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Shine a spotlight on #MeToo or stick to the movies?

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In the lead-up to the Academy Awards, Hollywood has been consumed with the ripple effects of #MeToo, the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, the rise of the “Time’s Up” movement, debates over pay inequities, speculation about Oprah’s political future, and at least one plagiarism lawsuit.

You would be forgiven for forgetting about the movies themselves.

“There’s a heightened political awareness and social volatility going on around us at the moment,” said Nell Minnow, a film critic and corporate governance expert. “The Oscars might be a reflection of that.”

The producers of this year’s ceremony have said they want to keep the focus on the films, as well as their makers and stars. But like the Golden Globes and other recent awards shows, the Oscars could turn into a real-time referendum on an industry in the throes of seismic cultural change.

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Viewers at home could be treated to fiery speeches about sexual misconduct, workplace abuses and gender inequality — not to mention swipes at President Donald Trump from the host, Jimmy Kimmel.

Even the red carpet pre-show, once a light-hearted ritual, could carry unusual weight. Ryan Seacrest, the host of E!’s pre-Oscars countdown, faces allegations of sexual misconduct. And stars could use their moment at the microphone to rail against industry inequalities, like Debra Messing did before the Globes.

“Artists and people across the industry realize that there’s an onus on them to say something to address the moment,” said Wendy Shanker, a writer who pens speeches for awards shows and charity events.

“It’s not quite enough anymore to show up and say, ‘Thank you,'” Shanker said. “You have a national spotlight on you.”

It’s anyone’s ballgame

There’s another reason why the run-up to the Oscars may have felt chaotic, according to analysts: The best picture race is unusually wide-open, a crapshoot with no clear front-runner.

A pair of critical favorites that once looked like sure bets have been dogged in recent weeks by mounting criticism, potentially dooming their chances.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a dark comedy about a grief-stricken mother’s quest for revenge, scooped up prizes at guilds’ and critics’ choice awards, including the Globes. But some of that momentum was blunted amid a backlash over the movie’s racial politics.

 “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Shape of Water” have been the subject of controversy in recent weeks. Merrick Morton / Kerry Hayes / Twentieth Century Fox Film

“The Shape of Water,” a whimsical drama about a mute janitor who falls for a mutant fish-man, picked up a near-record 13 Oscar nominations and appeared to be a consensus favorite. But it came under scrutiny after a late playwright’s estate accused the filmmakers of ripping off a 1969 play.

The wave of bad press about both projects could clear the way for a dark horse winner like the satirical horror smash “Get Out,” the comedy-of-age comedy “Lady Bird” or the intense World War II epic “Dunkirk.”

“There is no one film that the academy has coalesced around,” Matthew Belloni, editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, told NBC News. “Typically, people talk and the momentum gets behind one or two movies, and it becomes a showdown.”

But this year, “there are five movies that legitimately could win best picture, and each have their backers,” Belloni said.

The academy’s changing face

In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, a social media movement that sprang up when no black, Latino or Asian-American actors were nominated in the four main acting categories in 2015 and 2016, the academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, spearheaded a push for more diverse membership.

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This year, those efforts appear to have started to pay off, according to analysts.

Jordan Peele, the writer and director of “Get Out,” became the fifth black filmmaker to be nominated for best director — and only the third to direct a best picture nominee. Greta Gerwig, the writer and director of the semi-autobiographical “Lady Bird,” became only the fifth woman to receive a best director nomination.

 Lucas Hedges and Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird.” Merie Wallace / Courtesy of A24

The Oscar voting pool now includes a greater number of young people, a fact that could help explain why traditional “Oscar bait” skewed to older viewers — like the Winston Churchill biopic “Darkest Hour” and the Pentagon Papers docudrama “The Post” — are seen as marginal contenders heading into Sunday night.

“This has been the biggest demographic change in the make-up of the academy ever,” said Minnow, the film critic. “All the sudden, you don’t have this voting bloc of older white men.”

But for all the commotion surrounding the Oscars and the uncertainty in the best picture category, most of the other top prizes appear to be foregone conclusions.

Frances McDormand (best actress, “Three Billboards”), Gary Oldman (best actor, “Darkest Hour”), Allison Janney (best supporting actress, “I, Tonya”) and Sam Rockwell (best supporting actor, “Three Billboards”) are widely viewed as locks in the acting categories, according to pundits.

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Joe Biden-Vladimir Putin summit: Leaders agree to return ambassadors to posts in bid to lower tensions | World News

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Russia’s Vladimir Putin says he and US President Joe Biden have agreed to return their ambassadors to their respective posts in an attempt to lower tensions.

It comes after around four hours of talks between the leaders at a summit in Switzerland.

The two men have had face-to-face discussions at a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The first round of talks involved both leaders, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a pair of translators.

A second session involved other senior officials on both sides.

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Putin and Biden meet in Geneva

President Biden gave a thumbs up as he left the villa and then entered his limousine, TV footage showed.

Diplomats deemed it to be too risky for them to appear together because of the potential of an embarrassing public spat in response to media questions.

Opening the talks earlier, Mr Putin said he hoped for a “productive” meeting, while Mr Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and insisted “it is always better to meet face to face”.

As they appeared together for the first time since 2011, both men appeared to avoid looking directly at the other during a brief and chaotic photocall before jostling reporters and photographers.

Mr Biden instigated the summit, and for months the two leaders have criticised each other.

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Biden: Putin is a worthy adversary

Mr Biden has repeatedly called out Mr Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on US interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and alleged interference in American elections.

Mr Putin, in turn, has pointed to the US Capitol riot on 6 January to argue America has no business lecturing on democratic norms.

And he insisted the Russian government has not been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite US intelligence showing otherwise.

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Russia’s View: Exclusive interview with Putin

The jailing of Mr Navalny, whose novichok poisoning was blamed on the Kremlin, was a subject on which Mr Biden was unlikely to get much traction with Mr Putin who considers the case an internal Russian affair.

But there were areas where cooperation was expected. They include arms control, climate change, containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, humanitarian assistance to Syrians and working together on the COVID-19 pandemic.

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US-Russia summit: Putin hopes for ‘productive’ meeting and Biden says it is ‘better to meet face to face’ as event gets under way | World News

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US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have embarked on hours of face-to-face talks at a lakeside mansion in Switzerland.

Opening the talks, Mr Putin said he hoped for a “productive” meeting, as Mr Biden insisted “it is always better to meet face to face”.

Their encounter at a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva is full of the potential for high drama but low on expectations for diplomatic breakthroughs.

Biden and Putin
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Biden and Putin

As they appeared together for the first time since 2011, both men appeared to avoid looking directly at the other during a brief and chaotic photocall before jostling reporters and photographers.

When a reporter asked if Mr Putin could be trusted, Mr Biden appeared to nod, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting the president was “very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally”.

Mr Putin ignored shouted questions from reporters.

The two leaders shook hands with Mr Biden extending his hand first.

Shortly before, Mr Biden had smiled at the Russian leader when they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit.

The meeting, which is expected to last four or five hours in total, comes at the end of Mr Biden’s first foreign trip as US president which has taken him to Cornwall for the G7 meeting and Brussels for separate NATO and EU summits.

About two hours in, the Kremlin announced that the first round of talks had concluded, with a short break, followed by their resumption with a larger group of people in attendance – the first of two such rounds.

The first meeting involved the two leaders, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a pair of translators.

At all of these meetings, messages have been moulded and red lines set by western leaders which sources say Mr Biden will spell out to Mr Putin.

Ukraine, Belarus, Iran, Syria and issues like arms proliferation are all expected to be discussed as well as behaviour by Russia which western nations consider to be contrary to the so-called international rules based system.

The fate of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, poisoned then imprisoned in Russia, will be raised by the American president. It is a subject on which he is unlikely to get much traction with his Russian counterpart who considers the case an internal Russian affair.

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Russia’s View: Exclusive interview with Putin

But domestically for Mr Biden, who is facing criticism for agreeing to a meeting with Mr Putin so early in his presidency, it’s important to be seen to be pressuring the Russians.

The US president, who famously called Mr Putin “a killer” has conceded already that there is “no guarantee” that the meeting will effect any change of behaviour by the Russian president.

As well as the Navalny case, the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018 is likely to feature in the talks.

Defence rivalry will be a key issue with an attempt at a new dialogue on arms control. Issues like the territorial control in the Arctic, space, cyber and autonomous weapons systems could all be up for discussion.

Andrey Kortunov is director general of the Russian International Affairs Council and considered to be a Kremlin insider.

He told Sky News: “They will not resolve these issues in Geneva, they might only authorise their respective bureaucrats and military and diplomats to get into a serious conversation on all of these issues. That would be already a major accomplishment.”

Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with then vice president Joe Biden in Moscow in 2011
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Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with then vice president Joe Biden in Moscow in 2011

He continued: “I think that Biden and Putin will probably articulate their positions on issues like Ukraine or Belarus too. But it’s hard to believe that they can achieve a breakthrough on such sensitive issues.”

Expectations by diplomats on both sides are being kept intentionally low. From that base it’s possible to build up even small wins as diplomatic breakthroughs.

There is a chance that the two leaders could agree to repair the basic mechanics of their bilateral relationship by reinstalling ambassadors in their respective capitals. But beyond that sort of gesture, bigger announcements are not likely.

On Monday, Mr Biden said he will make clear to Putin “what the red lines are” and “if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond in kind.”

Asked for his assessment of the former KGB officer, Mr Biden said: “He’s bright, he’s tough, and I have found that he is a – as they say when I used to play ball – a worthy adversary.”

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Biden: Putin is a worthy adversary

The meeting, which was initiated by President Biden, has been arranged over just a few weeks and will involve one-plus-one talks with Mr Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Mr Biden and his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

A second session will then include other senior officials on both sides.

The two leaders will not hold a joint news conference. Diplomats deem it to be too risky for them to appear together because of the potential of an embarrassing public spat in response to media questions.

“Definitely the summit was prepared in a haste. It’s the very beginning (of the relationship). And it’s going to be a modest beginning especially for Biden. He cannot look as if he yielded too much to the Russian counterpart,” Mr Kortunov told Sky News.

There are areas where cooperation is expected. They include arms control, climate change, containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, humanitarian assistance to Syrians and working together on the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Nora Quoirin: Malaysia court overturns coroner’s verdict that teen’s death was misadventure | UK News

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A High Court in Malaysia has overturned a coroner’s verdict that the death of French-Irish teenager, Nora Quoirin, was likely misadventure with no one else involved.

The 15-year-old, who lived in Balham, in southwest London, was staying with her family at a hotel around an hour from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, when she disappeared in August 2019.

After a ten-day search, her body was discovered around 2.5 kilometres from where she was last seen at the Dusun eco-resort in southern Negeri Sembilan.

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A coroner in Malaysia ruled in January that the death of British teenager Nora Quoirin was most likely a misadventure.

Meabh Quoirin said her daughter was born with holoprosencephaly, a disorder that affects brain development leaving Nora with learning and physical disabilities.

During a short virtual hearing, Judge Azizul Azmi Adnan laid out the reasons for revising the judgement and returning an open verdict.

In particular, he highlighted Nora’s struggles with balance and coordination, the steep terrain around the resort, which was challenging for people without her physical disabilities, and her shy personality which made her “unadventurous” and “uncomfortable with the unfamiliar”.

“Having reviewed the material, that was before the court, I am of the view that the verdict of misadventure ought to be vacated in the interests of justice and substituted with an open verdict, as there was no credible evidence to support any other verdict,” he explained to Nora’s listening parents.

“I am willing to accept that on the evidence before the court the possibility for third party involvement was lower than the possibility that Nora Anne had inadvertently got herself into a situation from which she could not extricate herself.

“That does not mean, however, that I should enter a verdict of misadventure,” he added.

The ruling is a legal victory for the family who believe Nora may have been abducted and challenged the coroner’s decision.

Police have always suggested there was no evidence of foul play, claiming she likely climbed out of a window and wandered off into the jungle alone.

Her family has dismissed this saying that Nora would not have been physically able to disappear into thick forest unaided and evade detection during the intensive search involving drones and sniffer dogs.

Nora’s parents said they were “utterly disappointed” by a coroner’s verdict in January.

They have suggested her body may have been placed in the area where it was finally found.

Legal representatives for the family previously said an open verdict would be “appropriate”.

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