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Entertainment

    Without Oprah or Apple, the Russell Simmons documentary “On the Record” went ahead with its premiere Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, where the women who came forward with sexual assault allegations against the hip-hop mogul received one of the festival's most roaring receptions. The lead-up to Sundance was especially rocky for “On the Record.' Oprah Winfrey, an executive producer, on Jan. 10 withdrew from the film because she felt it needed more reporting. Her exit, which stunned the directors, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, also meant “On the Record” no longer had a distributor in Apple TV Plus. Ahead of the film's premiere, Ziering thanked Sundance “for standing strong and never blinking.” “On the Record” is centered on the story of Drew Dixon, a former music executive for Def Jam Recordings, the record label co-founded by Simmons. It chronicles her decision to come forward and go on the record in a 2017 New York Times article, along with numerous other women, in accusing Simmons of harassment and rape. Simmons has denied any wrongdoing. The filmmakers said he declined to be interviewed for the film. More than a dozen other women, many of whom also appear in “On the Record,” have also come forward with allegations of assault or harassment against Simmons. Along with Dixon, in attendance Saturday were Sherri Hines, a member of the all-female hip-hop group Mercedes Ladies who alleged that Simmons raped her in his office in the early 1980s; and Sil Lai Abrams, who has said Simmons raped her in 1994. In the crowd in Park City was the actress Rosanna Arquette, who has accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Arquette stood up during the Q&A to salute the women in the film. “I'm so proud of you,” she said. “On the Record” also delves into the place black women have in the #MeToo movement and the racial dimensions of sexual assault. One audience member noted that the film, despite being about black women accusing a black man of rape, is directed by two white people. “A lot of this is about power and ecosystems of power,” Dixon said. “And all of us have kept our stories to ourselves for decades, and there are people within that ecosystem who knew our stories.' “Some of those people are filmmakers,” she continued. 'It’s an entertainment industry story after all, right? But nobody told our story. Because the people who knew our story were subject to the same ecosystem. And to me, this is where allies matter. Allies who are not subject to that same dynamic. They have traction that they can use to pull you forward.” Ziering and Dick have made several documentaries before about sexual assault. Their “The Hunting Ground' focused on rape on college campuses. “The Invisible War” scrutinized sexual assault in the military. “On the Record” depicts the personal struggle of coming forward and the years of pain and self-doubt that can follow sexual assault. Dixon says she ultimately retreated from the music industry after she said she was again harassed by another executive, L.A. Reid. Reid has denied it. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, an attorney and civil rights advocate, after the film alluded to the history of black women who have accused public figures of assault, citing the treatment of Anita Hill and Desiree Washington, who accused Mike Tyson of rape. “You’ve seen this film. The question is will anyone else see it?' Crenshaw said. 'So whatever can be brought to bear to make sure that this doesn’t get snuffed out — think of all the history of what has already happened and say never again.”
  • Broadway producer Margo Lion, who helped bring the Tony Award-winning musicals “Jelly's Last Jam” and “Hairspray” to the stage and also worked on Tony Kushner's two-part classic “Angels in America,” has died at age 75. Her son, Matthew Nemeth, told The Associated Press that she died at a Manhattan hospital days after suffering a brain aneurysm. A Baltimore native, Lion was a proud independent producer who sometimes offered personal possessions as collateral in her determination to stage a show. She started out as an apprentice at the Music-Theater Group in the 1970s and a few years later began looking into the life of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton, the basis for “Jelly's Last Jam,” which premiered on Broadway in 1992 and starred Gregory Hines. A decade later, she had enormous success with “Hairspray,” the Tony-winning smash that was adapted from the John Waters comedy. Lyon had seen the film on video in 1998 and quickly thought it ideal for Broadway, drawn in part to the story because it was set in Baltimore. “I wanted to do something joyful, something celebratory, like the shows I remembered when I was a kid,'' Lion told The New York Times in 2002. ”Halfway through (the video), I literally said: ‘Yes, this is it. I found it.’' Lion was among the producers of “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” and 'Angels in America: Perestroika” and brought in George C. Wolfe to direct, his first Broadway show. Her other credits include August Wilson's “Seven Guitars” and “Elaine Stritch at Liberty.” In 2009, Barack Obama appointed her to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
  • Sports gambling giant DraftKings won't give a former 'Bachelor” contestant the $1 million prize for winning an online fantasy football contest after she and her husband were accused of cheating. Jade Roper-Tolbert, who appeared in “The Bachelor” and 'Bachelor in Paradise' television series in 2015, was no longer listed as the winner of DraftKings' “Millionaire Maker” contest, which involved picking a lineup of players from the NFL's four wild-card games. “DraftKings has decided to update the standings for several contests,' the Boston-based company said in a statement Saturday. A spokesman declined to elaborate. Roper-Tolbert beat more than 100,000 entries to take the top prize in the “Millionaire Maker contest.” But some in the fantasy sports community were quick to complain that both she and her husband, Tanner Tolbert, also an alum of the “Bachelor” franchise, each submitted the maximum 150 entries allowed in the contest, and that nearly all the entries had a uniquely different lineup of players. That suggests the two may have colluded to give themselves the best shot at winning the top prize, which is not allowed under the contest rules. Roper-Tolbert has been regularly playing in DraftKings NFL contests this season, and Tolbert is a prolific fantasy sports player. The two met as contestants on “Bachelor In Paradise' and married in 2016. They have said the big win was “pure luck.” Earlier this month, when DraftKings announced it would review the contest, the couple suggested Roper-Tolbert is being singled out because she's a female celebrity. “It is incredibly important for us to establish that Jade’s win is nothing more than pure luck and we are confident that DraftKings will determine the same,' they said in a statement to celebrity website TMZ on Jan. 7. “Though we must ponder, would the questions, accusations and curiosity about this win be the same if the winner had been male and someone who wasn’t already in the public eye?”
  • A searing documentary about the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi made its anticipated debut at the Sundance Film Festival, unveiling a detailed investigation into the Saudi Arabia regime and the companies and governments that do business with it. Bryan Fogel’s “The Dissident” was one of the most high-profile documentaries at the Park City festival, and it made headlines even before it premiered Friday. The film, Fogel’s first since his Oscar-winning expose “Icarus” on Russian doping for the Olympics, features the explosive conclusion of United Nations human rights investigators that the phone of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos was hacked into by a malicious file sent from the personal WhatsApp account of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin were among those in attendance at the premiere of “The Dissident,” as was Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Khashoggi. Khashoggi was picking up paperwork for their marriage when he was murdered at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. The crown prince ordered the killing, the CIA has said. Mohammed, who initially denied Saudi Arabia was behind Khashoggi’s killing, eventually granted it was carried out by the Saudi government but claimed it was not by his orders. In an interview following the premiere, Fogel said he hopes “The Dissident,” which dramatically details the plot to kill Khashoggi and analyzes Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on free speech, forces a reappraisal of the Middle Eastern country internationally. The film’s end credits include a list of corporations with business ties to Saudi Arabia. The United States, too, is scrutinized for its close alliance with the kingdom, including a 2019 arms deal allowed to go forward after President Donald Trump vetoed a bill intended to block the sale. “I hope that this film will make other countries, their government and business leaders reassess their relationship with Saudi Arabia until they reform,” said Fogel. “As much money as there is, when you have people sitting in prisons for tweeting, when you have women arrested and tortured for driving, it’s very hard to look the other way.” “The Dissident” was greeted with a raucous standing ovation and immediate acclaim. Variety called it “an eye-opening thriller brew of corruption, cover-up, and real-world courage.” Independently financed by the Human Rights Foundation, “The Dissident” is for sale at Sundance, the top movie market for documentaries. Speaking on stage after the premiere, Fogel urged distributors to not be scared off by Saudi Arabia and give the film a worldwide release. “In my dream of dreams, distributors will stand up to Saudi Arabia,” said Fogel. Media companies have capitulated to Saudi pressure before. Netflix, which distributed Fogel’s “Icarus,” last year removed an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” dealing with the killing of Khashoggi after a Saudi complaint. Fogel said he would be happy for any studio to pick up the film, including Netflix, HBO and Bezo’s own Amazon. Following the murder, relations between Amazon and Saudi Arabia cooled considerably. Of the possibility of Amazon, Fogel said, “I hope so. I’m open to any global powerful distributor that’s going to take this film seriously.” The premiere of “The Dissident” was especially emotional for Cengiz. Since Khashoggi’s death, she has taken on public role pressing for justice for her former fiancé. “I'm happy because this film will keep alive the story,” Cengiz said in a separate interview. “This film helped me to continue this fighting as a human, as a woman, as a victim.” After the killing of Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who fled the kingdom to urge for reforms and press freedom in his native country, Cengiz says she can no longer assume her safety. The Guardian on Friday reported that U.S. officials believed Saudi Arabia has previously attempted to monitor Cengiz abroad. “No one knows who is safe because they killed Jamal inside the consulate, the best safety place around the world,” said Cengiz. “So I don't know if I’m safe if I’m sitting in my home.” “The Dissident' includes extensive interviews with Turkish officials who uncovered the killing and also delves into the related story of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who is living under asylum in Montreal after fleeing the country to launch a web series critical of the Saudi regime. In the film, Abdulaziz says he believes Khashoggi's relationship with him led directly to his murder. Abdulaziz’s phone, too, was hacked, the film alleges, with the powerful spyware program Pegasus believed to be used to target Bezos. For Fogel, bringing such revelations to light has given Khashoggi's death more meaning. “There’s so much pain from this story, but there’s a lot of power that has come from it,” said Fogel. “Look what his murder -- as horrendous as it was -- has done to shine the light on other human rights abuses, to shine the light on what the Saudis were doing in regards to repressing free speech. I hope if Jamal was looking down, he’d be very proud to see he didn’t die in vain.” ___ The Associated Press' Ryan Pearson contributed to this report. ___ This story has been corrected to reflect the accurate spelling of Jamal Khashoggi's last name on subsequent references throughout.
  • Salma Hayek is apologizing for promoting a controversial new novel, Jeanine Cummins' “American Dirt,” without actually reading it. “American Dirt,” published Tuesday, tells the story of a Mexican woman and her 8-year-old son fleeing to the U.S. border after numerous family members are murdered in drug cartel-related violence. The heavily publicized book has been praised by Stephen King and Ann Patchett among others and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. On Saturday, it ranked No. 4 on Amazon.com's bestseller list. But numerous Mexican-American writers have called “American Dirt” an ill-informed narrative about Mexico that reinforces stereotypes. Cummins, a non-Mexican, even acknowledged in an author's note that she had reservations about writing the novel. She has said she wanted to personalize the issue of immigration and be a “bridge” between different worlds. Earlier this week, Hayek had posted a picture of herself on Instagram holding the book, and she praised Winfrey for 'giving a voice to the voiceless & for loving harder in response to hate.” But after facing criticism online, the Mexican-American actress pulled back Friday, writing that she was unaware of any controversy. “I thank all of you who caught me in the act of not doing my research, and for setting me straight, because that means you know me and gave me the benefit of the doubt,” she wrote, 'I apologize for shouting out something without experiencing it or doing research on it.”
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out in anger Saturday at an NPR reporter who accused him of shouting expletives at her after she asked him in an interview about Ukraine. In a direct and personal attack, America's chief diplomat said the journalist had “lied” to him and he called her conduct “shameful.” NPR said it stood by Mary Louise Kelly's reporting. Pompeo claimed in a statement that the incident was “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt” President Donald Trump and his administration. Pompeo, a former CIA director and Republican congressman from Kansas who is one of Trump's closest allies in the Cabinet, asserted, 'It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity.” It is extraordinary for a secretary of state to make such a personal attack on a journalist, but he is following the lead of Trump, who has repeatedly derided what he calls “fake news” and ridiculed individual reporters. In one of the more memorable instances, Trump mocked a New York Times reporter with a physical disability. In Friday’s interview, Pompeo responded testily when Kelly asked him about Ukraine and specifically whether he defended or should have defended Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv whose ouster figured in Trump’s impeachment. “I have defended every State Department official,' he said. 'We've built a great team. The team that works here is doing amazing work around the world ... I've defended every single person on this team. I've done what's right for every single person on this team.” This has been a sensitive point for Pompeo. As a Trump loyalist, he has been publicly silent as the president and his allies have disparaged the nonpartisan career diplomats, including Yovanovitch, who have testified in the impeachment hearings. Those diplomats told Congress that Trump risked undermining Ukraine, a critical U.S. ally, by pressuring for an investigation of Democrat Joe Biden, a Trump political rival. Yovanovitch, who was seen by Trump allies as a roadblock to those efforts, was told in May to leave Ukraine and return to Washington immediately for her own safety. After documents released this month from an associate of Trump's personal attorney suggested she was being watched and possibly under threat, Pompeo took three days to address the matter and did so only after coming under harsh criticism from lawmakers and current and former diplomats. Pompeo was rebuked Saturday by four Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said his “insulting and contemptuous comments” were beneath the office of the secretary of state. “Instead of calling journalists ‘liars’ and insulting their intelligence when they ask you hard questions you would rather not answer, your oath of office places on you a duty and obligation to engage respectfully and transparently,” the letter to Pompeo said. It was signed by Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the committee, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Cory Booker of New Jersey. After the NPR interview, Kelly said she was taken to Pompeo’s private living room, where he shouted at her “for about the same amount of time as the interview itself,” using the “F-word” repeatedly. She said he was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. Pompeo, in his statement, did not deny shouting at Kelly and did not apologize. Instead, he accused her of lying to him when setting up the interview, which he apparently expected would be limited to questions about Iran, and for supposedly agreeing not to discuss the post-interview meeting. Kelly said Pompeo asked whether she thought Americans cared about Ukraine and if she could find the country on a map. “I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing,” she said in discussing the encounter on “All Things Considered.” “I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, ‘people will hear about this.’” Pompeo ended Saturday's statement by saying, “It is worth nothing that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.” Nancy Barnes, NPR’s senior vice president of news, said in a statement that 'Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report.''
  • Ron Howard knew Paradise, the northern California town devastated by the most destructive wildfire in California history. His mother-in-law had lived there and he had visited the town. He had some understanding of its people. Ten days after what became known as the Camp Fire swept through Paradise, killing 85 people and destroying roughly 19,000 buildings, Howard went to see it. “I've never seen anything like it,' he said. A little over a year later, Howard came to the Sundance Film Festival to premiere “Rebuilding Paradise,” a documentary he directed about the aftermath of the Camp Fire, including the colossal cleanup and rebuilding efforts of the close-knit rural community. “It's the story of a community, not the story of a fire,' Howard said in an interview. “It's a story of a very cruel test.” It's the third documentary in four years for Howard, following “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week' and “Pavarotti.” But “Rebuilding Paradise” was a more open-ended exercise. “There was no thesis to prove,' Howard said. “It's my first real vérité documentary where you go in with yourself and field producers and some cameras and you just start asking questions and see what the story's going to be.” That included getting close with the residents of Paradise, several of whom came to the Park City festival for the movie's premiere. Steve “Woody” Culleton, a former mayor of Paradise who moved into his and his wife's rebuilt home in December, said the film captured the small-town resilience of Paradise. “A lot of people came into the town right after the disaster. We were exploited. We were exploited by the (Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., the now-bankrupt utility whose equipment started the fire) and the cleanup crews. We were exploited by the news media who left after a week,” Culleton said. “It wasn't that way. Lizz Morhaim and Xan Parker, the producers, they spent the year with us. They were there.” “Rebuilding Paradise” largely evades a discussion of climate change, focusing instead on the strain of rebuilding and the persistence of the town's people. Howard was careful not to draw politics into the film. “This is not about policy. If I wanted to make a movie about climate change, there'd be all kinds of charts and data and talking heads with statistics,' Howard said. “But I think we all sense that for whatever reason this is more likely to touch or lives either directly or through loved ones, these kinds of problems. So what does that mean? Then what?” National Geographic will release “Rebuilding Paradise” later this year.
  • During the thunderous reception for the celebratory disability-rights documentary “Crip Camp” at the Sundance Film Festival, the loudest response came when disability advocate Judith Heumann, one of the film’s chief personalities, wheeled on stage. “It was as loud as a jet airplane taking off,” Jim LeBrecht, who co-directed the film with Nicole Newnham, said the morning after the film's premiere. Even on a night when Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana” also debuted, “Crip Camp” caused a stir at the Park City festival. The movie begins as a nostalgic remembrance of Camp Jened, a summer camp for teens with disabilities in upstate New York that, before shuttering in 1977, was run by hippies with much of the spirit of nearby Woodstock. For camp attendees who came with polio, cerebral palsy and other disabilities, Jened was a utopia of acceptance and community. And it helped spark a movement. “Crip Camp” recounts how many of those who went to Jened — including Heumann, a polio survivor, and LeBrecht, born with spina bifida — went on to play prominent roles in the disability-rights movement, culminating in 1990's Americans with Disabilities Act. “Crip Camp” unfolds as a broader chronicle of a decadeslong fight for civil rights that has received less attention than other 20th century struggles for equity. The makers of “Crip Camp,' the second film backed by Barack and Michelle Obama's Higher Ground Productions, believe the film can be a galvanizing moment. “I hope this film will ignite other stories,” said Heumann, whose lifetime of advocacy includes successfully suing to become the first wheelchair-using teacher in New York, leading a historic 1977 sit-in and serving as a special adviser on disability rights at the State Department. “These stories are out there.” But by any metric, the stories of people with disabilities are among the least represented in film and television. Last year, USC Annenberg’s annual inequality report found that, of the 4,445 characters in the most popular movies of 2018, just 1.6% were shown with a disability. U.S. census figures estimate 27.2% of Americans have some form of disability. A 2019 study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that about half of U.S. households favor authentic portrayals of actors with disabilities. Yet Hollywood, where villains are still regularly signaled by deformity, has a long history of unfavorable, stereotyped or inauthentic depictions of disability. “We’ve learned so much about people around us from film and television, and if what you’re getting is just purely stories about people having tragedies — in the case of ‘Million Dollar Baby’: ‘Please kill me. Please, please.’ — or the kind of super, overcoming story that we sometimes call the ‘super-crip’ story, neither of these people are relatable and neither are reflective of the community in general,” said LeBrecht, a Berkeley, California-based sound designer. Heumann, LeBrecht and Newnham hope “Crip Camp” encourages conversations about how movies and media have fostered false impressions of people with disabilities. “There needs to be a fundamental altering in what goes on in media,” said Heumann, who has written about disability representation for the Ford Foundation. “At Sundance, I’m in a room with hundreds and hundreds of progressives who pride themselves on being progressives, who pride themselves on supporting diversity. And the number of people who say — and it’s not the first time I’ve heard this — ‘We didn’t know.’' “Crip Camp” has already effected some change. LeBrecht, having attended previous Sundance festivals, urged the festival to improve accessibility. He previously was unable to go into the festival’s filmmakers lounge because it didn’t have an elevator. Sundance recently announced that it would, with the Ruderman Family Foundation, provide more resources for attendees with disabilities and program more movies featuring people with disabilities. Newnham says a planned campaign around the film’s release later this year on Netflix is intended to further prompt discussion. The change needed goes much deeper than accessibility, she said. It's about reprogramming how the non-disabled think of people with disabilities. “We’re excited that the film seems to be being seen as a celebration of disability culture and pride, and we feel that can go a long way, too,” said the Emmy-winning documentary producer and director. A veteran of the ups and downs of activism, Heumann knows change comes slowly. And she remains frustrated at the movement’s lack of progress. “When I’m truthful, I feel very angry about what’s gone on,” Heumann said. “We’re frequently having to temper our thoughts and our comments because people don’t necessarily want to hear them,' she added. 'People have to be in a certain head space to be willing to have difficult discussions.” But “Crip Camp,” she granted, could be a new beginning for how disability is understood on screen, and off. “Whoever we are,” Heumann said, “we have the ability to make change.” ___ Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
  • At a celebration for Bob Marley’s 75th birth anniversary, the late icon’s children — famous in their own right — gathered to tell stories about the reggae king and discuss passing the musical torch to their own children. Bob Marley’s children, including Cedella Marley, Julian Marley and Rohan Marley, and several of his grandchildren held a pre-Grammys brunch Friday alongside Universal Music and Mastercard in Los Angeles — about two weeks before the Jamaican singer's Feb. 6 birthdate. Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981, at age 36. The event also celebrated Julian Marley, who is nominated for best reggae album at Sunday’s Grammy Awards. Cedella Marley, a three-time Grammy winner, said her father, who died in 1981, taught his children important lessons about perseverance. “Daddy was a fitness guru ... and there were times when we would do these relay races and a lot of parents just want their children to win, win, win. No, we had to really win,” she said. “If we run, we have to really run. And he was not the one that was just going to let you win just because, and I think that’s an important lesson. Nothing is handed to you, you have to go out there (and work hard).” Bob Marley’s kids passed that message on to their own children, who were in attendance Friday. Skip Marley, Cedella Marley’s son who has collaborated with Katy Perry, H.E.R. and Major Lazer, said he didn’t choose music, but that “music chose me.” “All of us carry it on,” Skip Marley said of the other grandchildren, “Even to some new streets and avenues (while) protecting the message and continuing to carry the light.” Mystic Marley, Zuri Marley, Nico Marley, Shacia Marley and Joshua Omaru Marley — the son of Lauryn Hill and Rohan Marley — also attended the event. “This is Lauryn’s boy,” Rohan Marley said, looking to Joshua Omaru Marley. “He’s my son but they always say, ‘Oh! Lauryn Hill’s son and Bob Marley’s grandson,’” he said to laughs. “I’m like, ‘OK. No problem. I’ll take that!’” Joshua Omaru Marley said that he’s working on new music and that Hill will be featured on his project. He said his Grammy-winning mother has given him “positive feedback” about his music but added: “There’s always room for improvement.” Nico Marley, Rohan Marley’s son who had signed with the NFL’s Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2017, joked about being the oddball Marley onstage. “I’m just glad I have some kind of talent because it wasn’t singing,” he said as the audience erupted in laughter. “I’m in the back clapping. I can’t even sing. Not even a little bit.”
  • The Pentagon's new U.S. Space Force is not Star Trek's Starfleet Command, but their logos bear a striking similarity. President Donald Trump unveiled the Space Force logo Friday, writing on Twitter that he had consulted with military leaders and designers before presenting the blue-and-white symbol, which features an arrowhead shape centered on a planetary background and encircled by the words, “United States Space Force” and “Department of the Air Force.” The logo, which bears the date 2019 in Roman numerals, also is similar in design to that of Air Force Space Command, from which Space Force was created by legislation that Trump signed in last month. Space Force is the first new military service since the Air Force was created in 1947. It is meant mainly to improve protection of U.S. satellites and other space assets, rather than to put warriors in orbit to conduct combat in outer space. The idea became a regular applause line for Trump at his political rallies. He originally wanted a Space Force that was “separate but equal” to the Army, Navy and Air Force, but instead Congress made it part of the Department of the Air Force. “After consultation with our Great Military Leaders, designers, and others, I am pleased to present the new logo for the United States Space Force, the Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” Trump wrote. George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu in the original “Star Trek” TV series and films, tweeted in response, “Ahem. We are expecting some royalties from this.”