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    Race, music, strong women at heart of movie ‘Ma Rainey’

    By Jill Serjeant

    LOS ANGELES – Film drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” may be set in the racially divided United States of the 1920s and was written almost 40 years ago, but it arrives with much to say about today.

    Starring Viola Davis as Black blues singer Ma Rainey and the late Chadwick Boseman as a hot-headed trumpet player, the movie comes to Netflix on Friday as Hollywood and the United States grapple with systemic racism.

    “The reason why (the film) resonates today is because racism hasn’t been destroyed. It has just evolved,” said Davis.

    “You can’t go through 400 years of systemic racism and policies and practices and not have it resonate today in education, in how women are paid and how Black people are paid, and how worthy we’re seen,” she added.

    “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” takes place on a hot Chicago day in 1927 during a tense recording session where the diva-like singer engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and her band over money and control of her music.

    Davis, who won a supporting actress Oscar in 2017 and is widely expected to be nominated next year, said she saw Ma as a liberated woman “meaning she was not a woman of her time because she was a woman who unapologetically knew her worth.”

    Adapted from August Wilson’s play of the same name, “Ma Rainey” was filmed in July 2019, a year before street protests broke out nationwide over the killings of Black people by police.

    “To me, (the movie) is a conversation about how can we have a future until we come to terms with, and heal, and address the sins and scars of the past? That to me is the American conversation,” said director George C. Wolfe.

    Davis said the same conversation also applied to the entertainment industry, which is under pressure to increase diversity behind and in front of the camera.

    “A lot of our artistry, a lot of our imagination, a lot of our ideas are not seen as good as our white counterparts. So there’s a lot of things that still resonate because they haven’t changed,” she said.

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    K-Pop? How about T-Pop? Thai artists shoot for global audience

    By Chayut Setboonsarng and Jiraporn Kuhakan

    BANGKOK – Move over K-Pop. Here comes T-Pop.

    Thai female band Lyra, backed by the world’s biggest music label Universal Music Group (UMG), is hoping to harness its devoted fan base and match the success of South Korean artists who have who turned ‘K-Pop’ into an international phenomenon.

    “We have high expectations. We want to introduce … T-Pop music to the world,” said 20-year-old Lyra member Jennis Oprasert.

    Last year UMG partnered with Thai firm Independent Artist Management (iAM) to launch the six-member group, after auditioning some 80 girls and young women from the popular idol group BNK48.

    “It’s a bet,” said Paul Sirisant, who heads UMG in Thailand. But he believes originality will drive the band’s success.

    The group trained for months remotely via Zoom and later lived together in a house after plans to go to Los Angeles were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

    “We saw them transform into their individual artistic selves, which is great, but there were many tears,” Sirisant told Reuters.

    Navigating the shift from BNK48’s musical style was not always straightforward.

    “It’s not an easy ride at all,” said 18-year-old Natticha ‘Fond’ Chantaravareelekha.

    “The dancing, the music genre is different. I’ve never done it before, but even though it’s hard, I’ve loved (doing) it since I was a kid, so I’m ready.”

    Their eponymous debut single has over 6.5 million views on YouTube after about two months online.

    “We incorporated Thai elements by including sounds from two traditional instruments,” another member, Punsikorn ‘Pun’ Tiyakorn, 20, who also came up with the group’s name.

    Fans at home and abroad have been supportive.

    “I will support them until the end,” said 23-year-old Danaiphat Singto, as he watched a video of a performance by the band in Bangkok. “I really want them to reach global audiences.”

    The band is part of a wave of Thai musicians gaining attention from audiences and investors abroad.

    Thai-German singer Jannine Weigel was the first artist to sign with RedRecords, a venture between UMG and low-cost carrier AirAsia.

    Early signs of success already have labels planning new groups.

    “We plan to have more bands with Universal,” chief operating officer at iAM, Nataphol Pavaravadhana, said.

    “It will be different from Lyra for sure. Maybe indie. Stay tuned.”

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    Rupert Murdoch has received COVID-19 vaccine

    LONDON – News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, 89, has received the COVID-19 vaccine in Britain at his local doctor’s surgery, a statement issued on his behalf said on Friday.

    “He would like to thank the keyworkers and the NHS (National Health Service) staff who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic, and the amazing scientists who have made this vaccine possible,” the statement said.

    Murdoch received a call from the local surgery to say he was eligible. He has been isolating in Britain since the summer with his wife Jerry Hall Murdoch.

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    ‘Sesame Street’ unveils Rohingya Muppets to help refugee children

    By Naimul Karim

    DHAKA – Children’s TV show “Sesame Street” has unveiled its first Rohingya Muppets to help thousands of refugee children overcome trauma and tackle the pandemic’s impact in the world’s largest refugee settlement in Bangladesh.

    Six-year-old twins, Noor and Aziz Yasmin, will feature alongside the show’s famous characters like Elmo and Louie in educational videos in Rohingya language in the camps, according to Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation behind the show.

    “Noor and Aziz are at the heart of our efforts to bring early education … to children and caregivers … impacted tremendously by the dual crises of displacement and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sherrie Westin, president of social impact at Sesame Workshop, said in a statement.

    “For most Rohingya children, Noor and Aziz will be the very first characters in media who look and sound like them… (they)will bring the transformative power of playful learning to families at a time when it’s needed more than ever before.”

    According to U.N. figures, children make up more than half of about 730,000 Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh in 2017 after a mass exodus from Myanmar and now live in camps in Cox’s Bazar.

    Earlier this year aid agencies said the risks of child marriage and trafficking had increased in the camps as the pandemic led to scaling back camp activities and shutting youth services.

    Sesame Workshop described Noor as a passionate and curious girl who loves to make up funny new rules for games, while her brother is a storyteller whose creativity can, at times, distract him from his daily tasks.

    Bangladeshi non-government organisation BRAC, a partner of the programme, said the video segments would begin “soon”.

    “This will definitely help the Rohingya children stay connected to their roots,” said BRAC spokeswoman Hasina Akhter.