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A Dance With Danger

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Fleur van Eeden

It’s just another day at the office for Fleur van Eeden as she stands in the hallway of a tall steel warehouse in Atlantic Studios, in Montague Gardens, Cape Town. Under the dim light she is surrounded by piles of timber and fake polystyrene rocks. Here, Van Eeden has found herself jumping from crypts made of foam and fighting villains in gigantic gilded tombs that glow golden and black.

It is a brief behind-the-scenes glimpse into the daily life of an unusual career. Van Eeden is one of the top stuntwomen in South Africa and currently acting as a stunt double for the role of Lara Croft in the up-and-coming Tomb Raider movie starring Alicia Vikander; one the latest action blockbusters to have been filmed in the Mother City.

“If you told me 10 years ago that I was going to be Lara Croft’s stunt double, I would have never believed it. If my career was to end now, I ticked the biggest box,” says Van Eeden.

“When they phoned me for the job I thought it was a joke… You don’t take anything too seriously until you are on the job because anything can happen. The film could disappear out of your country.”

What makes this career choice even more interesting is that Van Eeden came to it by chance. While studying public relations, a friend suggested she try out as an extra on the 2005 series The Triangle.

Van Eeden’s first day on the job saw her left stranded on a rubber duck in the Atlantic Ocean near Robben Island. The second, she was tossed out of a plane like a Caesar Salad.

“They attached a cable to me, said were going to call three, two, one, action and then were going to yank you up in the air. You’re going to free fall… I was as high as a kite; I loved it,” recalls Van Eeden.

READ MORE: The Fortune And Fury Behind Nollywood

More action was to come. Van Eeden was drawn to the thrill, including becoming the first South African female to do a full body burn – in other words, she volunteered to light herself on fire.

“It’s funny, a lot of people would think being set alight would freak me out. It genuinely doesn’t. Things like that don’t scare me. What scares me is if you’ve seen someone else do a stunt, and you know in your heart that you can do it, and then your stunt director asks you to do it… I can’t sleep the night before,” says Van Eeden.

There was little else for Van Eeden but the outdoors. She grew up in the small town Swellendam, a 218-kilometer drive from Cape Town. From the age of two, Van Eeden was climbing trees. In her teens she took up white-water rafting and horse riding and, as a young adult, she became a South African tug-of-war puller.

Even her 99-year-old grandmother approved of her career choice.

“She was my biggest fan. Can you imagine me saying to me my granny ‘I’ve just lit myself on fire’ and her saying back ‘oh, my word, if I was younger I would have loved to have done that’.”

Behind the stunt industry’s facade of mortal danger comes many, many hours of choreography. Van Eeden spent two and a half months, prior to shooting, building her body for the Tomb Raider role.

“It’s like a dance… If somebody tells you to do a stunt, and you are only willing to do it once, you should not do it. I was 20 and had nothing to lose. What most people don’t realize is in most cases stunts are done more than once… unless it’s a car roll.”

Fleur van Eeden

Fleur van Eeden (Photo by Jay Caboz)

Van Eeden has played roles in all shapes and sizes. Along with working on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road, where she trained with Charlize Theron, Van Eeden spent four years on the set of Black Sails, the historical adventure television series, where she played the role of pirates, boys and the red-haired character Anne Bonny’s double.

“On Black Sails, I was dressed as a boy riding a horse and jumping onto a carriage doing a fight scene and been kicked off the carriage. I wasn’t supposed to be doing the stunt. The guy who was supposed to do the stunt, got kicked off the carriage and hurt his neck, he couldn’t do it. The whole shot was at a standstill,” says Van Eeden.

READ MORE: Terry Pheto: From Community Theater To The World Stage

The number of top female stunt actors are few, says Van Eeden. You can count a handful of South Africans who are making it. But it is growing, thanks to more movies choosing to shoot in Cape Town – a string of film crews have been using its picturesque landmarks as their port of call, like The Maze Runner, the TV series Troy: Fall of a City, and Tomb Raider.

“You can put five guys next to each other and you will always have one who is better than another. But the women are standing next to the guys, it’s not like there is a women’s side and a men’s,” she says.

By the time Tomb Raider comes out, Van Eeden will be long onto the next set. It will be nearly a year before she can watch herself from the comfort of a chair in the cinema.

A far cry from the dim warehouse where she flung her body in the face of danger.

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South Africa’s Tamaryn Green is first runner-up at Miss Universe pageant

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 Catriona Gray from the Philippines was crowned Miss Universe on Monday, the fourth time the Southeast Asian country has won the international beauty pageant.

Gray, a 24-year-old Filipino-Australian model, won the title in the Thai capital Bangkok where the pageant included for the first time a transgender contestant.

“My heart is filled with so much gratitude. There were moments of doubt where I felt overwhelmed and I felt the pressure,” said Gray, who wore a red and orange dress that was inspired by Mount Mayon, a volcano that erupted this year.

Miss South Africa, Tamaryn Green, 24 was the first runner-up, followed by Miss Venezuela, Sthefany Gutiérrez, 19.

Gray was asked during the contest about her views on legalizing marijuana and replied that she supported it for medical uses.

After she was crowned, Gray told reporters the question was “definitely relevant” and “an active topic”, in an apparent reference to the war on drugs in the Philippines that has killed thousands of Filipinos and caused international alarm.

Gray said during the pageant that working in a Manila slum had taught her to find beauty in difficult situations.

“If I could teach people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their face,” she said.

Miss Spain, Angela Ponce, 27, made history as the first transgender contestant in the 66-year-old pageant.

Gray is the fourth Filipina to win Miss Universe and the second in three years. The pageant was shown live on the country’s biggest television network and dominated social media.

Salvador Panelo, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said her win would put the country on the world map for its “beauty and elegance.”

“In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work,” he said.

The Philippines previously won Miss Universe titles in 2015, 1973 and 1969. – Reuters

  • Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Neil Jerome Morales 

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IN PICTURES | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives Nelson Mandela public lecture

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“When it comes to history and memory … it’s easy to remember Nelson Mandela, because he is Nelson Mandela. Who determines whose story we value above others?”


This was a question asked by Cathy Mohlahlana, the facilitator of a panel discussion at the Nelson Mandela Tribute to mark the fifth anniversary of his passing.  

Celebrated author and notable feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the keynote speaker at the event hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation at the UNISA Ormonde campus in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 12, 2018.

Before Adichie’s address, the audience was regaled by the sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir who sang songs such as Thina Sizwe, Lizalise Idinga Lakho, and Brenda Fassie’s Vul’indlela. 

In paying homage to other anti-apartheid activists, the choir concluded their performance with the Peter Gabriel song Biko. The song is named after Bantu Stephen Biko who died in police detention in 1977, and was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid campaign the Black Consciousness Movement.

Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive Sello Hatang also acknowledged Pan Africanist liberation hero Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, who he says was a “towering figure in our history and a man who the apartheid regime tried to erase from memory”.

In recognizing the role played by women in the struggle for South Africa’s liberation Hatang said, “we should also remember that this year is about mme (mother) Albertina Sisulu, and those women whose stories and contributions were distorted an minimized by the structures of patriarchy … We should also remember that this is the year we lost mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela.”

Activist and wife of late former President Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, was also in attendance and listened attentively as Adichie spoke about the power of memory and public imagination. “When I first came to South African ten years after the fall of apartheid, it felt to me as though the past was not yet passed, but that there was a concerted collective resolve to turn away from this truth. South Africans of all races spoke to me of the rainbow nation, and I did not entirely trust this optimism. Well-choreographed as it was.”   

“It felt to me a little too easy … It cannot be so unbearably, terribly tidy this process of peace-making,” Adichie said.

 Sebabatso Moneli and Neo Muyanga were part of the panel discussion facilitated by Mohlahlana.

“We are entitled to rage. We are entitled to anger – to the grief of a painful history. But, we are also invited by history to a breath of stories that expand beyond the stereotypes of slavery and colonialism.

“African history is vast and I believe that part of the freedom that we are looking for, that our true liberation will not be found in the absence of tension, but in embracing the tension of history,” Moneli said.

While interrogating the idea of telling the facts and the truth, Muyanga added, “the responsibility is all of ours … The process of colonization which is premised on the idea of erasing the original memory and replacing it with the colonists’ memory. So history begins with the arrival of the colony as opposed to the stories we tell of ourselves before.”

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From Beyonce To Shonda Rhimes, The Most Powerful Women In Entertainment 2018

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Shonda Rhimes may have defined Thursday night television, but she’s now dictating the medium’s future. When the Grey’s Anatomy creator signed a nine figure, four-year deal with Netflix last year, she cemented her place at the forefront of entertainment’s digital future-and pioneered Netflix’s handsome producer paydays.

Rhimes, who created and executive produced ABC hits including Scandaland How To Get Away with Murder, is now developing eight shows for the streaming service through her production outfit ShondaLand.

“We are powerful women and when we say we have power, what we are really saying is that we deserve to have power. We deserve whatever good thing it is that we are getting,” said Rhimes at Elle magazine’s 25th annual Women in Hollywood celebration.

Demanding what you deserve can feel like a radical act.

Worth an estimated $135 million, Rhimes is the wealthiest female showrunner–the person who oversees writing and production of each TV episode-in Hollywood. She has said that her deal, which reportedly includes a base salary of $150 million with incentives that could bump it much higher, is bigger than the $300 million secured by Ryan Murphy.

Rhimes is just one of the world’s most powerful women in media and entertainment effecting change and impacting her industry with groundbreaking deals and inclusive storytelling. Take Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, who has helped pioneer Star Wars‘ most inclusive casting yet. Under Kennedy’s stewardship, Kelly Marie Tran became the first woman of color to have a lead role in the multi-billion dollar franchise, playing Rose Tico in 2017’s The Last Jedi.

Across the lot, Dana Walden has seen her power grow in the studio landscape. Following Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of the majority of 21st Century Fox, the former chair and CEO of Fox Television Group will also head up 20th Century Fox TV, ABC Studios, the Freeform network, ABC-owned TV stations, ABC Entertainment and several other divisions.

Walden believes more women need to be in decision-making roles at every level. “There must be women in the highest ranks of every organization, and meaningful female representation on every corporate board,” Walden told Forbes last year.

Our recruiting and our training has to be oriented to ensure that we’re identifying and nurturing future generations of female leaders.

Entertainment’s most powerful span Hollywood, music and publishing. As each segment continues to deal with the fallout of the #MeToo movement, women have taken action. Anna Wintour, who continues to control Vogue, suspended photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino amid sexual misconduct charges and set a code of conduct for models and photographers.

Wintour teamed up with music power woman Beyoncé for the September issue of Vogue; she was given creative control over her cover photo and leveraged that power to hire the first African American photographer to shoot the cover in the magazine’s  126-year history. Another first for Beyoncé: In 2018, she became the first black woman to headline Coachella.

Here’s the full list of Media and Entertainment power women:

1. Oprah Winfrey, Media mogul

2. Shari Redstone, Vice Chair, CBS & Viacom

3. Bonnie Hammer, Chair, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment

4. Donna Langley,  Chair, Universal Pictures

5. Anna Wintour, Artistic Director, Conde Nast

6. Beyoncé, Singer

7. Dana Walden, Chairman, Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment

8. Katharine Viner, Editor-in-Chief, Guardian

9. Taylor Swift, Singer

10. Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief, The Economist

11. Kathleen Kennedy, President, Lucasfilm

12. Shonda Rhimes, Showrunner

13. Arianna Huffington, Founder & CEO, Thrive Global

14. Serena Williams, Tennis player

15. Shobhana Bhartia, Chair, HT Media

16. Priyanka Chopra, Actress

– Natalie Robehmed: I’m an associate editor at Forbes covering media and entertainment, with a focus on the movie business. For the magazine, I’ve written cover stories on 

 

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