Theatre Review: VCDS’ Mamma Mia!

Gimme Gimme Gimme another run of this fun show

Theatre Review: VCDS’ <i>Mamma Mia!</i>

Mamma Mia! is canon of musical comedies, rocket-fueled by sheer thrum and pulse of toe-tapping, sing-along-tempting ABBA. It’s fun. Whether it’s Sophie’s impossible goal to bring together three men, any of whom could be her biological father — strangers Sam, Bill, and Harry — the idyllic Greek island setting, or any of the flamboyant supporting characters, this is a fun musical. And above all else, beyond its foibles, the Victoria College Drama Society’s (VCDS) production of Mamma Mia! was fun in turn.

VCDS’ production, which ran from March 7­–9 at the Isabel Bader Theatre, was directed by Ronan Mallovy. On March 9, the theatre was packed with the usual audience composition of parents, friends, and theatre fans — likely jealous that they weren’t themselves members of the chorus. The audience’s tone was upbeat as the musical began slightly late, and there were occasional cheers and shouts as fan favourites and friends took to the stage.

The production was largely carried by a few standout performances. Lisean Henry brought a palpable vibrancy and momentum to her performance as Donna, Sophie’s fiercely independent mother and former lover of her three potential fathers. Alexandra Palma as the seductive, vain, and reliably lively Tanya had an unmistakable energy and stage presence that proved a nice foil to the performances of Lisean Henry and Elizabeth So, who played Donna’s other friend Rosie.

Gianni Sallese, a familiar face in campus theatre, played one of Sophie’s potential fathers, Sam Carmichael. His recognizable physical presence and movement, as well as natural humour, was on full display. Kody McCann (Bill Anderson) and Leo Morgenstern (Harry Bright) were also excellent additions to the named cast. The chemistry between the three fathers was amusing and they maintained high energy throughout their time on stage.

Special mention must also go to Carter Holmes as Pepper, staff member at the small hotel Donna owns. He brought a spring and comedy to the stage that managed to stitch together the scenes we all wished would hurry up a bit until the next big number.

The music direction, led by Emma Wallace, kept the tempo of the show moving along at pace and brought a swollen sound in all the right places for the big numbers. The tight proximity of the band to the actors on stage, at a close stage left, added to the casual tone of the performance generally.

However, while the set design was on theme and the fly-set window panes and plants were a nice touch, the cast’s interaction with the set pieces was lacking overall. When they did interact heavily with the set, there was a sense of clumping and some issues with voice projection in the conversational elements of the musical. In the more dramatic scenes, there was little interaction with the set at all, and the space taken up by the set could have been better used by the well-choreographed cast.

In addition, perhaps to the end of showcasing the admittedly solid vocal talents of the leading cast, the fact that some of the greatest tunes of the musical, namely “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen,” were performed by a small ensemble was a real and regrettable shame. Whenever the cast and chorus at large were on stage as one, the energy in the room was tangible and electric. When they were absent, there was a real question of how there could be so little energy on stage with so many people waiting in the wings undoubtedly wishing they could join in.

The performance largely underused the cast and chorus for the big vocal performances. While the leading cast were impressive, songs like “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” are meant to be belted aloud and put the crowd under a spell. Instead, the energy in these teasingly low-tempo performances fell starkly flat.

The best part of Mamma Mia! was the end — and this isn’t meant in a snarky, holier-than-thou critical sense. The finale of the show is well-known: a full-ensemble performance of the biggest show tunes to, usually, a standing ovation, as was the case on March 9. The end felt like the very first time the energy level in the room was absolutely cranking, and songs like “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” had me mouthing the lyrics, whereas their performances during the core show had me somewhat distracted.

All in all, it would be a good wager that most, if not all, of the audience left Mamma Mia! having had fun. And beyond careful and persnickety critiques, if that isn’t a worthwhile goal of campus theatre, then what is?

Meaningful education on Indigenous peoples and cultures must start at schools

Canadian schools are failing students and the process of reconciliation

Meaningful education on Indigenous peoples and cultures must start at schools

When I think about the way Indigenous studies are taught in Ontario schools, I think back to an instance in grade eight where my class had to give presentations on the Métis people and Louis Riel.

I distinctly remember three of my peers continuously referring to Riel as “Lewis Rye-ell” and my teacher doing nothing to correct them. I had grown up in Winnipeg, where Riel led the Red River Rebellion in 1870, and learned about the ‘Father of Manitoba’ from the very start of my schooling. I was surprised that my classmates were not familiar with a rebellion and a man I had spent my entire elementary school career studying. I thought everyone knew about the history of Métis people.

But then I began to think about it, and I realized that I knew next to nothing about the Indigenous histories of Ontario, or Québec, or Saskatchewan. Though extensive in this specific slice, my education was severely limited to my province’s borders, which left me acutely ignorant to the rest of Canada’s history.

Many think-pieces and op-eds have recently popped up regarding how we should approach and strengthen Indigenous studies — that schools should teach languages such as Cree or Ojibwe, or that Indigenous literature should be mandatory in the curriculum — but little legislation or action has come to fruition. In fact, the exact opposite has occurred.

Last July, the Ontario Ministry of Education cancelled plans for a curriculum rewrite with more Indigenous content. The update was intended to incorporate extensive studies of residential schools and would have been spread out throughout different topics, such as geography and social studies. An initiative that would have supported Indigenous languages being taught in kindergarten was cancelled at the same time.

The International Languages Elementary Program recommends and assists in incorporating languages other than English into a school curriculum, mainly through extended school days and weekend class offerings. Not every district school board in Ontario has implemented the program, but in those that did, 30,000 students learned 53 different languages — few of which were Indigenous.

This seems extremely incongruent considering that in Ontario many Indigenous languages are at risk of being lost. According to UNESCO, three of every four Indigenous languages in Canada are critically or severely endangered, yet no movements are being taken by the government, specifically on a provincial level through the Ministry of Education, to reverse this course.

“Stripping Indigenous peoples of our languages was a deliberate policy of the residential school system, and despite a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that acknowledges this, there is yet to be any concrete action to reverse this damage,” wrote Métis author Chelsea Vowel in 2017.

Those that view language as strictly utilitarian — meant only as a tool for communication and nothing more — may suggest that since Indigenous languages are spoken by a small minority, they are not as essential as French or English.

However, it is important to consider that language is more than just a mere tool: it conveys culture and history, and it can connect — or divide — generations of people. Teaching Indigenous languages in schools could help Indigenous children feel that their identity is secure and respected, facilitating and encouraging a new generation of children to speak languages that were suppressed and attacked during the era of residential schools.

Learning Indigenous languages could also instil empathy and appreciation in non-Indigenous children.

The fact remains: Indigenous education within Canadian public school systems is inadequate. A study conducted by Emily Milne, an assistant sociology professor at MacEwan University, found that despite good intentions, teachers have difficulty teaching Indigenous studies, often misappropriating terms or making grand generalizations. Because of this, it is important that support for the integration of Indigenous content is offered by the Ministry of Education, so that regulations can be implemented to ensure that educators have adequate preparation and materials to teach these important lessons.

I am not Indigenous myself, but I lucked out in having a teacher at a very young age who was adamant on incorporating and teaching extensive Indigenous content in her curriculum, albeit limited in scope. Others who didn’t have enthusiastic teachers were left largely uninformed.

Implementing proper, respectful, and effective Indigenous content, through language, history, or literature, is essential for all schools and curriculums in Canada.

Theatre Review: Ryerson Musical Theatre Company presents Disney’s Newsies

There’s theatre outside U of T and it’s good

Theatre Review: Ryerson Musical Theatre Company presents Disney’s <i>Newsies</i>

Ryerson Musical Theatre Company’s (RMTC) 2019 production, Newsies, was a heartwarming delight. With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and script by Harvey Fierstein, the musical Newsies is based on the 1992 Disney film and on the true story of the 1899 newsboys’ strike in New York City.

Newsies follows newspaper delivery teenager Jack Kelly and his fellow ‘newsies’ as they strike against their employer, Joseph Pulitzer, who has raised the distribution price of newspapers. RMTC’s Newsies was joyful and genuine, with superb performances and costume designs that created authentic and unique characters — no small feat for a cast with a large ensemble.

The show opened with Jack (Mark McKelvie) telling his friend Crutchie (Colin Darling), named for the crutch he uses to support a damaged leg, about his wish to move to Santa Fe. McKelvie and Darling nicely balanced their energy and harmonies. I was drawn to Darling’s engaging and honest performance, especially in the dance numbers choreographed by Zoe Choptain, which borrowed from the original stage version but smoothly incorporated Crutchie and his crutch into the choreography.

McKelvie brought convincing passion to this demanding role, and he nailed the notorious high A in “Santa Fe.” The vocally-gifted Ian Kowalski became a powerful figure — and lively tap dancer! — in the strike. Olivia DeRoche successfully tackled her breathless solo “Watch What Happens,” and achieved a perfect balance between being earnest and not taking any bullshit from the men around her. These four performers had great chemistry, making Jack’s choice to stay in New York at the end believable.

Marie-Blanche Bertrand, as the dazzling singer Medda, has a lovely voice but didn’t ooze the confidence she needed to really sell her solo “That’s Rich.”

As Pulitzer, Daniel Goldman was simultaneously threatening and hilariously sassy.

The ensemble of newsies consisted of triple-threats contorting their bodies in impressive ways, though they performed strongest as a group. Issues with mic levels made it difficult to hear many of the solo lines. One standout was Boman Reid as Race, the newsie with the challenge of dancing with a cigar constantly in hand, which Reid executed with agility. Two other newsies drew my attention with their humorous performances: Ysabelle Ferrer as Mush and Cruz Lloyd as Specs and Bill. Ethan Kim as Albert also performed an impressive number of Russian split jumps.

The spot-on costumes, designed by Carlyn Routledge, consisted of various combinations of raggedy button-downs, suspenders, and hats — the newsies couldn’t afford more than what they could throw together, but each had their own style. Davey, who was new, started off well-dressed, but when he took a crucial role in the strike during “Seize the Day,” his suit jacket disappeared and he fit right in with the other newsies.

Director Isabella Verrilli made good use of the set’s different levels and pieces, and Mathilda Kane’s lighting design on Jack’s rooftop and during Crutchie’s solo, “Letter from the Refuge,” was emotive. Though the music helped move the scenes along, the transitions were strongest when blocking or choreography distracted the audience from set changes.

Orchestra director and U of T music student Kevin Vuong did a fantastic job of leading the band, composed mainly of U of T students. Despite a few minor slip-ups, the musicians brought spirit to this non-stop, high-energy show. Vocal director Nicole Kanga’s great work showed in the performers’ terrific harmonies.

The show’s highlight was “Once and For All.” The captivating choreography involving newspapers and the cast and band’s musical talents brought the song to life. When the performers changed keys while singing, “There’s change coming once and for all,” my heart lifted along with theirs — I believed them, and by the end, so did Pulitzer.

Brought together by a primarily female-led creative team, Newsies’ cast and crew poured heart and power into the production. With a cast of authentic performers, RMTC’s Newsies was uplifting, entertaining, and left me excited about the passion for university theatre that exists beyond U of T.

Newsies ran from March 13–16 at the Al Green Theatre.

Book Club: Hillary Clinton’s What Happened

More like nothing happened: 500 pages of disappointment

Book Club: Hillary Clinton’s <i>What Happened</i>

Hillary Clinton’s New York Times bestseller is little more than 500 pages of disappointment. Being her seventh book with publisher Simon & Schuster, Clinton has written extensively in her 71-year-long lifetime without showing much of a learning curve. That is, unless she hired a ghostwriter whose understanding of prose matches that of a 10th grader. In signing yourself up to read through some 500 pages of her qualms, self-congratulatory notes, accusations, and name-drops, you are signing up for a test of self-resilience.

Resist against the urge to call it quits on the 30th page. Yes, I know, this is the novel everyone pretends to read — it’s a little like George Orwell’s 1984 in your high school classroom, but you must make it through this $39.99 CAD hardcover, for you paid three hours of minimum wage for it. If you borrowed it from the library, you have less of an obligation to push through.

My copy of What Happened came from a bartering platform on Bunz. I traded away cryptocurrency worth four-fifths a bowl of soup at a subway station last week. Feeling the book in my hands, I felt a slight elation. The cover is beautiful, as is the typeface. The effects of the type face reminds me of Gotham, which is a fan favourite font, as seen on Barack Obama’s campaign materials and an endless array of movie posters.

Once I hopped onto my train and started reading, however, my elation flattened into disappointment. It reads like a self-pitying statement right off the bat. You’ll have ridden on an emotional rollercoaster with the ex-Secretary of State by the time you reach the 20th page. Her sentences do not flow from one to the next. Her writing reads like a jot note report, leaving little room for insight or elaboration.

Clinton feeds you a bit of everything in her life, though not in chronological order. Where is the allure in reading an autobiography that tells readers little more than what they already know? She is sure to lose politically disengaged audiences whenever she name-drops without explanation or elaboration.

Furthermore, she constantly darts back and forth along the chronological timeline that many authors and journalists swear by. Clinton’s narrative style includes a pattern of making factual statements about events, promptly mentioning her disdain for Donald Trump’s performance that day, and reminding readers of how she truly believed she would win, only to recognize her digression and march forth with the event she was speaking about five lines ago.

To transition between topics by insisting that ‘that’s not the point here’ is analogous to writing a literary essay on Oliver Twist, word-vomiting an out-of-place memory of what you had for dinner last night, and then starting the next paragraph with, “I am sorry for having gone off-topic. Let me talk about Dickens’ argument again.”

What Happened is a physical representation of an incredibly long Rick Mercer-esque rant saturated with names we need not learn. It’s not that I don’t want to learn about her four stylists and makeup artists, but I feel no use in just learning their names. Clinton likes to name-drop, but leaves readers with little more than the names of these people whom she’s worked with. She speaks little about the personal experiences she has shared with these people who were important enough to earn a spot in her book.

Clinton chops her autobiography into six parts: “Perseverance,” “Competition,” “Sisterhood,” “Idealism and Realism,” “Frustration,” and “Resilience,” with each part containing two to five chapters. While these are all very interesting concepts, each part reads similarly. In “Perseverance,” there are already ideas about competition, sisterhood, idealism and realism, frustration, and resilience.

Instead of offering a neatly organized catalogue of ideas like most bestselling authors, Clinton’s book reads like a disorganized jumble of thoughts, ideas, regrets, self-congratulatory notes, and sneers.

Many people were asking “what happened?” after Clinton’s loss against Trump in the 2016 US presidential election. They also wanted to catch a glimpse of her life outside of the spotlight after her devastating loss. Aside from the occasional recommendations of yoga and staying at home, Clinton shares very little about her personal life in the autobiography. In fact, most of what she wrote in this novel could already be found on the internet.

Clinton has led an exciting life — one worthy of many autobiographies. I just wish her latest offered a more intimate look into her past. But she is a politician, after all. She needs to seize the opportunity to defend the Clinton Foundation — which has recently found itself in hot water over shady finances — her decision to run, and her lacklustre interviews. Clinton has a public image to maintain, and she’s spent her lifetime maintaining that persona. Maybe I’ll find a more introspective and cohesive version of What Happened in the form of a “Reporter at Large” article in The New Yorker.

I went to a metal show and had the goddamn time of my life

The tale of a noisy night at Coalition from an admitted metal misfit

I went to a metal show and had the goddamn time of my life

It seemed like the band moved swiftly from setting up on stage to producing orchestrated aural chaos. Eye contact with my friend was broken by the sound waves themselves. Conversation time, over: it was time to tune in and embrace the noise — we’d bought tickets, after all. There was no way in hell I was moving any further back in this crowd.

March 7 saw three metal bands, ranging from horror punk to doom metal, play at the Coalition venue in Kensington Market to a writhing core group of fans from the scene — and me. Exes, High Priest, and Old Witch brought an energy to the rough-around-the-edges Coalition that had the flippers flopping in the pinball machines lining the back wall of the venue.

Full disclosure: one of my roommates plays the drums in Exes, and, to be completely honest, that was the only reason I went to the show. Heavy metal isn’t exactly my cup of tea — I’d be embarrassed to detail the ins and outs of my own tastes — but I had a dude to support. I was more than happy to sip on a can of Newkie Brown in front of a stage cranking noise at an eye-popping level of righteous barrage.

Exes was the first up: four guys, six feet of hair, and a whole lot of sound. The Uxbridge-based group were a full-bodied presence on the Coalition platform, and brought such tightness to their performance that I almost forgot that their music was supposed to terrify me.

Frontman and guitarist Jake Ballah’s raw talent and guttural vocals — which I think this is a very good thing in this genre — complemented what I can only assume were well-rehearsed and accordingly-timed head bangs that sent a whiplash of energy from the roots of his long hair to the back of the crowd.

Much of Exes’ repertoire relies on sampling from horror movies and sounds, and Ballah’s booted feet expertly navigated the foot pedals to bring in samples amid the instrumental anarchy. Aidan Garrard, my roommate, was visibly in the zone and out of control behind his kit, thrashing out heart-stomping beats with a cannibalistic ferocity belying his day job as a software developer and amateur vegan chef. I was impressed.

I won’t pretend to be able to wax smartly on the musical nuances of the night, because when descriptors like “sludge” and “doom” start getting thrown around, I begin to realize just how out of my element I am. High Priest and Old Witch were strong follows to Exes, and it seemed to make excellent sense for all of these bands to share the venue for the night.

These three bands felt an urgency to play at Coalition because the notorious venue will be closing this April, and it remains to be seen whether it will find a new home. This comes on the heels of last month’s closure of staple local scene shop and underground venue Faith/Void. There are fewer and fewer spaces for local underground heavy bands to reach an audience these days, which means there are fewer and fewer opportunities for geeks like me to get our socks blown off, whether we’re out there supporting a roommate or not. And that would be a real shame because I, for one, want to do this again.

It may seem counterintuitive to a complete outsider to the scene, but metal and punk are far more welcoming and open than they seem. No one even commented on my friend who wore khakis — khakis! — to the show. Though there are exceptions as we move toward Nazi metal on the extreme end of the spectrum, the genres as a whole are overwhelmingly progressive, environmentally-conscious, and LGBTQ+-friendly spaces. There’s even a subgroup of “straight edge” punks, many of whom keep vegan and abstain from all drug use, and sometimes even sex. But this is all probably a story for another article and another, more informed, writer.

There’s a certain beauty in the aesthetic and aura of local metal and punk, which I’ve only been lightly exposed to through my roommate in the past year. Sometimes it manifests in anachronisms, such as the widespread use of cassette tapes for the distribution and consumption of local music. Sometimes it’s a conscious laissez-faire attitude in production: one time, my roommate spent hours designing a poster for his band, which he then photocopied a photocopy of before putting it up. That’s a poster that screams a massive ‘fuck you’ to anyone who thinks that the sound quality is a bit mangled, or that the venue is gritty, or that the toilets aren’t clean. The poster says we’re grunge, baby, and you better believe it.

An opportunistic argument about climate policies

Canada and the US are missing the point about climate change, focusing on ideology instead

An opportunistic argument about climate policies

We have entered an age in which climate policy has come to the forefront of political debate. The upcoming federal election will contrast the Liberal Party’s carbon levy and output-based pricing system against the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party’s plan to dismantle it. The PCs have not yet published their climate plan, although Leader Andrew Scheer promised to in the fall.

Nonetheless, the PCs are very clear on their stance against carbon pricing in Canada. Recently, Scheer referred to repealing the carbon levy as “job number one” in a town hall in New Brunswick. Climate change policies arguably contributed to the downfall of the Ontario Liberal Party and will likely be used as a wedge issue by the United Conservative Party against the incumbent New Democratic Party government this May in Alberta.

But while the ebb and flow of climate policies remain on the front page, the constant attacks carried out by conservative leaders in Canada and the United States on these policies remain ideologically hypocritical.

A tenet of Canadian and American conservative ideology is the  decentralization of power and the rejection of  ‘big government.’ These aspects of conservative ideology, whether masked as the colloquial states’ rights or federalism, are being opportunistically bent in different ways to fit the arguments used against climate policies. Here’s what’s going on:

Canada

Ontario, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan have each filed lawsuits against the federal government after it implemented a carbon pricing system to replace the purportedly inadequate provincial systems. The provincial governments argue that the implementation of the carbon levy and the output price-based system is unconstitutional. The Ontario government’s factum challenging the carbon levy and output-based pricing system presents its case as follows: “Greenhouse gas emissions are not a single, distinct, and indivisible matter which Parliament can regulate under its jurisdiction over matters of a national concern without fundamentally disturbing the balance of federalism.”

In other words, a regulation on carbon emissions would be a governmental overreach, since regulating greenhouse gases would inevitably involve controlling other intermingled emissions.

In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe recently said that “the imposition of carbon pricing on provinces whose climate change plans do not fall in line with federal plans does not make sense according to our Canadian constitution, and fails to respect the sovereignty and autonomy of the provinces with respect to matters under their jurisdiction.”

In another instance at the Saskatchewan factum, Ontario’s environment minister Rod Phillips said that “the provinces are fully capable of regulating greenhouse gas emissions themselves.”

It is worth noting that Saskatchewan has a form of carbon pricing; the federal government is only implementing the backstop where it judges there to be insufficient pricing coverage.

The United States

Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is currently fighting with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a department within California’s EPA, over regulations involving clean fuel standards. The EPA wants to standardize these regulations across the country, which, for this administration, entails weakening them, even though more than 10 states including New Mexico, Maine, and Massachusetts have used California’s regulations as a template.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Wheeler argued that the “states should not have authority over CO2 emissions. California is an important player — an important part of this — but this is not a two-sided negotiation for a national standard.”

These two arguments are conflicting. Canadian provincial and some US state leaders argue that the provinces and states should have jurisdiction over the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and should therefore be the ones to implement these regulations. Meanwhile, the Canadian government and acting head of the EPA in the United States disagree, claiming federal jurisdiction over state environmental policy.

Instead of coming up with solutions that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impact of global climate change, politicians are opportunistically attacking climate policies based on ideology, completely and utterly missing the point. It’s not about provinces, states, or federalism — the world is at stake.

Book Club: Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn

YA and other drugs

Book Club: Renée Ahdieh’s <i>The Wrath & the Dawn</i>

When I reluctantly tell people how much I love to read, I wait in dismay for the inevitable, nerve-wracking question: “Oh really? What’s your favourite book?” Several answers pass through my mind: Gabriel García Márquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. All respectable, critically acclaimed novels.

All lies.

The truth is that my favourite novels have always been, and perhaps always will be, young adult (YA) novels. Maybe it’s the dark, brooding bad boys. Maybe it’s the cheaper prices. Maybe YA novels are my last ditch effort to avoid the chaos and monotony of adulthood and hold onto the chaos and wonder of my childhood. Or perhaps — and this may shock you — YA books are genuinely good books.

YA fiction is largely targeted to younger, female audiences. It is also the most ridiculed and disreputable genre in academic circles. Coincidence?  I think not. There’s been a general pattern in ‘high society’ to sneer at anything young women enjoy: boy bands, the colour pink, Starbucks, and yes, YA fiction.

Perhaps the stigma around YA novels isn’t gender-related at all. Maybe it’s enough that YA is catered to younger generations. “Breaking news: Millennials are ruining everything, even books!” Critics label YA novels as artless because they’re easy to read and understand. Why must a novel be difficult to be considered valuable? Why must it be old? Or have a sad or vague ending?

Many are quick to dismiss YA novels, even critically acclaimed ones, as unsophisticated. What the majority can’t see is just how intricate and creative these novels can be. Take Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn. Ahdieh reimagines one of the oldest and most beloved stories of all time: One Thousand and One Nights. Set in Khorasan, a real historical region in the Persian and later Islamic empire, The Wrath & the Dawn follows the main elements of the old fable.

An evil king takes a new wife each night, only to slaughter her come sunrise. When her best friend becomes his latest victim, Shahrzad Al-Khayzuran, The Wrath & the Dawn’s protagonist, vows to kill the king no matter what it takes. Shahrzad is the first to voluntarily marry the king. Being a master storyteller and literary scholar, she plans to captivate him with fairy tales, night after night, until she can exact her revenge.

But wait! Ahdieh’s retelling has a twist! Not everything is as it seems in this palace of marble and death. The caliph, the great and malevolent King of Kings, is merely a boy of 18 years. Khalid, the name with which Shahrzad comes to know the caliph, does not meet her expectations at all. He loves stories, the colour blue, and the smell of lilacs in her hair. There are people in the palace who would defend him until their very last breath, not out of fear, but out of respect. He has amber eyes, a jawline that could cut steel, and a tragic past. There may or may not be a curse involved.

Ahdieh’s writing style is exquisite. She captivates and traps you in a world of sparkling cities, colourful bazaars, Persian delicacies, and patterned silk sashes. The world-building is absolutely fabulous, completely transporting you to a different time and place. The Wrath & the Dawn becomes a living, breathing being under Ahdieh’s careful hand, a tangible world you can almost touch. The romance is flawless, the characters enchanting, and the fantastical and magical elements are striking at every turn.

The Wrath & the Dawn was also groundbreaking to me because it starred Middle Eastern characters. It will always hold a special place in my heart because I saw myself reflected in a protagonist for the first time in Shahrzad. That is another great thing about YA — it strives to truly represent its diverse, young, and impressionable audience.

What I’m proposing is a revolution in how we view YA fiction. I want to be able to enjoy YA novels like The Wrath & the Dawn without my intelligence and appreciation for literature becoming a point of contention. YA demonstrates the worth and value in young voices, the leaders of tomorrow. It gives us a sense of agency in a world that continues to belittle our experiences and our voices. There’s no shame in loving a book like The Wrath & the Dawn, and we shouldn’t be made to feel like there is.

Top picks for biopics

It’s time for these figures to have their own award-winning movies

Top picks for biopics

Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour, and The Theory of Everything — biopics make up a significant portion of the movie content that we see today, and have consistently played a large role in the awards season.

A biopic or biographical film is a dramatic intepretation of someone’s true life story. These reinterepretations are always complex, and face increased scrutiny as they attempt to embody not only the facts but the spirit of the person featured, hence why they tend to have a spotlight during the awards season.

This last year saw a plethora of biopics being released, including Bohemian Rhapsody, featuring the band Queen while having a specific focus on the lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

Recent biopics have not only centered on cultural figures, but also political ones, such as On the Basis of Sex, which showcases the young life of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as more serious scientific achievements such as in First Man, which presents Neil Armstrong’s personal, physical, and emotional journeys in getting to the moon.

Biopics can vary greatly, but it’s their universal quality of providing us with an up-close and personal look into the life of a person we have admired or observed that makes them appealing year after year.

With this in mind, I would like to present some interesting, niche stories of people that Hollywood may have forgotten about, but certainly deserve a bit of the spotlight. 

Joan of Arc

The year was 1428, in the midst of the Hundred Years War between the French and the English, and the French struggled under an unstable monarchy. At just 16 years of age, Joan of Arc claimed to have heard the voices of saints telling her to go to the Dauphin of France, Charles VIII, to join his cause.

Despite the captain of the garrison rejecting her initial request to join the military, Joan persisted, and managed to secure herself an audience with the Dauphin. She faced extensive questioning by ecclesiastical authorities in the Dauphin’s court before they agreed that she possessed the knowledge of divine spirits, and granted her not only a position in the military but a team of military men to support her mission.

Acting entirely on the voices she heard, Joan of Arc managed to obtain several military victories, earning her the respect and influence to convince the Dauphin to go to Reims, recently freed from enemy hands, and be crowned king of France.

Although she had accomplished her mission and was subsequently idolized throughout France, Joan was not yet done. She continued to launch military campaigns to reclaim more and more land from the English. During one unfortunate campaign, Joan was captured by the Anglo-Burgundian forces, determined a heretic, tried for witchcraft, and burned at the stake at the ripe old age of 19 years old.

Joan of Arc continues to be an icon of the French, and she did receive decent attention in the 1990s, with a French film and a Canadian mini series both attempting to document her life. But 2019 is a new age, one that desperately needs a reminder of how powerful and capable young women can be.

In addition, Joan of Arc resented wearing traditional women’s clothing of the time, and changed into men’s clothing any chance she could get. It would be interesting to see this timeless story told with a modern approach and understanding of feminism as well as gender identity.

Louis Pasteur

The last time a movie was made about Louis Pasteur was in 1936. Considering how medical technology has shifted in recent years, the film certainly deserves a reboot with a modern perspective. If we are going to make yet another movie about an old white man, let it at least be someone who may remind some confused parents as to why it is important and necessary to vaccinate their children.

As a reminder, Louis Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist in the mid to late 1800s. His accomplishments include discovering that microorganisms cause fermentation, introducing the pasteurization process, and developing the principle of vaccination. His work with vaccinations was his last contribution to the world of science, but despite his well-respected position in the scientific community, many people were reluctant to accept the concept of vaccinations.

It was not until Pasteur published the results of studies showing the success of an anthrax vaccination that people began to consider his work valid. When Pasteur created a vaccination for rabies, a disease that tormented people for centuries due to its mysterious origin, he vaccinated nine-year Joseph Meister, and introduced the world to preventative medicine.

Today’s ill-informed anti-vaccination movement could do well with a reminder of the origin of vaccinations, not to mention many other simple medical concepts that Pasteur introduced and verified to the world, including the germ theory of disease. Sometimes, in order to move forward, it’s necessary to look back with a gentle reminder of where we came from.

Gladys Bently

Allow me to introduce you to Gladys Bentley — and for those of you familiar with this lovely jazz and blues singer and LGBTQ+ icon of the Harlem Renaissance, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

Much like her French counterpart, Joan of Arc, Bentley also left home at 16, and found herself at odds with the gender roles placed upon her by society. The oldest of four girls, Bentley left her Trinidadian-American family in Pennsylvania to join the art scene of the Harlem Renaissance in New York. Singing initially at rent parties and buffet flats, Bentley’s uniquely powerful voice and talented blues parodies had her moving on to nightclubs and speakeasies including the famous Clam House and Ubangi Club.

In addition to her musical abilities, Bentley would become known for her unique sense of style that featured a tuxedo and top hat, as well as being very open about her sexuality, having a slew of glamorous girlfriends. The end of the Harlem Renaissance created new challenges for Bentley, who moved to California with her mother, but she still managed to make a living, especially during World War II when gay bars became more common on the west coast.

Unfortunately this came to an end during the era of McCarthyism, which became a witch hunt for gay people in the United States. Facing extreme pressure as a famous lesbian of the time period, Bentley was forced to claim that she had “cured” her lesbianism with hormone treatment, began to wear female clothing, and married a man. During this time, she continued to perform, and joined “The Temple of Love and Christ Inc.” on her way to becoming an ordained minister, before her untimely death in the 1960 flu epidemic.

Bentley’s life highlights the power of the Harlem Renaissance in encouraging not just racial but sexual freedom and acceptance. In addition, her life serves as a brutal reminder of the challenges that members of the LGBTQ+ community faced during the twentieth century. Bentley has received even less attention from Hollywood than Joan of Arc and Pasteur, and deserves the spotlight more than anyone.