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic after The Associated Press late last year reported sexual assault allegations against him.

James Levine, music director emeritus of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, was fired after the company said an investigation had found evidence of sexual abuse and harassment. Both men denied any improper behavior.

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Drake, Lamar Lead but Women Shine Through in Grammy Nods

Rappers Kendrick Lamar and Drake led Grammy Award nominations on Friday, but Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Brandi Carlile and American newcomer H.E.R helped make it a female-dominated line-up for the year’s top prizes in the music industry.

Ten-time Grammy winner Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello were among the biggest snubs in top categories that were dominated by hip-hop and R&B.

Canada’s Drake, the most-streamed artist of 2018, won eight nominations, including album of the year for “Scorpion,” and both song and record of the year for his single “God’s Plan.”

Five of the expanded eight nominees in the album of the year race were women — Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy,” Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer,” folk singer Brandi Carlile’s “By the Way, I Forgive You,” country singer Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour” and newcomer H.E.R.’s self-titled “H.E.R.”

Rapper Post Malone’s “Beerbongs & Bentleys” and the soundtrack to hit movie “Black Panther,” which was produced by Lamar, round out the album of the year field.

Lamar, the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize for music, Drake, Cardi B and Carlile also garnered nominations for record of the year.

The Recording Academy, whose members choose the Grammys, this year expanded to eight from five the number of nominees in the top four categories – record, song and album of the year, and best new artist – to allow a more diverse line-up.

The Academy also expanded its membership and set up a diversity task force after an uproar over the low number of female nominees, winners and performers on the televised ceremony in January.

Six of the eight best new artist nominees on Friday were women, including H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, British pop star Dua Lipa, and Bebe Rexha.

Cardi B, coming off a phenomenal year, Lady Gaga, actor Donald Glover’s music moniker Childish Gambino, and country-pop star Maren Morris each had five nominations overall Lady Gaga’s nominations came mostly from her single “Shallow” with actor-director Bradley Cooper from their movie “A Star is Born,” which won five Golden Globe nods on Thursday.

In the biggest snub, Swift, one of the world’s most successful singers, was shut out of the major awards, getting just one nomination in the pop category for her best-selling album “Reputation.”

Grande, who on Thursday won Billboard’s Woman of the Year accolade, and Cuban-born Cabello were relegated to two apiece in the pop album and pop single categories. Beyonce had to make do with just three, all of which she shared with husband Jay-Z – music video “Apeshit,” R&B performance “Summer” and urban contemporary album “Everything is Love.”

The Grammy Awards will be handed out at a ceremony in Los Angeles on February 10.

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Comedian Steps Down as Oscars Host After Outcry Over Tweets

Just two days after been named host of the Academy Awards, Kevin Hart has stepped down following an outcry over past homophobic tweets by the comedian.

Capping a swift fallout, Hart wrote on Twitter just after midnight Friday that he was withdrawing as Oscars host because he didn’t want to be a distraction. “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past,” wrote Hart.

Hart stepped aside just about an hour after refusing to apologize for tweets that resurfaced after he was announced as Oscars host Tuesday. In a video on Instagram, Hart said the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences gave him an ultimatum: apologize or “we’re going to have to move on and find another host.”

“I chose to pass on the apology,” Hart said. “The reason why I passed is because I’ve addressed this several times.”

The film academy didn’t respond to messages Thursday evening.

Some tweets deleted

Hart has since deleted some of the anti-gay tweets, mostly dated from 2009-2011. But they had already been screen-captured and shared online. In 2011, he wrote in a since-deleted tweet: “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’”

In an earlier post Thursday, Hart wrote on Instagram that critics should “stop being negative” about his earlier anti-gay remarks.

“I’m almost 40 years old. If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve? I don’t know what to tell you,” said Hart, who added, in all-caps: “I love everybody.”

Hart’s attitudes about homosexuality were also a well-known part of his stand-up act. In the 2010 special “Seriously Funny,” he said, “one of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay.”

“Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic, I have nothing against gay people, do what you want to do, but me, being a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will,” Hart said.

LGBTQ group

GLAAD, the advocacy group for LGBTQ rights, had said Thursday that it reached out to Oscars broadcaster ABC, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and Hart’s management to “discuss Kevin’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and record.”

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis wrote: “Homophobia is not positivity.” Comedian and actor Billy Eichner said “a simple, authentic apology showing any bit of understanding or remorse would have been so simple.”

It’s not the first time an Oscars host has been potentially derailed by anti-gay remarks. Ahead of the 2012 Academy Awards, producer Brett Ratner, who had been paired with host Eddie Murphy, resigned days after using a gay slur at a film screening. Murphy soon after exited, as well.

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Responding to Homophobic Tweets, Kevin Hart Draws More Ire

Kevin Hart’s response to criticism over earlier homophobic tweets on Thursday further inflamed a backlash to the comedian two days after he was named host of the upcoming Academy Awards. 

On Thursday, Hart wrote on Instagram that critics should “stop being negative” after years-old tweets surfaced in which he used gay slurs. In an accompanying video, a shirtless Hart lounging in bed warily said he wasn’t going to “let the craziness frustrate me.”

“I’m almost 40 years old. If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve? I don’t know what to tell you,” said Hart, who added, in all-caps: “I love everybody.” 

Hart has since deleted some of the anti-gay tweets, mostly dated from 2009-2011. But they had already been screen-captured and been shared virally online. In 2011, he wrote in a since-deleted tweet: “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.”

Hart’s attitudes about homosexuality were also a well-known part of his stand-up act. In the 2010 special “Seriously Funny,” he said “one of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay.” 

“Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic, I have nothing against gay people, do what you want to do, but me, being a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will,”Hart said. 

GLAAD, the advocacy group for LGBTQ rights, said Thursday that it has reached out to Oscars broadcaster ABC, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and Hart’s management to “discuss Kevin’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and record.” 

Comedian and actor Billy Eichner was among those on social media who were disappointed with Hart’s response. 

“This is not good. A simple, authentic apology showing any bit of understanding or remorse would have been so simple,” Eichner said. “Like I tweeted a few weeks ago, Hollywood still has a real problem with gay men. On the surface it may not look like it. Underneath, it’s far more complicated.”

The film academy on Tuesday announced Hart as host to its February ceremony. Representatives for the academy and for ABC didn’t respond to messages Thursday. 

It’s not the first time an Oscars host has been forced to answer for anti-gay remarks. Ahead of the 2012 Academy Awards, producer Brett Ratner, who had been paired with host Eddie Murphy, resigned days after using a gay slur at a film screening. Murphy soon after exited, as well. 

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Political Comedy ‘Vice’ Leads Golden Globe Film Nominations with 6 Nods

Political comedy “Vice” led movie nominations for the Golden Globes on Thursday with six nods, followed by musical “A Star is Born,” historical comedy.

“The Favourite” and road trip movie “Green Book” with five nods apiece.

Limited FX series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” won the most nominations in the television category with four nods.

The Golden Globes, chosen by the small Hollywood Foreign Press Association, will be handed out at a ceremony in Beverly Hills on Jan 6.

“Vice,” a satirical look at the career of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, won nominations in all major categories, including for lead actor Christian Bale and director Adam McKay.

The film is distributed by independent company Annapurna Pictures.

The Golden Globes are the first major ceremony in Hollywood’s long awards season, which culminates with the Oscars on Feb. 24, and many of the winners and nominees are expected to compete also for Academy Awards.

Singer Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were both nominated in the lead actor race for their Warner Bros remake of “A Star is Born,” which also won a directing nod for Cooper and one for “Shallow” as best original song.

“Vice” will compete in the best musical or comedy race with “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Green Book,” “The Favourite” and Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns.”

The best film drama contest race is made up of two racial injustice movies – “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and director Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” – along with Marvel superhero movie “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star is Born.”

Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s semi-autobiographical film “Roma,” for streaming service Netflix was nominated in the foreign language category.

Among other actors getting nominations, Rami Malek was included for his performance as the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, along with “Mary Poppins Returns” stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

British actress Olivia Colman was named a best actress nominee for her turn as a petulant Queen Anne in the Fox Searchlight historical romp “The Favourite,” along with supporting stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

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