“500 & 5” at the Spurlock Museum


Autorickshaws. Curry. Hijra. Tamil. Bindis. And rupees. Guess that country.

If you guessed India, you were right. This is the country that “500 & 5” highlighted at the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library’s screening on Sunday, December 14th at the Spurlock Museum, organized by South Asian Studies Librarian Mara Thacker. Wanting to take advantage of one of the film creator’s presence in Urbana-Champaign, 40 people gathered to view the Tamil-language piece, which was followed by a question and answer session with Kousalya Jeganathan.

“500 & 5” tells the tale of a 500 rupee note of Indian currency that travels through the hands of five different people in South India. While only valued at about $8 US, the bill’s impact is immeasurable in deciding the fates of many, including those of a gangster, a chauffeur and a woman suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. Filmed in modern-day India, the piece evokes a variety of themes like organized crime, divorce and the illicit use of narcotics. The theme connecting the various stories is the overwhelming influence of money in a variety of social situations. While the rupees solve no problems in the film, they certainly increase the tensions in relationships based on authority and subservience.

The film has had some difficulty finding distribution, Jeganathan mentioned in the talkback afterwards. Some of the tropes reject the conventions of the traditional feature film. For example, the film is split into five shorts as opposed to films with one major story line. Women are featured as prominent characters and are not merely the object of amorous pursuits as is a pattern in many parts of the world, including the East and the West. And, more than anything else, the film is explicitly anti-consumerist and anti-capitalistic, frequently criticizing the power that money represents. Distributors have therefore been reluctant to risk supporting a film they are unsure will succeed at the box office.

The audience’s response to the film was inquisitive and its questions revealed some unique details about the film making process. In order to dedicate themselves fully to the task, Jenganthan and other “500 & 5” creators quit their jobs, truly manifesting the idea that provoking thought was a higher priority than monetary gain. Certain scenes were filmed in Jeganathan’s home. Many of the actors came from a theater background, and the role of the hijra character opened new discussions of a third gender that is widely accepted in Indian culture. Jeganathan shared that envisioning a moneyless culture was new and challenging for many audiences, but was perhaps still a worthy exercise, even if momentary and fleeting.

Calmly accepting the fate of the film, Jeganathan stated that “whenever the universe wants it, it will come out.” “500 & 5” is recommended to audiences interested in the cinematic representation of South Asia. It offers a visually rich tapestry of several socioeconomic classes of Indian society, from the very poor and illiterate to the exaggeratedly rich figures of the entertainment industry. For more information on the film, visit accessiblehorizonfilms.com and be on the lookout for more events from the International and Area Studies Library by liking our Facebook page.

Winter Break: Reader’s Advisory

Finals week is among us and we’re all rushing to get everything done. Fret not. Winter break is almost here, and like most people, we’ll spend a lot of our time in front of our laptop, browsing through movies and shows on Netflix. However, you might have to reconsider that. How about snuggling with a good book and some hot cocoa? Here are some books that are sure to keep you entertained this winter break.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror by Dan Simmons

“The Terror” by Dan Simmons is a fictional  story about the 1845 Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The men find themselves cold and starving as their ship gets trapped in the ice. Soon, mutiny arises and they find that someone…or something is killing them off one by one. This book is perfect for reading on a snowy night.


The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder is a children’s book, but hey, no reason why you can’t take a stroll down memory lane. As the town is covered in a blizzard, contact from the outside is very limited. Almanzo Wilder and his friends decide to make a risky journey to the prairies to try and find some wheat. Follow them on their adventure!


The Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe” by Edgar Allan Poe is the perfect set of stories to read aloud to your friends and family, or yourself. Classics like “The Raven” or “The Fall of the House of Usher” are sure to raise the hairs on your arms. After reading a couple of stories, you’ll probably want to keep your hallway light on, just in case.


A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

“A Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin. Winter is coming….I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the ever popular show on HBO, “Game of Thrones”. Yes, based on the this very book. What better way to spend your winter than by imagining another world where war, romance, and the battle for the throne is happening right at your fingertips.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. A classic book and a great read, especially on Christmas Day. In this story, a grumpy old man receives a visit from 3 ghosts to look at his past and his future. With these visits, old Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas.

Hopefully these books will last you through the winter, but if not, there’s always more at the library!


Portuguese and Other World Languages by the Numbers


“Proportion of U.S. undergraduates studying the Top 20 spoken languages compared to speakers worldwide.” Source: Student Language Exchange. (Click to enlarge)

The above infographic is highly informative: Given the amount of individuals who actually speak a living language, the number of U.S. students currently studying those languages may be completely disproportionate. Clearly this is the case of French, which, for historical and geographic reasons, has been Americans’ and other native Anglophones’ foreign language of choice par excellence (no pun intended) for centuries. But, in reality, only about 1.07% of the world’s population speaks French as a first language (Ethnologue 2014).

Especially in the case of the United States, Spanish also makes logical geopolitical sense to study and master. However, with 414,170,030 speakers worldwide (as opposed to French’s “only” approximately 75 million (Ibid.)), the prevalence of Spanish-language students makes more sense numerically. Still, statistics like those provided by the Student Language Exchange show that U.S. universities are neglecting huge populations and markets by only focusing on the old standbys.

Portuguese is one such example. While Portuguese has certainly been an important world language throughout the last 500 years, many Americans and English speakers in general may not have considered it as a worthy focus of their attention. Until now.

In a recent interview, Edleise Mendes, President of the Sociedade Internacional de Português Língua Estrangeira (SIPLE, the International Society of Portuguese as a Foreign Language), reports that, in the last ten years, interest in studying Portuguese as a foreign language throughout the world has tripled (Neves 2014). She notes that rising interest in China and the United States reflects a worldwide reawakening to the practicality of studying this language.

Of course, one would be quite remiss in omitting the vast influence that Brazil has had in swaying this surge in interest. In fact, and staying within this article’s parameters of “language by the numbers,” approximately 95% of worldwide Portuguese speakers (of a total approaching 210 million) live in Brazil (Ethnologue and CIA World Factbook 2014).

An enormous nation (the sixth most populous in the world) comparable in both territorial and population size to the United States, Brazil’s diversified economy has grown to the point that its is now primed to be one of the leading markets of the 21st century: “Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, it is today South America’s leading economic power and a regional leader, one of the first in the area to begin an economic recovery” (Ibid.). What’s more, Brazil’s image as a fun-loving, culturally rich patchwork nation of many nuances is a huge part of its worldwide appeal.

For more information regarding how you can study the Portuguese language and all of its many “ports of call” at the University of Illinois (and beyond), check out this LibGuide. The Latin American and Caribbean Studies Collection at the University Library is also a fantastic starting point and resource, along with the reference collection at the International and Area Studies Library.

Map of nations where Portuguese is an official language.


_____. (2014). “Brazil.” CIA World Factbook. Web. Accessed 11 December 2014. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/br.html

_____. (2014). “French.” Ethnologue. Web. Accessed 10 December 2014. http://www.ethnologue.com/language/fra

_____. (2014). “Portuguese.” Ethnologue. Web. Accessed 11 December 2014. http://www.ethnologue.com/language/por

_____. (2014). “Spanish.” Ethnologue. Web. Accessed 11 December 2014. http://www.ethnologue.com/language/spa

Neves, Patrícia. (2014). “Português gera interesse mundial ‘nunca visto’.” Plataforma Macau. Web. Accessed 11 December 2014. http://www.plataformamacau.com/macau/portugues-gera-interesse-mundial-nunca-visto/


Poets of Protest: Bridging Hip-Hop and Poetry From America’s Urban Streets to the Arab street


Omar Offendum and Alonso at FLOW in Amman, Jordan (12/17/2010).

Omar Offendum is a Syrian-American artist who has worked with various international hip-hop artists and has also been featured on many news outlets such as Aljazeera and PBS, to name a few. Offendum has also given speeches at academic institutions and has also worked to raise funds for non-profit organizations and raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. His concern for the future of the Middle East and humanity are also conveyed through his lyrics that carry a poetical message of hope, unity, and peace. As an artist, he also connects the American youth culture of hip-hop and incorporates Middle Eastern influences that invoke the similarities shared by both cultures through poetry and hip-hop.

Aljazeera broadcasted a series called Poets of Protest in 2012 about the lives, creative processes, and political events that have informed the content of the poetry of Arab and North African poets. The purpose of this show is to highlight the role of poetry in politics and the desire for a democratic reformation of foreign governments by its citizens. In this series, Aljazeera includes the stories of the poets Al Khadra, Ahmed Fouad Negm, Hala Mohammad, Yehia Jaber, Manal Al Sheikh, and Mazen Maarouf. Each poet represents a different country–Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and Algeria –and offers a unique perspective of their role in Middle Eastern and North African society. This series was also the inspiration to the release of a free musical and poetical mix called “Offendum X Poets of Protest (Oo vs PP).” The collaborative project was produced by Omar Offendum and Filipino-American DJ Boo, who combined hip-hop instrumentals and samples of four poets from the series.

The importance of this mix is to combine the elements that people enjoy while listening to hip-hop, rhyme and music, and to enable the listener to connect with the poets’ stories and experiences. These two mediums of artistic expression are powerful because of their potential to inspire action and social change. Towards the end of the mix “Offendum X Poets of Protest”, Omar Offendum also offers an explanation of the historical significance of hip-hop and its relationship to Arab culture:

“hip-hop music . . . has really been about speaking to the issues that people are afraid to talk about, whether that’s here in the United States or talking about the political issues that plague the Middle East. Rap is a very direct way of doing that. Rap is a youth culture that has made its way around the globe, so it’s very powerful and it’s poetry at the end of the day . . . and that’ s something that the Arab culture can definitely associate itself with.”

While both forms of artistic creation and communication can be produced to entertain, they also have the capability to raise social awareness. Offendum and DJ Boo also elaborate on this idea by sharing this free soundscape, “Offendum X Poets of Protest (Oo vs PP),”in order to showcase the power that hip-hop and poetry have to unite, organize, inspire, and educate.

You are welcomed to listen and download Offendum and DJ Boo’s project “Offendum X Poets of Protest” for free by clicking on the link below:


To view the stories of 2 poets mentioned in this blog post, click on the link following the poet’s name:

To read the article and more on the poets from the series Artscape –Poets of Protest, go here: