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  • The title of A Stray, a sharply observed and gracefully filmed drama written and directed by Musa Syeed, refers to its teenage protagonist, Adan, a refugee living in Minneapolis’s large Somali community, as well as his canine co-star, Laila, a soulful terrier he reluctantly befriends. Visually, the film is both naturalistic and artful, featuring beautifully framed scenes shot throughout the city.  A Stray seems to be a bittersweet valentine to Minneapolis, whose buildings, bridges, and landmarks (such as the iconic Pillsbury Best Flour sign) are featured prominently. In addition to its glimpses into Somali culture and the day-to-day lives of this particular refugee community, the film has a strong undercurrent of spirituality, with several scenes taking place in a mosque, and various prayers discussed and recited.


    The story concerns the headstrong Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman, one of the pirates in Captain Phillips), who is thrown out of his mother’s place after she suspects him of stealing jewelry, then flees a temporary crash pad after getting on the nerves of his disreputable friends. Adan initially finds sanctuary in a mosque where a kindly imam lets him stay in exchange for cleaning up the place. Adan asks for advice and a prayer to help him stay out of trouble.

    He finds work at a restaurant through Faisal, one of the mosque’s congregants, but loses the job when his car hits a dog en route to a food delivery. (The zealous Faisal is horrified when Adan brings the pooch back to the mosque, as dogs are traditionally considered impure in Muslim culture.)  The local shelter is closed for the night, so Adan is stuck with the animal, the beginning of their thorny relationship. It’s anything but the typical boy’s-best-friend scenario, complicated by Adan’s religious beliefs and the cold reality that he himself doesn’t have a home or money, let alone resources for a pet. He tries not to touch Laila, but can’t bring himself to abandon her either, spending much of the movie fruitlessly attempting to find her a home.


    Traversing the city in search of shelter and work with dog in tow, he meets with an FBI agent who gives him money and promises a new phone as well as an apartment in exchange for information about his acquaintances’ ties to Somalia. Adan drops in on his little brother at their mother’s apartment, visits an old girlfriend at a college dorm, and goes to a community center, where a young female volunteer befriends him. At one point he tries to bed down at the Somali Museum of Minnesota, and checks out the Nomad World Pub, among other locales, adding to the film’s travelogue vibe. When Adan stays with a group of homeless American Indians one night, an interesting conversation ensues about his right to be in the U.S., compared with theirs. Under Syeed’s direction, we see beauty in even the most desolate parts of the city.

    Adan finally makes an important decision about what he must sacrifice for a place to call his own. He returns to the mosque and defends himself against Faisal’s accusations. The wise imam–clearly a good guy who sees the good in Adan–tells a parable about a man who lets a thirsty dog drink and is granted heaven. Things begin to look up for Adan, who, though a stray himself, finally believes that he is home.

    Though rambling and directionless at times, A Stray is poignant and evocative, buoyed by Abdirahman’s natural portrayal of a struggling young soul looking for solid ground. It also affords a (rare) illustration of religion practiced fairly and compassionately. Also, and not least, the film shows the invaluable bonds that humans form with animals, and how we can learn about ourselves through them.

    A Stray opens at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP (20 John St., Brooklyn) on Friday, October 21, part of IFP Screen Forward Presents series.

    Marina Zogbi

  • It’s official. The Obamas will be vacating the White House soon. And at their last state dinner, the first lady Michelle Obama wowed the world with a custom, rose gold Atelier Versace gown, made with chainmail.

    President Barack Obama, and first lady Michelle Obama


    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

    This gorgeous number can now be added to a long list of stunners FLOTUS has worn over the years. And from Jason Wu to Vera Wang, Mrs. Obama has represented her country flawlessly decked out in memorable American-designed creations.

    She has also incorporated high fashion from international brands, including Versace.

    President Barack Obama, and first lady Michelle Obama


    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

    Donatella Versace says in a statement: “I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to dress the first lady of the United States Michelle Obama. Thank you, Michelle, for all of the things you have done for America and for the rest of the world, for the women in the United States and the rest of the world.”

    As E! Online points out, rose gold is on trend thanks to Kylie Jenner’s dyed rose gold hair, and actresses Blake Lively and Emilia Clarke’s gown selections (coincidentally both by Versace) at the recent 2016 Emmy Awards.

    Blake Lively

    rs_1024x759-160511125855-1024-blake-lively-best-dressed-cannes-2016-red-carpet  David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

    A final thought: Will Michelle Obama’s stunning look serve as a hint to potential daring numbers a FLOTUS might wear in the future? Who knows.

    But one thing is certain: First husband Bill Clinton will not be wearing any future-forward numbers in the near future, and I, for one, am ok with that.

  • Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

    Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

    The story of Theo Padnos, an American journalist captured in 2012 by the Nusra Front (Syrian branch of Al Qaeda), Theo Who Lived is not quite like other hostage accounts, of which there have (sadly) been many. Yes, David Schisgall’s documentary concerns an idealistic do-gooder who puts himself in danger and it includes the familiar details of captors who veer from friendly to cruel, as well as the grim specifics of interrogation and torture, of terrible deprivations and conditions. Theo Who Lived, however, consists almost entirely of Padnos reliving his ordeal by revisiting various locales of his 22-month captivity, as he narrates his story with good humor, even wit.

    A genial, often rather naïve-seeming sort, Padnos was a struggling writer from Vermont who thought he’d kick-start his journalism career by writing a story about Syrian refugees for The New Republic. In the film, he acknowledges being a lifelong risk taker, but also questions why he ever put himself in such a dangerous situation. He walks us through Antakya (Antioch), Turkey—a city where journalists, fighters and other interested parties gathered before crossing the border into Syria and shows us the house he shared with several roommates as well as the house where his kidnappers lived (and may still live). In Syria Padnos shows us the very room where he interviewed young men he thought we members of the Free Syrian Army, until they suddenly began beating him, declaring him their prisoner. Remarkably, he is able to provide the details of this horrific moment with candor and relative composure.

    In Vermont, we meet Theo’s mother Nancy, as well as his cousin Viva, who—with other relatives—launched into the long, often frustrating search for an American hostage in the Middle East.


    After an escape attempt, Padnos was tortured both physically and mentally, with constant threats of immediate execution. (Because he speaks Arabic, it was assumed he’s with the CIA.)  Somehow, he always sees the humanity in his captors, acknowledging that the families of the boys who take part in his beatings had probably been through hell. He also gets what many don’t—that these young guys were having “the time of their lives” in groups like Nusra, with free weapons, camaraderie, and the awesome prize of an American hostage.

    At one point he asked for a cellmate and got Matthew Schrier, who turned  out to be a less than ideal companion. Though they both planned an escape, only Schrier made it. We see the interviews he subsequently gave on CNN and 60 Minutes, probably also seen by Padnos’s captors, who amped up the torture. We visit the tiny cell in which he was then kept for 200 days. He describes, almost jokingly, how he would sit against different walls to break up the monotony. To stay sane, he began writing a novel on paper and pens supplied by his young captors who were fascinated and entertained by his readings from the work, like a modern-day Arabian Nights. “It soothed the poison out of them,” he notes.

    Around this time, James Foley was kidnapped and Nancy befriended his mother, a fellow New Englander, as they shared a terrible burden. Nancy describes how she unsuccessfully tried to bargain with her son’s captors who demanded an exorbitant sum for Theo’s release. (Unlike other countries, the U.S. government refuses to negotiate with terrorists.)

    Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

    Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

    At one point, with Al Qaeda competitors ISIS threatening his captors (another interesting complication), Padnos was moved to another location and gained the favor of the group’s chief. Taking advantage, he tried another escape, only to be brought back to his captors once again. Just when it seemed like the end, Foley was executed on videotape to the horror of the world, and everything changed for Theo.

    Though some may be annoyed by Padnos’s blithe idealism and seemingly blind willingness to put himself in danger, one can’t help but be moved by his humanity. (After his release, he continued to advocate for Syria, volunteering to help refugees on the island of Lesbos.) The fact that he still harbors any good will seems miraculous, but his obvious need to connect with other human beings undoubtedly helped keep him alive in the first place. Though we will (and should) never be as reckless, we could all learn something from Theo.

    Theo Who Lived opens on Friday at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

    Marina Zogbi

  • Slothrust, band, NYC

    We recently caught up with Brooklyn based band Slothrust, who are releasing their long awaited third album, Everyone Else on Dangerbird Records October 28th.

    1)   Are you native New Yorker’s or transplants?

    Will and I are from Boston and Kyle is from New Jersey.

    2)   How would you describe your sound?

    Blues / jazz influenced rock music with a lot of dynamics and time signature changes 😉

    3)   How has the crowd responded to the new music from Everyone Else?

    Crowds we have performed to have responded really positively to the new music. We are very excited to tour and share it with more people.

    4)   Was there a particular story you wanted to tell or message you wanted to send with Everyone Else?

    There is not one story in particular that I am trying to tell with this record. Thematically, it deals a lot with water and dreams. I like thinking about different states of consciousness and things infinitely larger than the self.

    5)   What do you enjoy most about touring and performing live?

    I like seeing new cities and the exchange of energy that happens between performers and difference audiences.

    6)   Tell me about your creative process. Do you work remotely or do you go off to the woods to write together as a group?

    It’s a combination of a lot of things. Generally songs come to me in pieces and we go about executing them in a variety of ways. In the past there hasn’t been a particular formula for us.

    7)   Where do you find your inspiration as artists?

    The ocean, the sky, dreaming, feelings, other artists that we admire and make us want to push our playing and song-writing.

    8)   Are you also planning a European tour for this album?

    We would love to go to Europe. We have never been and are really hoping that the opportunity presents before too long.

    9)   What does the phrase “art for progress” mean to you?

    Art that aims to spread awareness.

  • On September 24, the National African American Museum opened its doors to public. And while the museum’s timed passes are sold out for the rest of the year,  it’s still a great time to learn about what’s currently on exhibit.

    And if you are wondering if there’s a showcase at the museum that relates to the world of fashion, you’re in luck. The museum will be showcasing a selection of Ann Lowe’s dresses, and they are a must-see!

    Ann Lowe — a highly sought after designer in her day —  is the first world-renowned black designer who created dresses for socialites and brides. She created looks for families including the Auchinclosses, DuPonts, Kennedys, Posts, Rockefellers, and Roosevelts. She is also the first black designer to own a boutique on Madison Avenue. And her stunning creations were also sold at Henri Bendel, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus.

    Pink satin and organza ball gown, designed by Ann Lowe, 1959, once owned by Patricia Penrose Schieffer, wife of CBS News’ Bob Schieffer. Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane. Photo courtesy of NMAAHC


    Famously, Lowe designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding gown in 1953. Lowe crafted a dress made up of fifty yards of ivory silk taffeta for the Bouvier-Kennedy nuptials, and cost approximately $700  — roughly $13,000 factoring today’s inflation, according to Racked’s Danielle Kwateng-Clark .

    And as Kwateng-Clark deftly sums up, Lowe “did the impossible in the Jim Crow-era by making a name for herself solely from her talent.”

    Designer Ann Lowe and the famous Kennedy wedding gown. Photo courtesy of Alchetron


    Sadly, Lowe was never openly credited for designing Mrs. Kennedy’s gown. As Alchetron points out, the gown was “described in detail in New York Times‘ coverage of the wedding.” However, the dressmaker was never mentioned.

    And even publications like Vogue Magazine featured Lowe’s work, but did not credit her for her work.

    The great-granddaughter of an enslaved woman and a plantation owner, Lowe was born in Alabama in 1898. By 16, Lowe made four gowns for her state’s First Lady, Lizzie Kirkland O’Neal, after her mother, a seamstress, died suddenly.  Some time later, Lowe was in high demand, making over 1,000 dresses and year, and grossing over $300,000 a year.

    And then Lowe experience financial setbacks that eventually shuttered her once thriving business: “One morning I woke up owing $10,000 to suppliers and $12,800 in back taxes,” Lowe said in an interview with Ebony Magazine, after having to eventually declare bankruptcy.

    As Kwateng-Clark reports, Lowe’s IRS bill was mysteriously paid for by an unknown benefactor. “It’s believed that Jackie Kennedy found out about Ann’s troubles around the time the bill was settled,” she writes.

    Jacqueline Colette Prosper,