What my kid learned first: Mom, Dad, Alexa

    Summary
    The first four words my toddler understood were "mom," "dad," "cat" and "Alexa."

    Fact check on Trump military deal with Saudis

    Summary
    CNN's John Avlon fact checks President Trump's questionable arms deal with Saudi Arabia after Trump cited it as a reason to not punish the Saudis over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    Donald Trump's 2020 fundraising haul is totally and completely unprecedented

    Summary
    On Monday night, President Donald Trump's 2020 re-election campaign announced that it had raised in excess of $18 million over the past three months, a haul that means the incumbent has already raised $106 million for a race that is more than two years away.

    Democrats have a problem with Latino voters

    Summary
    House forecast: Democrats will win 228 seats (and the House majority) while Republicans will win just 207 seats. A Democratic win of 204 seats and 263 seats is within the margin of error.

    Pompeii graffiti may rewrite history

    Summary
    Newly discovered graffiti at the Popmpeii archeological site could settle an old academic debate about the exact date of the Vesuvius eruption, rewriting the history of one of the ancient world's most significant events.

    Pompeii: Vesuvius eruption may have been later than thought

    Summary
    Mount Vesuvius erupted on 24 August, 72 AD - or at least, that's what historians thought until now.

    High-profile fugitive who faked death 'arrested in France'

    Summary
    The suspect from Ukraine lived a lavish lifestyle and had bought a castle in France, officials say.

    Jamal Khashoggi: Turkey widens search for clues to disappearance

    Summary
    The Saudi consul's residence will be included in the investigation, the Turkish foreign minister says.

    Royal tour: How to catch the eye of Meghan and Harry

    Summary
    People in Sydney offer their advice for how to catch the eye of royals Meghan and Harry.

    Rembrandt's Night Watch to be restored in public

    Summary
    In the largest project in the museum's history, The Night Watch is to be restored in public view.

    Audi fined £700m over dieselgate scandal

    Summary
    Audi has been fined €800m (£700m) for failings that enabled the firm to sell almost five million diesel with software designed to cheat emissions testing.

    Who's in Trump's former presidents painting?

    Summary
    A painting of Donald Trump grinning at a table with past presidents is hanging in the White House, close to the Oval Office.

    Congo confirms 33 cases of Ebola in week

    Summary
    Congo has confirmed 33 cases of Ebola in the past week, prompting fears of a global health emergency.

    Saudi consul's home to be searched for Khashoggi clues

    Summary
    Turkish police are to search the Saudi consul's residence in Istanbul over the disappearance and alleged murder of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    Kidman: Marriage to Cruise protected me from harassment

    Summary
    Nicole Kidman has written about her relationship with Tom Cruise, saying being married to the "powerful" actor gave her "protection" from sexual harassment.

    Iran Widens an Already Huge Rift Between Europe and U.S.

    Summary
    Since President Trump announced that he would pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, European leaders are actively working to help Tehran get around new sanctions.

    In Jamal Khashoggi Case, Turkey Focuses on Movements of Saudi Officials

    Summary
    Two jets carrying Saudi intelligence agents are said to have flown to Istanbul the day the dissident journalist disappeared, and to have left hours later.

    Kim Jong-un Invites Pope Francis to North Korea

    Summary
    It seems unlikely that the Vatican would accept the offer from a country considered one of the worst suppressors of religious freedom.

    Rare White Tiger Kills Zookeeper in Japan

    Summary
    The episode, in the southern city of Kagoshima, was not the first fatal tiger attack at a Japanese zoo.

    U.S. Marine Colonel in Australia Relieved of Command After Drunken Driving

    Summary
    Col. James Schnelle, the highest ranking Marine Corps official in Australia, has been replaced after his arrest in Darwin last month.

    Iranian security personnel kidnapped on border with Pakistan

    Summary
    At least 10 Iranian security personnel including Revolutionary Guards were kidnapped on the border with Pakistan on Tuesday, state media reported, and a separatist group that claimed responsibility described the act as revenge for oppression of Sunni Muslims.

    Case of slain Libyan rebel commander threatens to open old wounds

    Summary
    Eastern Libyan authorities have resumed an investigation into the unexplained killing of a top rebel commander in the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, a case that could reopen old wounds.

    Irish FM says Brexit border backstop key 'unless and until' new trade deal comes

    Summary
    More time is needed for a Brexit deal between the European Union and Britain that would maintain an open Irish border, Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday.

    German justice minister to be SPD's top candidate in EU election: RND

    Summary
    German Justice Minister Katarina Barley will stand as the top candidate of the Social Democrats (SPD) in next May's European Parliament election, Germany's RND newspaper network said on Tuesday.

    Dutch minister unlikely to attend Saudi conference after journalist's disappearance

    Summary
    Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said on Tuesday that he will most likely not attend a conference in Saudi Arabia after dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing.

    After baby news, (most) Australians warmly welcome Harry and Meghan

    Summary
    Recent poll shows Australians divided over whether to ditch British royals, but supporters see hope in the new generation

    Prince Harry and Meghan's first day in Australia a carefully planned charm offensive

    Summary
    Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have officially started their first royal tour as a married couple. The day after announcing their first child is on the way, they were greeted by well-wishers in Sydney, Australia. But there are some Australians who question the need for the monarchy there. Jonathan Vigliotti reports from Sydney.

    Fran Townsend: Changing story on Khashoggi "belies the credibility of the Saudis"

    Summary
    CBS News senior national security analyst Fran Townsend, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser for President George W. Bush, joins "CBS This Morning" to discuss the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and why she says the Turkish haven't been playing it straight either.

    Pompeo in Saudi Arabia as kingdom expected to explain Khashoggi disappearance

    Summary
    Saudi Arabia's denials over the disappearance of a journalist in Turkey are falling apart under pressure from the U.S. and other countries. Sources tell CBS News the Saudis are ready to say Jamal Khashoggi was captured inside their consulate in Istanbul and died during his interrogation. Holly Williams reports from Istanbul.

    Pompeo meets king as Saudis expected to say Khashoggi killed accidentally

    Summary
    America's top diplomat visits its biggest weapons buyer as the royal family is expected to reveal its own version of events in Istanbul

    Authorities investigate fatal stabbing at Anaheim shopping center

    Summary
    Police are investigating the fatal stabbing of a man in his 30s who was found in an Anaheim parking lot early Tuesday. Anaheim police responded to a shopping center at 2877 W. Lincoln Ave. shortly before 1 a.m. and found a man who had been stabbed, authorities said. The man, who has not been identified,...

    You may be getting more than you bargained for with over-the-counter supplements, study finds

    Summary
    You’ve seen the ads for the pill that promises to make you skinny without having to diet or exercise, or for the supplement that claims it will make you the envy of the other weightlifters at the gym. Their labels say they are all-natural and safe. But are they really? Not necessarily, new research...

    Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on the difficult queer '90s Boston of her novel 'Sketchtasy'

    Summary
    “I think about how sometimes I feel so lonely talking to the people I love, and sometimes I feel so lonely talking to the people I hate,” thinks Alexa, the young, queer narrator of Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s new novel. “And sometimes I just feel so lonely.” “Sketchtasy,” published today by Arsenal...

    Review: Eleanor Swordy’s paintings allegorize what it means to be a woman and an artist

    Summary
    Eleanor Swordy's paintings at Moskowitz Bayse allegorize what it means to be a woman and an artist.

    Essential California: A worrying drive for some Latinos

    Summary
    Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Oct. 16, and here’s what’s happening across California: TOP STORIES Roni Salguero is one of several motorists who say they believe they were the victims of racial profiling by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s highway...

    President Trump mocks Sen. Elizabeth Warren over DNA test: 'Phony!'

    Summary
    "Pocahontas (the bad version), sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Warren, is getting slammed," Trump tweeted.

    Report details Aaron Hernandez's erratic behavior while with Patriots

    Summary
    The third installment of a six-part series on late Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez delves deeper into his troubled personality.

    Unvaccinated child dies from the flu in Florida, state health officials say

    Summary
    A Florida child who did not receive a vaccine died from the flu after testing positive for the influenza B virus, state health officials said.

    The 5 most shocking revelations in Tina Turner's new memoir, 'My Love Story'

    Summary
    Tina Turner's memoir 'My Love Story' details the harrowing ordeals the 78-year-old singer has overcome in her decades in the spotlight.

    CNN Poll: Joe Biden holds big lead over other potential 2020 Democratic candidates

    Summary
    About a third of respondents named Biden as their choice to leads Democrats in 2020, while Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second with 13 percent.

    Apple Is Fixing its Bone-Dry Bagel Emoji After An Outcry From Breakfast Lovers Everywhere

    Summary
    Apple is revising its recently-added bagel emoji after an outcry from breakfast-loving users who say the previous version suffered from a lack of cream cheese or butter and appeared to be under-baked. The change, first spotted by Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge, is set to become available in Apple’s iOS 12.1 update. Responding to complaints, Apple's bagel emoji has been updated in the latest iOS 12.1 beta pic.twitter.com/k5l67QZldf — Jeremy Burge 🐥 (@jeremyburge) October 15, 2018 The move is sure to please users who said Apple’s original bagel emoji looked dry and unappetizing. I’m organizing a march in New York City against Apple’s just-revealed bagel emoji, which comes out with the next iOS update. It looks like something you get from a cardboard box in the freezer section at Walmart. This insult will not stand. pic.twitter.com/Z44YFBuUlU — Downtown Josh Brown (@ReformedBroker) October 3, 2018 While new emojis are approved by the non-profit Unicode Consortium, individual tech companies have some leeway in how they visualize each character on their respective platforms. Apple and some other tech companies have, for instance, changed the “gun” emoji from a symbol of a handgun to a representation of a water pistol. Apple’s morning-meal misstep follows a similar controversy involving Google, which was lambasted over the placement of various layers in its cheeseburger emoji. And earlier this year, Google removed the hard-boiled eggs from its salad emoji on some Android phones in a bid to portray a more vegan-inclusive dish. Not everyone was pleased with the attempt, with some asking Google to remove everything but the empty bowl for true inclusivity. But to truly be inclusive, by this logic, we would need to remove the tomato as well since quite a few people are very allergic to them. Others recently quit eating lettuce for fear of E Coli. Let's make sure they are represented. Now just an empty bowl. See how this works? — David Warren (@AzWarren) June 7, 2018

    Paul Allen Was So Much More Than Microsoft’s Co-Founder

    Summary
    Personal computers, conservation, pro football, rock n’ roll and rocket ships: Paul G. Allen couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend, invest and donate the billions he reaped from co-founding Microsoft with childhood friend Bill Gates. Allen used the fortune he made from Microsoft — whose Windows operating system is found on most of the world’s desktop computers — to invest in other ambitions, from tackling climate change and advancing brain research to finding innovative solutions to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. “If it has the potential to do good, then we should do it,” Gates quoted his friend as saying. Allen died Monday in Seattle from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to his company Vulcan Inc. He was 65. Just two weeks ago, Allen, who owned the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, had announced that the same cancer he had in 2009 had returned. Gates, who met Allen at a private school in Seattle, said he was heartbroken to have lost one of his “oldest and dearest friends.” “Personal computing would not have existed without him,” Gates said in a statement, adding that Allen’s “second act” as a philanthropist was “focused on improving people’s lives and strengthening communities in Seattle and around the world.” Over his lifetime, Allen gave more than $2 billion to efforts aimed at improving education, science, technology, conservation and communities. “Those fortunate to achieve great wealth should put it to work for the good of humanity,” Allen wrote several years ago, when he announced that he was giving the bulk of his fortune to charity. He said that pledge “reminds us all that our net worth is ultimately defined not by dollars but rather by how well we serve others.” Allen, who played guitar, built a gleaming pop culture museum in his hometown to showcase his love of rock n’ roll, and funded underwater expeditions that made important shipwreck discoveries, including a U.S. aircraft carrier lost during World War II. Yet in a sense, Allen also lived up to the moniker once bestowed on him by Wired Magazine: “The Accidental Zillionaire .” He was a programmer who coined Microsoft’s name and made important contributions to its early success, yet was overshadowed by his partner’s acerbic intellect and cutthroat business sense. At the company’s founding, for instance, Allen let Gates talk him into taking the short end of a 60-40 ownership split. A few years later, he settled for an even smaller share, 36 percent, at Gates’ insistence. Reflecting on that moment In his memoir, Allen concluded that he might have haggled more, but realized that “my heart wasn’t in it. So I agreed.” Allen was born in Seattle. After graduating from the city’s private Lakeside School, where he met Gates, Allen spent two years at Washington State University. The two friends both dropped out of college to pursue the future they envisioned: A world with a computer in every home. “There would be no Microsoft as we know it without Paul Allen,” said longtime technology analyst Rob Enderle, who also consulted for Allen. Allen and Gates founded Microsoft in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and their first product was a computer language for the Altair hobby-kit personal computer, giving hobbyists a basic way to program and operate the machine. After Gates and Allen found some success selling their programming language, MS-Basic, the Seattle natives moved their business in 1979 to Bellevue, Washington, not far from its eventual home in Redmond. Microsoft’s big break came in 1980, when IBM Corp. decided to move into personal computers and asked Microsoft to provide the operating system. Gates and Allen agreed, even though they didn’t have one to offer. To meet IBM’s needs, they spent $50,000 to buy an operating system called QDOS from another startup in Seattle — without, of course, letting on that they had IBM lined up as a customer. Eventually, the product refined by Microsoft became the core of IBM PCs and their clones, catapulting Microsoft into its dominant position in the PC industry. The first versions of two classic Microsoft products, Microsoft Word and the Windows operating system, were released in 1983. By 1991, Microsoft’s operating systems were used by 93 percent of the world’s personal computers. Allen served as Microsoft’s executive vice president of research and new product development until 1983, when he resigned after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. But Allen left Microsoft knowing he and Gates would be forever linked in the history of technology. “We were extraordinary partners,” Allen wrote. “Despite our differences, few co-founders had shared such a unified vision — maybe Hewlett and Packard and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but it was a short list.” After leaving Microsoft, Allen would remain interested in technology, especially the field of artificial intelligence, which recalled first piquing his interest while he was still a teenager after reading “I, Robot,” a science fiction book by Isaac Asimov. “From my youth, I’d never stopped thinking in the future tense,” Allen wrote in his 2011 memoir, “Idea Man.” With his sister Jody Allen in 1986, Allen founded Vulcan, which oversees his business and philanthropic efforts. He founded the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the aerospace firm Stratolaunch, which has built a colossal airplane designed to launch satellites into orbit. He has also backed research into nuclear-fusion power and scores of technology startups. Allen also funded maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately developed manned spacecraft to reach space. The SpaceShipOne technology was licensed by Sir Richard Branson for Virgin Galactic, which is testing a successor design to carry tourists on brief hops into lower regions of space. Yet Allen never came close to replicating Microsoft’s success. What he always seemed to lack, Enderle said, was another Bill Gates to help fulfill his visions. “He was a decent engineer who got the timing on an idea right once in his life, and it was a big one,” Enderle said. When Allen released his memoir, he allowed “60 Minutes” inside his home on Lake Washington, across the water from Seattle, revealing collections that ranged from the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock to vintage war planes and a 300-foot yacht with its own submarine. “My brother was a remarkable individual on every level,” his sister Jody Allen said in a statement. “Paul’s family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern,” she added. Paul Allen’s influence is firmly imprinted on the cultural landscape of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, from the bright metallic Museum of Pop Culture designed by architect Frank Gehry to the computer science center at the University of Washington that bears his name. In 1988 at 35, he bought the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team. He told The Associated Press that “for a true fan of the game, this is a dream come true.” He also was a part owner of the Seattle Sounders FC, a major league soccer team, and bought the Seattle Seahawks. Allen could sometimes be seen at games or chatting in the locker room with players.

    Why the World Should Be Alarmed at Hong Kong’s Expulsion of a Foreign Journalist

    Summary
    Shortly after Mao Zedong’s Communists triumphed over the Chinese Nationalist government in 1949, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), founded six years before in the southwestern city of Chongqing, decided it needed to relocate. It found a new home in a place that—boasting stability, the rule of law, and a guarantee of civil liberties—was very friendly to the international media: Hong Kong. Most China-based media bureaus soon followed suit. For almost the next seven decades, the FCC expanded, without interference, as an institution that facilitated the work of journalists from around the world in Asia’s financial center and bastion of press freedom. Until now. Earlier this month, Victor Mallet, a British national who serves as the *Financial Times *Asia news editor, was denied a renewal of his Hong Kong work visa without any explanation. As far as we are aware, this marks the first time that a member of the press has been expelled from the former British colony, whether before or after the territory’s handover to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. It tarnishes Hong Kong’s long-held reputation as a champion of freedom of expression. As the FCC’s acting president, Mallet chaired a talk on Aug. 14 by Andy Chan, founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP). The local government, acting on pressure from Beijing, was moving to dissolve the HKNP at the time, because Hong Kong separatism is a highly sensitive issue—identified by President Xi Jinping as a “red line” that must not be crossed. The Chinese Foreign Ministry attempted to persuade the FCC to cancel the event, but Mallet adamantly stood his ground. “Hosting such event does not mean that we at the FCC either endorse or oppose the views of our speakers,” he said in his opening remarks, arguing that it was the “professional responsibility” of journalists “to hear the views of different sides in any debate.” When pressed by reporters on Mallet’s dismissal, Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam stated that the local Immigration Department called the shots and did not discuss individual cases. She dismissed as “pure speculation” any link between Mallet’s expulsion and his chairing of Chan’s talk. But make no mistake: banishing Mallet is Beijing’s payback for precisely that. It is part of Xi Jinping’s ongoing crackdown on separatism, be it in Hong Kong, Tibet or the western region of Xinjiang, where up to a million Muslim Uighurs have been arbitrarily detained. That both Mallet and the *Financial Times *don’t support Hong Kong independence is deemed irrelevant. Jeremy Hunt, the British Foreign Secretary, rightly concluded that this was a “politically motivated” move and urged a reconsideration. Revoking a work visa is a common punishment Beijing imposes on journalists who have infuriated the regime by writing politically sensitive stories. The China bureau chief for Buzzfeed News, Megha Rajagopalan, was booted this summer following her award-winning coverage on the disturbing mass incarceration of Uighurs, in conditions similar to the 2015 ouster of Ursula Gauthier, a French reporter for *L’Obs*. Such a censorship tactic “has extended to Hong Kong,” Sen. Marco Rubio observed last week—with reference to Mallet—at a press conference to release the Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s 2018 report, which highlights the latest deterioration of Hong Kong’s press freedom. [image: HONG KONG-POLITICS-INDEPENDENCE] PAUL YEUNG—AFP/Getty Images In this photo taken on August 14, 2018, Victor Mallet, a Financial Times journalist and vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), speaks during a luncheon at the FCC in Hong Kong, during which Andy Chan, founder of the Hong Kong National Party, gave a talk. When Chris Buckley of the *New York Times* was forced out of Beijing back in 2012—in retaliation for the paper’s damning investigation into the wealth of top Chinese leaders—he and his family went south to Hong Kong. Likewise, having been removed from China four years ago, Buckley’s colleague (and former TIME writer) Austin Ramzy, is now based in Hong Kong. The former British colony has traditionally been a safe haven for journalists expelled from China, which makes it all the more ironic and depressing now that it’s beginning to expel journalists at the Chinese government’s behest. Mallet’s expulsion is thus a big deal, and comes at a time when headlines announce China’s increasing micromanagement of the territory’s affairs on an almost daily basis. On Sept. 24, a month after Chan had delivered his speech at the FCC, his party was officially outlawed on “national security” grounds. Last Wednesday, Chief Executive Lam unveiled in her annual policy address yet another tremendously unpopular Beijing-backed infrastructure enterprise: a 4,200-acre project to build artificial islands, at the whopping cost of $63 billion, that many feel is designed to blur the boundary between China and Hong Kong. Just two days later, on Oct. 12, the Lam administration barred Lau Siu-lai, a pro-democracy opposition politician, from standing in upcoming legislative by-elections. First elected in the summer of 2016, Lau, at her inauguration, read her oath of office extremely slowly as a gesture of protest at the unrepresentative nature of Hong Kong ‘s political system, becoming one of six lawmakers sacked for similar stunts. Now she can’t run to retake her own seat because she is an advocate of self-determination for Hong Kong, which the local government considers in contravention of the constitution that all Hong Kong lawmakers are pledged to uphold. The same argument was used in January to rule against the candidacy of Agnes Chow from our party, even though neither Chow nor Lau—much less Mallet—have ever been part of the independence movement. Every one of these recent instances that undermines autonomy in Hong Kong should alarm the global community, which has a responsibility to act. Hunt has already suggested that the Mallet case is a blatant violation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration—a binding international treaty that governed the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty—and the government of Theresa May ought to hold Beijing accountable for its actions. Likewise, the U.S. Congress would do well to consider the earliest possible passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would show the world that despite President Donald Trump’s isolationist, “America First” rhetoric, Washington is still committed to upholding universal values.

    Rembrandt’s Night Watch Will Be Restored in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum

    Summary
    (AMSTERDAM) — Rembrandt van Rijn’s Golden Age masterpiece The Night Watch is getting a makeover. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum announced Tuesday that it will restore its most famous painting, starting next year in a project that will be open to the public and viewable online. Rijksmusem General Director Taco Dibbits said that from July the huge Golden Age masterpiece will be encased in a specially built glass chamber as it first undergoes a thorough varnish-to-canvas examination using a precise microscope and other modern techniques. The findings will guide the subsequent restoration. “The restoration techniques we now have are so advanced that we will safeguard the painting for future generations,” he said. The painting is ready for a little TLC. The work, which last underwent a restoration 40 years ago, is starting to show blanching in parts of the canvas. “We want to understand what that change is so that we can restore it as well as possible,” Dibbits told reporters at a presentation of the planned restoration. The painting of a citizens’ militia completed in 1642 has suffered in the past. During the World War II Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, it was hidden along with other valuable artworks in a cave in the southern city of Maastricht. In 1975 a man slashed it with a knife, leaving 12 scars in the canvas, and in 1990 an attacker sprayed acid on the canvas damaging the varnish. It took restorers only a couple of weeks to repair the damage inflicted by the acid. Dibbits said the painting has been retouched many other times in the past and that the later additions are starting to fade. The next restoration should change all that. “I think it will look much better,” Dibbits said. “If you stand close to it, it will appear far more detailed. So it will be very special to see, but the restoration process itself will also be very special.” In the past, restorations have often been carried out behind closed doors, but museums now are starting to open up the process to the public. The Night Watch “belongs to us all,” Dibbits said. “That is why we have decided to conduct the restoration within the museum itself and everyone, wherever they are, will be able to follow the process online.” More than 2 million people each year visit the Rijksmuseum, which has the world’s largest collection of Rembrandt works. The Golden Age master is known for his innovative use of light and rebellious compositions. The restoration project comes in the year that marks the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death in 1669 and will be part of a “Year of Rembrandt” at the museum. Before its restoration, The Night Watch will be part of a major exhibition of all the Rembrandt works owned by the museum — 22 paintings, 60 drawings and 300 of his 1,300 prints.

    I’m a Muslim American and I Play the Hero in a TV Show. Here’s What My Experience Has Taught Me About How We Can Change Hollywood

    Summary
    Like most people, I remember where I was when the second plane smashed into the World Trade Center. I was in a sixth-grade Social Studies class in Unionville, Penn., surrounded by my classmates. Seventeen years later, I can vividly recall the images of the World Trade Center falling, just as vividly as I can recall another set of images aired shortly after: a group of villagers somewhere in the Middle East, rejoicing in the streets after the towers had collapsed. In the ensuing hours, news outlets juxtaposed these two moments, and my 11-year-old brain wrestled with how to process them. The finer points of that day are lost to memory, but the brushstrokes of confusion, fear and sadness remain — as well as the sound of my name over the school’s intercom; my cousins and I being whisked from campus, without knowing why or where we were going or how this would end; the distrusting looks from people who wondered if they needed to fear my family, or me. Especially since 9/11, we have been bombarded with countless images of Muslim terrorists in film and television. To the point where a head-wrapped, so-called “radical” terrorist may be the only type of “Muslim” the majority of Middle America thinks of when they consider someone who practices Islam. My 11-year-old self didn’t know that I wanted to be an actor — that I wanted to be on TV — so I couldn’t have conceived how the events of 9/11 would affect my career, altering and constraining the types of roles that I would be expected to play, if I were fortunate enough to be able to play anything at all. As a kid, I was just focused on playing a different role — that of the relatable, jocular, kind-hearted “model Muslim” to demonstrate to my primarily white community that not all Muslims were bad. I entered my teenage years with “Osama” jokes tossed around at my expense, but I brushed them aside. I was preoccupied with fitting in, being liked and making other people feel comfortable with my existence, rather than fearful of it. I started to love acting my freshman year of high school, during our production of *Seussical*. Laugh if you want, but watching the cast take their bows and seeing the warm standing ovation they received propelled me to try out for future musicals, including *Beauty and the Beast*. Those musicals liberated me. Because we started with a story in which anyone could find their role — be it a villain or, yes, a hero. I was never forced to perpetuate a stereotype as a child actor. But as I grew up and became a professional actor, I auditioned to play more terrorists than I can even recall. Actors simply want to work because “work begets work,” or so the saying goes. And so you chase jobs that might be unfulfilling at best or harmful at worst — harmful to the children who are like you once were — in order to open the door to your next job that will be, hopefully, more rewarding. It is through this process that society churns your pursuit of joy into widespread pain. You want to work. But if you do that particular kind of job well, you embolden the stereotypes and propel a negative narrative about your people. A narrative that you deeply resent, leaving you conflicted and sometimes angry at yourself, even though you have to do your job. You put yourself into a box and other actors who look like you into a box and, in the end, may further demonize and vilify the group of people who you hope to portray. I’ve found there is a better way, though, if enough people working in this industry are willing. To date, protagonists have been written as primarily white, straight, cisgender men, and so as a six-foot-five Arab American, the range of roles explicitly written for someone who fits my description is limited. This broken practice would of course be improved by having more diverse writers bringing more of these characters to life on the actual page, and from greater imagination and risk from talent reps, casting agents, directors, producers and studio and network executives to change their conception of what lead actors look like. But it will also benefit from a form of openness too often only afforded to that white male archetype — where a narrative exists but the protagonist’s profile is not finalized, where we simply start with a story. So often in TV, as series progress, writers adapt to their actors. But this should, and can, start from the beginning — because people of every background can be a hero. They say, “Luck is preparation meets opportunity” and so we often think that all we can do is prepare as best we can and wait for an opportunity to come to us — which I don’t disagree with. But we often forget that opportunities are not always something that will boldly present themselves to you; rather, they are often hidden in the blank spaces, in the loop holes. My manager was sent a script for a pilot where the character, referred to only as “OA” was not written as Arab American or Muslim, and its description did not include race or ethnicity. He knew they were looking for a Latino actor to play the role simply from the list of clients they expressed interest in. However, they did not specify that they only wanted to see Latino actors for the part — and that’s where he found an opportunity. He sent me the script; I put myself on tape and sent it in. It wasn’t until later — when I got a call back — that I found out my audition tape was completely unsolicited. Dick Wolf and the show’s entire creative team was in the room for my follow-up audition. We workshopped the material for almost an hour. They learned aspects of my personal background — that I was an Egyptian-born immigrant, that I spoke my home country’s dialect and that I spent my summers abroad in the Middle East during my childhood, as my extended family remained there. By the time I screen-tested for *FBI*, the character was no longer Latino and the initials OA had come to stand for Omar Adom. There were lines of Egyptian Arabic woven into the dialogue. There were references to pearls of wisdom imparted by a grandfather back in Egypt. Special Agent Omar Adom Zidan had come into being, born of what my personal existence had demonstrated was possible. And now he is real. Now he is on TV, fighting not just crime but, in effect, the stereotypes we too often see. And now all those 11-year-old kids across the world today who look like me can watch someone who looks like them, too.

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