116 years after Oscar Wilde's death, the prison that housed him opens its doors.

Reading prison is one of the most notorious jails in the world.

Located in Berkshire, England, it was built in 1844 and housed inmates and young offenders all the way until 2013, when it finally closed.

Reading Gaol circa 1850. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.


On Sunday, September 4, Reading prison will open its doors to the public to pay tribute to one of its most famous inmates: Oscar Wilde.

Wilde was a writer in the 19th century and is one of the most important voices in literary history. Known for his plays, essays, poems, and novels, such as "The Portrait of Dorian Gray," Wilde also lectured in the United States and Canada and worked as a journalist in London.

He also bears an uncanny resemblance to the great Stephen Fry, who portrayed the late-author in a 1997 biopic. Photo by W. & D. Downey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

In 1895 Wilde wrote "The Importance of Being Earnest," which many consider his masterpiece.

Shortly after, at the height of his fame, a series of libel accusations between Wilde and Scottish nobleman John Douglas revealed that Wilde had been engaged in romantic relationships with men. And one of those men just happened to be John Douglas' son.

Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Wilde was charged with "gross indecency" and months later ended up in Reading prison, where he spent two years in cell C.3.3.

His time there changed him forever. His final piece of writing was "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" — a haunting poem about an execution he witnessed while serving his prison sentence. Once a prolific and energetic author, Wilde spent his final years in exile, writing only sparingly.

A few short years after being released from Reading, he died in 1900 at the age of 46.

116 years after Wilde's death, Reading prison will host an artistic tribute to him called "Inside."

Photo by Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images.

It's a one-of-a-kind art exhibition that will feature works from artists like Steve McQueen, Ai Weiwei, and others.

"The Winter" by Steve McQueen. Photo by Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images.

Visual pieces will be on display in the prison cells, and every Sunday, there will be a guest reading of "De Profundis" — the 50,000-word letter that Oscar Wilde wrote to his lover while imprisoned.

Ben Wishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Maxine Peake, and Patti Smith have all signed on to read the letter, which takes over four hours.

Wilde certainly wasn't the only person of his era to be punished by anti-homosexual laws.

In fact, the "indecency" law that put Wilde in prison remained in effect until 1967. It was the same law that sentenced Alan Turing to chemical castration in 1952 — not to mention the thousands of others history has forgotten.

"The Boy" by Nan Goldin. Photo by Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images.

"Inside" will be as much about remembering the life and career of Oscar Wilde as it will be about acknowledging the events that led to his decline and death.

Just like Turing, Wilde made incredible contributions to culture that still move us and affect us today. Yet, he died in a world that disgraced him for who he loved and who he was.

The door of Cell C.3.3, where Oscar Wilde was held. Photo by Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images.

The exhibition will run for two months.

Even if you can't attend in person, it's worth remembering this piece of history. It's what allows us to keep moving further and further away from it, into a future where people are celebrated and accepted for who they love, not punished for it.

Most Shared

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

Culture

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Wikipedia

Women in country music are fighting to be heard. Literally. A study found that between 2000 and 2018, the amount of country songs on the radio by women had fallen by 66%. In 2018, just 11.3% of country songs on the radio were by women. The statistics don't exist in a vacuum. There are misogynistic attitudes behind them. Anyone remember the time radio consultant Keith Hill compared country radio stations to a salad, saying male artists are the lettuce and women are "the tomatoes of our salad"...? Air play of female country artists fell from 19% of songs on the radio to 10.4% of songs on the radio in the three years after he said that.

Not everyone thinks that women are tomatoes. This year's CMA Awards celebrated women, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles saw the opportunity to bring awareness to this issue and "inspire conversation about country music's need to play more women artists on radio and play listings," as Nettles put it on her Instagram. She did it in a uniquely feminine way – by making a fashion statement that also made a statement-statement.

Keep Reading Show less
popular