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25 of the best shows to watch this week, beginning tonight

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The Vasulka Effect
Sunday, BBC Four, 10.15pm
This Arena film portrays the life of video art pioneer Steina Vasulka and her partner, Woody Vasulka. It examines their artistic processes and their profound affect on the 1960s New York art scene, and beyond, through their experiments in the electronic medium of video. Following their story over a 40 years, we explores how the video art movement caught the spirit of the times and, with their unique cross-disciplinary environment The Kitchen, helped to launch the career of many artists who have defined the American avant-garde, including Philip Glass, Jonas Mekas, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Robert Mapplethorpe, Laurie Anderson and Cindy Sherman.

Diarmuidín
Sunday, TG4, 9.30pm

Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin
Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin

Thirty years ago this week, broadaster and celebrated sean-nós singer Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin died tragically. For one weekend every year at this time, the community of Cúil Aodha/Baile Mhuirne is given over to his memory with the hugely successful Éigse Diarmuidín. This film was made and first shown by TG4 in Ó Súilleabháin’s memory 10 years ago to mark the 20th anniversary of his death. As well as footage of the great man himself, Diarmuidín features music and heartfelt memories from his siblings Eoiní, Danny and Eilís Maidhcí, as well as fellow musicians and friends.

Cad Faoi na Tuismitheóirí?
Monday, RTÉ One, 7.30pm
How do Irish parents meet the daily challenges of bringing up kids without actually going a bit mad? This new four-part bilingual series tackles some of the big issues facing parents : how to deal with fussy eaters, how to reduce kids’ screen time, how to help an anxious child. Presenters Evelyn O’Rourke and Ronan Mac Niallais, themselves at the coalface of bringing up small children, will meet with other parents caught up in the kidstorm, drawing on their own experiences and enlisting the help of experts in meeting the many challenges that confront parents 24/7. And they’ll be doing all this as gaeilge agus béarla, so don’t underestimate the juggling skills of your average Irish mammy and daddy.

The past two years have seriously disrupted families’ lives, and in this series, O’Rourke and Mac Niallais hope to help families restore a bit of balance in their lives. Each week child psychologist Stella O’Malley will mentor a family over a month as they try to solve a tricky home situation, whether it’s sleeping problems, screen addiction or fitting in at school. In episode one, the Slattery family are trying to stay active, but that Playstation keeps beckoning. Can O’Malley help the family through a digital detox?

The Case I Can’t Forget
Monday, RTÉ One, 9.35pm

Pat Marry in The Case I Can’t Forget
Pat Marry in The Case I Can’t Forget

One of the hazards of being an investigator is that a case you’ve worked may never leave you. The crime has been solved, the perpetrator has been brought to justice, but years later, the case still plays on your mind. In this second season of the true crime series, detectives look back on that one case that continues to haunt them, beginning with the murder of Rachel Callely in 2004 by her husband. Having bludgeoned his wife to death in the bedroom of their house, Joe O’Reilly conducted a public show of innocence, even going on The Late Late Show with his in-laws to appeal to the public for help in finding Rachel’s killer. Rachel’s parents were in no doubt, however, that the killer was sitting brazenly beside them in the RTÉ studio.

Detective Pat Marry talks candidly about his painstaking, three-year investigation into O’Reilly. Rachel’s parents, Jim and Rose, talk about their fraught relationship with their son-in-law, and journalist Jenny Friel recalls a chilling interview she conducted with the killer before he was finally caught and convicted.

Winter Walks
Monday-Thursday,BBC4, 7.30pm
Over the course of four nights, BBC4 viewers can join guest walkers as they explore dramatic landscapes with only a 360-degree camera for company. Our travelling companions for the rest of the series are Alastair Campbell, the Rev Kate Bottley and Nihal Arthanayake, but we begin with Amanda Owen, aka the Yorkshire shepherdess. She’s used to being out in the elements, and she’s also on familiar territory as she crosses hills and fields through Wensleydale and Raydale on her winter walk. Along the way, she meets up with fellow sheep farmers to talk about their shared occupation.

An Lá a Rugadh Mé: Séamus Begley
Tuesday, TG4, 7.30pm
Musician Séamus Begley takes us back to the news and events on the day he was born: August 26th, 1949. Looking through the newspapers, Begley meets up with Olympic champ Ronnie Delany to find out more about world-class athlete JJ Barry from Tipperary. The man known as The “Ballincurry Hare” set the record for the fastest Irish mile. Also that year, Lambay Island was in the papers. The island just off the coast Dublin was home to free-roaming Wallabies and still is today. So Séamus heads to Lambay to try and spot these evasive creatures.

Scannal: Priory Hall
Tuesday. RTÉ One, 7pm

Priory Hall resident Katarzyna Bielecka with her daughter Liliana (2 months) in October 2011, after she and the other residents were handed eviction notices due to health and safety violations at the complex. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Priory Hall resident Katarzyna Bielecka with her daughter Liliana (2 months) in October 2011, after she and the other residents were handed eviction notices due to health and safety violations at the complex. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Tonight’s episode looks back at the story of Priory Hall, one of the worst examples of the Celtic Tiger Ireland’s building boom. We examine how the case brought the practice of so-called “self-regulation” of building companies to light and the emotional and financial toll moving out took on the homeowners. Ten years ago, some 240 residents were evacuated, by court order, from the controversial Priory Hall complex in Donaghmede over fire safety concerns. Marketed as a modern, desirable development in a prime Dublin location, the apartments were mostly bought by young first-time-buyers. Dublin City Council purchased 26 of the apartments for social housing.

In 2009, the development was found to have a litany of structural defects as well as major fire safety concerns. The council promptly evacuated its tenants, but those who had bought their homes privately were left in limbo, living in an apartment complex they knew to be unsafe. Two years later, in 2011, the court ordered the remaining residents to evacuate the premises. They were given just two days to pack up their belongings and move to temporary hotel accommodation.What followed was a two-year battle by the former residents for justice. A bittersweet resolution was eventually reached, albeit under tragic circumstances.

The death of former Priory Hall resident Fiachra Daly, and his partner Stephanie Meehan’s subsequent appearance on The Late Late Show, was a last desperate cry for help on behalf of the residents. The public anger and outrage that resulted from Stephanie’s emotional plea would lead to enormous pressure being put on taoiseach Enda Kenny, and ultimately, a resolution that allowed the former residents to walk away from their Priory Hall homes and have their mortgages written off.

The show asks why all this was allowed to happen, what has changed, and if it could happen again. Former Priory Hall residents and those who supported them reflect on their traumatic experiences.

Secret Life of the Forest
Tuesday, Channel 5, 7pm
It’s autumn in Kielder Forest and there’s a feeling of change in the air, with wildlife preparing for the colder months ahead. This season of renewal sees some spectacular moments : the forest’s red squirrels are busy hoarding nuts, Atlantic salmon make their incredible journey upstream, and a range of fascinating fungi mysteriously appear within the area. There magical sights above the canopy as well, with controls on light pollution making Kielder one of the best places in the world to see the stars.

Sarah Beeny’s New Life in the Country
Tuesday, Channel 4, 8pm
The property expert, husband Graham Swift and their four boys reflect on their first 2½ years living in Somerset, asking themselves whether they have become country folk yet. But before they can tackle any of the rooms, the house needs a floor. Cement mixers roll in to pump screed throughout the property, but it’s not all plain sailing as rain threatens to derail the process. Once the floor’s in, the fitting out of the interior can begin. The family have set themselves the target of getting the grand hallway ready for their first visitors in six months’ time. For inspiration, they head to Crowcombe Court, a local stately home.

Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby
Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm
Monica and Giles begin a new series by donning their thermals and visiting the ION Adventure Hotel in Iceland. They get involved in a whole range of adventure activities, from snorkelling in icy water to exploring fresh lava flows and glaciers. Monica visits the hotel’s unlikely neighbour, a geothermal power plant while Giles goes fishing with a local family for the restaurant kitchen. Then, for a heated challenge, both get to work with safety crews to ensure the guests are safe on an erupting volcano.

Attack on Pearl Harbor: Caught by Surprise
Tuesday-Thursday, Channel 5, 9pm

Navy veteran Clark Simmons (80) looks over the rusting hulk of his old ship, the USS Utah, during ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 6th, 2001. Photograph: Ronen Zilberman/AP
Navy veteran Clark Simmons (80) looks over the rusting hulk of his old ship, the USS Utah, during ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 2001. Photograph: Ronen Zilberman/AP

On December 7th, 1941, Japan staged a surprise attack on the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This three-part documentary gives a detailed account of the raids, with the opening edition revealing the background to the events. Japanese pilots were trained on a replica of Pearl Harbor and went to great lengths to keep the mission a secret. This included using decoy radio operators and not dumping their rubbish at sea in case it was seen by an enemy submarine. But there were missed opportunities that could have helped the Americans avert the disaster. Some of the survivors of that day share their stories. They include a 103-year-old Japanese torpedo bomber and an American sailor who was on the USS Arizona when it was hit by a bomb that ignited its ammunition magazine, killing 1,177 men.

My Bungalow Bliss
Wednesday, RTÉ One, 8.30pm

Hugh Wallace in My Bungalow Bliss
Hugh Wallace in My Bungalow Bliss

Architect Hugh Wallace is back doing what he does best – flying the flag for fine homes – in this new series with a single-storey twist. Wallace is best known as the presenter of Home of the Year and The Great House Revival, but in this four-parter he focuses on that much-maligned dwelling: the bungalow. He meets first-time owners who have purchased a tired, dated old bungalow and pairs them up with innovative architects to help them revamp their properties and turn them into modern-day heavenly homes. In Ireland in the 1970s, it was known as bungalow blitz – a simple, affordable and rather ungainly solution to housing shortage. Soon they came to represent all that was wrong with modern planning, as bungalows dotted the countryside willy-nilly until people saw them not as unobtrusive small homes, but as squat monstrosities.

Can Wallace rehabilitate the humble bungalow with help from some design experts? First up is a bungalow in Galway that’s more like a rabbit warren, thanks to various extensions carelessly tacked on by previous owners over the years. Can new owners Niki and Davin untangle this mess of dank passages to create a bright, open-plan home? Architects Nicola and Grainne from Studio Red will have to use all their considerable imagination to transform this

Paddy and Christine McGuinness: Our Family and Autism
Wednesday, BBC One, 9pm
The Top Gear and Question of Sport presenter and his model wife have three children – twins Penelope and Leo (8) and five-year-old Felicity – all of whom have been diagnosed with autism. The couple share their experience in this moving documentary, during which they also learn more about the condition and what the future may hold by speaking to experts and other parents in similar circumstances. The BBC describes the programme as “intimate, emotional and refreshingly candid, the portrait of a family so many assume they know, but seen here like never before. The film aims to challenge people’s preconceptions and kickstart a national conversation about an increasingly common condition that so few of us really understand.”

Altered State
Thursday, RTÉ One, 10.15pm

Margaret E Ward in Altered State
Margaret E Ward in Altered State

There’s no doubt the pandemic has changed the nation, but is it a change for the better? Over the past two years, Irish people have had to reassess what’s really important as focus turned to our family life, our health and wellbeing, our sense of community and our economic survival. Now four of Ireland’s foremost thinkers and commentators look at how the pandemic might change Ireland in the long term. Will we have a greater sense of compassion and empathy, and will our faith be weakened or strengthened by the challenges we’ve faced.

Irish Times journalist Jennifer O’Connell explores how our young people will deal with the legacy of the pandemic, while financial journalist Margaret E Ward asks if the pandemic has reset our gauge for what constitutes success. Tech entrepreneur Mark Little looks at how Ireland’s social solidarity has become one of our greatest strengths, and writer and IT columnist Michael Harding goes in search of spiritual meaning in a time when our faith has been sorely tested.

These thought-provoking televisual essays will also feature contributions from a range of figures from Irish life, including educationalist Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, photographer Ruth Medjber, surfer Easkey Britton, influencer Emma Hurley, and psychologist and sports pundit Richie Sadlier.

Cancelled
Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm
Sacked, ostracised, de-platformed or blacklisted – all in the blink of an eye. This is cancel culture. You can be fired for an offensive tweet sent as a teenager; or speak out on a controversial subject, only to find yourself viciously attacked by an online mob. In this Dispatches report, Richard Bacon asks if free speech is under threat and examines how cancel culture is affecting our lives. He meets “the cancelled” to hear first-hand about the impact and consequences of being publicly shunned, and asks what it mean to live in a world where jobs can be lost, lives ruined and reputations destroyed in an instant, simply at the whim of so-called “keyboard warriors”.

Seal le Dáithí
Thursday. TG4, 7.30pm
Eimear Breathnach is Dáithí Ó Sé’s guest this week. When Breathnach was 17 and on holidays in An Cheathrú Rua, she had an accident that would change her life forever: she broke her neck and was left in a wheelchair. But didn’t put a stop to her interest in sport, and she began competing in rugby, athletics and table tennis. Breathnach competed at the Paralympic Games in Beijing and London before retiring from sport. She is currently president of Paralympic Ireland.

Luxury Christmas for Less
Thursday, Channel 4, 8pm
Christmas was cancelled for many last year, so you may be crying out for luxurious yuletide blowout. Sabrina Grant and Sophie Morgan are on hand with tricks to get top quality for bargain prices. The pair speak to brand insiders who spill the beans on our Christmas favourites and reveal how to indulge on luxury products without breaking the bank. The first of two episodes includes a guide to buying real diamonds at half the price, how to bag designer smelling perfumes that don’t cost a fortune, and where to get this year’s finest tasting smoked salmon and Christmas pudding. And finally, there’s a look at what you get with cheaper gin.

Chucky
Friday, Sky Max & NowTV, 9pm

Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) and Zackary Arthur in Chucky
Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) and Zackary Arthur in Chucky

The TV industry is reeling from a serious shortage of imagination, as producers trawl through the vaults in search of long-forgotten ideas to rehash. It was inevitable that someone would come across the Child’s Play horror movie series and decide, hey, this would make a great small screen reboot. And so, whether we like it or not, Chucky’s back, this time terrorising a small town while exposing the townspeople’s own deep secrets and hidden hypocrisies. Don Mancini, who wrote all seven of the original Child’s Play films and directed several, is back on board for this sharply comic series that should have plenty of easter eggs for fans of the franchise. Brad Dourif once again provides the nasty voice of our favourite demon doll, reawakened after being found by a teenager at a yard sale. Along with the murder, mayhem and jump scares, we’ll get that Chucky origin story we’ve never asked for.

Biffy Clyro: A Celebration of Endings
Friday, BBC Four, 7.05pm
In August 2020 the Scottish alternative rockers released their eighth studio album, A Celebration of Endings. It received much acclaim from fans and critics alike, and debuted at No 1 on the UK albums chart, Biffy Clyro’s third consecutive LP to do so. Now there’s a chance to hear it in its entirety, which sees the band perform at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow. It promises to be an unusual performance, with each song taking place in a different setting within the iconic venue.

Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas
Friday, Channel 4, 8pm
She may have first become famous as a TV property expert, but these days Kirstie Allsopp is just as well known for her love of crafting. In the past few years her Handmade Christmas show has become a festive C4 tradition, with each episode designed to inspire viewers to give their celebrations a little extra sparkle by making their own decorations, gifts and culinary treats. Now it’s back for a new run, in plenty of time to enable us to whip up our takes on the items demonstrated by a number of experts handpicked by Kirstie herself. Plus, there’ll be the regular challenges and competitions taking place – and the odd celebrity guest.

The Graham Norton Show
Friday, BBC One, 10.35pm
Another impressive line-up of A-listers make their way onto the show tonight. The headliners are undoubtedly Tom Holland and Zendaya, who are keen to whip up interest in their new film, Spider-man: No Way Home. Then it’s Henry Cavill’s turn to wax lyrical; he’s in town to promote the second run of Netflix’s fantasy series The Witcher. And Gugu Mbutha-Raw discusses her role in the forthcoming BBC drama The Girl Before. Music comes from Little Mix.

ON DEMAND

The Summit of the Gods
From Tuesday, Netflix

The Summit of the Gods
The Summit of the Gods

Breathtaking adaptation of the Manga series by renowned artist Jiro Taniguchi and writer Baku Yumemakura is set 70 years after George Mallory and Andrew Irvine reputedly scaled Everest on June 8th, 1924. It follows a young Japanese photojournalist, Fukamachi, who finds a camera that could change the history of mountaineering. The discovery leads him to the mysterious Habu, an outcast climber who was believed missing for years. Fukamachi enters a world of obsessive mountaineers, hungry for impossible conquests on a journey that leads him, step by step, towards the summit of the gods.

Lost in Space
From Wednesday, Netflix
The journey is almost over for the Robinson family: the third series of this revamp of the campy 1960s TV series will also be its last. So far it’s been a rollercoaster ride for Judy, Penny, Will and the Robot; their outer space adventure has more ups and downs than they can shake a stick at, particularly after being forced to abandon their original plan of colonising a far-away planet. When we catch up with them again, the kids have to help 97 other young colonists evacuate their current home – but not until after various life-changing revelations are made. Meanwhile, their parents are desperately trying to find them. But the greatest alien threat they’ve ever had to face is looming large on the horizon…

Harlem
From Friday, Amazon Prime
Writer Tracy Oliver, whose previous projects include Girls Trip and the TV series based on First Wives Club, is the brains behind this comedy. It’s a 10-part series focusing on a group of stylish and ambitious best female friends who call the New York borough home. Meagan Good plays Camille, a popular anthropology professor who, despite having in-depth knowledge of dating in various cultures, has a somewhat lacklustre love life. Tye (Jerrie Johnson) runs a successful app. Quinn (Grace Byers) is a hopeless romantic and fashion designer living off a trust fund. And Angie (Shoniqua Shandal) is a singer and actor. Together they’re looking forward to the next stage in their lives and careers.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
From Friday, Disney+

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Author-cartoonist Jeff Kinney’s series of books have been bestsellers around the world, having started life as an online diary. Each tale follows the fortunes of Gregg Heffley, and it came as no surprise when their success led to four film adaptations. Then, in 2019, Disney announced plans to reboot the franchise via an animated movie; this is the result. The screenplay was written by Kinney himself and, once again, Greg is the centre of attention as he tries to navigate the trials and tribulations of school. He dreams of being rich and famous, but achieving either goal seems increasingly unlikely. And while he struggles along, his best friend Rowley seems to coast through life, succeeding at everything without even trying.

Contributing: PA

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Margot Robbie’s self-confessed ambition has made her the highest paid actress of the year | Culture

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Self-doubt is Margot Robbie’s greatest motivator, and competes with ambition in the Australian actress’s psyche. She couldn’t believe her own eyes when she first saw herself on a giant ad for the Pan Am TV series in New York’s Times Square. “I still have the photo,” she told EL PAÍS a few years ago, somewhat wistful for the days when she was still a nobody. The script of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the Martin Scorsese film that put her on the map, touted her as “the most beautiful blonde in the world,” but she didn’t believe the hype. “I remember saying to a friend, ‘I haven’t worked in six weeks.’ I’m sure there’s nothing out there for me,” laughed Robbie. But Hollywood didn’t share her skepticism. In July, Variety magazine ranked Robbie as the highest paid actress of the year when her US$12.5 million salary for the upcoming Barbie movie was announced.

Margot Robbie may be this year’s highest paid actress, but 17 men made even more money, led by Tom Cruise who was paid US$100 million for Top Gun: Maverick. Her Barbie love interest, Ryan Gosling, was paid the same as Robbie, even though she has the titular role, more evidence that pay parity in Hollywood is far from being a reality. Robbie ranked ahead of Millie Bobby Brown (US$10 million for the Enola Holmes sequel); Emily Blunt (US$4 million for Oppenheimer); Jamie Lee Curtis (US$3.5 million for Halloween Ends); and Anya Taylor-Joy (US$1.8 million for Furiosa).

Robbie’s misgivings about her career aren’t shared by other industry giants. Martin Scorsese compared her to Carole Lombard for her comedic genius, Joan Crawford for her toughness, and Ida Lupino for her emotional range. He described Robbie as having a surprising audacity, and recalls how she clinched her role in The Wolf of Wall Street by stunning everyone with a tremendous, improvised slap of Leonardo DiCaprio during her audition.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling during the filming of director Greta Gerwig's Barbie in California, June 2022.
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling during the filming of director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie in California, June 2022.MEGA (GC Images)

Robbie showed the same boldness when she lobbied director Quentin Tarantino for another role opposite DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (2019). She sent the director a letter telling him how much she admired his films, especially her all-time favorite, True Romance (1993). The letter probably wasn’t necessary, as Tarantino already had the I, Tonya star in mind to play Sharon Tate in his new movie, describing her to EL PAÍS as an actress with a visual dynamism and personal qualities that you don’t see every day.

Robbie has wanted to work in movies ever since her start in Neighbours, the long-running Australian TV series that is coming to an end after 9,000 episodes and 37 years on the air. “Of course I’m ambitious. My career motivates me. I came to the United States with a plan, and I’m always looking ahead,” she told us. Even as a child growing up in Queensland (northeastern Australia), Margot Elise Robbie displayed her business smarts and drama queen chops when she decided to sell all her brother’s old toys from the sidewalk in front of the family home.

She jokes about her childhood, but part of that little girl always comes out in the wide variety of characters she plays. She has had all kinds of roles in little-known films like Suite Française and Z for Zachariah, and also in box-office hits like Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey. She won Oscar nominations for playing driven women in I, Tonya (2018) and Bombshell (2020). “Yes, many of the women I’ve played share my ambition – this is a tough industry. But I’m full of doubt like anyone else. You never know how things will turn out,” she said.

 Margot Robbie and her husband, Tom Ackerley, at Vanity Fair magazine’s Oscars party, March 2018.
Margot Robbie and her husband, Tom Ackerley, at Vanity Fair magazine’s Oscars party, March 2018. Jon Kopaloff (WireImage)

Seeking more control over her films, Robbie founded production company LuckyChap Entertainment in 2014 with her husband, British filmmaker Tom Ackerley, and some friends. She hopes to use LuckyChap as a vehicle for herself and other actresses, as she did with Promising Young Woman starring Carey Mulligan, a black comedy thriller film that won writer/director Emerald Fennell an Oscar for best original screenplay. “Margot is an extraordinary person,” said Fennell. “That’s why she’s doing so well as a producer who is determined to try different things and give women a voice.”

Robbie met British assistant director Tom Ackerley on the set of Suite Française in 2013. They began a romantic relationship the next year and moved in together right after attending their first Golden Globes gala for The Wolf of Wall Street. Married since 2016, the couple and co-workers in LuckyChap have a bright future ahead, judging by all the work that is piling up for Robbie. In addition to Barbie, she will appear in Amsterdam, directed by David O. Russell; as silent film star Clara Bow in Babylon, directed by Damien Chazelle; and has a role in Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City. As if that wasn’t enough to keep Robbie busy, a remake of Ocean’s Eleven awaits her; she will play opposite Matthew Schoenaerts in the post WWII drama, Ruin; produce a remake of Tank Girl; and play a female Jack Sparrow in another installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. Surely Margot Robbie doesn’t have any more doubts about her career.

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Salem’s last witch regains her honor | Culture

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As statues of slave owners and slave traders continue to fall in the United States, the embers of the bonfires that burned women accused of committing spells and witchcraft are also being extinguished. In the umpteenth revision of history to try to exonerate the victims, the most recent episode concerns the last official Salem witch, Elizabeth Johnson Jr., from the massive 1692 and 1693 trials in the English colony of Massachusetts. Thanks to the initiative of a middle school teacher and her students in Andover, located in the same county as Salem, her spirit can now roam free. The enthusiastic students began the vindication process in 2020 and persuaded Massachusetts state senator Diana DiZoglio (D), who took up the cause and pushed for Johnson’s pardon, which was announced last week.

It has taken 329 years for Elizabeth Johnson Jr.’s name to be cleared definitively. She was the last of the Salem witches to be exonerated. While Johnson was spared a death by hanging, she was stigmatized until she died at 77, an uncommonly long life for the time. Historians say that Johnson showed signs of mental instability and was single and childless, all of which were signs of witchcraft during that period. She pled guilty before the court of inquisitors. Almost 30 members of her extended family were also implicated, as if witchcraft were contagious, hereditary, or both. Johnson, her mother, several aunts and her grandfather, a church pastor, were tried as well. According to historian Emerson Baker, the author of a book about the Salem witch trials, her grandfather described Johnson to the judges as a “simplish person at best.” Most likely, the judges would have equated “simplish” with different during that superstitious and pre-scientific period.

The fact that Johnson didn’t have any descendants deprived her of anyone to vindicate her good name, as relatives of the other defendants did. The first attempt to do so happened at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Then, in the 1950s, Massachusetts passed a law exonerating those found guilty, but it failed to gather all the names. A 2001 attempt at justice excluded Johnson because, after her conviction in 1693, she was formally presumed to be dead (executed).

The social hysteria against everything that deviated from the norm, against the minimal exercise of free will, was implacable against women, as Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (the playwright adapted it for the big screen in 1996) and recent variations remind us. The theme lends itself very well to artistic creation, but in real life it amounted to opprobrium for those who suffered it and represented a cause for scorn among puritans.

Illustration of the 1692 trial of two Salem witches. The Granger Collection.
Illustration of the 1692 trial of two Salem witches. The Granger Collection.The Granger Collection / cordon press

Salem was more than a witch trial. According to historians, it was a collective exorcism fueled by a puritanical inquisition based on paranoia and xenophobia, a gratuitous auto de fe that unleashed people’s worst instincts: fear and the human tendency to blame others for one’s own misfortunes. At least 172 people were indicted in the 1692 trial. About 35% confessed their guilt and were spared the gallows; according to sources, around twenty insisted on claiming their innocence and did not escape that fate. The rest of the detainees were acquitted or sentenced to prison. The Salem witch trials represented a collective bogeyman through which one can foresee the later threat of the Ku Klux Klan. It is hard not to wonder what bonfires would have burned today on the pyre of social media and extreme polarization.

The great Salem witch hunt can be re-read through the prism of gender. As the adage goes, se non è vero è ben trovato (Even if it is not true, it is well conceived). Witches, like those in Salem and the woman in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (made into a film in the 1950s), were demonized for going off the rails. The dominant society’s puritanical stance against any kind of heterodoxy or freestyling, against rebels with or without a cause, led people to be targeted for dressing exotically by puritanical standards or for daring to drink at a tavern, a sacrilege for the morals of the day. It’s not difficult to draw a straight line from the bonnet of a witch on the gallows to the handmaid’s white bonnet in Margaret Atwood’s novel: all were women who were demonized, objectified, and scapegoated for deeper ills.

Beyond gender, other historians emphasize the socioeconomic dimension of the Salem witch trials, which combined a deep-seated inequality with racism, the United States’ original sin since well before the Declaration of Independence. The trials targeted colonial society’s most vulnerable during a period of economic instability that unleashed fierce rivalry among Salem families. According to historian Edward Bever, society was permeated by interpersonal conflict, much of it stemming from competition over resources. People did whatever they could to survive, from physical aggression to threats, curses, and insults. One of the first women accused, Sarah Osborne, was a poor widow who dared to claim her husband’s land for herself, defying the customary laws of nature, which granted the inheritance to sons. The accusation of witchcraft ended Osborne’s claim. Tituba, an indigenous slave, was accused of being a witch because her racial origins differed from the norm. Sarah Good was also poor, but she defended herself against the humiliations of her neighbors, which led her to the gallows; her daughter, Dorothy Dorcas Good, was Salem’s youngest victim: she was arrested at only four years old and spent eight months in prison.

Since then, history has not changed the fact that vulnerable women pay the price for circumstances beyond their control. That the Puritans of the time considered women—the evil heirs of Eve —prone to temptations such as the desire for material possessions or sexual gratification was only an added factor. Poor, homeless, and childless, these women in the shadow of society’s dominant morality were fodder for the gallows. But Elizabeth Johnson Jr. didn’t just manage to save her life; 329 years later she recovered her honor as well.

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Meridian Brothers: A fake salsa band ignites the rebirth of an old New York record label | Culture

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A new album will land on the salsa dance floor by the end of this week; one that fuses rhythms from the 1970s with the technological dystopias of the future. Behind it is Ansonia Records, a label that, after its creation in 1949 among Latino immigrants from New York, would produce several merengue, jibara, bomba, guaracha, mambo, and boogaloo albums, before stopping altogether in 1990. This Friday, after more than 30 years, Ansonia Records will return with a salsa album.

Hermano del futuro, vengo buscando iluminación; brother from the future, I come looking for enlightenment. So says one of the songs from the new album, called Metamorfosis, by the old salsa group Renacimiento. But there is a catch: Renacimiento does not exist. It never did. It is a fake group, and this is a fake cover, explains musician Eblis Álvarez, founder of the Colombian group Meridian Brothers, who had already experimented with various genres, from cumbia to vallenato. A group that practices “tropical cannibalism,” says Álvarez. This year, Meridian Brothers decided to launch a group of salseros straight out of fiction: Renacimiento.

Colombian group Meridian Brothers.
Colombian group Meridian Brothers.Perla Hernández Galicia (Cortesía)

“Renacimiento [rebirth] is the typical name that musicians would give a salsa group in the 1970s,” Álvarez tells EL PAÍS. “For example, in the Nueva Trova movement there was talk of a political rebirth, but at the same time they combined this with a spiritual factor: when one listens to groups like La Columna de Fuego [from Bogota] or Los Jaivas [from Chile], there was a common pattern: everyone was waiting for a rebirth of the soul, and of society.”

Although on stage Renacimiento is made up of five artists — María Valencia, Alejandro Forero, César Quevedo and Mauricio Ramírez, besides Álvarez — when the album was recorded it was the founder who played all the instruments, besides doing the voice of the salsero that accompanies the songs. The album has nine tracks, some similar to the older, slower salsa, and others to the faster, contemporary style. Between the piano, the timbales and the percussion, we find verses with the concerns of the 21st century: love that “communicates by algorithm,” or the threats of atomic bombs that “take us to the cemetery.” Metamorfosis, the single that has already been released, begins with a man who wakes up turned into a robot and longs for a time “when nightclubs really had an atmosphere, not like now, full of cameras, full of drones.”

“I wanted it to sound like salsa from the 1970s,” says Álvarez. “There is no originality, or the originality of this lies in being able to replicate the music as best as possible, but in terms of the material there is nothing original, as it is made with the collective unconscious of Latin America, of Colombia, of Latinos. This is an extrapolation from the 1970s to today, and it speaks of transhumanism, like the matter of highest concern that everything, absolutely everything, is now packed inside the damn cell phone.”

The rebirth includes both the album and the label, as this is the first recording in more than 30 years to be released by Ansonia Records, a company created in 1949 and later forgotten, despite having been one of the first labels founded by a Latin migrant in the United States. Puerto Rican Rafael Pérez, its founder, brought Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians from Latin Harlem or the South Bronx, who had not found a home among American record companies, to several studios. He produced his records before the time of the powerful Fania, which made New York salsa famous.

To Liza Richardson, an American radio host who was also a music supervisor on series like Narcos or the movie Y tu mamá también, Ansonia Records is a gem. In the early 1990s, she found an Ansonia album in the station’s archives and, fascinated by the label’s production, became close to the heirs of Pérez. In 2020, she bought the record label with the intention of reactivating it. She, with the help of a small team, has begun to digitize more than 5,000 Ansonia-produced songs; an eighth of them can already be found on streaming platforms like Spotify.

Colombian group Meridian Brothers during a live show in Bogota.
Colombian group Meridian Brothers during a live show in Bogota.Perla Hernández Galicia (Cortesía)

Souraya Al-Alaoui, manager of Ansonia Records, explains that most of the artists chosen by the label were focused on the Latin American diaspora. That was their base; they valued the traditional sounds from islands like Cuba or Puerto Rico, and were not looking to become westernized.

“Johnny Pacheco, founder of La Fania, started with Ansonia Records, and Ansonia was an inspiration for what would later become La Fania,” says Al-Alaoui. “Ansonia was also a pioneer as a label owned by a Latino, an independent label with a founding message: ‘this is from us and for us.’ That’s why it was an inspiration for what came after.”

Over the years, La Fania grew and the seed of Ansonia Records faded away. The label never managed to promote its musicians in concerts like La Fania did, and after the arrival of the digital world, they did not set up a website or try to upload their music to any streaming platforms. Thus, it became a label that was only known by a small group of music lovers, like Liza Richardson and Eblis Álvarez.

“Now, we are hoping to release a new record every year, and we are thrilled to start with this one by Meridian Brothers,” says Richardson. “This is an album that looks to the past but tries to move towards the future, and that is exactly what we are trying to do: look to the past to, at some point, be able to grow again, to thrive.”

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