May06

Hollywood Buzz: Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin, Will Smith

Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin Discuss Celibacy Before Marriage
Married last June in a bayou-themed Malibu wedding, Meagan Good and Minister DeVon Franklin have often talked about waiting for their nuptials to get intimate. Recently the two delved even further into what it took to remain celibate during a discussion about faith and marriage.

Franklin, a Hollywood producer and Seventh-day Adventist preacher who had been celibate ten years, said “I had made a commitment of celibacy a long time before her… and what motivated the commitment was this: if for some reason my disobedience were to disqualify me from God’s purpose on my life, would the activity that I was engaging in be worth it?

“I want my purpose so badly that I didn't want anything preventing me from getting there,” said the 33-year-old.

Meagan then chimed in telling the crowd she got saved at 19 but still justified engaging in premarital sex by having the mentality that if it just happens then it happens.

“You know it’s going to happen because you allow it. For me it was making the decision that this isn’t what the Lord has for me, and say ‘whatever happens it’s off the table.’”

Some time after making the commitment, she says, she met Franklin.

“The crazy thing is that God blessed me with somebody who was already celibate way before I got there,” said the 31-year-old “Deception” star.

Will Smith Reveals ‘No Punishment’ Parenting Method
Crazy rumors are always circulating about Will Smith’s family but now we can at least get one more thing straight: the Smiths do not punish their kids.

While promoting new film “After Earth” starring Will Smith and son Jaden Smith, Will confirmed to Metro New York that he and wife Jada refrain from punishing their brood.

“We don’t do punishment. The way that we deal with our kids is, they are responsible for their lives. Our concept is, as young as possible, give them as much control over their lives and the concept of punishment, our experience has been — it has a little too much of a negative quality,” Smith revealed.

“So when they do things — and you know, Jaden, he’s done things — you can do anything you want as long as you can explain to me why that was the right thing to do for your life.

... Briefly, family of late actor Michael Duncan Clarke have hired a lawyer to investigate change to the actor’s will making fiancée Omarosa the main beneficiary… Chris Rock has replaced Robin Thicke on BET’s ‘Real Husbands of Hollywood’ produced by Kevin Hart … Rihanna set a new record with 10th No. 1 single...Snoop Lion has has joined a new campaign to end gun violence.

Apr08

Film Sheds New Light On Jackie Robinson Legacy

Sixty-six years after breaking color lines and changing the face of American sports, Jackie Robinson is poised to inspire a whole new generation. With this month’s release of “42,” the film based on Robinson’s life, trials and accomplishments, it isn’t just baseball fans eagerly awaiting opening day.

Producer Thomas Tull (“300,” “The Dark Knight” Trilogy, “The Hangover”) called the biopic the most important film he will ever make, pointing out that not enough young people today know who Robinson is or what he did.

"I don't think any of us can truly imagine, besides [his wife] Rachel, who was truly his partner, what he went through and what it was like,” said Tull.

The biopic stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as the scripture-quoting team executive Branch Rickey. Written and directed by Brian Helgleland, who won an Oscar for his “L.A. Confidential” screenplay, “42” centers around Robinson’s historic rookie year with the Brooklyn Dodgers which began April 15, 1947 and ended segregation in professional baseball.

“Because as big a hero and as brave as I thought he was, the more you got into this project, the more detail you got, the more you cannot believe that a man had this type of courage, conviction, and I think all of us as Americans owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.”

The Georgian-born Angeleno endured racial taunts and slurs, opposing teams threatening to strike if he played, and rough physical play on the field, all while his hitting ability and speed ushered in a new era of baseball.

In the face of bigotry and outright racism, he maintained his cool and, following the urging of his friend and mentor Rickey, exhibited a civility all too often not afforded him.

“Some people would view Jackie Robinson as a very safe African American, a docile figure who had a tendency to try to get along with everyone," lead actor Boseman told The L.A. Times.     "And when you look at his history, you learn that he has this fire that allows him to take this punishment but also figure out savvy ways of giving it back."

It was a strategy that paid off.

A poll conducted in 1947 found the  second most popular man in the country, second only to Bing Crosby. That season Robinson earned the distinction of MLB Rookie of the Year. Two years later he would go on to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

Outside the diamond, Robinson continued to break new ground,  becoming the first black television analyst in MLB and the first black VP of a major American corporation. In the 60’s, he worked toward establishing an African-American owned bank in Harlem. In 1968, he participated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington.

Posthumously, Robinson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan and the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush.

“Jack spent a lifetime (advocating) for the rights of others,” said Rachel Robinson, accepting the medal on her late husband’s behalf, “and I trust this extraordinary recognition of his life and legacy will serve to inspire the courageous and visionary leadership that he exhibited."

His legacy is one kept alive in part due to his dedicated widow who campaigned for more than ten years to get “42” to the big screen and closely examined the vision of the film before giving it her stamp of approval.

“I'm very, very excited about the movie '42,' very pleased with it,” Rachel told MLB.com. It's authentic, it's powerful and it's very inspiring."

Born in Georgia but raised in Pasadena from the age of one, Robinson met his future wife at UCLA, where they were both students. They were married nearly 30 years.

After his 1972 death, Rachel founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF), a non-profit organization that has provided $55 million in scholarship assistance and direct program support to minority students while running educational and leadership development programs and preserving Jackie Robinson’s legacy.

Not only has JRF awarded over 1,400 scholarships to minority students, the organization has maintained a nearly 100% graduation rate, more than twice the national average for Black and Latino students.

“He certainly would be proud of the students and of the organization,” Rachel said of her late husband. “He would probably feel that it's extended his influence into future generations, because he felt that if he can inspire future generations, then we're really doing something."

Robinson retired in 1957, after ten seasons with the Dodgers and six World Series. The Baseball Hall of Famer’s uniform number “42” was retired in 1997, but just seven years later his number made a return as Major League Baseball adopted a new annual tradition: Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated annually on April 15— a day on which every player on every team dons the number 42.

Apr08

Couple Find Blessing After Reality Show Backlash

"The world didn’t see what I actually went through. They only got tidbits of it,” says Pastor Tara Lewis of TLC’s “The Sisterhood.” “I had three people at one time for four months attacking me.

“But I gained an understanding of how powerful the grace of God is. In situations where you would think you would naturally lose it, God really can keep you from that.”

Her husband, who is also a pastor and appeared on the show which centered around the lives of five Atlanta-based pastor wives, says he got the feeling that things would go downhill before they even began filming.

“We had signed the contract in March and they didn’t start filming until June,” Brian explained. “We were under the impression that, like ‘Preacher’s Daughters’, they would film three different families at three different locations and then blend the stories that way. Their stories aren’t overlapping.

“We felt comfortable with that because we felt we could definitely have control over what we do and whatever they got, they go, but at least we knew we were going to give it our best.

“I think it was at the end of May when we learned it was going to be an ensemble cast. I knew we were in for something.”

But the trouble began before the couple stepped in front of the cameras. Before filming began, Brian and Tara were released from the church they moved to Atlanta to pastor, after only six weeks of service.

On the show Brian explained that it was a matter of not seeing eye to eye regarding the direction of the church and in an interview with Lady Charmaine Live Brian revealed that they were let go because the church’s leadership didn’t want the couple to do the show.

By the end to the eight-episode season, their parenting, ministry and expression of faith would be called into question, and worse.

“There were scenes that I came under attack for loving the Word of God or using the scriptures,” says Tara in reference to tension that started in the first episode with an argument sparked by her calling on examples from the Bible in conversations with other first ladies, who told her they didn’t appreciate being “preached to.”

“The most difficult thing was to hear how distraught my wife was in scenes with the women,” says Brian.  “The most heartbreaking thing is to be a Christian and then watch the show and know that we did everything we could to represent Christ even in our communication about the others, and to see them vehemently attack our marriage, our ministry, our children, our past, our present, our future.”

Calling themselves “a born again Jew married to a Black Barbie” in the show, the interracial couples’ decision to raise their children to be aware for both their cultures was called into question by other members of the cast.

“About two weeks into filming, one of the wives asked am I raising my boys to know that they’re black. That was an insult to me,” says Tara. “I’m speaking to someone that’s a professing Christian.

“It’s ignorance because when you’re a believer, you obviously recognize your culture, background, and race but you don’t live your life solely off the color of your skin. And you certainly don’t ask a woman about her children in context of the color of their skin.”

When they sat down for their first look at the edited episodes, both Tara and Brian were shocked by what they saw. “I felt like the entire cast threw the Bible out,” says Brian. “They just said, ‘Look, we’re going to do this like any other show, and we’re going to not allow Christ to be seen in an through us, so we’re just going to act like any other wives.’”

“Even if I wasn’t on the show,” says Tara, “I would have been heartbroken and saddened by some of the displays of their actions. The most difficult thing was actually looking back at the show and seeing it become even worse than what I’d already experienced.”

“Reality shows are driven by conflict and sensationalism and shock and awe. They want it to be jaw dropping,” says Brian.

“Some of the things we did were being taken out of context, and they tried to pigeonhole us as characters, which I didn’t particularly appreciate. The character they tried to cut out for Tara was the Bible thumper and then for me, I was the uncomfortable new guy. It’s hard to really get to know the Lewises in two minutes of edited footage that took two to three hours to film.

Once the show aired, their critics expanded to include bloggers across the internet, who picked apart the couple. The backlash included blasting everything from Tara’s physical appearance to suggesting that Brian was gay.

“The bloggers are going to blog because Christiandom has been opened up for the world to see,” says Brian, “and unfortunately it’s not in a favorable light. The bloggers need to ratchet up their articles to really get people to buy into it. The commentary on us was really hurtful because I wasn’t prepared for that.”

What sparked the most attention was the couple’s efforts to blend Brian’s cultural traditions with their Christian beliefs by putting together a Christian Bar Mitzvah for their oldest son.

While Tara says she was able to brush off most of the negative comments, there were two articles that truly hurt her.

“The two bloggers that really did grieve me, I reached out to them in love and I answered some of things that they spoke against. They both asked me to do an interview, and do you know that I won them over?”

The Lewises say it is because of victories such as this that they don’t regret doing the show.

“For us it was a growth and a learning experience because our deepest desire was to have an impact and in the end I think it was an awesome experience because we’ve received letters and email and phone calls and people messaging us from all over the world,” says Brian.

“We’re continually getting compliments from how we behaved to our standard. When they watch the episodes in their entirety, some people have even called and repented for judging us too quickly. It has turned out to be a tremendously fulfilling experience, not from the sense of personal gratification, but because people could see Christ and were blessed by it.”

In addition, the show has expanded their reach and opened the doors to a slew of new opportunities. Besides their series, Phenomenal Life Today which airs Sunday mornings in the Atlanta market, they will be a weekly feature on Impact Network and Brian is in talks to join the board of directors. The couple has also been featured on Magic Johnson’s Inspire Network.

Tara, founder of MomFit and author of “Fit, Fine & Fabulous,” is developing a line of fitness DVDs and may soon get her own fitness talk show. The couple is also in negotiations to partner with a large chain of gyms to be a regular feature to produce a reality and fitness series for their in-circuit TV network.

“It was hard to open up our lives and have it manipulated,” says Brian, “but in the end I’m thankful for doing it because God will use the foolish things to confound the wise. We are fools for Christ, and if we had to look foolish even for a moment for someone to be drawn in and to hopefully glean the truth, then that’s all right with me.”

Apr08

Award-Winning Musical “Fela!” Returning to Los Angeles

Described by Broadway Across America (a touring production), as “more than a musical—it’s a narrative concert,” Fela!, now a three-time Tony Award winning musical and Grammy nominee, is set to come back to Los Angeles in late April.

Produced by Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, this year, Grammy Award winner Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child has joined the cast for its current tour.

“This is music that gets into your bloodstream, setting off vibrations you’ll live with for days to come,” wrote    Ben Bradley of the New York Times.

Since first premiering on Broadway in 2009, the musical has developed a devoted audience—many of which are well-known celebrities, such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and others.

Based on the life of Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician and activist who founded the musical genre Afrobeat, Fela! uses a hybrid of powerful narrative and West African dance to show how Kuti used music to combat the oppression he faced from the harsh military regime in his homeland of Nigeria. Kuti died in 1997, leaving behind fifty-three albums and a wide following of loyal listeners.

The first idea for the musical stemmed from Stephen Hendel, who, upon discovering Kuti’s music, endeavored to expose this new, exciting sound to a wider audience.

Within four years, Hendel had teamed up with Tony Award winning-choreographer Bill T. Jones and writer Jim Lewis to create Fela!, a groundbreaking musical that has been nominated for sixteen awards and gained international notoriety since its inception.

Fela! will be coming back to the Ahmanson Theatre from April 25 to May 5th. Tickets are available online at www.centertheatregroup.org.

Apr08

Halle Berry Launches Shoe Line in Europe

Oscar–winning actress Halle Berry has partnered with German retailer Deichmann Shoes to create 5th Avenue by Halle Berry, a line of casual, comfortable footwear the actress says “can easily be worn by every woman” and described as “stylish, yet reasonably priced.”

The forty limited edition styles are currently available for purchase in stores in the United Kingdom. It is unknown as to whether or not the line has an imminent release in the United States.

“Women have always loved shoes,” Berry says on her debut into footwear fashion. “It’s like if your hair is not right and your shoes are not right, the woman is not right. If both of them are right, you’re pretty much okay.”

Berry’s shoes range from peep-toe wedges to sandals, at approximately $60 a pair.

Federal Healthcare Law Could Raise California Premiums by 30%

Two new first look studies commissioned by the state of California and a separate government report both offer a detailed estimate of how healthcare costs may affect middle-class workers the hardest.

The government report states that about 570,000 Californians who have annual incomes between 250% and 400% of the federal poverty line and have individual policies now will pay 47% less, on average, due to federal subsidies.

The state estimate known as Covered California offer the first look at how healthcare costs may change for millions of Californians next year and the various factors that will affect families' overall medical expenses.

“Health insurance will become relatively less expensive for people with chronic conditions and relatively more expensive for healthier people,” said Robert G. Cosway, an actuary at Milliman, a large consulting firm that prepared the report.

The study is significant because California is far ahead of most states in setting up a competitive marketplace, or exchange, where people can buy insurance this fall.

Mar06

Quvenzhané Wallis Replaces Willow Smith As New ‘Annie’

Oscar nominee and newest  Hollywood darling, Quvenzhané Wallis has been confirmed to play the lead role in the modern version of “Annie.”

The “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” actress was chosen by Sony Pictures and Overbrook Entertainment to helm the character originally created for Willow Smith who dropped out as has grown out of the role.

“With the recent Academy Award nomination and critical acclaim, Quvenzhané Wallis is a true star and we believe  her portrayal as Annie will make her a true worldwide star. She is an extraordinary young talent with an amazing range, not only as an actress but as  a singer and dancer, and we can’t wait for audiences to further discover her,” read a statement released by Columbia.

Her upcoming film is a role in Twelve Years a Slave with Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen.

Zoe Saldana Responds to Nina Simone Backlash
‘Avatar’ Actress Zoe Saldana's casting as legendary singer Nina Simone was met with criticism particularly when she took the role in the upcoming biopic Nina, replacing R&B star Mary J. Blige.

Many took issue with the fact that the actress isn’t a singer, isn’t dark-skinned and doesn't resemble Simone.
At a pre-Oscar party, the 34-year old actress told HipHollywood how she dealt with the backlash and why she took the role.

“What kept me from being hurt by the negative comments was that I’m doing it for my sistas and my brothas and I don’t care who tells me I’m not this or I’m not that, I know who I am and I know what Nina Simone means to me,” said the Image Award nominee.

“I did it all out of love for my people and my pride of being a black woman and a Latina woman and an American woman and that’s my truth.”

Michael Ealy Cast In New TV Show
Michael Ealy is getting ready to have another good year as he just signed as one of  two leads in Fox‘s new untitled bad robot pilot (formerly titled ‘Inhuman’). The action-packed cop show is set in the near future when all LAPD officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. It centers on one such pairing, cop John and his android partner Dorian (Ealy), who understands humanity more than John. The newly wed, who  also starred in another two-lead drama, USA’s ‘Common Law’, has recently wrapped ‘About Last Night’ and, after the Fox pilot, will segue into filming the sequel to the hit film  ‘Think Like A Man,’ also for Screen Gems.

Mary J. Blige Turns To God In Battle With Alcohol Addiction

Mary J. Blige has revealed that the tragic death of Whitney Houston made her realize it was time to face her demon of alcohol addiction. The proud born-again Christian revealed her decade-long battle with alcohol addiction to LA Confidential, sharing that she began focusing on her relationship with God instead of alcohol during the battle. The 42-year-old confessed that her alcohol addiction became worse after trying to cut back and only drink socially.

"I chose to learn how to drink socially and it didn't work," she said. "The test comes when you have to decide whether you're drinking to be social or drinking to cover up something again. To cover up depression, to cover up guilt. Shame. Abandonment… Once I realized, 'There you go again,' I had to stop."

In recent years Blige has openly discussed her tumultuous past that included cocaine and alcohol addiction, which began at the age of 16. She has explained that her dependency masked incidents of her childhood: insecurities about the way that she looked, and emotional pain that she experienced from an abusive relationship with a member of the R&B group Jodeci.

In 2001 during VH1 "Behind the Music," Blige revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child.

"That thing followed me all my life. The shame of thinking my molestation was my fault. It led me to believe that I wasn't worth anything," she said.

In her journey to reclaim herself and her life, she has empowered other women to do the same. In 2006, she founded the Mary J. Blige Center for Women in Yonkers, N.Y., to encourage women who have experienced domestic violence.

The queen of hip-hop soul admits that during her 21-year career that her sobriety has met many bumps in the road but she is determined to be victorious. "I don't know why, but I didn't want to go to rehab. I believe that anything man himself can do for me, God can do for me in a greater way. I decided to pray and to seek God on my own. I just stayed in The Word. And it worked."

Briefly ... Keke Palmer, Lil Mama & Drew Sidora have started filming a  VH1 Biopic of the R&B group TLC ... ‘America’s Got Talent’ has added Spice Girl Mel B to replace Sharon Osbourne ... Hunky Lance Gross has snagged lead Role in new NBC pilot …John Legend has signed exclusive deal with USA Network to produce FBI  drama titled ‘The Edge’ ... Actress Maya Rudolph is fielding offers for own variety series ... "Basketball Wives" stars Suzie Ketcham and Kenya Bell got into an all out physical brawl on set last week that started when one threw a plate of meatballs at the other.

First Ladies High Tea
November will mark the 20th Anniversary of our Annual First Ladies High Tea, honoring the contributions of female leaders and women of faith to the Los Angeles community. For more information, visit www.firstladieshightea.com
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