Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Biden Honors Springsteen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mindy Kaling

U.S. President Joe Biden made an observation when conferring the National Medal of Arts on rocker Bruce Springsteen on Tuesday:

“Bruce, some people are just born to run, man.”

Springsteen and a host of actors, authors, singers and other artists joined Biden in the White House East Room where they received either a National Medal of Arts or National Humanities Medal for their contributions to American society.

Comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose “Veep” show made light of the vice presidency — an office Biden once held — was also honored.

“She embraces life’s absurdity with absolute wit, and handles real life turns with absolute grace. A mom, a cancer survivor, a pioneer for women in comedy, she is an American original,” Biden said.

Actress Mindy Kaling, a main character on the long-running television show, “The Office,” set in Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, received a medal as well.

When Biden introduced author Colson Whitehead to the crowd, he noted that Whitehead had won back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes for his books and gave a hint of his own ambitions.

“I’m trying to go back to back myself,” said Biden, who has said he intends to run for reelection in 2024.

Singer Gladys Knight, the “empress of soul,” was an honoree, along with clothing designer Vera Wang, historian Walter Isaacson and authors Amy Tan, Ann Patchett and Tara Westover, among others.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

‘Winnie the Pooh’ Slasher Film Pulled from Hong Kong Cinemas

Public screenings of a slasher film that features Winnie the Pooh were scrapped abruptly in Hong Kong on Tuesday, sparking discussions over increasing censorship in the city.

Film distributor VII Pillars Entertainment announced on Facebook that the release of “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” on Thursday had been canceled with “great regret” in Hong Kong and neighboring Macao.

In an email reply to The Associated Press, the distributor said it was notified by cinemas that it could not show the film as scheduled, but didn’t know why. The cinema chains involved did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

For many residents, the Winnie the Pooh character is a playful taunt of China’s President Xi Jinping and Chinese censors in the past had briefly banned social media searches for the bear in the country. In 2018, the film “Christopher Robin,” also featuring Winnie the Pooh, was reportedly denied a release in China.

The film being pulled in Hong Kong has prompted concern on social media over the territory’s shrinking freedoms.

The movie was initially set to be shown in about 30 cinemas in Hong Kong, VII Pillars Entertainment wrote last week.

The Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration said it had approved the film and arrangements by local cinemas to screen approved films “are the commercial decisions of the cinemas concerned.” It refused to comment on such arrangements.

A screening initially scheduled for Tuesday night in one cinema was canceled due to “technical reasons,” the organizer said on Instagram.

Kenny Ng, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s academy of film, refused to speculate on the reason behind the cancellation, but suggested the mechanism of silencing criticism appeared to be resorting to commercial decisions.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to China’s rule in 1997, promising to retain its Western-style freedoms. But China imposed a national security law following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019, silencing or jailing many dissidents.

In 2021, the government tightened guidelines and authorized censors to ban films believed to have breached the sweeping law.

Ng said the city saw more cases of censorship over the last two years, mostly targeting non-commercial movies, such as independent short films.

“When there is a red line, then there are more taboos,” he said.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Ukrainian Artists Use Their Craft to Counter Russian Messaging in Africa

Ukraine is supporting artists painting murals in Europe and Africa to counter Russian disinformation about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Dubbed ”The Wall,” a nod to the album by British rock band Pink Floyd, the project was recently launched in Kenya’s capital and also employs local artists. Victoria Amunga reports from Nairobi. Kenya footage by Jimmy Makhulo.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Adam Sandler Receives Mark Twain Prize for Lifetime in Comedy

A host of comedic and entertainment royalty gathered at Washington’s Kennedy Center to present comedy icon Adam Sandler with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. 

Among those scheduled to honor Sandler on Sunday night were Jennifer Aniston, Judd Apatow, Drew Barrymore, Steve Buscemi, Dana Carvey, Luis Guzmán, Conan O’Brien, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade and Ben Stiller. 

“Who has lasted this long and stayed this beloved?” Carvey said as he arrived on the Kennedy Center red carpet. “Nobody keeps this up for this long.” 

Buscemi, known largely for dramatic and often violent roles, portrayed a string of comedic characters in Sandler movies. 

“He takes his comedy very seriously. I laugh hard at everything I do with him,” he said. 

Buscemi also singled out Sandler’s musical comedy, including “The Chanukah Song,” which became a multiplatinum hit. “His comedy songs alone deserve this reward,” he said. 

Sandler, 56, first came to national attention as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” After being fired from the cast following a five-year stint, Sandler launched a wildly successful movie career that has spanned more than 30 films, grossing over $3 billion worldwide. 

Sandler’s top hits include “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer” and “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.” Although primarily known for slapstick comedy and overgrown man-child characters, he has excelled in multiple dramatic roles in films such as “Punch Drunk Love” and “Uncut Gems.” 

Guzman, who co-starred in “Punch Drunk Love,” praised Sandler’s “total commitment to something that was so far our of his element.” 

Mark Twain recipients are honored with a night of testimonials and video tributes, often featuring previous award winners. Other comedians receiving the lifetime achievement award include Richard Pryor (the inaugural recipient in 1998), Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett and Dave Chapelle. Bill Cosby, the 2009 recipient, saw his Mark Twain Prize rescinded in 2019 amid multiple allegations of sexual assault. 

The long-running comedy institution “SNL” has provided more than its share of the 24 Mark Twain recipients. Sandler is the seventh cast member to receive the prize, joining Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Will Farrell, Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louise-Dreyfus. Show creator and producer Lorne Michaels won in 2004. 

The ceremony will be broadcast nationally on CNN on March 26. 

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Vatican Unveils New Ethnographic Display of Rwanda Screens

The Vatican Museums officially reopened its African and American ethnographic collections Thursday by showcasing intricately restored Rwandan raffia screens that were sent by Catholic missionaries to the Vatican for a 1925 exhibit.

The display at the Anima Mundi Ethnological Museum featured a scientific presentation of the restoration process as well as the research that preceded it, with consultations with Rwanda’s own ethnographic museum, a UCLA graduate student and Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa. It came as ethnographic museums in Europe and North America are grappling with demands from Indigenous groups and former colonies to return artifacts dating from colonial times.

The Rev. Nicola Mappelli, curator of the Anima Mundi museum, declined to comment on calls for restitution of the Vatican’s own ethnographic holdings, saying these were questions for the museum leadership. Speaking to The Associated Press during a visit to the new exhibit, he noted that the Vatican last year returned three mummies to Peru and a human head to Ecuador in 2017.

The museum director, Barbara Jatta, didn’t refer to the issue in her remarks at the opening, emphasizing, however, what she said was the Anima Mundi’s commitment to transparency and “dialogue with different cultures.”

She said the unveiling of the Rwandan panels was a moment to celebrate the reopening of the African and American section of the museum as well as the 50th anniversary of the transfer of the entire collection into the Vatican Museums itself.

The issue of the Vatican’s ethnographic collection came into the spotlight last year, when Indigenous groups from Canada came to the Vatican to receive an apology from Pope Francis for Canada’s church-run residential school system.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said the policy of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their families in a bid to assimilate them into Christian Canadian society amounted to “cultural genocide.” The First Nations, Metis and Inuit delegations visited the Anima Mundi and were shown several Indigenous items in the collection, and representatives later said they wanted them back or, at the very least, to have access to them so Indigenous researchers could study them.

The Vatican has long insisted that the basis of its ethnographic collection stemmed from “gifts” to Pope Pius XI, who in 1925 staged a huge exhibit in the Vatican gardens to celebrate the church’s global reach, its missionaries and the lives of the Indigenous peoples they evangelized. Catholic missionaries around the globe sent him artifacts, but some researchers today question whether Indigenous peoples were able to consent to such “gifts” given the power dynamics of the time.

The informational labels on the new exhibits emphasize the Vatican’s view. The Canada label, for example, reads: “There is a long tradition of gifts sent by the Indigenous peoples of Canada to the popes,” noting that a headdress in the exhibit was given to Francis during his 2022 trip to Canada by Chief Wilton Littlechild.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

What Really Helped Michelle Yeoh Win an Oscar

As tough as action film star Michelle Yeoh is, it still might have been hard for her to clinch the best actress Oscar and become the first Asian woman to win the coveted award in its 95-year history—if everything hadn’t fallen into place.

Besides her hard work and talent, Yeoh’s history-making win Sunday is a culmination of many forces, according to film experts and critics.

First, Hong Kong’s film industry made her a well-known star in Asia long before Hollywood noticed her.

“I think her Hong Kong experience definitely is crucial to her latest success,” Timmy Chen (陳智廷), director of the Hong Kong Film Critics Society, said of the Malaysia-born Yeoh, commenting that there were few opportunities for Chinese actors in Malaysia’s Malay-dominated film industry at the time.

Hong Kong cinema cast her in many action and martial arts films — from Yes, Madam to Police Story 3: Super Cop — nurturing her acting and fighting skills, which enabled her to land the role as a Bond girl in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, her first Hollywood film.

Yeoh also benefited from trailblazing Asian-American directors who boldly made films with an Asian theme and cast her in them, including Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Jon Chu’s box office hit Crazy Rich Asians, both of which boosted her fame.

The success of Yeoh, her co-star Vietnamese American Ke Huy Quan — who became only the second Asian to win an Oscar for best supporting actor — and their film Everything Everywhere All at Once, which won seven awards including best picture and director, is part of a growing trend in the past few years of “trans-Pacific” Asian directors producing works that are popular not only in Asia, but also the United States, says Jason Coe, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s (HKBU) Academy of Film.

These are people who “are working both in the U.S., but also in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, taking the sort of best of both, and making films that can appeal to audiences in Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China and Southeast Asia, but also in the United States,” Coe noted.

This has led to more opportunities for actors such as Yeoh and has made it possible for the making of the sci-fi comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once, in which Yeoh plays a middle-aged Chinese American immigrant laundromat owner determined to save the universe and her family, all the while showing off her martial arts skills.

Movie streaming platforms such as Netflix helped to fuel this trend by letting audiences have more say.

“Because streaming platforms like Netflix and even YouTube are able to make and distribute so many different types of content, they’ll eventually find their audience, and because their audiences are so diverse, they’ll eventually find their content,” Coe said.

That means a film that might seem niche, like Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy about rich Singaporeans, can find an audience of Asians and non-Asians, “and this can build a momentum that allows for the audiences to have a say in the kind of stories they want,” Coe said. Everything Everywhere All at Once is further proof that stories about Asian Americans can do well at the box office, he said.

It helps to have a theme that resonates with a wide audience – in this film’s case, it’s being overwhelmed and losing touch with what’s really important in life, as well as the disconnection among family members.

But it’s not just the popularity of such stories and the skills of the directors and actors. Yeoh and the film also benefited from the push for diversity in Hollywood in recent years.

“A few years back, they tried to give justice to African American representation, now they are paying attention to Asians. It’s part of the same wave for diversity,” Chen said. “We see more Asian representation, such as award recognitions for films about Asians or made by Asians, including Parasite, Nomadland, Crazy Rich Asians and Farewell.”

Coe agrees, crediting activism within the filmmaking and greater community.

“You’re not going to get a film like Crazy Rich Asians or even Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings without a film like Black Panther,” Coe said. “It takes all of these ethnic minority communities and disenfranchised communities to advocate for greater diversity in order for more [of these] movies to be made.”

It’s taken decades, but Asian actors have come a long way since the days of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American Hollywood actress. She had no choice but to play stereotypical and demeaning supporting roles in the 1930s. When a film version of Pearl S. Buck’s novel about China, The Good Earth, was to be made, Wong was not considered for the leading role; it was instead given to a white actress to play in yellowface.

But many insist there’s still a long way to go.

“Michelle Yeoh is one the few fortunate Asian actors or Asian-American actors to get this recognition. There are countless unnamable talents out there who are struggling,” Chen said.

He noted Yeoh’s co-star Quan suffered a nearly 20-year hiatus in his acting career before he got his latest role. Quan couldn’t get much acting work, despite his talents as a child actor, including playing Short Round, Harrison Ford’s sidekick in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

“It’s hard to tell whether [the recent successes] will lead to a long-term trend. We definitely will see more Asian content and representation on American screens in the future, but I think there is still structural inequality in the system,” Chen said.

What helps is that it’s never been easier to make a movie and it’s never been easier to find your audience, Coe said.

“The gatekeepers no longer have that sort of power, and so if you’re telling a really great story, and there are people who want to hear that story, then you’re much more likely to find them [your audiences] now than ever before,” Coe said.

The hopeful impact is that the film, and more films like it that tell Asian American stories in an authentic way, will lead to fewer stereotypes, a sense of understanding, and a sense of belonging by Asian Americans in the United States.

Already, it’s making an impact among young Asian actors and actresses who are inspired by Yeoh, Quan and their film’s success.

“Before, I didn’t dare to think of going to Hollywood. Asians are a minority there and there are many Asian actors that are underrated because of race and language barriers. I didn’t think there would be opportunities,” said Sheena Chan, a student in HKBU’s Acting for Global Screen Program. “Now that Michelle Yeoh and this film have won many Oscar awards, and it’s not just in English, but Cantonese and Mandarin, I think there are more opportunities. I will start to think of going to Hollywood.”

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Reporter’s Notebook: FYI on Initialisms, AKA Acronyms 

Returning to the United States seven years ago, I was puzzled how the Bureau of Land Management had seemingly become involved with race politics. Then I deciphered that the hashtag #BLM had taken on a new meaning during my quarter century abroad: Black Lives Matter.

I was likewise confused when newscasters recently began speaking about the IRA — the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The abbreviation had spent decades in the headlines representing the Irish Republican Army.

Then, there is the personal IRA, an acronym — sometimes pronounced eye-ruh — for a tax-advantaged Individual Retirement Account.

Such recycling or duplications of initials is nothing new. The NRA — National Rifle Association — is frequently in the news amid the gun control debate. The abbreviation was just as pervasive in 1930s America during the Great Depression. The NRA blue eagle logo was displayed by companies adhering to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s labor codes of the National Recovery Administration.

At VOA, we stake our claim to the initials from the time of our first broadcast (in German) in 1942. We were latecomers, having been preceded by the Volunteers of America, a philanthropic organization originating in New York City in 1896.

Abbreviations or initialisms are convenient shorthand, usually formed from the initial letters of two or more words. Acronyms technically are shortcuts pronounceable as words. Radar, for example, comes from the 1940s technology of radio direction and ranging. That rang nicely, leading to the related acronym for sound navigation and ranging: sonar. Also below the waterline: scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).

‘Bad acronyms’

Joe Essid, Ph.D. (that suffix from the Latin, meaning philosophiae doctor), director of the Writing Center at the University of Richmond, notes “the military is full of bad acronyms.”

The acronym for the commander in chief of the U.S. Navy fleet (CINCUS – “sink us”) was retired after the Japanese did just that at Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Air Force proposed a space plane in the 1960s, the X-20 Dyna-Soar. That did not fly.

“I think one reason it got canceled was because it was called the dinosaur,” says Essid, whose own surname has become an acronym for extended service set identifier.

In World War II, American soldiers hoping to avoid being MIA (missing in action) or KIA (killed in action) sometimes complained their equipment or plans were fubar — fouled up beyond all recognition. Except the first word was not fouled, but an expletive. “FUBAR” in 2023 is the title of a Netflix action-comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Fubar’s twin from the same era is snafu, which in polite company means situation normal all fouled up. During the war, the U.S. Army officially took it in good humor and produced a series of instructional cartoon shorts titled “Private Snafu.”


Educator and podcaster Mignon Fogarty (AKA Grammar Girl on social media) has mixed feelings about all the abbreviations.

“Acronyms are a great example of jargon — language that is wonderful shorthand for insiders, but that excludes everyone else. Acronyms aren’t bad in all situations, but when you’re an outsider, they’re quite off-putting,” she says.

Shortened names are not consistent across languages. In English, OAS is used for the Organization of American States. But in most of those three dozen member nations, it is known as the OEA, (La Organización de los Estados Americanos).

The international organization providing humanitarian medical assistance in war and disaster zones was initially known as MSF: Médecins Sans Frontières. It now refers to itself in English as Doctors Without Borders, but DWB does not seem to have caught on.

Similarly for the dual identities of Reporters Without Borders, which uses its French acronym RSF (Reporters sans frontières) even in English.

Speaking of the French, they do try to impose some method to language madness, resisting their phrases and acronyms from inundation by anglicisms. In English, there is no equivalent of the Académie Française, and hence no registry of acronyms.

“There’s no American academy of linguistic purity. That’s the strength of the English language,” according to Essid. “It’s a malleable and imperfect tool.”

Any group, individual or agency can create their own acronyms in English, hoping they gain flight ASAP by RTITW (releasing them in the wild), which I just made up.

Let us see if someone will add it to the Acronym Finder. 

The White House

As a White House correspondent, my lexicon overflowed with acronyms: POTUS (President of the United States), FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) and VPOTUS (Vice President of the United States), whose ceremonial office is not inside the White House but next door in the EEOB (Eisenhower Executive Office Building).

When I got too close to POTUS or VPOTUS with my boom microphone, I got a stern look from a plainclothes agent of the PPD (Presidential Protective Division) of the USSS (United States Secret Service).

Confusingly, PPD at the White House can also refer to a presidential policy directive.

Really famous 20th century presidents became historical initials starting with FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), who was eventually followed by JFK (John F. Kennedy) and LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson). Johnson’s successor, Richard Milhous Nixon, the only U.S. president to resign, is not immortalized as RMN.

With the election of the first female vice president, Kamala Harris, her husband, Douglas Emhoff, became the first SGOTUS (Second Gentleman of the United States).

And when a man eventually assumes the traditional FLOTUS role, he’ll be FGOTUS, although the media used that term during the Obama administration to denote White House resident Marian Robinson, mother of FLOTUS Michelle Obama, as the unofficial ‘first grandmother of the United States.’

‘Make the meaning clear’

Grammarian Fogarty offers pro tips for those employing linguistic shorthand.

“When writing for a more general audience, context will also often make the meaning clear. MVP in a baseball story will obviously mean ‘most valuable player.’ But in a general business story, you may need to define MVP (minimum viable product) the first time you use it.”

She prefers to err on the side of caution and spell it out if there is any doubt the audience won’t know the meaning.

OK, (said to originate from oll korrect, an alteration of all correct).

Forgarty’s suggestion is likely good advice for a resume or cv (curriculum vitae).

Fred DeFilippo, for example, went from the CIA to the CIA. The former executive chef at the Central Intelligence Agency is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. 

Cellphone text messaging unleashed a torrent of abbreviations to reduce character count: AFAIK (as far as I know); BRB (be right back); IDK (I don’t know); MIRL (meet in real life); NSFW (not safe for work); ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing), and TMI (too much information).

“I try not to use them,” says Essid. “I don’t text a lot, I hate smartphones. I tend to communicate with email and in person. And so, I don’t tend to use these abbreviations and acronyms.”

Except in his hobby of beekeeping where they seem to be buzzing all around.

“A lot of them have to do with sex,” such as JH for juvenile hormones, Essid explains.

Human teenagers with surging hormones are prolific users of social messaging codes.

Before the advent of fruit and vegetable emojis, initialisms were created to KPC (keep parents clueless), such as FWB (friends with benefits); OC (open crib, meaning no parent will be home) and TDTM (talk dirty to me). Many more examples are NSFW (not safe for work).

Early Christians under threat of persecution had the Latin initialism INRI (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum — Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews). Perhaps it was not meant to obscure meaning, rather, to save time carving wooden crosses.

Are acronyms 2,000 years on so pervasive that editors should let them stand on their own without elaboration?


Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Muay Thai World Champion Trains Children in Cameroon

Dany Bill is a Cameroon native and seven-time Muay Thai world champion. He was recently in Los Angeles, raising money for his foundation in Africa, which trains young people in the sport. Genia Dulot caught up with him there.