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1000 Years of Christianity in the Ukraine

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Congratulations to all with the feast1 of the Holy Fathers of the Kiev Caves! Let’s take a walk back through history, to the cradle of the Russian Church, where it seems the fate of Holy Rus’ once again rests gently within the walls of that portion of the Mother of God, while great maelstroms of heresy and riots surround her.

<figcaption>Saint Nestor the Chronicler of Kiev</figcaption>
Saint Nestor the Chronicler of Kiev


Photo: korners.kiev.ua

Rather than attempting to add to the litany of excellent publications on the feast day, and retell the same glorious stories, let’s take a look and reflect on some stories and aspects of the Lavra that are rarely told in the English language.

Given the tragic invasion of our beloved Ukrainian Orthodox lands by the Constantinople Patriarchate, and the shameful and open support for Nazism among the godless pseudo-Orthodox schismatics, we will examine the repeating history in relation to current events. After all, to understand where we are, and what is happening today, you must go back to the beginning…

A Tale of Bygone Years

This story is over one thousand years old. Kiev—The Mother of Rus’ Cities—and her Lavra of the Dormition of the Mother of God was always at the center. She’s seen it all, so much grief, so much faith, so much heresy, and so much holiness. Hers is a tale of the bygone years, the story from whence came the Russian lands, where in Kiev the first Grand Princes began to rule, and from what source Rus’ has her origin.

Those words should sound familiar to any student of Slavic history—they are a paraphrase of the Primary Chronicle, the most important of the ancient chronicles of Russian history. They were written by St. Nestor of the Kiev Caves—the father of Russian history. Ancient Russian chronicles reveal many things, mainly that Rus’ people already considered themselves to be a single nation at a time when there was no “Germany” or “France” on the map, but instead, East and West Frankia.2

From all this, we learn our first major lesson: Russia and the Rus’ Church is far more ancient than many of those against her would like people to believe.

For example, there is much rhetoric from the Patriarchate of Constantinople of how the “Slavic younger brothers” need to obey the primacy of the “Greek nation”.

I must first say I have nothing but respect and admiration for Hellenic culture and civilization. The basis of traditional (as opposed to post “enlightenment” or post-modern) Western Civilization and European identity is in short, Greco-Roman culture and legacy together with Christian faith—and I always regarded Russia to be a part of that European “western” civilization”, and actually, I would even argue Russia resembles far more the traditional values of pre-schism Europe than the modern West.

But the rhetoric from Istanbul seems post-modernist and unrelated in any way to old Hellenic culture. Quite frankly, it seems bigoted and racist. It seems the Phanar postulates that they—citizens of Istanbul, Turkey—have the right to the ancient legacy of Constantinople, but the Rus’ Church3 does not have the right to the ancient legacy of Kiev. And make no mistake about how ancient the Russian Church is…

Kiev Caves Lavra—a sister of Mt. Athos

To put it in perspective, Mount Athos arose in the established form we recognize in the eighth century;4 however the development of its great monasteries as we know them today seems to date mostly from between the ninth and fourteenth centuries. The Great Lavra on Holy Athos, for example, was founded in 963, and most of its frescos are from the sixteenth centuries… This makes them younger than the works of the Russian saint Andrei Rublev!

The Kiev Caves Lavra was founded in 1051—an important date, because this most ancient of Russian monasteries, technically speaking, existed when all of Europe still knew only one Church. The Great Schism with the papists occurred only three years later. This means that the Great Lavra of Athos and the Kiev Caves Lavra are practically contemporaries!

One of the most amazing monasteries on Athos, Simonopetra, was founded in the thirteenth century, making it around two hundred years younger than the Kiev Caves Lavra; however the Phanar would prefer you to believe that from the beginning Rus’ was a desolate empty steppe, and the Rus’ Church (which literally fed the deprived Phanar) was in a state of permanent infanthood in comparison with the Hellenic world.

And Western media would be happy to continue this portrayal of an ancient Phanar (whose main functioning church is roughly a contemporary of Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery’s old catholicon) and a young Rus’.

To put things in perspective: Today, the second Sunday of Great Lent, is also the feast day of the most glorious Holy Hierarch St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory lived in the early fourteenth century, whereas St. Andrew of Kiev, co-founder of the Kiev Caves Lavra was born prior to the Great Schism in 983, and reposed in 1073. This means that by the time Holy Hierarch Gregory Palamas lived, there were already great saints in Kiev.

This by no means is intended as disrespect for Constantinople or the Hellenic world—we all honor our glorious Holy Hierarch St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople and the early fathers. No one questions that the Rus’ people received Baptism from glorious Constantinople. But the Phanar is playing with a double standard—pretending that the laws of the Roman Empire still apply to them, but the laws of Kievan Rus’ should not apply in Rus’.

St. Peter Mogila

The Holy Hierarch Peter Mogila, Metropolitan of Kiev (1596-1646) has always been one of my favorite saints,5 and although his works were “highly regarded” by St. John of Shanghai6, I am often sad at how rarely his story is told. Simply put, this holy man saved Orthodoxy in the Ukraine, Rus’… and probably far beyond her borders.

While volumes could be written on his works, this one rare quote of his is very telling of the type of person he is:

“I often thought and mused about how crucial it is in schools to teach not only the external sciences, but even more so, and above everything else, that schools instill piety, which must be rooted and sown in your young hearts, because without it, all wisdom is foolishness before God.”

He was born a nobleman into a princely family, he became a monk, archimandrite, and primate; he was an academic doctor trained in the University of Paris, he was a philosopher, linguist, liturgist, reformer7, publisher, printer, pedagogue and theologian, and one of most tragically underappreciated, yet greatest missionaries and holy hierarchs in Eastern Europe.

Even if they don’t know his name, almost every Orthodox Christian was personally affected by his legacy.

Peter Mogila founded the first Orthodox seminary.

Yes, of course, there were obviously methods of training clergy prior to Peter Mogjla, but in his Kiev Brotherhood-Mogila collegium, he was the first Orthodox hierarch to take the rigorous academic studies of the great European universities and bring them together with the ascetic spiritual arena of the monasteries. His method created a means of simultaneously enlightening and teaching both the mind, and the heart, and at the same time, usurping the logical mind from its tyranny over the human psyche, and brining it down into the heart. For the first time, contemporary academia coexisted alongside genuine Orthodox piety.8

Before there was the university of Athens, or the Greek-Latin-Slavic Academy in Moscow, there was the Kiev school of Peter Mogila.

I consider him one of the four Evangelists of Eastern Slavic printing, together with his contemporaries St. Job of Pochaev, Ivan Fyodorov of Moscow, and Polish-Ukrainian nobleman Prince Konstanty Wasyl Ostrogski.

During the time of the Uniate heresy, Peter Mogila began to use his school for missionary work, eventually beginning the movement of mass literacy in Little Russia (Ukraine). What Sts. Cyril and Methodius did for the Slavic alphabet, those four did for Slavic printing, enabling Orthodoxy to finally counter, not only spiritually, but also academically and scientifically, the heresies in the West9, using the new technology of the printing press for the service of God, the Church, and the nation.

He was a man who, above all, truly understood the missionary spirit the Church desperately needed. He saw the Uniate-Jesuits running around Ukraine like Borgias, perverting the souls of the people, serving the corrupt interests of Rome. As a pioneer of early mass media, he countered the propaganda with the truth, with love, and with the faith—without the need for knavish riots or insults, but instead demonstrating the moral superiority of Orthodoxy through charity.

A famous Syrian historian and Melkite Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo, passing through Kiev, saw first hand the fruits of Mogila’s work. These were his words:

“Even villagers in Ukraine can read and write … and village priests consider it their duty to instruct orphans and not let them run in the streets as vagabonds.”

Peter Mogila impressed upon all his clergy the need to not be elitist Jesuits, withholding knowledge from the common folk, or to hide within the walls of the Lavra, but to get out and teach the people through real interaction.

This is once again what Ukraine and all Orthodoxy desperately needs now, more than ever. Many are baptized, but so few are religious, and religious education is what Orthodoxy needs. This contributes most acutely to the situation in Ukraine.

The idea that the schismatics under the newly-formed structure of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” represent Orthodoxy is ridiculous. Illustrative is this simple video, in which schismatics who came to riot against the canonical Church were called upon to recite prayers, by faithful clergy and laity. The schismatic partisans, whom the Phanar regards to be Orthodox, failed to recite even the Lord’s Prayer from memory, yet they seem to always remember the words to their “Glory to the nation—death to the enemies” chant.

In Peter Mogila’s time, there was the same issue. Hierarchs had abandoned Orthodoxy to live like feudal warlords in the Catholic union, while the rivers of western Ukraine ran red with martyrs’ blood, and Transcarpathia became another Golgotha. Did he do nothing? No!

Peter Mogila and St. Job of Pochaev took a prayerful stance, and they went out to counter the darkness with the light of wisdom and theology. They published great works!

This is what we need now!

I can imagine the ultra-conservatives of their days could have even slandered them. “What is a monk doing trying to run a publishing house or playing with a printing press?!” In many ways, to my great sadness, I imagine there are some that think the same way about modern Orthodox media, priests who make videos on YouTube, etc. I myself have even been told there is no point “wasting time” writings articles on the schism…just pray and ignore it.

But it is not easy to ignore when your Orthodox land is being ravished by schism, when your people are dying; and quite frankly, you can pray and write articles at the same time!

For this reason, in my view, modern Orthodox media projects can continue the legacy of Peter Mogila; Jordanville Monastery’s printing house not only bears the name, but is literally the direct continuation of St. Job’s Pochaev Press.

We need nothing less than the restoration of the old Ruthenian Brotherhoods—those unions of lay people, monastics, and simple clergy who worked together teaching against schism in the days of Peter Mogila. That self-sacrificing missionary spirit and desire to spread Orthodoxy through authentic fellowship and new technologies preserved the faith in those days; and while there are also major risks, the internet provides us these opportunities again today. May God help us all to use it wisely, through the prayers of those holy people.

Abyssus abyssum invocat — you can’t compromise with heresy

While reading about the Kievan saints commemorated today, I also happened to come across the interesting life of St. Alexis of Goloseyevsky, who, among other things, predicted1011 the assassination of Emperor Alexander II of Russia.

Emperor Alexander II was a tragic figure, and also slightly polarizing among monarchists given his more liberal views. Nevertheless, almost all would agree that the tsar rightfully wanted to bring an end to slavery and feudalism through the emancipation of the surfs, which was at the time, an almost revolutionary idea in conservative circles, especially among the very conservative ancient nobility who in many ways felt threatened by the emergence of the capitalist and liberal nouveau riche.

And so who killed the “westernizing, liberal, revolutionary” Emperor, who tried to establish a constitutional monarchy? The conservatives? A group of evil princes who didn’t want to lose the autocratic system? No…Alexander II was assassinated by liberal, western-leaning revolutionaries.

Indeed, the most liberal of all Russian tsars, trying to build a constitutional monarchy, was assassinated by the liberals, who wanted a constitutional monarchy.

I remember being told by a wise priest from the Russian Church Outside of Russia that this is the microcosm of why revolutionary ideology is a lie, that it was never about helping the people, but all about lust of power and the violent attempt to seize it. Ironically…on this same feast day this year, the assassination of Emperor Paul I is also commemorated.12

Another stunning example is Prime Minster Pyotr Stolypin, a statesmen and reformist who many believed, had he not also been assassinated, would have been capable of saving Russia from the revolution by implementing very carefully and responsibly the needed reforms.

His reforms are impossible to explain in full scope here, but oversimplified, he wanted to abolish the antiquated remnants of the feudalist agriculture system, and create one based on ownership by individual farmers of private property.

The style of single homestead, independent farms is known in Ukrainian and Southern Russian culture as khutors—as in the famous work of Gogol, “Evenings on a Farm [Khutor] Near Dikanka”. The khutor is the opposite of the old Russian obschina, the collective farm.

Khutors are famously characteristic of Ukrainian culture. “A Khutor in Little Russia” Konstantin Kryzhitsky, 1884    

The great Dostoyevsky also agreed with Stolypin on private ownership (as opposed to Tolstoy who preferred the collective system). Dostoyevsky said: “If you want to transform humanity for the better, to turn near beasts into humans, give them land and you will reach your goal.”13

Nonetheless, even though he strived to improve the lives of both farmers and urban dwellers, he was yet again assassinated by the revolutionaries, and his grave lies before the Trapeza church in the Kiev Caves Lavra, the current cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

From this, we learn an important lesson—you can’t negotiate with extremism, be it revolutionary, fascist, Bolshevik. Even if you give them what they want, they would happily kill you anyways.

To this same end, there is a lesson in the ecclesiastical life of Ukraine, and the world.

We can’t negotiate with heretics and schismatics. Papist, Ecumenist, Old Believer, Old Calendarist, nationalist, whatever the heresy, it has no place in the Church.

This is the crucial mistake of the Phanar. While it seems more likely they undertook these actions in Ukraine under the instruction of western powers controlling them, in the event they genuinely believe they can receive schismatics without repentance… this will and has failed miserably.

Already the schismatics have turned on each other, the Phanar, with Philaret directly contradicting Epiphany and Bartholomew. There can never be compromise with heresy.

In conclusion, I can only wonder what the countless saints of Kiev must think of this current situation. I think of old saints like Anthony of Kiev, and new ones like Raphael of Brooklyn who studied there. I can’t help but wonder Ubi sunt (Baruch 3:16), in Slavonic: Гдѣ жє сyть; which is to say: Where are they? Where are our princely saints Vladimir and Alexander, our knights Ilya of Murom14 and Dobrinya, our Hetmans Bogdan Zinovii Khmelnitsky and St. Peter Kalnyshevsky?

It feels like all the earthly powers of the world support the schismatics.

I worry for my friends in the Lavra, and for its holy walls, because I rejoice in her stones, and her dust would move me to tears.15

Then something else moved me to tears. My weakness and lack of faith. “Where is your faith?” I remember a friend telling me.

Once I expressed my fear to a Ukrainian girl that the schismatics would seize the Kiev Caves Lavra as they have been seizing churches from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church throughout Ukraine. She almost laughed at me. She said to me “The Lavra belongs to the Mother of God! She won’t let that happen.”

I also remember another conversation I had with a Carpatho-Russian girl. When she was in the Lavra, she spoke worriedly with a woman on the same subject. The woman responded, “Do you know where we are!? (inside the Kiev Caves are the uncorrupt bodies of countless saints). The Lord will set everything right

The two faithful Orthodox ladies agreed that surrounding them were all the saints of Kiev from over a thousand years. With such spiritual defenders all around them, how could they be afraid?

This is the kind of spiritual strength you receive when you walk the Lavra grounds… You can look upon saints from bygone years.

You see them all, from the very beginning of Kievan Rus’… and they all see you.

You are under their protection.

Those Orthodox Ukrainians do not fear whatever evil would dare attack the Lavra… Of course, the Theotokos will save her Lavra, and not our worrying!

From this I also realized that truly Orthodox women have saved our faith in all our lands, while we with all our polemics and theological knowledge sometimes forget that it was our mothers and grandmothers who gave us our Orthodox upbringing.

These thoughts reminded me once again not only of the greatest woman in the world…but the highest creature in creation—the Mother of God. Yes…of course… our Guiding Directress was always there in the Kiev hills, wasn’t she? Yes, our Champion Leader! She will defend her own—her Son will not allow His Mother’s portion to fall.

Even if they come with the armies of hell…    


1 http://orthochristian.com/calendar/20190311.html

2 http://www.unz.com/akarlin/mammoths-and-patriots/

3 Referring to the entire unity of the Russian Church, both in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, abroad, etc.

4 I am not discounting the Mother of God visiting Athos, I am merely referring to the physical [brick and mortar] buildings and communities we see today…what is continually functioning today.

5 Currently, Peter Mogila is glorified for local veneration as a saint in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/996346.html

6 http://www.pravoslavie.ru/29140.html

7 In the sense of practical, internal, and administrative/educational reforms—not liberal Protestant theological reforms.

8 http://orthochristian.com/116252.html

9 http://orthochristian.com/116252.html

10 https://drevo-info.ru/articles/16563.html (in russian)

11 https://azbyka.ru/otechnik/Zhitija_svjatykh/velikie-russkie-startsy/18 (in russian)

12 http://orthochristian.com/calendar/20190311.html

13 https://www.rbth.com/arts/2013/12/07/stolypin_reformist_ahead_of_his_tim…

14 Saint Ilya lies uncorrupt in the Kiev Caves.

15 Psalm 102


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New book reveals the true story of how the Oscars got their name | Culture

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The most coveted trophy in cinema is called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award, but it was dubbed the Oscar several years after it was first presented on May 16, 1929, at the Roosevelt Hotel, just a block away from the gala’s current venue, the Dolby Theater.

The Hollywood Academy has it all on record. The nickname, the official name – the whole shebang. But where does the nickname come from? Well, from a “straight and tall” Norwegian sailor, in fact. A book on the first 50 years of the Academy, to be published in the US in October, mentions the origins of the name and singles out Academy assistant, Eleanore Lilleberg, as the creator of the alias.

Until now, it was commonly believed that Margaret Herrick had given the name to the award, which is not, in fact, solid gold, but britannia – an alloy of copper, tin and antimony – bathed in gold. This story had it that, in 1931, Herrick, who was then Margaret Gledhill, joined the Academy’s library and on her first day of work came across a statuette, of which she said, “It reminds me of my uncle Oscar.” According to the 1947/1948 Hollywood Academy Almanac, a journalist got wind of the anecdote and put it in print the following day.

In 1943, Herrick became executive director of the Academy and was the first to negotiate with a television network for the live broadcast of the gala in 1953. This gave the Academy financial independence, freeing it from reliance on membership fees, and allowed it to expand its educational programs and cultural activities.

Margaret Herrick, librarian and first female executive director of the Hollywood Academy.
Margaret Herrick, librarian and first female executive director of the Hollywood Academy.

But in the forthcoming book The Academy and the Award, due out in October, author Bruce Davis tells it differently and he should know, as for 22 years, he was the Academy’s executive director until his retirement in 2011. In other words, he has had access to the archives, which is what he has devoted himself to since leaving office. Davis is not just any executive either: some time ago, he came up with the idea of investing some of the Academy’s savings in the museum that has now become one of the jewels in its crown.

According to the website Deadline, which has had access to the 521-page tome, Davis’ research has been thorough. Regarding Herrick’s story, he found a 1938 Los Angeles Examiner report in which Herrick offered a different version of the tale, namely that she and her first husband, Donald Gledhill, used to have a private joke between them that went, “How’s your Uncle Oscar?”

In a bid to get to the bottom of the matter, Davis then brings in the 1970 memoirs of columnist Sidney Skolsky, Don’t Get Me Wrong – I Love Hollywood. Skolsky also took credit for the name, recalling that, under deadline pressure in 1934, he used it in mocking tribute to Vaudeville comedians who liked to say to the conductor of the orchestra, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?”

Bruce Davis, at an academy event in November 2010.
Bruce Davis, at an academy event in November 2010.Amanda Edwards (Getty Images)

However, on March 16, 1934, Skolsky himself wrote in the New York Daily News: “Among the profession, statuettes are called Oscars.” So, both Skolsky’s initial claim and Herrick’s claim were unseated, leaving that of actress Bette Davis.

In January 1941, Bette Davis became the first woman to preside over the Hollywood Academy, a position she resigned from a few months later after a stand-off between her and the board of directors. However, in her memoirs The Lonely Life, published in 1962, she maintained that she was the one who thought of the epithet when holding her first Oscar for Dangerous in 1936: “His back view was the spit of my husband’s. Since the ‘O’ in Harmon O. Nelson stood for Oscar, Oscar it has been ever since,” she wrote. When it was pointed out that the term had already been in use for two years by then, the actress recanted.

So, Bruce Davis kept digging. And he found that the Oscars were actually probably named by Eleanore Lilleberg, a secretary and office assistant in the early days of the Academy who was in charge of looking after the statuettes in the run-up to the ceremonies. She had been previously mooted as responsible for the name Oscar, though not how it came about.

Bette Davis, in 1936, with her Oscar for 'Dangerous' in hand.
Bette Davis, in 1936, with her Oscar for ‘Dangerous’ in hand.

But in a small museum in Green Valley, California, dedicated to Lilleberg and her gemologist brother Einar, Davis found Einar’s unfinished memoirs in which he explains that it was Eleanore who named the award Oscar, after a Navy veteran from Norway, the Lilleberg family’s country of origin. Together, they had met this sailor in Chicago and noted that, like the statuette, he “stood straight and tall.” A 1944 newspaper interview with a colleague and an oral account back up this theory.

Which puts this particular mystery to rest, though there are plenty more Oscar secrets in the book…

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Back in Action: The return of Cameron Diaz, the once-highest-paid actress in Hollywood | Culture

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In an interview with her close friend Gwyneth Paltrow, actress Cameron Diaz explained how it felt to leap from the Olympus of Hollywood into the abyss, leaving behind a career full of blockbuster movies. “I’m at peace. I got a peace in my soul. Because I was finally taking care of myself. I feel like my feet are on the ground. I’m lighter.” The actress starred in romantic comedies from the mid-1990s through the first decade of the 2000s, including the hit There’s Something About Mary. For several years, she was the best-paid actress in Los Angeles, making up to $20 million per film. But at age 40, with no warning, she decided to “semi-retire” from the industry. Diaz was focused on enjoying her personal life: she is married to musician Benji Madden, and she gave birth to her first daughter, Raddix, at age 47. But she never closed the door on a possible return. Now, eight years after her last movie, America’s blondest sweetheart is back.

The Californian was the second actress in history, after Julia Roberts, to be paid $20 million for a movie.
The Californian was the second actress in history, after Julia Roberts, to be paid $20 million for a movie.Getty

“I’m excited, but I don’t know how to do this, you know?” Cameron Diaz admits in the video in which she announced the end of her retirement and confirmed her return to the industry. Simulating a call with her fellow cast member Jamie Foxx, the 49-year-old actress revealed that she will play the lead in a new action comedy for Netflix, titled Back in Action. In the clip, Foxx – who won an Oscar for the movie Ray – seeks help from football player Tom Brady, who this year announced his retirement and changed his mind a month later, in order to prepare Diaz for her return to the big screen. On social media, other entertainers, including Jennifer Aniston and Kim Cattrall, received the news with enthusiasm. Nancy Meyers, who directed Cameron Diaz in The Holiday, wrote: “Finally! Some good news!” Still, in keeping with her decision to avoid the buzz of stardom as much as possible, the Californian actress didn’t even share the news with her nearly 10 million Instagram followers.

During her time outside the public eye, Cameron Diaz, like peers such as Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, has attempted to follow Gwyneth Paltrow’s path, using her platform to establish herself as a wellness guru. She published two books on well-being and longevity – The Body Book and The Longevity Book. She has also invested in emerging alternative medicine companies, including Modern Acupuncture and Lyra Health, which helps companies improve the mental health of their employees. In 2020, she also became the founder of the Avaline wine brand, which sells wines made with organic, pesticide-free grapes. The line includes eight varieties, and the starting price for a bottle is €23 ($23.6). “Avaline is the only day-to-day work that I’m doing other than being a wife and a mother. It really has been the most fulfilling part of my life so far,” she said in an interview last year.

Cameron Diaz married Benji Madden, a member of the band Good Charlotte, in 2015.
Cameron Diaz married Benji Madden, a member of the band Good Charlotte, in 2015.MICHAEL NELSON (EFE)

The resurgence of the romantic comedy could be behind Diaz’s return to film. The genre reached its box office peak in the mid-1990s. Earlier this year, Sandra Bullock found unexpected success with her return to the genre in The Lost City. Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan gave the latest remake of Father of the Bride a Latin twist. And in September, Julia Roberts will return to theaters in September after four years of absence: in Journey to Paradise, she will join George Clooney to play a divorced couple who team up to torpedo their daughter’s wedding in Bali. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise is enjoying the success of Top Gun: Maverick, Laura Dern and Sam Neill are returning to the Jurassic Park franchise, and Brad Pitt is preparing for the release of his new action film Bullet Train. After being slammed by the effects of the pandemics, movie theaters are finding that old stars are the best way to get viewers back in their seats.

Cameron Diaz has limited her public appearances in the last decade to a handful of promotional interviews.
Cameron Diaz has limited her public appearances in the last decade to a handful of promotional interviews.NBC (NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

During her hiatus, Diaz has avoided spotlights and red carpets, appearing only on programs hosted by colleagues such as Paltrow and Drew Barrymore. The actress has spoken unequivocally about the elements that have hampered her professional career, from the abuse of power exercised by Hollywood studios over their stars to the dictatorship of beauty standards. “Every day I sat in front of the mirror for hours. It ended up being toxic […] You start criticizing yourself and you think, why am I sitting here being mean to myself?” she said in a BBC podcast, calling herself a “victim of the objectification and social exploitation that women are subjected to.” In deciding to return to the spotlight, Diaz follows the example of other contemporaries who have recently come out of similar semi-retirements, such as Renée Zellweger, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Judy Garland, and Lindsay Lohan, who will premiere a Christmas-themed movie on Netflix at the end of this year.



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Today’s leading Tik Tok influencer creates fashion parodies from one of the world’s poorest islands | Culture

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Shaheel Shermont Flair is 24 years old, and he wants to be a comedic actor. On his social media, where he showcases his talent for comedy through videos/reels, he describes himself as a “public figure” and “artist.” On June 20, he shared his latest witty idea online: a fashion show parody. “Fashion shows be like this,” he declared (alongside the emoji of a face crying with laughter). Then, barefoot and dressed in a T-shirt and sport shorts, he started walking like Linda, Naomi, or Christy through what looks like the backyard of his house. Each trip displayed a style created with all sorts of knickknacks, junk, utensils and household furnishings. In an unintentionally Rickowensian moment (or not), he even used his little sister, Riharika, who was accessorized and off to the side, as a complement. On TikTok, where he has been appearing as @shermont22 for a little more than a year, the short video has racked up over five million views and counting. He continues to gain followers as well; he has nearly 350,000 right now and 13 million or so “likes.” Viewers keep asking him for more. At popular request, he uploaded his most recent video a few hours ago. It is the ninth installment of a viral saga that, in reality, is not so ironic and hilarious.

By today’s standards, Shermont is already a star in terms of fame and glory. In a recent story on his Instagram profile (@shermont_22, which has considerably fewer followers, although one assumes that his viewership there will eventually grow), he confessed to having googled his name and was in disbelief about how far-reaching his performance was. “I’m in the news!” He was amazed and posted screenshots from different digital media, especially from Southeast Asian outlets. On Twitter, he is being hailed as the week’s hero for making fun of, mocking, and deriding that silly and increasingly absurd thing: fashion (of course).

The same thing happened just two months ago, when a video on Douyin (a social network) went viral on its Western counterpart, TikTok, giving rise to the turn-your-grandmother-into-an-international-supermodel challenge. In the video, a venerable elderly Chinese woman was dressed as the personification of Balenciaga, Gucci and Prada by a little boy (presumably her grandson) with what he had on hand in his yurt, including chicken. The results of the challenge—images done in the style of luxury advertising campaigns with brand logos superimposed on them—tell us that we are all Demna Gvasalia, Alessandro Michele, or the tandem Miuccia-Raf Simons, or at least we can be.

An elderly woman dressed by her grandson, who used everyday objects to recreate a Balenciaga advertisement.
An elderly woman dressed by her grandson, who used everyday objects to recreate a Balenciaga advertisement.RR.SS

For a long time, people have complained repeatedly about how bad fashion is, now more than ever. Not only does fashion pollute the planet and exploit its workers, but it also mocks consumers. Are these designers crazy? No, they are just pulling our leg with so much aesthetic arbitrariness/ugliness/stupidity. It’s only fair, then, to return the favor in jaw-droppingly funny ways. In fact, trolling the fashion industry—like Shermont and the Chinese grandmothers (there are quite a few of them)—may be evidence of a certain social disgust with its three-ring circus and its trainers, illusionists, and clowns, whose extravagances are understood as nonsense and, even worse, insults or near-insults. Vetements’s DHL uniform. Virgil Abloh’s Ikea bag. JW Anderson’s broken-skateboard-encrusted sweater. Balenciaga’s shredded sneakers. All of Balenciaga, the brand inevitably referred to in comments on the young comedian’s reels. There are more than a few comments that also praise Shermont’s attitude and stylish model’s trot; they ask to see his fashion show in Paris and Milan already. And then there are those who attempt to be funnier and more sarcastic and ironic than the video itself, which is typical on Twitter. But none of the commenters have taken issue—or even tried to take issue—with the video’s deeper premise.

Shaheel Shermont Flair is a Fijian of Indian descent; his ancestors were Indian girmtyas who went to British-colonized Fiji in the mid-nineteenth century as slave labor. He is also gay. “Welcome the queen to Instagram,” he urged in April 2021, when he debuted on the social media site. In November, he posted that “[m]y sexuality isn’t the problem, your bigotry is.” In April of this year, he returned to the fray: “There are those who hate me for being different and not living by society’s standards, but deep down they wish they had my courage.” Before his phenomenal fashion show, he was already doing “low cosplay” of Indian women by using waste—toilet paper for the sari, a bottle cap for a nath on the nose, and a tea bag for the maang tikka on the forehead, for example—to create an Indian bride’s trousseau in the playful post, “Getting ready for my lover.” In another, he straps on two water-filled balloons as swaying breasts under his T-shirt. “The things I do for TikTok,” he wrote. Indeed, Shermont has made comedy his path to escape bullying and discrimination (prejudice is double in his case) and turned his social media accounts into a highway to heaven. Just like Apichet Madaew Atirattana did back in his day.

Thai Dovima turns everyday objects, twigs, and garbage into original garments.
Thai Dovima turns everyday objects, twigs, and garbage into original garments.

Except for its glamorous intent, everything about Shermont’s catwalk recalls that of the so-called Thai Dovima. In 2016, before Tik Tok’s one-track mind took over, a teenager from the rice-growing region of Isaan—one of Thailand’s poorest areas—astonished the world by turning everyday objects, twigs, and trash into fabulous outfits. He filmed himself modeling those clothes at different locations in his village; his grandmother acted as a styling assistant. Facebook and Instagram went wild over what was termed the “break down of barriers between gender identity, fashion and recycling.” At the time, Madaew (a nom de guerre) explained it this way: “I want people to see that ugly things that don’t fit in can be transformed into something beautiful. And that dressing well is not about money.” Just a few months later, Asia’s Next Top Model, the South Asian edition of the U.S. talent show, called him to be a guest designer during the program’s fourth season. The following year, Time magazine put him on its list of new generational leaders. His example spread. Soon, new stars made their appearance: Suchanatda Kaewsanga, a fellow Thai who is openly trans, and the Chinese Lu Kaigang, whose offerings for fashion shows in his village—located in Guangxi province—unironically included dresses made of garbage can lids and old air-conditioner bags.

Here, we have a response from the poor and marginalized to fashion’s global impact as a mass phenomenon ascribed to the culture of leisure/entertainment. It is a practice that resonates with the button-down politics of Patrick Kelly, the first African American designer to join the ranks of the Parisian ready-to-wear trade association in the mid-1980s; the clothing activities of the swenkas (workers of Zulu origin) and skhothanes (post-apartheid image-obsessed youth) in Johannesburg; and the young Ghanaians who exploit the city-sized textile dumps surrounding the capital, Accra, as sources for their creativity. The narratives of the designers who establish the industry’s current direction, amplified as never before by digital media, also show that it is indeed possible to dress as stylishly as Balenciaga, Gucci or Prada without breaking the bank. That’s why TikTok’s Chinese supermodel grandmothers reflect aspiration and not scorn; they are proof that fashion has something for everyone, even the most socially disadvantaged (one can’t miss the proud hashtag that usually accompanies them, #chinastreetstyle). That’s why Apichet Madaew Atirattana, Suchanatda Kaewsanga and Li Kaigang have made careers as creators, bloggers or influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers. They’ve come so far, propelled by the dreamy fuel that the magazines in village hair salons and satellite TV offer. “It’s very easy to blame fashion for all the problems it creates, but I’d like to think it’s also capable of helping people in many ways, in positive ways,” says Minh-Ha T. Pham, a professor of media studies at Pratt Institute in New York and the author of Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet (2016), an essay about the dynamics of race, gender and class among the young Asians who have found a way to express their identity through fashion, and in the process pushed the system to finally recognize them as a socioeconomic and cultural force. Shaheel Shermont Flair laughs, but he does fashion shows because he also knows what fashion can do for his ambition to become an actor.

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