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April 2001
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LONDON POLICE SMASH PIRACY RING

   Police and anti-piracy investigators recently smashed an illegal VHS duplication ring following a raid on a remote farmhouse near Thetford, a small town in the eastern county of Norfolk in the United Kingdom. Over the last year, the pirates flooded the video retail market with more than a million counterfeit VHS cassettes.
   Police seized 40,000-plus counterfeit titles that included "Gladiator," "Mission: Impossible 2," "Saving Private Ryan," "The Green Mile," "American Pie," "The Matrix," "Life" and "Mickey Blue Eyes." If convicted, the tape pirates could receive a jail sentence of three to five years under U.K. law.



CLINTON, POITIER AND CEDRIC IMAGE AWARD WINNERS

   NAACP President Kweisi Mfume presented former President, Bill Clinton with the NAACP's President's Award at the recent Image Awards ceremonies and said he was responsible for improving the lives of African Americans during his eight years in office.
   "What really matters is our common humanity," Clinton said. "When we forget it, we suffer. When we remember it, we prosper."
   Comedian Chris Tucker, sat next to Clinton in the audience and asked him how it felt to be the first black president. Clinton quipped, "That's why I went to Harlem, because I think I am the first black president."
   Other winners included Sidney Poitier, who received the NAACP's Hall of Fame award and comedian/actor/radio morning show host, Steve Harvey received the Entertainer of the Year Award. "When you believe in God, some unbelievable things can happen to you," Harvey told the audience amid tears of joy.



SIMPSON FACES ROAD RAGE CHARGES

   Despite appeals from his lawyer that it will be nothing but a "media circus," a Miami judge has insisted that O.J. Simpson appear in court in May on burglary and battery charges stemming from an incident that took place Dec. 4, where the football star turned actor allegedly reached into a motorist's car and grabbed his glasses during an argument in suburban Kendall, where Simpson now lives.
   Simpson's attorney has filed an innocent plea for his client.
   The burglary charge carries a possible 15-year prison sentence, but Miami's prosecutor said any jail time is unlikely.



TYSON LOOSES FILM SHOT

   Steven Soderbergh's remake of the rat pack flick "Ocean's Eleven," won't feature Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in the ringside scene as had been talked about. Soderbergh, who directed "Traffic," told the New York Daily News that he's decided against using the two boxers because he felt, "it would not be a tension-free set." Now Lennox will be seen fighting WBO heavyweight champ Vladimir Klitschko.



WHITNEY DRUG CASE DROPPED

   A District Judge has dismissed petty misdemeanor marijuana possession charges against singer/actress Whitney Houston as part of a plea agreement after a substance abuse assessment was filed on her behalf that stated Houston doesn't require formal treatment for substance abuse.
   The dismissal leaves her with a clean record in Hawaii, prosecutors said.
   Prosecutors and Houston's attorneys agreed in court back in November that her hand bag contained less than half an ounce of marijuana in two plastic baggies and three partially smoked marijuana cigarettes. The 37-year-old singer/actress allegedly abandoned the bag and boarded a flight for San Francisco with her husband, singer Bobby Brown, before police arrived.



KEITH SWEAT - MOVIE PRODUCER

   Recording artist Keith Sweat is busy adding "movie producer" to his resume.
   "Right now, I'm working on movies. I'm executive producing some movies right now and pretty much, that's where my time is going. I'm the executive producer in this film called 'Inseparable.' Da Brat is in the movie and we're trying to get some others to be in it as well."



NAACP IMAGE AWARD RATINGS SUFFER

   Fox's 32nd Annual NAACP Awards ceremony scored a disappointing 4.2 rating share last month. The problem could be that this, the only major awards show honoring blacks in film and television, is shown as a taped production rather than a live.
   NAACP officials should be getting the message that it's tough to get good ratings when everybody knows a week ahead of time who the winners are. Other awards shows, with far less than the 32 year of history of the Image Awards, are aired live.



CHESTERFIELD/PARAMOUNT OFFER $20,000 TO WRITERS

   The Chesterfield Film Company and Paramount Pictures' Writers Film Project, is accepting submissions for the program which awards up to five $20,000 fellowships. The deadline for submissions is April 10. For more info visit www.chesterfield-co.com.



AAFA LOOKING TO EXPAND

   The African American Filmmakers Association is looking to expand and is currently exploring office space in Manhattan or North Jersey, which they hope to fund by donation.
   In the middle of a membership and sponsorship drive, the 501 c(3) not-for-profit organization depends on corporate sponsorship and donations for its growth.
   AAFA is also preparing to open the Filmmakers Institute, which will offer courses in directing features and music videos, producing, screenwriting and acting. The institute will also offer correspondence courses through the mail for anyone living outside the New York City area.



MITCHELL ESTATE WANTS INJUNCTION

   A black writer's version of Margaret Mitchell's classic "Gone With The Wind," written from the perspective of an ex-slave, has the Mitchell estate charging copyright infringement.
   Trustee of the estate, SunTrust Bank is requesting a temporary restraining order to stop the publication of "The Wind Done Gone," by Alice Randall. But publisher Houghton Mifflin says it intends to publish the novel anyway, calling the book fair comment.
   If it gets past the court challenge, there could be a modern parody movie in the wings.



BLACK ACTORS GET TREE OF LIFE

   With only one nominee out of 163 Oscar categories, the Tree of Life Awards honored black artists of the film industry the day before the Oscars were announced.
   At the Tree Of Life ceremony, Steve Harvey said that the continuing Oscar nomination problem actually starts during the casting process. "Black people, Asians, Latinos -- they just want to be in it, given an opportunity," he said, "Don't just put out a casting call that's just for tall blondes. Once you say 'blonde,' well, hell, we're out. And that's not fair."
   The Tree of Life Awards attendees included Samuel L. Jackson, Omar Epps, John Singleton, Phylicia Rashad, and many others.



DMX IN CONTEMPT

   Rapper/actor DMX recently left the Erie County Correctional Facility on crutches, and to add insult to injury, his legal troubles aren't over. DMX (Earl Simmons), explained the crutches saying a guard assaulted him during a cell inspection.
   Simmons spent 11 days of a 15 day sentence in the jail after reaching a plea bargain for driving without a license (the fifth time he had been arrested for the offense) and having marijuana in the car. His lawyer, Mark Mahoney, said the guard threw Simmons' Bible during the inspection and when Simmons turned around, the guard put him on the ground, injuring his knee and back. Simmons currently co-stars in the movie "Exit Wounds," with Steven Seagal.
   The actor still has to answer a contempt charge stemming from his failure to show up on time to begin his jail term. He also faces an assault charge for allegedly throwing a food tray at two guards while in the jail. His attorneys say he denies the assault, though the prison super said he'd been written up four times already for bad behavior during his short stay and that the tray struck a guard in the head causing a bruise. Mahoney says the problem was caused by guards constantly taunting his client. If convicted of the Class D felony assault, he faces up to seven years in prison.



DIABLO IN COURT

   In the "absurd-but-true" department, Blizzard Entertainment, makers of the computer game Diablo, filed a trademark infringement suit recently in federal court to shut down New Line Cinema's action movie "Diablo" starring Vin Diesel.
   Blizzard alleges the title of New Line's project will cause "consumer confusion" and the game company wants the judge to close the movie down.



"JINGLE"IDEA COSTS FOX $19 MIL

   A jury in Ann Arbor, Michigan has ordered 20th Century Fox to pay $19 million for stealing high school biology teacher Brian Webster's script for what became the movie "Jingle All the Way" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad.
   The U.S. District Court jury said the 1996 movie, which has grossed $183 million, used ideas taken from the teacher's script.
   "Jingle All the Way" is about the battle between two fathers in their last-minute quest to buy the last available copy of a Christmas toy called Turbo Man.
   The jury ordered 20th Century Fox to pay $15 million to Murray Hill Publications Inc., which originally bought the rights to the copyrighted screenplay from the teacher. The jury also ordered Fox to pay $4 million for legal costs.
   Murray Hill president Robert Laurel said Webster will get an undisclosed share of the money based on his contract with Murray Hill.
   "This is a landmark case for independent producers," Laurel said. "I'm delighted for Brian Webster, who is the rightful creator of this project. Hopefully, it will send a message that you can't take the little guy's work and put it off as your own." Fox spokeswoman Florence Grace said the movie company will appeal.



VIACOM FIRES MORE THAN SMILEY

   Amid all the recent Tavis Smiley bru-ha at BET, many people don't realize that BET also fired 65 - 70 other employees between its DC and NY offices.
   When Bob Johnson sold BET to entertainment mogul Viacom last November, he made a profit of $2.3 billion, but saddled Viacom with a $570 million debt, which the new owner says forced them to cut costs, meaning some employees had to go.
   "It was absolutely crazy," one former employee said. "People standing in the hallways crying. This is the first time in my years at BET that I've seen white security guards. I mean, they were escorting executives and other employees to their car and everything."
   In a memo sent to BET staffers by Debra Lee, COO of the network, Viacom defended its firing plan, telling employees they would receive severance packages, benefits extensions, outplacement service and other assistance, including opportunities to pursue positions elsewhere among Viacom companies.



RUSH HOUR II EXTORTIONIST CAUGHT

   A Hong Kong gangster was arrested after trying to extort money from the producers of the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker sequel, "Rush Hour 2."
   The oriental "goodfella" was demanding $60,000 or he would disrupt filming. According to the BBC, producers met the 30 year-old man at a restaurant and handed over the cash, but Hong Kong police nabbed him as he left.
   Producers got their money back and Hong Kong cops are searching for others involved in the scheme.



"BABYFACE" EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

   Apparently, many people don't realize it but Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds is the executive producer of Universal Pictures' new release "Josie And The Pussycats."
   The singer/producer said he wanted to expand his creative talents and he also produced several songs for the film.
   Based on the popular Archie comic book, the film features Rosario Dawson, Rachael Leigh Cook and Tara Reid.
   Edmonds has grown from young songwriter and group member to the head of Edmonds Entertainment Group, Inc., a multi-million dollar entertainment empire with eight subsidiaries. Edmonds and his wife, Tracey, released their first film "Soul Food," in 1997, in partnership with 20th Century Fox. "Soul Food" won five NAACP Image Awards, including Best Picture and Best Soundtrack that year. Since then, Showtime has started the series "Soul Food," based on the film. In 1999 he received both an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for the song "How Can I Not Love You," from the film "Anna And The King" starring Jodie Foster.



Mr. T's COMEBACK

   Mr. T is back. "I'm here to entertain the people like no one else can. But you have to have a setback in order to have a comeback," he recently told Time magazine.
   That setback six years ago for the actor when he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma.
   Mr. T (Lawrence Tureaud), kept his disease a secret, but soon changed his mind. "I decided to bring cancer out of the closet," said the 48-year-old actor, former Army officer, bodyguard and professional wrestler. "Now I wear my cancer like I wear my blackness - I'm proud." The "Rocky" movie-series co-star has been seen lately in TV ads for 1-800-COLLECT, Lipton foods and Nick at Nite.



DOUBLE DELIVERY

   Singer/movie producer Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and wife Tracey recently welcomed new son, Dylan Michael Edmonds, to their family.
   Edmonds is the executive producer of the new film "Josie and the Pussycats."
   In a unique coincidence, former co-band member and longtime Edmonds friend, Antonio "LA" Reid and wife Erica are also proud parents of daughter Arianna Manuelle Reid.
   The two friends both became fathers on the same day, March 26.



HE DID IT WHEN NO ONE ELSE WOULD

   Veteran TV producer Stan Margulies has died of cancer at the age of 80.
   Margulies and David Wolper co-produced the television milestone film "Roots," the first television mini-series that dealt with slavery from a graphic black perspective, when everyone else in Hollywood was advising against doing the project. "Roots" was based on Alex Haley's book about the struggle of his African-American ancestors for freedom.
   In 1979, Margulies also produced the sequel "Roots: The Next Generation."



SCRIPTS WANTED

   Writers need to be aware that the upcoming Urbanworld Film Festival is looking for submissions in the areas of screenplays, feature films, short films and documentaries. The Urbanworld Fest takes place August 1-5 in New York City and will showcase films from African American, Latino, and Asian filmmakers from all over the world. Entries will be accepted through June 2001 and submission forms are available at www.urbanworld.com.



COSTUMES AUCTIONED FOR KIDS

   Catherine Zeta Jones' dazzling costume from "The Mask of Zorro," Harrison Ford's "Indiana Jones" bullwhip, Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" sword and many other personal momentos of Hollywood celebrities were recently auctioned at Sotheby's to benefit African children fighting AIDS.
   Liam Neeson, who started "Movie Action for Children" through the United Nations Children's Fund said, "Hollywood celebrities donated items they intended to keep forever."
   The auction also offered a personal telephone call from Michael Jackson on the high bidder's birthday. Other items include Neeson's lightsaber from "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," Meryl Streep's red dress from "The Bridges of Madison County," and memorabilia from "Titanic," including a deck chair and a lifejacket.
   Proceeds will go directly to UNICEF's efforts to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast. Sotheby's waived its regular commissions for the sale.



HOUSTON GETS RESTRAINT

   A judge has reinstated a restraining order barring fan Desiree Weeks, 33, from contacting singer/actress Whitney Houston after the fan repeatedly sent her letters, cards and gifts claiming Houston was her "supernatural reincarnated mother." Weeks has already been admitted to a psychiatric hospital in New York. Weeks also referred to Houston as "mommy" in the letters and Bobbi Kristina as her "sister." The judge also reinstated a lawsuit Houston filed against Weeks last year.



MOVIES ONLINE?

   No more waiting in a ticket line, now just go online to see a flick. According to the LA Daily News, at least three major film studios are working on a system that will offer downloadable films online.
   While some computer techs have expressed skepticism about the process, the studios claim their new coding system will allow viewers to record a film onto a CD that can then be played back on the computer. The studios said they should be ready to test the process within the next four to six months and they're confident they can make it work.



DANNY GLOVER VS BIASED CABBIES

   Danny Glover's 1999 complaint to the NYC taxi commission over a cab passing him up because he was black did not go unheeded. Reforms mandated to the city's taxi services has other African-American New Yorkers cheering the actor's courage.
   "Most black men I meet in New York City thank me because now they can get a cab," Glover told about Colby College students during a speech at the private college in Maine. His comments were made during a symposium aimed at celebrating diversity. Glover also told students to reject divisive social, ethnic and religious stereotypes.



DICK GREGORY TREED

   Dick Gregory, comedian and activist, was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital for observation recently after a tree fell on his car during a DC rainstorm. The AP reported that after the hospital checked for spine and head injuries they pronounced Gregory was in "great" shape.



DISNEY/ABC WRITING FELLOWSHIPS

   Walt Disney Studios and ABC Entertainment under their joint Writing Fellowship Program are looking to fill up to eight paid positions with new writers who exhibit talent and a passion to work in the television and feature film profession. The fellowship is open to all writers.
   Fellows will be provided a flat weekly salary of $655.85 ($34,000 a year) for a one-year period beginning January 2002. Fellows outside of LA will be provided with round-trip airfare and one month accommodations. For more info visit: www.abcnewtalent.disney.com, email: abc.fellowships@abc.com, or call (818) 560-6894. Submission period is June 1 - June 22, 2001.



"ONE WEEK" LANDS DISTRIBUTION DEAL

   The award-winning indie film, "One Week," the first theatrical release from Film Life, headed by Jeff Friday, co-creator/producer of the Acapulco Black Film Festival is fresh off the international festival circuit. The movie asks audiences a simple, question: "What if one week before your wedding you discovered you might be HIV positive?"
   The film was recently acquired by Film Life, for national release. It will release nationally in the fall of 2001 in New York, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.



DGA OFFERS OLIVE BRANCH TO WGA

   After releasing a letter opposing screenwriters demands to limit the use of the possessory credit "A Film By..." The Directors Guild has backed off on its stand and has now offered a concession to the Writers Guild of America in their feud over "film by" credits.
   Under the DGA's proposal, most first-time film directors would not be allowed to receive the possessory credit. The DGA's proposal would require directors to have at least one film credit before being allowed to negotiate for the "film by" credit, with two exceptions: First-time directors who wrote their own screenplays or brought their projects to the studio.
   The DGA's proposal falls far short of the WGA's demands, which would reduce the number of directors who receive the credit even more sharply.