A company in suburban Washington, D.C., is using cutting-edge technology to create lifelike video avatars to drop into music and training videos, games and other immersive environments. It’s an entry point to the so-called metaverse, as VOA’s Arzouma Kompaoré discovered while touring Avatar Dimension’s new studio.
A company in suburban Washington, D.C., is using cutting-edge technology to create lifelike video avatars to drop into music and training videos, games and other immersive environments. It’s an entry point to the so-called metaverse, as VOA’s Arzouma Kompaoré discovered while touring Avatar Dimension’s new studio.
YouTube will ban any video that claims vaccines are ineffective or dangerous, including those that question vaccines for measles and chickenpox, the company announced Wednesday.
“Specifically, content that falsely alleges that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects, claims that vaccines do not reduce transmission or contraction of disease, or contains misinformation on the substances contained in vaccines will be removed,” the Google-owned company said in a blog post announcing the new enforcement measures.
The company said “vaccines in particular have been a source of fierce debate over the years, despite consistent guidance from health authorities about their effectiveness.”
“Today, we’re expanding our medical misinformation policies on YouTube with new guidelines on currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and the WHO.”
The company said it “will continue to allow content about vaccine policies, new vaccine trials and historical vaccine successes or failures.”
YouTube’s COVID-19 vaccine policy has met with some backlash for being overly aggressive.
On Tuesday, the company removed Russian state-backed broadcaster RT’s German-language channels, saying they violated the company’s COVID-19 policy.
On Wednesday, Russia threatened to block YouTube, calling the channel removals “unprecedented information aggression.”
YouTube said it has removed over 130,000 videos over the past year for violating its COVID-19 policies.
Some information in this report comes from Reuters.
Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao is officially hanging up his gloves.
The eight-division world champion and Philippine senator on Wednesday announced his retirement from the ring.
“I would like to thank the whole world, especially the Filipino people, for supporting Manny Pacquiao. Goodbye boxing,” the 42-year-old said in a video posted on his Facebook page. “It is difficult for me to accept that my time as a boxer is over. Today I am announcing my retirement.”
Pacquiao finished his 26-year, 72-fight career with 62 wins, eight losses and two draws. Of those 62 wins, 39 were by knockout and 23 by decision. He won 12 world titles and is the only fighter in history to win titles in eight different weight classes.
His retirement from boxing followed a disheartening defeat to Yordenis Ugas in Paradise, Nevada, on Aug. 21. The younger Cuban boxer beat Pacquiao by unanimous decision, retaining his WBA welterweight title. It was Pacquiao’s first fight in more than two years.
“Thank you for changing my life. When my family was desperate, you gave us hope, you gave me the chance to fight my way out of poverty,” Pacquiao said in the video. “Because of you, I was able to inspire people all over the world. Because of you I have been given the courage to change more lives.”
Pacquaio had hinted at retirement recently. It had also been expected because he is setting his sights on a bigger political battlefield. Earlier this month, he accepted his political party’s nomination and declared he will run for Philippines president in elections next May.
He has accused the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, his former ally, of making corruption worse in the Philippines. He promised to fight poverty and warned corrupt politicians they will soon end up in jail.
Pacquiao’s rags-to-riches life story and legendary career brought honor to his Southeast Asian nation, where he is known by the monikers Pacman, People’s Champ and National Fist.
He left his impoverished home in the southern Philippines as a teenager and stowed away on a ship bound for Manila. He made his professional boxing debut as a junior flyweight in 1995 at the age of 16, fighting his way out of abject poverty to become one of the world’s highest-paid athletes.
Eddie Banaag, a 79-year-old retiree, said Pacquiao was his idol as a boxer and he watched almost all of his fights. But he believes the boxing icon should have retired earlier.
“He should have done that right after his victory over (Keith) Thurman,” Banaag said of Pacquiao’s win over Thurman on July 20, 2019, in Las Vegas, Pacquiao’s second-to-last fight. “It would have been better if he ended his boxing career with a win rather than a loss.”
Still, Pacquiao believes he will always be remembered as a winner. Hundreds of millions of dollars in career earnings and his record in the ring leave no doubt.
“I will never forget what I have done and accomplished in my life,” Pacquiao said Wednesday. “I just heard the final bell. The boxing is over.”
A bunch of new technologies are popping up that could help bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net-zero by 2050, and all need investment. Governments worldwide are having to decide which one suits their geography and how much they can spend on a given technology. More with VOA’s Mariama Diallo.
Produced by: Kimberlyn Weeks
Two-time Paralympic athlete Tyler Carter may be a seasoned contender on the world stage, but the alpine skier says he is not sure what to expect as the clock ticks toward the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing next February. Carter wants to be prepared to race in Beijing but says he hasn’t had a chance to become acquainted with the terrain.
“We didn’t really get a test event,” said the 27-year-old Carter, who has skied since the age of 8, seven years after a foot was amputated due to a missing fibula in his right leg. “Because of COVID, everything was kind of postponed or cancelled, so I don’t really know what it’s going to be like there.”
Test events are seen as dress rehearsals held in the host country, often a year before the actual Olympic Games, to not only help the athletes but also allow the hosts to test their readiness.
“It’s kind of a mystery in a way, but that’s fine,” said Carter, now based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We train for all conditions, all different types of hills and racing venues,” said Carter, who took part in the Winter Games in 2014 and 2018.
As Carter trains for his moment on the slopes, he says he is hoping politics won’t impact his ability to compete.
Beijing is facing calls for a boycott or cancellation of the Games over political issues.
Pandemic preparations in Beijing
Foreign pressure on China to cancel the Games, over politics, has not changed pandemic event planning.
Beijing’s Games show early signs of taking place at a full scale, just minus live spectators. The Chinese government is energizing fans at home and ignoring calls for boycotts, while athletes such as Carter are doing whatever it takes to win medals for themselves and their countries.
“Individuals will have their own opinions across the spectrum, but from a general perspective, I think athletes who are wanting to compete at the top level and take part in the Olympics are being pragmatic and understand that there are going to be politics, protocol, whatever,” said Mark Thomas, managing director of U.K.-based, China event-focused S2M Consulting firm.
Most athletes, he added, realize “it’s a new world” in terms of how they travel.
Beijing’s Olympic organizing committee did not reply to a request from VOA on pandemic-related measures for the Games, but Chinese media suggested this month, the rules are not yet fixed. Twelve test events and three international training weeks in Beijing from October to December will offer clues, the state-run CGTN news website said.
“As Beijing organizers have not revealed the full extent of the COVID-19 countermeasures yet, those test events could offer a sneak peek at the meticulous precautions they are expected to take against COVID-19,” the September 15 report said.
Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng visited the National Ski Jumping Center, a snow park and Olympic villages in early September to learn about epidemic prevention work, the official Xinhua news agency said. “He also stressed sound plans to prevent and control the COVID-19 epidemic,” Xinhua said. China will hold the events at 12 venues in and around Beijing.
Chinese officials have involved 100 million people in domestic campaigns to promote the Games and more than 1.1 million people have signed up as volunteers, CGTN said.
The country squelched its major COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 through some of the world’s strictest lockdowns in the central Chinese city Wuhan, where the outbreak was first reported. It has closed the border to foreign travel.
But observers said Beijing’s Olympics organizers will just adopt Tokyo’s precautions from the recent Summer Olympics. Tokyo barred spectators from most events and required athletes to operate in an Olympic venue-hotel bubble rather than mixing with the public.
The Tokyo Games drew 11,656 athletes to 339 events, roughly equal to the 11,238 athletes and 306 events of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics four years earlier.
Opposition from abroad to the 2022 Games arises from lack of trust in China following political decisions by Beijing over the past two years, said Stephen Nagy, senior associate professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo.
He points to the reduction of political freedoms in Hong Kong in 2020, growing military pressure against Taiwan and crackdowns against ethnic Uyghurs in China’s far northwest. Many people abroad still believe China should have done more to stop COVID-19 from expanding past its origin in Wuhan.
“The reticence about going to Beijing has to do with the political issues that have come to light over the past several years,” Nagy said.
The European Parliament passed a resolution July 8 calling on “government representatives and diplomats” to boycott the Beijing Games, citing reasons that include “the rapid deterioration of the human rights situation in Hong Kong and more specifically the open attacks against freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”
International observers see the 2020 National Security Law implemented in Hong Kong by China as a crackdown on democratic freedoms in the territory.
China’s state-run People’s Daily said the new laws aim to “protect people’s rights” and make Hong Kong “safer” after months of demonstrations on the streets in protest of an extradition measure that has since been withdrawn.
Scores of human rights groups have asked for full boycotts, meaning countries would send no athletes, and some want major broadcasters including the American network NBC to cancel plans to cover the Games.
In June and July, some U.S. lawmakers pushed for a diplomatic boycott of the Games, meaning no federal funds would be spent to support Olympics attendance by federal employees. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a research group, found in March that 49% of Americans backed a boycott.
No teams have announced that they will pull out of the Games — although North Korea was banned this month after the International Olympic Committee suspended it for not showing up in Tokyo. North Korea and its allies skipped the Seoul Olympics in 1988, the most recent full boycott.
As Carter continues to perfect his skiing for the Olympics, he watches closely for the latest political developments to see if a 2022 U.S. boycott will take place. “I hope it doesn’t happen, but it isn’t in my control,” he said. “I’m focused on my training and preparation, and we’ll see what happens.”
R. Kelly, the R&B superstar known for his anthem “I Believe I Can Fly,” was convicted Monday in a sex-trafficking trial after decades of avoiding criminal responsibility for numerous allegations of misconduct with young women and children.
A jury of seven men and five women found Kelly guilty of racketeering on their second day of deliberations. Kelly remained motionless, eyes downcast as the verdict was read.
The charges were based on an argument that the entourage of managers and aides who helped the singer meet girls — and keep them obedient and quiet — amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Several accusers testified in lurid detail during the trial, alleging that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
Kelly was also convicted of criminal counts accusing him of violating the Mann Act, which makes it illegal to take anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”
Kelly lawyer Deveraux Cannick said he was disappointed by the verdict.
“I think I’m even more disappointed the government brought the case in the first place given all the inconsistencies,” Cannick said.
For years, the public and news media seemed to be more amused than horrified by allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors, starting with Kelly’s illegal marriage to the R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15.
His records and concert tickets kept selling. Other artists continued to record his songs, even after he was arrested in 2002 and accused of making a recording of himself sexually abusing and urinating on a 14-year-old girl.
Widespread public condemnation didn’t come until a widely watched docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” helped make his case a signifier of the #MeToo era, and gave voice to accusers who wondered if their stories were previously ignored because they were Black women.
At the trial, several of Kelly’s accusers testified without using their real names to protect their privacy and prevent possible harassment by the singer’s fans. Jurors were shown homemade videos of Kelly engaging in sex acts that prosecutors said were not consensual.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez argued that Kelly was a serial abuser who “maintained control over these victims using every trick in the predator handbook.”
The defense labeled the accusers “groupies” and “stalkers.”
Cannick questioned why the alleged victims stayed in relationships with Kelly if they thought they were being exploited.
“You made a choice,” Cannick told one woman who testified, adding, “You participated of your own will.”
Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, has been jailed without bail since 2019. The trial was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and Kelly’s last-minute shakeup of his legal team.
When it finally started on August 18, prosecutors painted the 54-year-old singer as a pampered man-child and control freak. His accusers said they were under orders to call him “Daddy,” expected to jump and kiss him anytime he walked into a room, and to cheer only for him when he played pickup basketball games in which they said he was a ball hog.
The accusers alleged that they also were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as violent spankings if they broke what one referred to as “Rob’s rules.” Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they exposed what was happening.
Among the other more troubling tableaus: Kelly keeping a gun by his side while he berated one of his accusers as a prelude to forcing her to give him oral sex in a Los Angeles music studio; Kelly giving several alleged victims herpes without disclosing he had an STD; Kelly coercing a teen boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage; and Kelly shooting a shaming video of one alleged victim showing her smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
Some of the most harrowing testimony came from a woman who said Kelly took advantage of her in 2003 when she was an unsuspecting radio station intern. She testified he whisked her to his Chicago recording studio, where she was kept locked up and was drugged before he sexually assaulted her while she was passed out.
When she realized she was trapped, “I was scared. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed,” she said.
She said one of R. Kelly’s employees warned her to keep her mouth shut about what had happened.
Other testimony focused on Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah. One of the final witnesses described seeing him sexually abusing her around 1993, when Aaliyah was only 13 or 14.
Jurors also heard testimony about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated Aaliyah. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
In at least one instance, Kelly was accused of abusing a victim around the time he was under investigation in a child pornography case in Chicago. He was acquitted at trial in 2008.
For the Brooklyn trial, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly barred people not directly involved in the case from the courtroom in what she called a coronavirus precaution. Reporters and other spectators had to watch on a video feed from another room in the same building.
The New York case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota. Trial dates in those cases have yet to be set.
Facebook is putting its Instagram Kids project on hold amid growing concerns about potential harmful effects on young people, including anxiety and depression.
The idea is to provide youngsters with the Instagram social media experience but with no ads, more parental control and age-appropriate content.
U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged Facebook to scrap the plan entirely for safety concerns.
“Today is a watershed moment for the growing tech accountability movement and a great day for anyone who believes that children’s wellbeing should come before Big Tech’s profits,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, an advocacy group focused on children.
“We commend Facebook for listening to the many voices who have loudly and consistently told them that Instagram Youth will result in significant harms to children.”
Golin vowed to continue fighting against Instagram Kids “until they permanently pull the plug.”
While Instagram Kids would require parental permission to join, the company said it was putting the idea on pause to “continue to build opt-in parental supervision tools for teens,” the company said in a blog post.
“We’ll continue our work to allow parents to oversee their children’s accounts by expanding these tools to teen accounts (aged 13 and over) on Instagram.”
The company said the reality is that kids are online and that a product like Instagram Kids would be “better for parents.”
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported internal Facebook documents showed the company knows Instagram can have harmful effects on teens, particularly girls. According to the Journal, Facebook has done little to address the issue.
Facebook called the report inaccurate.
(Some information in this report comes from Reuters.)
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” a jukebox adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s hyperactive 2001 movie, won the best new musical crown at the Tony Awards on a Sunday night when Broadway looked back to honor shows shuttered by COVID-19, mourn its fallen and also look forward to welcoming audiences again.
The show about the goings-on in a turn-of-the-century Parisian nightclub, updated with tunes like “Single Ladies” and “Firework” alongside the big hit “Lady Marmalade,” won 10 Tonys. The record is 12, won by “The Producers.”
Producer Carmen Pavlovic struck a philosophical note in her acceptance speech, sharing the award with all the shows that struggled in the past 18-month shutdown.
“It feels a little odd to me to be talking about one show as best musical. I feel that every show of last season deserves to be thought of as the best musical,” she said. “The shows that opened, the shows that closed not to return, the shows that nearly opened. And of course, the shows that paused and are fortunate enough to be reborn — best musical is all of those shows.”
“The Inheritance” by Matthew Lopez was named the best new play and won three other awards, and Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play” won best play revival and an acting award.
Lopez’s two-part, seven-hour epic uses “Howards End” as a starting point for a play that looks at gay life in the early 21st century. It also yielded wins for Andrew Burnap as best actor in a play, Stephen Daldry as best director, and Lois Smith as best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play.
Thomas Kirdahy, a producer, dedicated the award to his late husband, the playwright Terrence McNally. Lopez, the first Latino writer to win in the category, urged more plays to be produced from the Latin community. “We have so many stories inside us aching to come out. Let us tell you our stories,” he said.
The pandemic-delayed telecast kicked off with an energetic performance of “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from original Broadway cast members of “Hairspray!” Ali Stroker sang “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line.” Jennifer Holliday also took the stage to deliver an unforgettable rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from the musical “Dreamgirls.”
The singers performed for a masked and appreciative audience at a packed Winter Garden Theatre. Host Audra McDonald got a standing ovation when she took the stage. “You can’t stop the beat. The heart of New York City!” she said.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” won for scenic design, costume, lighting, sound design, orchestrations and a featured acting Tony for Broadway favorite Danny Burstein. Sonya Tayeh won for choreography in her Broadway debut, and Alex Timbers won the trophy for best direction of a musical.
In a surprise to no one, Aaron Tveit won the award for best leading actor in a musical for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” That’s because he was the only person nominated in the category. He thanked a long list of people, including his parents, brother, agents, manager and the cast and crew. “We are so privileged to get to do this,” he said, tearing up. “Because what we do changes peoples’ lives.”
Burstein, who won for featured actor in a musical and had not won six previous times, thanked the Broadway community for supporting him after the death last year of his wife, Rebecca Luker. “You were there for us, whether you just sent a note or sent your love, sent your prayers — sent bagels — it meant the world to us, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
David Alan Grier won featured actor in a play for his role in “A Soldier’s Play,” which dissects entrenched Black-white racism as well as internal divisions in the Black military community during World War II. “To my other nominees: Tough bananas, I won,” he said. On stage, the director, Kenny Leon recited the names Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, killed by police. “We will never, ever forget you.”
Adrienne Warren won the Tony for best leading actress in a musical for her electric turn as Tina Turner in “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical.” Warren was considered the front-runner thanks to becoming a one-woman fireball of energy and exhilaration. She dedicated the win to three family members she lost while playing Turner — and thanked Turner herself.
Mary-Louise Parker won her second best lead actress Tony Award, winning for playing a Yale professor who treasures great literature but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with in “The Sound Inside.” She thanked her dog, whom she was walking in the rain when she bumped into Mandy Greenfield from the Williamstown Theatre Festival, who told her about the play.
Burnap made his Broadway debut in “The Inheritance.” He thanked his mom, and the University of Rhode Island and joked that he felt grateful because “I got to act for seven hours.”
The sobering musical “Jagged Little Pill,” which plumbs Alanis Morissette’s 1995 breakthrough album to tell a story of an American family spiraling out of control, came into the night with a leading 15 Tony nominations. It left with wins for best book, and Lauren Patten won the award for best featured actress in a musical.
“A Christmas Carol” cleaned up with five technical awards: scenic design of a play, costumes, lighting, sound design and score. But no one from the production was on hand to accept any of the awards.
“Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris’ ground-breaking, bracing work that mixes race, sex, taboo desires and class, earned a dozen nominations, making it the most nominated play in Tony history. But it won nothing.
Sunday’s show was expanded from its typical three hours to four, with McDonald handing out Tonys for the first two hours and Leslie Odom Jr. hosting a “Broadway’s Back!” celebration for the second half with performances from the three top musicals.
The live special also included David Byrne and the cast of “American Utopia” playing “Burning Down the House” to a standing and clapping crowd. Byrne told them they might not remember how to dance after so long but they were welcome to try.
John Legend and the cast of “Ain’t Too Proud” performed “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and Josh Groban and Odom Jr. sang “Beautiful City” from “Godspell,” dedicating it to educators. And Ben Platt and Anika Noni Rose sang “Move On” from “Sunday in the Park with George.” Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth reunited for the “Wicked” song “For Good.”
Members of Broadway’s royalty — Norm Lewis, Kelli O’Hara and Brian Stokes Mitchell — mourned the list of those who have died, which included icons like McNally, Harold Prince and Larry Kramer.
This season’s nominations were pulled from just 18 eligible plays and musicals from the 2019-2020 season, a fraction of the 34 shows the previous season. During most years, there are 26 competitive categories. This year there are 25 with several depleted ones.
The last Tony Awards ceremony was held in 2019. The virus forced Broadway theaters to abruptly close on March 12, 2020, knocking out all shows and scrambling the spring season. Several have restarted, including the so-called big three of “Wicked,” “Hamilton” and “The Lion King.”
A new era of American golfers sent a message Sunday with a record-setting Ryder Cup blowout of Europe, their young, talented core players looking ready to dominate for years.
With eight under-30 players and six Ryder Cup rookies, the Americans completed a 19-9 rout of Europe at Whistling Straits that signaled a generational change to the world.
Farewell Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Say hello to Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, two-time major winner Collin Morikawa, U.S. PGA playoff champion Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler, 20-something stars.
“We have a lot of young guys, they’re going to be on teams for a long time and I wanted to send a message,” said Cantlay. “Everyone has that killer instinct and we’re going to bring that to future Cups.”
The most lopsided victory since the U.S.-Europe format began in 1979 served notice that a squad with nine of the world’s 11 top-ranked players was on a mission.
“This is a new era for USA golf,” U.S. captain Steve Stricker said. “They are young. They are motivated. They wanted it. They come with a lot of energy, a lot of passion, a lot of game. It’s exciting to see. This is a very special group of guys.”
Third-ranked Morikawa, 24, and fourth-ranked Cantlay, 29, each delivered 3.5 points. Fifth-ranked Schauffele, 27, had 3 points and world number 21 Scheffler, 25, had 2.5, the last in a singles win over world number one Jon Rahm of Spain.
And they were all rookies along with 11th-ranked Harris English, 32, and 16th-ranked Daniel Berger, 28.
“We showed the world what we can do as a team and I think it’s the precedent for the future of American golf,” said US veteran Tony Finau.
Pals Cantlay and Schauffele figure to be a U.S. pairs powerhouse for years, and the clubhouse chemistry promises a tighter bond than prior eras.
“I think the young guys on this team get along really well,” Cantlay said. “We sent out rookies four out of the first five (singles) matches. That’s unheard of. Everybody gets along.”
Morikawa delivered the Cup clinching half-point in a tie with Norway’s Viktor Hovland, and Cantlay beat Ireland’s Shane Lowry, while Scheffler’s upset, and Bryson DeChambeau’s win over Sergio Garcia silenced Europe’s winningest players for the week when it mattered most.
Europe veteran Lee Westwood delivered high praise to the conquerors.
“It’s not just the strongest U.S. team I’ve seen, but they all played well, to a man,” he said. “Everybody performed and turned up this week. Looks like they are a team.”
At the next Ryder Cup in 2023 in Italy, the new-look Americans will try to win the trophy on foreign soil for the first time since 1993.
“We’ve lost a lot looking back at the past. But that’s the past. We’re hopefully what the future is going to be like,” Morikawa said. “Hopefully we can turn that tide in our favor for however many years I’m able to play this.”
Macho men are in and effeminate male performers are out as Beijing expands its crackdown on China’s entertainment industry, blaming the rise of unmanly men on U.S. influence in Japan.
Male celebrities, even top moneymakers, are changing their images seemingly overnight now that China’s National Radio and TV Administration and other government agencies have made it clear that men who can be described as “niang pao,” a derogatory term for effeminate men, are no longer suitable role models.
New government controls call for broadcasters to enforce a “correct beauty standard” and to stop booking male celebrities who fail to meet the manly criteria.
Huang Zitao once belonged to the South Korean boy band Exo, which performs in Korean, Mandarin and Japanese. Now without eye makeup and earrings, the Chinese singer has posted shirtless “gym rat” selfies, showing off his muscles on social media.
And as for heartthrob Wang Yibo? Gone are his bleached blond locks, replaced by black hair.
Jonathan Sullivan, a political science professor and director of China Programs at the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute, called the latest development “sad.”
“Personal style was one of the few areas that politics had retreated from, and Chinese young people were free to find individual expression,” he told VOA Mandarin in an email message. “If that freedom is also subject to circumscriptions from the state, I think that is quite a sad development.”
Ma, a Chinese cultural commentator who asked VOA Mandarin to use only his first name for his safety, said the latest campaign aims to ensure China has warriors ready for any future military action.
“Promoting more gentle male characters has nothing to do with politics, but if a country is getting ready for a military conflict, enough manpower is key,” he said. “The one-child policy greatly reduced China’s combat readiness, so the authorities are attacking the sissy men culture now to make sure they have enough manly soldiers to prepare for possible wars in the future.”
Sullivan said the outcry around the “crisis of masculinity” has been growing for several years.
“To me, the focus on the way male celebrities dress and conduct themselves is a red herring. Another instance of ‘social engineering’ overreach, like football players being told to cover their tattoos,” he said. “I wouldn’t interpret this as wanting to increase the ‘readiness for conflict’ of Chinese men, but it is certainly in keeping with the ‘robust posture’ of the Xi era.” [[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWc31Szc4UU ]]
Since ascending to power in 2012, President Xi Jinping has stressed that the Chinese Communist Party must lead all people — a position that extends its control, and his, over all aspects of life. The country’s powerful tech industry and the influential entertainment sector are his latest targets.
China’s Cyberspace Administration launched a “qing lang” or “clear and bright campaign” in May with the goal of eliminating “harmful online problems damaging young people’s mental
On August 28, the China Internet Information Center, a state-run web portal, published photos of popular male celebrities in an article titled “We Must Stop the Niang Pao Culture.” The term “niang pao” comes from a 2007 Taiwan drama in which it was used to describe a male character considered “weak and emotional like a woman.”
China’s netizens responded quickly to the article. “Don’t judge others’ beauty standards. Don’t force others to agree with your beauty standard,” said one.
Another posted: “All forms of beauty should be respected. Girls don’t have to be feminine, and boys don’t have to be masculine.”
On September 2, China’s TV regulator published new rules banning effeminate male celebrities. Broadcasters must “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal aesthetics” to “vigorously promote excellent Chinese traditional culture, revolutionary culture and advanced socialist culture.”
This week, Chinese state media renewed their promotion of an idea first presented in 2019: The U.S. has pushed an effeminate image upon Japanese men to curtail aggression in the island nation it defeated in World War II.
China’s state media Global Times on Wednesday published an article, “Japan’s ‘Niang Pao’ Culture: A Big Chess Game by the U.S.?” It suggested that by influencing Japan’s postwar entertainment industry, the U.S. was behind Tokyo’s contemporary pop culture, which spread the ideal of male effeminacy to other East Asian countries.
Most people in China’s entertainment industry believe that the effeminate male ideal originated in neighboring Japan and South Korea.
The trend began when Japanese superstar Takuya Kimura, then of SMAP, one of Asia’s best-selling boy bands, appeared in a 1996 TV commercial for Kanebo lipsticks. He emerged from a romantic tangle with colored lips and the tagline ”Attack me with super lips.” Kanebo sold more than 3 million lipsticks in two months.
In 2018, under the headline “Love Me, Love My Lipstick,” the China Daily, a state-controlled news outlet, wrote, “Of course you can’t have (Kimura), yet having a lipstick he used might just bring him a little closer to you.”
The story referenced a lipstick campaign from the French company Guerlain, which featured Chinese actor Yang Yang, and cited many other male entertainers as the “faces” of Western cosmetic companies.
Wang Hailin, the screenwriter vice president of China’s National Film Literature Association, has been a longtime critic of effeminate male celebrities.
“If the most popular actors in our country are those who look gender neutral, it will pose a threat to beauty standards in our country,” he said during a 2018 talk show appearance.
In February, the Ministry of Education began promoting sports in Chinese schools by issuing The Proposal to Prevent the Feminization of Male Adolescents, a set of guidelines calling for “vigorously developing” activities, such as football, for “cultivating students’ masculinity.”
Wang blasted boy bands earlier this month, saying, “If a man pays too much attention to his outfits and his makeup, it means that he is trying to avoid responsibility and our society is going backward. …If we have more sporty and manly men, it means that our society is moving forward and improving.”
Ma, the cultural commentator, said the entertainment industry should discuss the government’s latest standard for male looks before enforcing them too strictly.
“Some like femininity and some like masculinity. We should allow different beauty standards to coexist and reach a balance point,” he said. “When the authorities intervene, it’s hard to reach a real balance.”
VOA Mandarin Service reporter Lin Yang contributed to this report.
A top executive of Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies has resolved criminal charges against her as part of a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that could pave the way for her to return to China.
The deal with Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, was disclosed in federal court in Brooklyn on Friday. It calls for the Justice Department to dismiss the case next December, or four years after her arrest, if she complies with certain conditions.
The deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, resolves a yearslong legal and geopolitical tussle that involved not only the U.S. and China but also Canada, where Meng has remained since her arrest there in December 2018. Meng appeared via videoconference at Friday’s hearing.
The deal was reached as President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have sought to minimize signs of public tension, even as the world’s two dominant economies are at odds on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, climate change, human rights, and trade and tariffs.
A spokesperson for Huawei declined to comment, and a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Charges unsealed in 2019
Under then-President Donald Trump, the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges in 2019, just before a crucial two-day round of trade talks between the U.S. and China, that accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets. The charges also alleged that Meng had committed fraud by misleading banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran.
The indictment accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Meng fought the Justice Department’s extradition request, and her lawyers called the case against her flawed. Last month, a Canadian judge didn’t rule on whether Meng should be extradited to the U.S. after a Canadian Justice Department lawyer wrapped up his case saying there was enough evidence to show she was dishonest and deserved to stand trial in the U.S.
Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies, and some analysts say Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms amid allegations of technology theft. The company represents China’s progress in becoming a technological power and has been a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns.
It has repeatedly denied the U.S. government’s allegations and the security concerns about its products.
Somalia’s National Theater in Mogadishu held a landmark event Wednesday night, screening movies for the first time in three decades.
The theater was recently renovated and reopened after being destroyed twice – once in Somalia’s civil war, and then again in a 2012 suicide bombing.
More than 1,500 people attended the screenings.
The two films, Hoos, meaning “shadow” in Somali, and the other, Date of Hell, were screened in the Chinese-built theater constructed in 1967.
Starring Egypt-based actor Kaifa Jama, the short films depict some of the challenges faced by young Somalis brought up outside the country and who are not familiar with Somali and Islamic culture.
Jama said the films were produced in Cairo with no resources and largely on volunteers among her peers, with no payment for actors and actresses. She said the producers convinced hotels and hospitals to let them film on their grounds in exchange for advertisements in order to avoid extra costs.
The theater also used volunteers for its reconstruction, which was overseen by the government. The building was completely destroyed during Somalia’s civil war in the early 1990s. It was rebuilt in 2012, only to be ruined again at its reopening after being targeted by an al-Shabab suicide bomber. Then-Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali survived the explosion, but dozens of others died.
For this renovation, workers installed some 1,500 new seats. The theater officially reopened last year and has hosted graduation ceremonies for local schools.
According to organizers, more than 1,000 tickets were sold for Wednesday night’s screenings.
Among the participants was Ilham Mohamud.
The moviegoer said she was very happy and excited to be at the national theater for the first time in her life. She said she felt patriotic regarding the progress that is continuously made in her country.
Information and Culture Minister Osman Dube said the theater will host more events in coming weeks. He said the theater is expected to showcase films, plays, poetry, book fairs and comedy that reflect Islamic and Somali culture.
Using a raised eyebrow or smile, people with speech or physical disabilities can now operate their Android-powered smartphones hands-free, Google said Thursday.
Two new tools put machine learning and front-facing cameras on smartphones to work detecting face and eye movements.
Users can scan their phone screen and select a task by smiling, raising eyebrows, opening their mouth, or looking to the left, right or up.
“To make Android more accessible for everyone, we’re launching new tools that make it easier to control your phone and communicate using facial gestures,” Google said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 61 million adults in the United States live with disabilities, which has pushed Google and rivals Apple and Microsoft to make products and services more accessible to them.
“Every day, people use voice commands, like ‘Hey Google,’ or their hands to navigate their phones,” the tech giant said in a blog post.
“However, that’s not always possible for people with severe motor and speech disabilities.”
The changes are the result of two new features, one is called “Camera Switches,” which lets people use their faces instead of swipes and taps to interact with smartphones.
The other is Project Activate, a new Android application which allows people to use those gestures to trigger an action, like having a phone play a recorded phrase, send a text, or make a call.
“Now it’s possible for anyone to use eye movements and facial gestures that are customized to their range of movement to navigate their phone – sans hands and voice,” Google said.
The free Activate app is available in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States at the Google Play shop.
Apple, Google and Microsoft have consistently rolled out innovations that make internet technology more accessible to people with disabilities or who find that age has made some tasks, such as reading, more difficult.
Voice-commanded digital assistants built into speakers and smartphones can enable people with sight or movement challenges to tell computers what to do.
There is software that identifies text on webpages or in images and then reads it aloud, as well as automatic generation of captions that display what is said in videos.
An “AssistiveTouch” feature that Apple built into the software powering its smart watch lets touchscreen displays be controlled by sensing movements such as finger pinches or hand clenches.
“This feature also works with VoiceOver so you can navigate Apple Watch with one hand while using a cane or leading a service animal,” Apple said in a post.
Computing colossus Microsoft describes accessibility as essential to empowering everyone with technology tools.
“To enable transformative change accessibility needs to be a priority,” Microsoft said in a post.
“We aim to build it into what we design for every team, organization, classroom, and home.”
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the U.S. capital began its 50th anniversary season in mid-September with musicians back on stage and spectators in their seats. But some COVID-19 measures remain in place for the new season. Karina Bafradzhian reports.
Camera: Sergey Sokolov
Melvin Van Peebles, the groundbreaking filmmaker, playwright and musician whose work ushered in the “blaxploitation” wave of the 1970s and influenced filmmakers long afterward, has died. He was 89.
In a statement, his family said Van Peebles, father of the actor-director Mario Van Peebles, died Tuesday evening at his home in Manhattan.
“Dad knew that Black images matter. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what was a movie worth?” Mario Van Peebles said in a statement Wednesday. “We want to be the success we see, thus we need to see ourselves being free. True liberation did not mean imitating the colonizer’s mentality. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.”
Sometimes called the “godfather of modern Black cinema,” the multitalented Van Peebles wrote numerous books and plays and recorded several albums — playing multiple instruments and delivering rap-style lyrics. He later became a successful options trader on the stock market.
But he was best known for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, one of the most influential movies of its time. The low-budget art-house film, which he wrote, produced, directed, starred in and scored, was the frenzied, hypersexual and violent tale of a Black street hustler on the run from police after killing white officers who were beating a Black revolutionary.
Message of empowerment
With its hard-living, tough-talking depiction of life in the ghetto, underscored by a message of empowerment as told from a Black perspective, it set the tone for a genre that turned out dozens of films over the next few years and prompted a debate about whether Black people were being recognized or exploited.
“All the films about Black people up to now have been told through the eyes of the Anglo-Saxon majority in their rhythms and speech and pace,” Van Peebles told Newsweek in 1971, the year of the film’s release.
“I could have called it The Ballad of the Indomitable Sweetback. But I wanted the core audience, the target audience, to know it’s for them,” he told The Associated Press in 2003. “So I said, ‘ba-ad asssss,’ like you really say it.”
Made for around $500,000 (including $50,000 provided by Bill Cosby), it grossed $14 million at the box office despite an X rating, limited distribution and mixed critical reviews. The New York Times, for example, accused Van Peebles of merchandizing injustice and called the film “an outrage.”
Van Peebles, who complained fiercely to the Motion Picture Association over the X rating, gave the film its tagline: “Rated X by an all-white jury.”
But in the wake of the film’s success, Hollywood realized an untapped audience and began churning out such box office hits as Shaft and Superfly, which were also known for bringing in such top musicians as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes to work on the soundtracks.
Many of Hollywood’s versions were exaggerated crime dramas, replete with pimps and drug dealers, which drew heavy criticism in both the white and Black press.
“What Hollywood did — they suppressed the political message, added caricature — and blaxploitation was born,” Van Peebles said in 2002. “The colored intelligentsia were not too happy about it.”
In fact, civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality coined the phrase “blaxploitation” and formed the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. Among the genre’s 21st-century fans was Quentin Tarantino, whose Oscar-winning Django Unchained was openly influenced by blaxploitation films and spaghetti Westerns.
On Wednesday, a younger generation of Black filmmakers mourned Van Peebles’ death. Barry Jenkins, the Moonlight director, said on Twitter: “He made the most of every second, of EVERY single damn frame.”
After his initial success, Van Peebles was bombarded with directing offers, but he chose to maintain his independence.
“I’ll only work with them on my terms,” he said. “I’ve whipped the man’s ass on his own turf. I’m number one at the box office — which is the way America measures things — and I did it on my own. Now they want me, but I’m in no hurry.”
Van Peebles then got involved on Broadway, writing and producing several plays and musicals such as the Tony-nominated Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death and Don’t Play Us Cheap. He later wrote the movie Greased Lighting, which starred Richard Pryor as Wendell Scott, the first Black race car driver.
In the 1980s, Van Peebles turned to Wall Street and options trading. He wrote a financial self-help guide entitled Bold Money: A New Way to Play the Options Market.
Born Melvin Peebles in Chicago on August 21, 1932, he would later add “Van” to his name. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1953 and joined the Air Force, serving as a navigator for three years.
After military service, he moved to Mexico and worked as a portrait painter, followed by a move to San Francisco, where he started writing short stories and making short films.
Van Peebles soon went to Hollywood, but he was offered only a job as a studio elevator operator. Disappointed, he moved to Holland to take graduate courses in astronomy while also studying at the Dutch National Theatre.
Eventually he gave up his studies and moved to Paris, where he learned he could join the French directors’ guild if he adapted his own work written in French. He quickly taught himself the language and wrote several novels.
One he made into a feature film. La Permission/The Story of the Three-Day Pass was the story of an affair between a Black U.S. soldier and a French woman. It won the critic’s choice award at the San Francisco film festival in 1967, and Van Peebles gained Hollywood’s attention.
The following year, he was hired to direct and write the score for Watermelon Man, the tale of a white bigot (played by comic Godfrey Cambridge in whiteface) who wakes up one day as a Black man.
With money earned from the project, Van Peebles went to work on Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
Van Peebles’ death came just days before the New York Film Festival is to celebrate him with a 50th anniversary of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Next week, the Criterion Collection is to release a box set of his essential films. A revival of his play Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death is also planned to hit Broadway next year, with Mario Van Peebles serving as creative producer.
The projectors are rolling. The ruby slippers are on. Many an Oscar sits glistening. The shark has been hanging, and waiting, for nearly a year.
Nine years after it was announced, four years after its first projected open date, and five months since its last planned launch date, the U.S. film academy’s museum is ready to open to the public on Sept 30.
“I’m very moved to be able to say to you, finally, at last, boy howdy hey, welcome to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures,” Tom Hanks told reporters Tuesday at a media preview of the Los Angeles building and its exhibits.
Hanks, a member of the board of trustees, led the fundraising for the project along with fellow actor Annette Bening and Walt Disney Co. executive chairman Bob Iger.
“We all know, films are made everywhere in the world, and they are wonderful films,” Hanks said. “And there are other cities with film museums, but with all due respect, created by the Motion Picture Academy, in Los Angeles, this museum has really got to be the Parthenon of such places.”
The first thing most visitors will notice on entering the building is Bruce, a 1,208-pound (548-kilogram), 25-foot-long (7.6-meter), 46-year-old shark made from the “Jaws” mold. Bruce hangs above the bank of main escalators and was hoisted there last November in anticipation of what was then a planned April opening.
The featured inaugural exhibit celebrates the works of the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Others examine the work of directors Spike Lee and Pedro Almodovar.
Some galleries focus on the Oscars, with actual statuettes won across the decades, and speeches projected on walls.
Projected scenes are a theme in all the museum’s galleries, with technology from 18th century “magic lanterns” through silent films to the 3-D digital tech of today.
Costumes from “The Wizard of Oz” to “The Wiz” are on display, including Dorothy’s ruby slippers.
Announced in 2012 and first slated to open in 2017, the museum was beset with delays that are typical for such a project, but they were compounded by a pair of pandemic postponements.
Designed by architect Renzo Piano, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a 300,000-square-foot (27,871-square-meter) space made up of two buildings, one old, one new, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“It’s shiny and new and enormous, and it’s crammed with about 125 years’ worth of ideas and dreams and life-changing cinematic experiences,” actor Anna Kendrick said at the media preview.
The older structure is the 1930s Saban Building, once home to the May Company department store. It’s linked by bridges to a new building that is topped by a terrace and a concrete-and-glass dome that has a distinctiveness that could lead to a nickname.
Piano said Tuesday that he hopes it’s “the soap bubble” and not something more cinematic.
“Please,” the architect said, “don’t call it the Death Star.”
Six Native American tribes sued Wisconsin on Tuesday to try to stop its planned gray wolf hunt in November, asserting that the hunt violates their treaty rights and endangers an animal they consider sacred.
The Chippewa tribes say treaties give them rights to half of the wolf quota in territory they ceded to the United States in the mid-1800s. But rather than hunt wolves, the tribes want to protect them.
The tribal lawsuit comes three weeks after a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups sued to stop Wisconsin’s wolf hunt this fall and void a state law mandating annual hunts, arguing that the statutes don’t give wildlife managers any leeway to consider population estimates.
Hunters blew past their limit during a court-ordered hunt in February. The state Department of Natural Resources set the quota at 119, but hunters killed 218 wolves in just four days, forcing an early end to the season.
Conservationists then deluged the department with requests to cancel this fall’s hunt out of concerns it could devastate the wolf population. Agency biologists recommended setting the fall quota at 130. But the agency’s board last month set the kill limit at 300.
The tribes have claimed their half, but since they won’t hunt wolves, the working quota for state-licensed hunters would be 150. The lawsuit alleges the board’s decision to set the quota at 300 was a deliberate move to nullify the tribes’ share and was not based on science.
The DNR’s latest estimates put Wisconsin’s wolf population at roughly 1,000. Opponents say hunters probably killed at least a quarter of the population if poaching is included.
“In our treaty rights, we’re supposed to share with the state 50-50 in our resources and we’re feeling that we’re not getting our due diligence because of the slaughter of wolves in February,” John Johnson Sr., president of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
The Ojibwe word for “wolf” is Ma’iingan, and the Indigenous people of the Great Lakes region often call themselves Anishinaabe. The wolf holds a sacred place in their creation story.
“To the Anishinaabe, the Ma’iingan are our brothers. The legends and stories tell us as brothers we walk hand in hand together. What happens to the Ma’iingan happens to humanity,” Marvin Defoe, an official and elder with Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said in the statement.
Hunters, farmers and conservationists have been fighting over how to manage Wisconsin’s wolves. Farmers say wolves kill livestock, while hunters are looking for another species to stalk.
The six tribes are represented by Earthjustice, which is one of several groups that are suing the federal government over the Trump administration’s decision last November to lift Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S. and return management authority to the states.
Gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are considered part of the western Great Lakes population, which is managed separately from wolves in Western states.
The Biden administration last Wednesday said federal protections may need to be restored for western wolves because Republican-backed state laws have made it much easier to kill the predators. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s initial determination that western wolves could again be imperiled launched a yearlong biological review.
Dozens of tribes asked the Biden administration one day earlier to immediately enact emergency protections for gray wolves across the country, saying states have become too aggressive in hunting them. They asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to act quickly on an emergency petition they filed in May to relist the wolf as endangered or threatened.
The Nigerian aid group Center for Civilians in Conflict is marking this year’s U.N. International Day of Peace with a photo exhibit on the conflict in the country’s northeast. The photographs depict some of the millions of civilians caught up in the 12-year conflict started by militant group Boko Haram.
The photo exhibit opened Tuesday morning at the Thought Pyramid Art Center in Abuja. Around 150 visitors arrived in batches to see images taken from scenes of the Boko Haram insurgency and the communities affected by it.
Art lover Hillary Essien, who attended the exhibit, says the photos tell a story of pain and survival.
“They’re actual people, being here and seeing that these people are out there away from their homes, families, fearing for their lives, it’s just really touching to be honest,” she said.
Nigerian photojournalist Damilola Onafuwa took the photos for nonprofit Center for Civilians in Conflict, and says he’s happy about the effect the pictures are having on viewers.
“When I create these works, I only create them because I want people to know,” he said. “I want to share the stories of people that I’m photographing. When people see it and I see how much impact it has on them, that makes me very happy.”
Nigeria has been battling the Boko Haram insurgency for 12 years. The fighting has claimed an estimated 350,000 lives, according to the United Nations Development Program, and displaced millions of others.
But Boko Haram is not the only group threatening the northeast. Armed criminal groups are becoming more active, often kidnapping people for ransom. Communal clashes over grazing lands are leading to raids and burnings of villages.
The Center for Civilians in Conflict says the exhibit aims to raise awareness about these issues with the view of addressing them.
“The exhibition tries to chronicle the lives of ordinary Nigerians who are trying everything possible to maintain the peace,” said Beson Olugbuo, a director at the center. “The idea is to use photographs as a means of advocacy and also to remind the federal government that they have a primary responsibility to maintain law and order, to protect lives and property and ensure that peace reigns.”
The International Day of Peace is observed every year on September 21.