Friday, February 24, 2017

News Briefs

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  • Friday, Feb. 24, 2017
Rae gets laughs, King draws tears at Essence pre-Oscar gala 
Issa Rae attends the 10th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards ceremony on Thursday, Feb.23, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- 

Actresses Aja Naomi King and Yara Shahidi quoted James Baldwin. "Insecure" creator Issa Rae shared awkward memories of her first trip down a Hollywood red carpet. And singer-songwriter Janelle Monae, who makes her acting debut in two films best-picture nominated films at Sunday's Oscars, insisted black women "have a right to have our stories told."

Essence magazine recognized these four young entertainers Thursday at its 10th anniversary Black Women in Hollywood gala, which is set to air as a special on the Oprah Winfrey Network on March 5.

"Stories written, directed, produced and acted by black women are necessary," Common said as he and actor Kofi Siriboe opened the program at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

"This event is a reminder that we are here," host Gabrielle Union said. "Regardless of whether or not anyone sees us."

The need to be seen, heard and valued was a theme of the evening, as pioneering artists such as Debbie Allen and Viola Davis lauded the next generation of storytellers, who in turn thanked them for paving the way.

Allen described Rae as "an OBG: an original black girl." The 32-year-old writer, director and star of HBO's "Insecure" listed Allen among the many black women who inspired her. Rae said the choreographer, director and producer has "been goals since I was a child, then I realized I can't dance so I was satisfied just being a fan."

Tracee Ellis Ross said she and Shahidi, her TV daughter on "black-ish," are "kindred souls from different eras."

Shahidi said she sometimes wonders what she's doing "in beautiful designer clothes while the world is reeling backward."

"What I am I doing to contribute to the world around me?" she said. "I'm fortunate because you all have taught me by example what the role of the arts is: to disrupt, to remold and to create."

Past Essence honorees Shonda Rhimes and Diahann Carroll were among the guests Thursday. Other past recipients include Davis, Allen, Ross and Union, along with Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Cicely Tyson and Ava DuVernay, who appears on the cover of the magazine's March issue.

Pharrell Williams, who's up for an Oscar as a producer of "Hidden Figures," presented an award to Monae, a star of that film and "Moonlight." He described her as "the definition of a pluralist."

"It's on another level," Williams said. "Like, you're really talented, sis."

Monae spoke passionately about the autonomy and agency of black women.

"The world must continue to know that we are not your expectations," the 31-year-old entertainer said. "We have been the backbones of communities from the ghettos to Silicon Valley. We're not monolithic. We are multidimensional. And we have a right to have our stories told."

She noted that "Hidden Figures," which stars three black women, has brought it more than $140 million so far.

Davis introduced King, her co-star on "How to Get Away With Murder," by praising the honesty and openness she brings to her performances.

"That is the goal," Davis said. "That is the gift."

The 32-year-old actress responded with a poetic speech that moved several in the room, including Union, to tears. She talked about struggling to overcome an inner critic that tells her she's unworthy and doesn't belong.

"But in order for me to survive in this industry and in this world, in order for me to thrive, I have to stop believing that the root of my talent is a tree growing in someone else's yard, as if the fruit it bears doesn't belong to me," she said. "We are living in a world where we watch our culture being consumed and are left starving for ourselves, and I don't want to be hungry anymore."

  • Friday, Feb. 24, 2017
China's Recon buys $100M majority stake in Millennium Films 
In this Friday, May 20, 2016, file photo, Recon Group CEO Tony Xia Jiantong speaks during an interview about buying the British soccer club Aston Villa, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

China's footprint in Hollywood is expanding following a wire and cable maker's purchase of a controlling stake in independent studio Millennium Films, which produced "Rambo" and "The Expendables."

Recon Holding said Thursday it is taking a 51 percent stake in Millennium for $100 million.

The company, based in Yixing near Shanghai, is controlled by Tony Xia, who was a little-known businessman until last year, when he bought struggling English soccer club Aston Villa with ambitious plans to turn it around.

The terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the second quarter, give Recon majority ownership of Millennium and its library of 300 films.

The studio is known for its action titles, which include 2008's "Rambo," the fourth installment of the Sylvester Stallone action franchise, "The Expendables" series, and "London Has Fallen."

Chinese investors and Hollywood studios have been in a frenzy of deal-making in recent years as both sides seek to expand in each other's movie industries.

Chinese companies are hoping to gain filmmaking expertise as well as beef up the country's global cultural influence, also known as "soft power." Hollywood, meanwhile, covets China's strong box office revenue growth as domestic earnings stagnate.

In the past year, Chinese companies have sealed deals with entertainment companies including Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Amblin Partners and Dick Cook Studios.

Xia owns Recon Holding through his conglomerate Recon Group. One of its companies, Lotus Health Group, is the world's second biggest maker of food additive monosodium glutamate. Another subsidiary makes digital hardware for urban infrastructure.

Xia's made a splash with his $87 million purchase of Aston Villa because the businessman, who studied at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had no soccer credentials.

  • Friday, Feb. 24, 2017
Matt Reeves steps in to direct "The Batman" 
This July 16, 2014 file photo shows US director Matt Reeves during the Spain premiere of the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" in Madrid, Spain. (AP Photo/Abraham Caro Marin, File)

"Cloverfield" director Matt Reeves has stepped in to direct "The Batman" for Warner Bros. just a few weeks after star Ben Affleck left the post. Warner Bros. said Thursday that Reeves would also produce the stand-alone film.

Reeves, also known for directing "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," said he's loved the Batman story since he was a child and is honored and excited to "bring an epic and emotional new take on the Caped Crusader to the big screen."

Affleck, who is also writing the screenplay, dropped out of directing the project in late January citing the focus required to play the superhero. He'll appear next as Batman in "Justice League" which comes out in November.

There is no release date set for "The Batman."

  • Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017
Oscars made strides, but Octavia Spencer wants more growth 
This feb. 6, 2017 file photo shows Octavia Spencer at the 89th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif. Spencer is nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in "Hidden Figures." (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Even though Octavia Spencer is pleased with the record number of blacks nominated for acting Oscars this year, she's still disappointed by the lack of recognition for other people of color.

"Diversity doesn't mean just black," Spencer said in a recent phone interview to promote her new film, "The Shack," which comes out March 3. "I'm excited that more black people are being recognized. That's what I would like to see arrive for other people of color, because they are so valued and underserved. I think when we ask the public, the paying public, to support films that don't portray them on-screen, that's hypocrisy."

Spencer is one of six black actors up for an Academy Award at Sunday's ceremony. Dev Patel, who is of Asian descent, is nominated for best actor. Spencer is nominated for her role in "Hidden Figures," which is nominated for best picture.

The diverse slate is a far cry from the past two years, when all-white acting nominees led to the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and a national conversation on race in Hollywood. It also compelled Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of The Academy, to implement a plan restructuring the organization's membership to try and make it more reflective of women and minorities.

These days, Spencer has her own production company and believes she could be one of Hollywood's "biggest producers" in the near future. Spencer wants to create a lane for women and people of color to share their untold stories in film, much like "Hidden Figures." She played the role of Dorothy Vaughan, a pioneering black mathematician who worked at NASA. When she won the Academy Award six years ago for best supporting actress, she played a maid in "The Help."

"We are multifaceted people," said Spencer. "Yes, women of color served in people's kitchens and cleaned people's houses. But there are African-American doctors, scientists and lawyers. ... Those are the types of stories that we also want to see presented in film."

Stories with a historical perspective resonate with her the most. She's developing a series about entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first female millionaires in the United States (she will also star in it), and co-producing a HBO series about the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana.

The actress said her production company won't be limited to telling black stories.

"If it's a white story that hasn't been told, it'll be told," she said. "If it's a story about a Latin American, Asian-American, (I'll) tend to tell it."

While Spencer prepares for the Oscars on Sunday, she also has the release of "The Shack" on the horizon. She plays God in the film adaptation of the novel by William P. Young; the book is about a father's renewed faith following his daughter's death.

The film caught some backlash from some white Christians angered by the depiction of God as a curvaceous black woman. But Spencer said it's based on the perception of main character Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington).

"This young boy was abused and so the relationship with this one male that should've protected him was fractured," said Spencer. "And then a man takes his daughter from him. The only woman to show him kindness was a woman who looked a lot like me. So that's why God manifested (in the flesh) and revealed himself to this young man was in a way he would actually receive it."

  • Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017
Judge blocks California law on posting actors' ages 
Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, Calif.

A California law that restricts a popular Hollywood website from posting actors' ages raises First Amendment concerns and does not appear likely to combat age discrimination in the entertainment industry in any meaningful way, a federal judge said Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria granted's request to block AB 1687 while the website's lawsuit challenging it winds through the courts.

Chhabria said the law prevented IMDb from publishing factual information on its public website, and the state had not shown it was necessary to combat age discrimination in Hollywood.

"It's not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all," the judge said.

The law — authored by Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier — took effect in January and allows actors and other industry professionals to force IMDb to take down their ages.

IMDb said in court documents it shared the goal of preventing age discrimination, but the law wouldn't achieve that goal and would instead "chill free speech and undermine public access to factual information."

The state attorney general's office has said the Legislature had determined that existing anti-discrimination laws were not enough to eliminate age discrimination in Hollywood. It cited comments by Calderon that actors were concerned that they would be shut out from parts based on age bias.

The state attorney general's office did not immediately have comment on the ruling.

Calderon has said the bill was aimed at protecting lesser-known actors and actresses whose ages are not as readily available as bigger Hollywood stars.

The law was supported by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which said in a statement the ruling simply represented an early skirmish in the legal fight.

"SAG-AFTRA will continue to fight until we achieve for actors and other entertainment industry professionals the same rights to freedom from age discrimination in hiring enjoyed by other workers in other industries," said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union's chief operating officer and general counsel.

Chhabria said there are likely "more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways" of fighting discrimination in Hollywood.

  • Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017
Shooting gets underway for Han Solo "Star Wars" film 
In this undated image provided by Lucasfilm, cast members and co-directors of the Han Solo "Star Wars" spin-off pose for a photo, from bottom left, co-director Christopher Miller, Woody Harrelson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, co-director Phil Lord and Donald Glover. (Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm via AP)

Alden Ehrenreich has taken control of the Millennium Falcon. The Han Solo "Star Wars" spinoff has begun production.

The Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that shooting began at London's Pinewood Studios on Monday. To kick off the untitled Han Solo movie, the studio released a photo of the cast at the controls of the Millennium Falcon.

Ehrenreich plays a younger version of Harrison Ford's iconic smuggler and is seated amid cast members including Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Donald Glover, who plays Lando Calrissian.

The film is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who helmed "The Lego Movie." In a statement they said, "We can't think of anything funny to say, because we just feel really moved, and really lucky."

Disney will release the film in May 2018.

  • Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017
Hungary's Berlin film fest winner Enyedi to adapt novel 
Director Ildiko Enyedi, winner of the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival for “On Body and Soul,” speaks about her film at a press conference at the Toldi Cinema in Budapest on Feb 21, 2017. (Mohai Balázs/MTI via AP)
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -- 

The Hungarian director whose "On Body and Soul" won the top award at the Berlin Film Festival says her next project is an adaptation of "The Story of My Wife," a 1942 novel by Hungarian writer and poet Milan Fust.

Director Ildiko Enyedi also said Tuesday that she welcomed the national film fund's support for her work and that of a wide range of Hungarian directors and writers, some of whose films have recently won prizes at international festivals. "Son of Saul" by Laszlo Nemes won the Oscar last year for best foreign-language film.

"I see an intelligent and wise strategy on part of the Film Fund in that they are motivated primarily by professional aspects to help the films," Enyedi said. "The creators are able to bring mature works to the table and that is very significant."

"On Body And Soul," a love story about two slaughterhouse workers who connect in shared dreams, is Enyedi's first feature film since 1999. It won the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear award on Saturday.

Enyedi has been critical of the cultural policies and perceived democratic shortfalls of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government. She said that while her opinions had not changed, she regretted if they distracted from the success of the film.

"We've made a beautiful film for everyone ... and I wish we could enjoy what we have put so much work into," Enyedi said. "I don't think it's up to any culture policy to declare what is good or not."

Enyedi's film won several other prizes in Berlin, including one from the Ecumenical Jury she said was particularly meaningful.

"It means that we achieved our goal of reaching many different kinds of people," Enyedi said. "My mother is Lutheran, my father was Jewish, my husband is Catholic ... and our children are ecumenical in their very existence."

Enyedi, 61, won the Golden Camera award in Cannes with her 1989 debut film, "My 20th Century."

  • Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017
Issa Rae feels "validated" by Black Women in Hollywood honor 
In this July 30, 2016 file photo, Issa Rae, star of the HBO series "Insecure," poses for a portrait during the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

When Issa Rae watched Oprah Winfrey being honored at Essence magazine's Black Women in Hollywood Awards last year, the actress hoped she would one day be recognized in the same fashion. But she didn't think it would come this soon.

Rae, Janelle Monae, Aja Naomi King and Yara Shahidi will be honored Thursday in Los Angeles at the magazine's 10th annual awards. Past honorees include Oprah Winfrey, Viola Davis, Halle Berry, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer.

"I used to say, 'It would be so cool to be up there,' but I didn't imagine it now," Rae, creator and star of HBO's "Insecure," said in a phone interview. "I was thinking maybe after a couple more films, a couple TV shows under my belt. ... That's really what I thought. It's just so encouraging to be awarded so early in my career. But that's what Essence does. It gets behind and supports black women. Now I feel like I can be on that journey."

This year's awards recognize "Hollywood's Next Generation."

Singer-actress Monae starred in two films up for best picture at the Oscars, "Hidden Figures" and "Moonlight." King is featured on television's "How to Get Away With Murder" and Shahidi appears on the sitcom "black-ish."

"These women are making their own waves," said Vanessa K. De Luca, editor-in-chief at Essence. "We think about who's had a stellar year. We think about who's been working quietly behind the scenes forever and deserves recognition. We think about who are going to be the women to pick up the mantle. We think about who are new and next. This year, we are taking a look at the new Hollywood."

De Luca said the awards provide an opportunity for the actresses to network with each other. She said many carve out time in their schedules to make sure they attend the awards, an event Winfrey has called "a sacred place" for black women.

Rae is one of them. The actresses-writer-director calls the event a "bonding experience."

And she feels validated by the recognition.

"It shows I'm on the right path," she said. "This is basically telling me, 'Hey girl, You're up next.'"

  • Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017
Kraft Heinz withdraws $143B bid to buy Unilever 
In this June 24, 2010, file photo, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, speaks at the Global Compact Leaders Summit in New York. U.S. food giant Kraft Heinz Co. is confirming that it’s made an offer to buy Europe’s Unilever and been rejected. The company said Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, that talks are ongoing with the Dutch company, but that no deal can be assured. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Ketchup maker and packaged food giant Kraft Heinz has withdrawn a $143 billion offer to buy Unilever, backing away after the mayonnaise, tea and seasonings maker rejected the bid as too low.

The companies announced the decision Sunday in a joint press release, saying that Kraft Heinz has "amicably" abandoned the offer.

The deal would have combined Kraft Heinz brands such as Oscar Mayer, Jell-O and Velveeta with Unilever's Hellman's, Lipton and Knorr. The merged company would have rivaled Nestle as the world's biggest packaged food maker by sales.

Analysts say Kraft Heinz, co-headquartered in Chicago and Pittsburgh, is still in the market for acquisitions. The fact that it bid for all of Unilever and not just its food business indicates that Kraft Heinz is potentially open to acquiring other packaged consumer goods, one analyst said.

Unilever, which has a head office in London, also has a stable of personal care brands such as Dove soap. Unilever rejected the offer on Friday, but despite that, Kraft Heinz said at the time that it was still interested in the deal.

Such acquisitions might not lead to big changes that customers would notice on supermarket shelves, but shifting tastes are partly driving deal-making in the food industry.

Part of the challenge is the proliferation of smaller food makers marketing products that seem more wholesome, which makes it harder for the established companies to drive up sales simply by selling more of well-known products or by raising prices, as they have in the past.

"That obviously has its limits," said David Garfield, head of the consumer products unit at consulting firm AlixPartners, said last week.

Instead, major packaged food companies are being forced to dig deeper to find cost efficiencies or tap into new markets, Garfield said. That can include mergers that result in consolidated manufacturing systems, or that give companies access to distribution networks in regions of the world where they don't have a big presence.

  • Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017
James Earl Jones, Donald Glover cast in director Jon Favreau's "Lion King" remake
In this Jan. 8, 2017 file photoi, Donald Glover poses in the press room with the award for best performance by an actor in a television series - musical or comedy for "Atlanta" at the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

James Earl Jones and Donald Glover are lending their voices to Disney's upcoming remake of "The Lion King."

Director Jon Favreau announced the casting of the two men as voice actors. Glover, star and creator of television's "Atlanta," will portray the adult Simba. Jones reprises the role of Simba's father, Mufasa, which he voiced in the 1994 animated film.

Favreau is making a CGI created live-action version of the movie, similar to Disney's remake of "The Jungle Book," which he also directed. No release date has been publicly set for the new movie.

A similar process is being used for "Beauty and the Beast," which debuts next month.

Favreau has directed "Iron Man," ''Iron Man 2" and is again producing the next two "Avengers" films.