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March 2003
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SPIKE LEE DOWN ON B.E.T.

BET has taken a lot of shots these days, the most recent one coming from filmmaker Spike Lee. Lee made comments about BET at a lecture he gave to students in the British colony of Bermuda last month. "I was told BET was big here and I shook my head. If you get everything from BET you are getting the wrong thing," Lee said. Lee criticized BET’s music videos and the overall entertainment value of the channel. BET spokesman Michael Lewellen responded by saying, "I wonder if Spike is even aware that one of his more critically acclaimed works, ‘Malcolm X,’ made its premiere during Black History Month on BET. Judging by his comments apparently not," Lewellen said.


O.J.’s DAUGHTER CALLS 911

It’s recently been revealed that Sydney Simpson, 17, daughter of athlete/actor O.J. Simpson and his murdered wife Nicole, made a 911 call back in January and asked police to intervene in what she called "an abuse thing" with her dad. The police arrived at their Florida home and prepared a one-page report about an argument the two had over "family issues," but no charges were filed.


BYTHEWOOD A NEW DIRECTOR, VETERAN WRITER

Reggie "Rock" Bythewood may have made his feature film directing debut with the new Dreamworks release "Biker Boyz," but he’s no stranger to the Hollywood scene. The veteran television writer began his affiliation with tinseltown writing for the hit sitcom the "Cosby Show" and "A Different World." Dubbed a "screenwriting maverick," his previous writing credits also include Spike Lee's "Get on the Bus," and "Dancing in September." With his first chance at helming a feature, Bythewood was adamant on telling the story he wanted without the hassle of answering to the expectations of others. He began by researching the subculture of black biker enthusiasts, a phenomenon that was new to him. The film is based on the now defunct New Times Los Angeles article of the same name penned by journalist Michael Gougis.


BRANDY SHOWS OFF DESIGNER SKILLS

Singer/actress Brandy apparently has a knack for designing fashionable bangles. She recently designed a platinum pendant auctioned by Sotheby's to benefit the United Negro College Fund. Brandy’s design was a flowering heart necklace that producer Alex Soldier then made for the auction. The other charity designers were Barbra Streisand, Susan Sarandon, Christina Applegate, Penelope Cruz and Gisele Bundchen.


SNIPES FORGETS MORTGAGE MONEY - AGAIN

Wesley Snipes is being sued for the second time in two years for failing to make mortgage payments on his 10,000 square foot mansion in Isleworth, Florida. The lawsuit was filed last month in Orange County Circuit Court by Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corp. The lawsuit said Snipes defaulted on his payments last October and owes the bank almost $609,000. Snipes was sued by the bank for $640,700 in February 2001, also for failing to make his mortgage payments. Chase Manhattan asked for dismissal of that lawsuit a month later, after payments were made. Isleworth is also home to Tiger Woods, Ken Griffey Jr. and Shaquille O'Neal.


STUDIO EXECS DOUBT SNOOP’S SKILLS

Snoop Dogg was up for the role of Huggy Bear in the remake of the classic 70s series "Starsky and Hutch," but apparently Warner Brothers studio execs aren’t convinced he has the acting chops for it. Snoop, aka Calvin Broadus, was hoping this role would lead to bigger movie parts. "The director and the writer want me to play Huggy Bear," he said, "but the studio doesn't believe I'm strong enough to do it. It's just a matter of proving myself." To prove himself the actor says, "I'd like to do the Miles Davis story and the Bob Marley story - deep roles where I can really show my skills."


PEPSI MAKES UP WITH HIP HOP

It didn't take Pepsi long to agree to terms that averted a boycott of it's products by Russell Simmon's Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. Under the settlement, Pepsi will pay several million dollars to urban charities, heading off a threatened boycott over its decision to fire rapper-sometime-actor Ludacris as its pitchman last year over complaints about his profanity-laced lyrics -- then hired equally foul-mouthed white rocker Ozzy Osbourne for a Super Bowl spot. Reportedly, Pepsi and the Ludacris Foundation have agreed to distribute millions of dollars in contributions from Pepsi to grass-roots, nonprofit organizations targeting disadvantaged youth in the United States. The controversy began last year when Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly beset Pepsi with charges of being "immoral" for featuring Ludacris and urged his viewers to boycott the beverage company. Pepsi yanked the 30-second television spot, saying it had received complaints about the profane song lyrics in Ludacris' music, but then the company compounded its problem by hiring the equally profane, but white, Osbourne.



DVDS MAY BE DESIGNED TO FAIL

The DVD you just shelled out for may not last as long as you thought, and you may get no refund if it goes bad. Investigators in Australia are questioning the lifespan of DVDs. They say they have discovered an increasing number of DVDs that may have been designed to fail. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the failures are the result of corrosion and delamination where the recording layer of plastic separates from the base. "Some stores have reported they only get two or three rentals from a DVD before it's unplayable," Ross Walden, director of the Australian Video Retailers Association, told the SMH. The newspaper also reported that video distributors are refusing to accept returns of damaged discs if the damage shows up following the 90-day warranty period.


OPRAH HONORED - AGAIN

Talk show diva Oprah Winfrey is being honored, yet again. The philanthropist/actress/producer is being awarded the Philadelphia Marian Anderson Award for her charitable work and positive images. Winfrey joins the ranks of past winners including Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, and Elizabeth Taylor.


DENZEL DONATES BIG TIME TO BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB

Denzel Washington, who grew up in Mount Vernon, NY, was in town last month for a fund-raiser for the local Boys and Girls Club, but the event, which was hoping to raise, maybe, $200,000 got a stunning surprise when Washington handed them a cool $1 million dollars. "He is truly a great person and very dedicated to the club," said stunned Councilman Lyndon Williams, a member of the club's board. "First, he spent most of Friday at the club. He stayed there until sometime past midnight, hanging out with everybody and with no fanfare at all. Then he comes to the dinner Saturday with $1 million for an endowment." The black-tie, $150-a-plate event, also featured actor Ossie Davis, singer Jermaine Jackson and several public officials.


DIANA ROSS TO WRITE TELL ALL

Diana Ross has signed a book deal with Regan Books to write an autobiography. IMBD.com reports that the book will also explain the diva’s recent drinking problems. "She’s going to talk about the difficulties of having a drinking problem," a source from the publishing company said. "She admits she couldn’t have done it without her children’s support through what she describes as possibly the lowest point in her life." That low point refers to the difficult time Ross had dealing with her divorce from shipping tycoon Arne Naess. "Dealing with feelings of failure in the marriage were difficult for her," the source said. "She never imagined that their fairytale wedding would end in divorce."


COOLIO ADMITS ASTHMA NEARLY KILLED HIM

Coolio is lending his fame as an actor/singer to the Southern California chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the group that developed the Breathmobile to bring free asthma treatment to inner-city children. Joined by Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner Kersee, the duo will appear in the documentary "Asthma Fighting to Breathe." In the film, Coolio recounts his own battle with the disease and an asthma attack that almost took his life. The documentary will also highlight the disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos who suffer from asthma and the fact that with proper treatment, it is possible for asthma sufferers to lead active lives.


OPRAH"S SISTER DIES

Police are investigating the sudden passing of Oprah Winfrey's half sister Patricia Lee-Lloyd, 43. She was found dead in her Milwaukee-area apartment, but right now police say her death doesn't look suspicious. Funeral services were held last month in Milwaukee. Oprah, who once had a falling out with Patricia, is still in mourning.


WHITNEY GRIEVES FOR FATHER

The funeral for John Houston, father to singer/actress Whitney Houston, was held last month at the St. James AME Church in Newark, New Jersey. Houston’s ex-wife, singer Cissy Houston was there as was Dionne Warwick, Cissy’s cousin. But on the day of the funeral, Whitney stayed at home. "Whitney spent the majority of the day before with her father, privately, in the viewing room of the funeral home," the singer’s spokesperson, Nancy Seltzer told the NY Daily News. Whitney did attended the wake ceremony at the church, but on the day of the funeral she chose to grieve privately. Seltzer says that contrary to some reports, Whitney was never estranged from her father. "Whitney saw him before he died and they were never estranged. John and Whitney loved each other and always will." Aretha Franklin sent a recording of "Amazing Grace" and her condolences to the funeral. John Houston died February 2 of cardiac arrest.



ICE-T FORCED TO ADMIT FATHERHOOD

Actor/rapper Ice-T admitted last month that he is the father of the child of a Board of Education Clerk, after he initially denied paternity. Ice-T, whose real name is Tracy Marrow waived his right to a paternity determination trial after a Manhattan Family Court provided DNA proof that he did, in fact, fathered the child. Marrow originally claimed that he had never been intimate with the 27-year old woman and wanted the case dismissed. Instead, he was ordered to pay the woman $4,000 a month for temporary support of the child. She sued for $8,000 a month. A final support plan will depend on the results of an upcoming trial scheduled for Family Court on May 1.

VANITY FAIR TAKES TABLOID SHOT AT MJ

In a style one might expect more from supermarket tabloids like The Enquirer or The Star, Vanity Fair magazine is taking its turn at Michael Jackson. (Who isn’t lately?) In an article for its March 11 edition, the magazine is reporting, among other things, that Jackson bleaches his skin white because he doesn’t like being black, adding the 44-year-old singer sometimes refers to black people as "spabooks." The Vanity Fair article also reports that in 2000 Jackson attended a voodoo ritual in Switzerland where a witch doctor promised that Steven Spielberg, music mogul David Geffen and 23 other people on the entertainer's list of enemies would die, and if you think that’s weird, the magazine is also saying he once underwent a blood bath as part of a ritual, then ordered his former business adviser Myung-Ho Lee to wire $150,000 to a bank in Mali for a voodoo chief named Baba, who sacrificed 42 cows for the ceremony. The article also alleges Jackson wears a page-boy wig and a prosthesis that serves as the tip of his nose because, according to a "source close to Jackson" without the device Jackson resembles a mummy with two nostril holes. The story, which relies in part on court documents filed in the $12 million lawsuit against Jackson by Lee, also says Jackson is $240 million in debt and that since the mid-1990s has relied on a series of multimillion-dollar loans to cover his expenses. Within a few years Jackson must pay off the principal on a $200 million loan, which the article suggests will be nearly impossible unless he sells his most valuable asset, the Beatles song catalog. But because he owns only half of the catalog (Sony Corp. owns the other half) selling his share might be difficult.


COSBY TO HOST PLAYBOY JAZZ FEST

The 25th annual Playboy Jazz festival is set for June 14-15 at the Hollywood (Calif.) Bowl. Comedian Bill Cosby will serve as master of ceremonies for the second day, headlined by Al Jarreau, as well as music from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the Roy Haynes Quartet, Guitars & Saxes (featuring Richard Elliot, Peter White, Jeff Golub, and Steve Cole), and King Sunny Ade & His African Beats. Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner is executive-producer for the event which will also present such legendary artists as Dave Brubeck and Roy Haynes and contemporary acts like Boney James and James Moody during its two day run. Boz Scaggs will headline the first day of the festival, which will also feature sets by James, Daniela Mercury, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.


OPRAH AN OFFICIAL MONEY MOGUL

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey has finally made the Forbes Magazine list of billionaires, becoming the first black woman to make the list that includes the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, investment guru Warren Buffet and BET founder Robert Johnson. While many on the list have experienced losses in their net worth over the past year, Ms. Winfrey’s bank account just keeps bulging as her empire continues to grow. Gates leads the list at $40.7 billion. Winfrey debuted at $1 billion.


IMAGE AWARDS FOR LEE, GLOVER AND WILLIAMS GIRLS

The NAACP is recognizing the efforts of director/producer Spike Lee, actor/activist Danny Glover and tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams. Lee will receive the Hall of Fame Award while Glover will be bestowed with the Chairman's Award. Venus and Serena will get The President's Award. All three awards will be presented at the 34th Annual NAACP Image Awards, set to be taped on March 6 and aired on March 13.


WINFREY GETS BACK TO BOOKS

Oprah Winfrey is getting back into books. The talk show host is reviving her book club after almost a year-long hiatus, but this time around, instead of contemporary books, the focus will be on classics like Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Faulkner. Oprah introduced the her book club about seven years ago, and it’s popularity sparked a number of other look-a-like clubs hosted by other talk shows like "Live with Regis & Kelly" and "Today." Oprah says that with the new format she will not only read the acclaimed works, but also plans to visit the locals and settings of the books.