‘Spelling the Dream’ lifts the lid on Indian-American success in US spelling bees

The documentary is directed by Sam Rega. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 June 2020

‘Spelling the Dream’ lifts the lid on Indian-American success in US spelling bees

  • Netflix doc only scratches surface of reasons behind dominance of cultural institution

LONDON: There’s an infectious enthusiasm about the four kids who star in “Spelling the Dream” — director Sam Rega’s Netflix documentary exploring the dominance of Indian-American contestants in US spelling bees. These children, gifted as they are, appear to simply love being part of the inimitable North American spelling bee culture: they thrive on the pressure of the performance and find the kind of stoic dignity in defeat that would put many adults to shame.




The documentary explores the dominance of Indian-American contestants in US spelling bees. (Supplied)

And it’s this unbridled joy for the rigorous, grueling competition that makes “Spelling the Dream” so engaging to watch — despite the fact that it rarely ventures deep into the societal and cultural context that has seen Indian-American kids play such a fundamental role in spelling bee history. Indeed, comedian Hari Kondabolu, who appears as a talking head in the film, likens these competitions to an Indian-American Super Bowl.




“Spelling the Dream” is on Netflix. (Supplied)

At times, it seems like Rega is about to delve further into that bigger picture. He traces generational paths of migrating families from the Indian subcontinent and their singular desire for their descendants to achieve intellectual greatness. He also touches on the (particularly pertinent) depressingly predictable racist responses from a minority of Americans to the dominance of Indian-American kids in what many US citizens consider to be a national institution. But Rega consistently pulls back just when things start to get heavy.

It’s a totally understandable move, particularly given that simply following the four stars yields such heartwarming footage — of their love for spelling and of the support proffered by their families. But the end result is a film that gives an enthralling glimpse into the culture of spelling bees, but that ends up feeling life affirming rather than revelatory.


Johnny Depp denies ‘wife-beater’ claim in London libel trial

Updated 07 July 2020

Johnny Depp denies ‘wife-beater’ claim in London libel trial

  • The high-profile case has laid bare Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s turbulent relationship, which ended in divorce in 2017
  • The couple first met on the set of the 2011 film ‘The Rum Diary’ and married in 2015

LONDON: Hollywood actor Johnny Depp strenuously denied being violent to his ex-wife Amber Heard, as he launched a libel claim in a London court on Tuesday against a British tabloid newspaper that called him a “wife-beater.”
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star, 57, is suing the publishers of The Sun and the author of the article for the claims, which were made in April 2018.
Depp, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and facemask, was met by a throng of cameras as he arrived at court while Heard, a 34-year-old actress, used a separate entrance.
The high-profile case has laid bare the couple’s turbulent relationship, which ended in divorce in 2017, just two years after they married.
But Depp said in a witness statement submitted to the court: “For the avoidance of any doubt, I have never abused Ms Heard, or, indeed any other woman, in my life.”
He said it was a “strong and central part” of his moral code that he would never hit a woman, having witnessed domestic violence growing up and vowed never to do so.
“I find it simply inconceivable and it would never happen,” he added.
“She (Heard) is a calculating, diagnosed borderline personality; she is sociopathic; she is a narcissist; and she is completely emotionally dishonest,” he went on.
“I am now convinced that she came into my life to take from me anything worth taking, and then destroy what remained of it.
The couple first met on the set of the 2011 film “The Rum Diary” and married in 2015.
News Group Newspapers (NGN) is contesting the case, and is relying for its defense on 14 separate claims of domestic violence said to have occurred between early 2013 and May 2016.
It argues Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive toward Ms Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” — and has evidence to prove it.
But Depp said it was the other way round, accusing Heard of violence against him during their “unhappy” time together.
In one alleged incident, he said she repeatedly punched him in the face, and in another severed his finger with a flying vodka bottle and stubbed out a cigarette on his cheek.
Heard has claimed she was physically assaulted over three days in Australia in early 2015 but Depp called the allegations “sick... and completely untrue.”
He rejected claims of being overbearing and instead said Heard had an “obsessive need” to control him, encouraging him to drink and take drugs, despite his well-known addiction issues.
Depp’s lawyers, in a written outline of his case to the court, also argued that although the couple’s relationship was at times “physical,” it was at Heard’s instigation.
Lawyer David Sherborne said his client on occasions had to defend himself from Heard’s violence, calling her allegations “complete lies.”
“He is not a wife-beater and never has been,” he said.
Heard was a “complex individual,” whose behavior was “extremely unpredictable,” with violent rages and prone to extreme mood swings, he added.
She sought attention, was provocative, had affairs, and was on a “wide range” of prescribed medication and other drugs.
Depp loved her but found her behavior “often bewildering” and “very difficult” to understand or deal with, he added.
Depp was the first witness called in the case and under cross-examination admitted using drugs and alcohol from a young age to “numb the pain” of a difficult childhood.
But he rejected suggestions from NGN lawyer Sasha Wass he had a “nasty side,” that saw him turn into a “monster” who would lose control, smash up hotel rooms and assault photographers.
“It wasn’t Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde,” he insisted.
The Sun story — “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beast film?” — came after he had already publicly denied domestic violence.
Depp said he had suffered “significant reputational damage” as a result, both in terms of his career and personally.
The High Court trial is due to last three weeks.