Month: April 2017

John Legend Named 1st Recipient of New Social Justice Award

John Legend is expected on a Massachusetts college campus this week to receive a social justice award.

 

The singer-songwriter becomes the first recipient of the Salem Advocate for Social Justice award when he accepts the honor Tuesday at Salem State University.

 

Legend is to perform and also discuss his work on criminal justice, education and other issues.

 

The Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice bestows the award to recognize those who champion social justice issues and advocate for people who are underrepresented.

 

This is the first year the award will be given.

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Guy in Gorilla Costume Finishes London Marathon After 6 Days

An English policeman wearing a gorilla costume while crawling the London Marathon has finally finished the race, almost a week after starting.

 

Metropolitan Police officer Tom Harrison, who goes by the name “Mr. Gorilla,” raised a reported 26,000 pounds ($33,650) for the Gorilla Organization, which is dedicated to conserving gorillas in countries including Rwanda and Uganda.

 

The 41-year-old Londoner started the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) route last Sunday and crossed the finish line on Saturday.

Harrison slept at friends’ houses in the evenings after completing around 10 to 12 hours and 4.5 miles per day. He has swapped between crawling on his hands and knees and up on his hands and feet to save his blistered knees.

He crossed the finish line in central London flanked by his two sons – and beating his chest.

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VOA Observes Jazz Appreciation Month

April 30 is International Jazz Day, with events and concerts being held throughout the world. It also marks the end of Jazz Appreciation Month in the United States. Sponsored by the National Museum of American History, it’s designed to stimulate and encourage people to participate, study and listen to a genre of music that is uniquely American. Jazz has a storied place in Voice of America’s 75-year history. For 40 years, millions of people worldwide listened to VOA’s Jazz Hour with Willis Conover. During the Cold War, Conover’s programs created a connection to the United States for millions of people living behind the Iron Curtain. Earlier this past week, Voice of America hosted The Frankie Addison Quintet to mark Jazz Appreciation Month and VOA’s part in keeping the free form music genre alive. Enjoy the music.

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Iranian Filmmaker Jailed Over His Work Released Early

An award-winning Iranian filmmaker imprisoned over his work has been released after serving about five months of his yearlong sentence, though he doesn’t know whether he’ll make movies again in the Islamic Republic.

 

Keywan Karimi told The Associated Press on Sunday that he credited international pressure for his early release, as well as escaping the 223 lashes that were part of his sentence. Others, however, remain imprisoned in the Islamic Republic as part of a hard-line crackdown amid President Hassan Rouhani’s outreach to the wider world through the nuclear deal.

 

Karimi said in an interview over Skype that he served his sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison, which holds political prisoners and dual nationals detained by the security services. He described spending his first month in solitary confinement, a place he described as “very dirty, very cold.”

 

He said he suffered pain in his stomach and leg, but ultimately recovered. He later was put into the general prison population, sharing a room with 20 other prisoners.

 

“You’re far away from freedom, far away from something you love,” Karimi said.

 

Karimi was convicted of “insulting sanctities” in Iran, whose government is ultimately overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The case involved footage from both a “video clip” and a film he directed called “Writing on the City,” which focuses on political graffiti in Iran from its 1979 Islamic Revolution to its contested 2009 election.

 

Karimi is perhaps best known by international film critics for his 2013 black-and-white minimalist film, “The Adventure of the Married Couple.” The short film, based on a story by Italian writer Italo Calvino, follows the grinding routine of a husband and wife working opposite shifts, she in a bottle factory and he at a mannequin store. Neither speaks, the only noise is the hum of the city they live in.

 

The film played in some 40 film festivals and won prizes in Spain and Colombia.

 

Karimi is one of several artists, poets, journalists, models and activists arrested in a crackdown on expression led by hard-liners who oppose Rouhani. His release comes ahead of Iran’s May presidential election, in which Rouhani is seeking re-election.

 

For now, Karimi said he was grateful to be out of prison, though he felt alienated from Iran and its people.

 

“I want to continue filmmaking, but I don’t know how and in which country,” Karimi said.

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Refugees Turn Skills From Home into New Business

Once they acclimate to their new environment, overcoming language, social and cultural barriers, refugees in the U.S. often thrive. Some translate their experiences into assets that are valuable to their new community, as did Parvin and Yadollah Jamalreza. VOA’s June Soh visited their popular tailoring shop in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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‘The Godfather’ at 45: The Trials, Inspiration Behind the Film

Al Pacino was considered too short, Marlon Brando was required to do a screen test, and director Francis Ford Coppola was almost fired.

The director and cast of The Godfather reminisced Saturday in a 45th anniversary reunion in New York about the trials, perseverance and inspiration that resulted in the Oscar-winning Mafia movies.

Coppola, Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Talia Shire and Robert Duvall watched back-to-back screenings of The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) along with an audience of 6,000 on the closing night of the Tribeca film festival.

“I haven’t seen these movies for years,” Coppola said. “I found (watching) a very emotional experience. I forgot a lot about the making of it and thought about the story, and the story used a lot of family and my personal stuff.”

Brando too difficult

The two films won nine Oscars and their tale of how an orphan from Sicily emigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century and formed the Corleone crime family became movie classics.

But the film had a less than auspicious start. Coppola recalled that Hollywood studio Paramount wanted to set the movie in the 1970s and make something “cheap and quick.”

Coppola was almost fired several times and met stiff resistance to the casting of Pacino as Michael Corleone and Brando as the titular Godfather.

Brando, who died in 2004, had made several box-office flops after a stellar career in the 1950s and had a reputation for being difficult.

“I was told (by studio executives) that having Brando in the film would make it less commercial than having a total unknown,” Coppola said.

The studio later agreed “if Marlon will do a screen test and do it for nothing and put up a $1 million bond that he wouldn’t cause trouble during the production.”

Brando created the rasping voice, jowly cheeks and oiled hair for Corleone in the screen test. Yet three weeks into shooting, there was more trouble.

“They (the studio) hated Brando. They thought he mumbled and they hated the film. … It was very dark,” Coppola said. Brando went on to win an Oscar for his performance.

Pacino too short

Newcomer Pacino had to screen test “countless times” for the role of Michael, the college-educated son who takes charge of the Corleone business of casinos, gambling and racketeering.

Studio bosses though he was too short and wanted to cast Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal.

Yet Coppola persevered because “every time I read the script, I always saw his (Pacino’s) face, especially in the scenes in Sicily.”

Pacino said he originally wanted the part of the hot-headed son, Sonny, and thought Coppola “was really nuts” about wanting him to play Michael.

“I thought this is either a dream or a joke … and then started the whole trial of them not wanting me and Francis wanting me,” Pacino recalled. The film launched his career as one of the most honored actors of his generation.

Then some luck

Luck played a part in the creation of some of the most memorable scenes in the two films. The revelation by Corleone’s wife Kay (Keaton) that she had aborted their baby because of horror over her husband’s criminal activities was suggested by Talia Shire (Connie).

And the cat Brando cradles in the opening scene of “The Godfather,” making for a stark contrast with his intimidating presence, was a last-minute addition.

“I put that cat in his hands. It was the studio cat. It was one take,” Coppola said. 

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Growth Slows in April in China’s Manufacturing Sector

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector slowed in April, official data showed Sunday, pointing to an unsteady recovery in the world’s second-largest economy. 

 

The monthly purchasing managers’ index by the Chinese Federation of Logistics and Purchasing fell to 51.2 in April, lower than the 51.8 recorded in March. 

 

The index is based on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 indicate expansion.

 

National Bureau of Statistics statistician Zhao Qinghe said in the release that April’s figure was affected by sluggish growth in market demand and supply, and slower expansion in imports and exports.

 

April’s index still represented a ninth consecutive month of expansion. 

 

China saw its slowest growth in nearly three decades in 2016. China’s huge manufacturing sector is seen as an important indicator for the wider Chinese economy. It has cooled gradually over the past six years as Beijing tries to pivot it away from heavy reliance on export-based manufacturing and investment toward consumer spending.

 

The official full-year economic growth target for 2017 is 6.5 percent. 

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White House Press Corps Dinner More Sober, Less Glitz

The White House press corps gathered Saturday for its annual black-tie dinner, a toned-down affair this year after Donald Trump snubbed the event, becoming the first incumbent U.S. president to bow out in 36 years.

Without Trump, who scheduled a rally instead to mark his 100th day in office, the usually celebrity-filled soiree hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association took a more sober turn, even as it pulled in top journalists and Washington insiders.

Most of Trump’s administration also skipped the event in solidarity with the president, who has repeatedly accused the press of mistreatment. The president used his campaign-style gathering to again lambaste the media.

“I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away,” he told a crowd in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, calling out The New York Times, CNN and MSNBC by name.

‘Not fake news’

In Washington, WHCA President Jeff Mason defended press freedom even as he acknowledged this year’s dinner had a different feel, saying attempts to undermine the media was dangerous for democracy.

“We are not fake news, we are not failing news organizations and we are not the enemy of the American people,” said Mason, a Reuters correspondent.

Instead of the typical roasts — presidents of both parties have delivered their own zingers for years — the event returned to its traditional roots of recognizing reporters’ work and handing out student scholarships as famed journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein presented awards.

“That’s not Donald Trump’s style,” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell told MSNBC, referring to the self-deprecating jokes presidents in the past have made despite tensions with the press.

Jokes for free speech

Instead, the humor fell to headline comedian Hasan Minhaj.

“We’ve got to address the elephant that’s not in the room,” Minhaj, who plays a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, told the crowd. “The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow. It’s a very long flight. As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke.”

He also joked about Trump, despite organizers’ wishes, saying he did so to honor U.S. constitutional protection of free speech: “Only in America can a first-generation, Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president.”

Trump in Pennsylvania

Trump was indeed in Pennsylvania, having scheduled a rally in Harrisburg to mark his 100th day in office. He began his remarks with a lengthy if familiar attack on the news media while dismissing the dinner and its participants.

 

“A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now,” Trump said. He added: “And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people, right?”

Trump became the first president since Ronald Reagan in 1981 to skip the event — and Reagan was recovering from an assassination attempt. 

In a video message, actor Alec Baldwin, who has raised Trump’s ire playing him on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” program also encouraged attendees.

Fewer celebrities

Few other celebrities graced the red carpet, although some well-known Washingtonians, such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, appeared.

Trump attended in 2011, when then-President Barack Obama made jokes at the expense of the New York real estate developer and reality television show host.

In an interview with Reuters this week, Trump said he decided against attending as president because he felt he had been treated unfairly by the media, adding: “I would come next year, absolutely.”

In Pennsylvania, Trump told supporters the media dinner would be boring but was noncommittal on whether he would go in 2018 or hold another rally.

Late night television show host Samantha Bee also hosted a competing event — “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” — that she said would honor journalists, rather than skewer Trump.

Journalists honored

The WHCA awards and this year’s recipients: 

Aldo Beckman Memorial Award winner: Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post for stories on President Barack Obama’s speeches and policies that contrasted the realities of 2016 with the hopes of 2008. 
Merriman Smith Award winner for outstanding White House coverage under deadline: Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico for his coverage of the historic meeting between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.
Edgar A. Poe Award winner: David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post for stories on Donald Trump’s philanthropic claims.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Artificial Womb Provides Hope for Premature Babies

Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely. It’s believed 1 million children die around the world each year of complications of pre-term birth. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia may have developed a technology that could change that outlook. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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EV Manufacturers Expect Surge in Demand

Despite lingering anxiety over their range, interest in electric cars is rising, especially in industrialized countries. Manufacturers say they are improving the mileage by building more charging stations, but the industry is still waiting for a major breakthrough in battery technology. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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