By La-Vaughnda A. Taylor Edited by Elissa D. Hecker
Below, for your browsing convenience, the categories are divided into: Entertainment, Arts, Sports, Technology/Media, and General News:
Another Verse in Fight Over Aretha Franklin's Estate
When the legendary singer died at 76 in 2018, her family assumed that she had no will. Then, 9 months later, a few handwritten documents, which may represent 2 or even 3 wills, were found in Franklin's home, leading to a dispute among her 4 sons over how her estate should be run and its assets divided. Now, a detailed document has emerged that lawyers for two of Franklin's sons say is a draft of yet another will, from Franklin's final years. The papers, filed in a Michigan court, included an 8-page document, titled "The will of Aretha Franklin" and apparently drawn up in 2018, along with another 23 pages that lay out the terms of a trust. Both are stamped "draft," and neither document has her signature. It is not clear how the document would affect ongoing negotiations over the estate, which has an estimated worth of as much as $80 million. The discovery of the handwritten wills upset the peace among Franklin's sons and led to the resignation of her niece Sabrina Owens, as executor.
At Last: Movie Theaters Reopen
For the first time in almost a year, New Yorkers were allowed in front of the big screen again. There were reminders of the pandemic everywhere, but many moviegoers were undeterred. They wore masks and sat rows apart; many have been vaccinated. There were tubs of disinfecting wipes near the door, new on-screen announcements about safe viewing and rope lines blocking access to eerily empty lobbies. However, the pandemic is far from over. While movie theaters in parts of the state have been operating within limits since late October, NYC, which is one of the biggest -- and densest -- movie markets in the country, did not get that green light. Late last month, Governor Cuomo cleared the way for movie theaters in NYC to open this past weekend with limited capacity and other restrictions, bringing cinemas in the boroughs in line with those in the rest of the state. Though some city theater owners ran the math and decided it would be best to stay dark, the movie theater industry has been pummeled by the pandemic, and several struggling companies seized the opportunity to sell tickets again.
Hollywood Will Have to Wait For Its Happy Ending as It Faces Messy Pandemic Recovery
Some theaters across the globe have started to open up again, but early box office results indicate a messy recovery, with moviegoer tastes potentially shifting -- particularly in China, now the No. 1 cinema market in the world -- and behind-the-scenes spats between studios and theaters crimping film availability. Some traditional studios have started to prioritize streaming, to pushback from multiplex operators. It's going to take time for things to settle out. Over the past year, as the pandemic has dragged on, Hollywood has pushed back the releases of dozens of films and rerouted others to streaming services.
Women in Music Are Still Underrepresented
A new study from the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative confirms that women are still woefully underrepresented in popular music. They found that fewer than 23% of the artists represented on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts from 2012-2019 and fewer than 2% of the producers were women. The analysis also examined women's presence in 5 of the Grammys' major categories: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Best New Artist, and Producer of the Year. While the number of women nominees in those categories reached a 9-year peek in 2021, it's still incredibly low, at just 28.1%, and as recently as 2017 it was a meager 6.4%.
Lack of Diversity Costs Hollywood Billions
For years, researchers have said a lack of diversity in Hollywood films doesn't just poorly reflect demographics, its bad business. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company has deduced that the $148 billion film and TV industry loses $10 billion, or 7%, every year by undervaluing Black films, filmmakers and executives.
BAFTAs Become More Diverse
Following an outcry over the lack of diversity in last year's nominees and an overhaul of its rules and regulations, the EE British Film Academy Awards unveiled a far more inclusive field of nominees, including record nods for female directors and a leading 7 nominations for Chloe Zhao's "Nomadland" and Sara Gavron's "Rocks". After a 7-month review after last year's backlash, the British academy expanded membership, mandated unconscious bias training for its 7,000 voting members, grew the number of nominees in numerous categories and changed the nomination process to include a longest phase. Acting categories were selected in part through juries. Watching all long listed films was made compulsory viewing and the long listed directing field was divided equally between women and men. The results made for a radically different BAFTAs. Four of the 6 directing nominees are women. More films were nominated, too.
Rift Over Art and Activism At a Campus
A dispute between the director of Peak Performances (at Montclair State University in New Jersey) and an Indigenous choreographer (Emily Johnson, an Indigenous artist of Yup'ik ancestry) hinged on workplace behavior, power, and the boundary between art and social justice. Johnson asked Jedediah Wheeler (executive director of Peak Performances) for his "personal commitment to a decolonization process," suggesting that Peak Performances begin a land acknowledgement by taking a series of steps to recognize the original inhabitants of the area, forge relationships with other Indigenous artists, and engage First Nations students on campus, among other things. Wheeler, saying that Peak Performances could not set policy since it was only a small part of a larger university, reacted dismissively and then, when pressed, angrily. The dispute burst into the open earlier this year when Johnson severed her connection with Peak Performances and wrote about her decision in "A Letter I Hope in the Future Doesn't Need to be Written," which she posted online on January 22nd. In the letter, she likened Wheeler's behavior to "white rage" and said that Peak Performances was "an unsafe and unethical" place to work. Their rupture became the talk of the nonprofit performing arts world, inspiring statements of solidarity, demands for reform, and canceled contracts. The letter, and the responses to it, reveal accelerating shifts in how people in the arts are thinking and talking about the roles of artist and presenter, standards of workplace behavior and power, and how this all connects to deep wounds in American history.
Broadway Stars Return, Breaking All Four Walls
On Friday, the anniversary of the day Broadway shut its doors, Broadway singers, dancers, actors, and front-of-house staffers gathered in Times Square, just across from the TKTS discount ticket booth, to perform live for a small audience of industry insiders and passers-by. The pop-up show was part concert, part rally. The Broadway legend Chita Rivera spoke about the power of theater to heal a beleaguered society, and then André De Shields sang the opening song from "Pippin", along with an array of Broadway stars, backup singers, and dancers. One of the main purposes of these pop-up performances -- of which there have been dozens across the city -- is to provide paying gigs for people in the industry who have lost their entire incomes during the pandemic. The performance was funded by a collection of organizations, including the nonprofits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and NYCNext. Although they aren't likely to perform inside theaters again until after Labor Day, the message of the show was that the end of the industry's nightmare seemed to be getting closer. Biden has asked states to make all adults eligible to be vaccinated by May 1st, a hopeful sigh that shows might be able to start rehearsals over the summer.
Picturing Justice: Amy Sherald Wants Her Painting of Breonna Taylor to 'live out in the World'
Amy Sherald's portrait of Breonna Taylor will be jointly acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, ensuring that the artwork will reach a wide audience for the years ahead. "I felt like it should live out in the world,' said Sherald, "I started to think about her hometown and how maybe this painting could be a Balm in Gilead for Louisville." Taylor's killing helped galvanized global Black Lives Matter protests last year. Sherald was originally commissioned to paint Taylor fo the cover of Vanity Fair's September issue last year, a special edition focused on activism and guest edited by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It marked Sherald's second commission, following the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, which borough the artist international attention.
American Academy of Arts and Letters Expands Its Roster
For the first time in more than a century, the society is adding new spots for members, with a diverse group of cultural figures. The American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of leading architects, artists, composers, and writers, announced 33 new members last week as part of an effort to expand and diversify. Among them are painter Mark Bradford, the poet Joy Harjo, the artist Betye Saar, the composer Wynton Marsalis, and the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Founded in 1898, the institution had capped membership at 250 since 1908: members are elected for life and pay no dues. In addition to adding 33 members, the academy announced that it is going to grow to 300 by 2025. Its move to diversify comes as the arts reckon with issues of race, inclusion, and social justice.
A Paint Job in a Louvre Gallery Leads to a Lawsuit
The Cy Twombly Foundation is taking the Paris museum to court over a renovation it calls an "aberration." The timing of the dispute has raised suspicions. The French museum is currently awaiting the imminent decision of President Emmanuel Macron about whether to appoint a new leader, or to extend a third term to its current president, Jean-Luc Martinez. Some freshly repainted walls in the museum are now at the center of a trans-Atlantic legal clash between the Louvre and the Cy Twombly Foundation in New York over extensive renovations in its Salle de Bronzes. That gallery boasts a monumental blue ceiling mural designed in 2010 by Twombly, the abstract American painter, who died in 2011, a year after he completed the work. A debate about the suitability of the new wall color has been circulating in the French press in recent weeks. On Friday, the Foundation's lawyers filed a lawsuit in a Paris court, demanding to reverse the Louvre's renovation -- part of a makeover project in what were once royal chambers -- and restore the Salle de Bronzes's neutral walls. The foundation is claiming a violation of the French concept of "droit moral", or moral right to protect the integrity of an art work.
$69 Million Art Sale Amid 'NFT Mania'
Christie's says that it has auctioned off a digital collage by an artist named Beeple for nearly $70 million, in an unprecedented sale of a digital artwork that fetched more money than physical works by many better known artists. The pieced, titled "Everydays: The First 5,000 Days," sold for $69.4 million in an online auction, "positioning him among the top three most valuable living artists." Christie's said it also marks the first time a major auction house has offered a digital-only artwork with a non-fungible token as a guarantee of its authenticity, as well as the first time cryptocurrency has been used to pay for an artwork at auction. Non-fungible tokens, known as NFTs, are electronic identifiers confirming that a digital collectible is real by recording the details on a digital ledger known as a blockchain. The tokens have swept the online collecting world recently, an offshoot of the boom in cryptocurrencies. Some 22 million people tuned in on the Christie's website for the final moments of bidding, with bidders from 11 countries taking part.
Detroit Art Museum is Seeking to Change
The Detroit Institute of Arts is taking steps to improve its workplace culture following a critical review by outside investigators who said they had fielded employee complaints of retaliation by the director whose autocratic leadership style had fostered an environment that led a disproportionate number of women on staff to leave. The findings of the review by the law firm Crowell and Moring, which was hired by the museum, were presented to members of its board in November but were not made public. The museum has since said that it had taken a number of steps in response to the findings, including establishing a new board position to be a liaison between staff members and the board of directors.
Studio in a School Will Hold a Union Vote
Workers and artists at Studio in a School, a nonprofit group founded more than 40 years ago to teach art in public schools, have organized an effort to join a union. Those instructors want more predictability in work assignments and greater transparency in scheduling decisions, which became a very critical issue during the pandemic. The effort at Studio in a School comes after employees at a number of other cultural organizations in New York, including the New Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, have formed unions in recent years. The National Labor Relations Board will send ballots to eligible employees, the first step of an election by mail to determine whether Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers will represent a handful of full--time administrative staff and about 100 artists who work as part-time instructors with one-year contracts.
Former NCAA Execs File Amicus Brief in Alston Case
In an unprecedented show of collective dissent from those who have served within the NCAA's ranks, 6 former NCAA employees filed an amici curiae brief in support of former college athletes who are suing college sports' governing body over antitrust claims related to scholarship restrictions. In a "friends-of-the-court" petition in the Supreme Court case NCAA v. Alston, 5 former NCAA investigators and a one-time senior executive have said the association's position has failed to keep up with the times. Among the group, the most notable petitioner is Mark Lewis, who served as NCAA executive vice president until 2016. In 2014, Lewis was among the NCAA's key trial witnesses in the separate class action lawsuit brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon over the publicity rights of college athletes.
Athletes Push Back on States Move to Bar Transgender Women in Sports
Mississippi is the second state to bar transgender women from women's sports and mre are expected to follow. The Mississippi Fairness Act, which would require public schools and universities to have athletes compete according to their sex assigned at birth rather than gender identity, is scheduled to take effect on July 1st, unless it is challenged in court. More than 500 student-athletes signed a letter that was sent to the NCAA, pressing the organization's leaders to stop holding championship events in states that restrict or aim to restrict transgender athletes.
Synchronized Swimming Confronts a Reckoning
Coaches around the world in the sport, now known as artistic swimming, are facing accusations that they bullied, harassed, and psychologically abused athletes. Elite synchronized swimmers -- who are mostly women, with few men at the elite level -- routinely endure bullying, harassment, and psychological abuse from male and female coaches, more than 100 current and former athletes from more than a dozen countries have said in recent interviews with The New York Times and other news organizations, and in social media postings and blogs. With the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics approaching in July, artistic swimming finds itself awash in scandal that burst into public view recently in Canada and in a handful of other countries. Swimmers interviewed described an unhealthy culture of thinness and disordered eating in an event that inevitably foments tension between art and sport.
Mediator to Explore Claims of Bias in Concussion Deal
The judge overseeing the landmark National Football League (NFL) concussion settlement ordered a mediator to look into concerns about the league's use of separate scoring curves -- one for Black athletes, another for white players -- used by doctors to evaluate dementia-related claims that retried players say "explicitly and deliberately" discriminated against hundreds, if not thousands, of Black players. The mediation between the NFL and the lawyers representing the over 20,000 retired players covered in the settlement comes after 2 retired Black players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, filed a civil rights suit and a suit against the settlement in August that called for an end to the practice of race-normed benchmarks to assess their claims of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Both cases were dismissed, but lawyers for the 2 players are planning to appeal.
Major Marathons Plan Races, With Changes
The coronavirus pandemic has wiped out most major road races through this spring. Marathon organizers are hoping that their events can return this fall with new protocols and precautions. With the pandemic wiping out running events for most of 2020 and the first half of this year, race organizers have spent the past few months working with health experts and government officials to plan their return. The process involves trying to predict what the world will look like in 7 months, because marathons cannot be planned (or trained for) with a few weeks' notice.
International Olympic Committee Agrees to Buy Vaccines From China For Olympians to 2021 and 2022 Games
In what amounts to a public relations coup for China and a solution to a problem for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the IOC's president, Thomas Bach, announced that China had agree to provide coronavirus vaccines for any participant requiring one ahead this summer's Tokyo Olympics and next year's Beijing Winter Games. Bach said that the Olympic committee would cover the cost of the vaccines for any Olympic and Paralympic competitors who needed them, and that distribution would take place through existing international agencies. It is unknown how many doses will be purchased or what the program will cost, but if vaccinating participants before they arrive reassures a skeptical public that the Games will not turn into a super spreader event for Japan -- where polling has trended strongly against the Games and a national vaccination program is still in tis early stages -- the payoff for the IOC will be incalculable.
Former Doctor is Found Guilty in Doping Case
The former doctor for some of Britain's most successful cyclists and teams was found guilty of ordering a banned drug that he knew would be used to enhance a rider's performance. The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Serviced ruled that the former chief doctor for Team Sky and British Cycling was guilty of ordering testosterone "knowing or believing" it to be to improve performance of an athlete.
Trump Campaign's Suit Against The New York Times Is Dismissed
A judge dismissed a lawsuit by former President Trump's campaign that accused The New York Times of defaming it with an option column arguing that there was a "quit pro quo" between the campaign and Russia in 2016. The dismissal was with prejudice and Trump's campaign cannot refile the lawsuit over the op-ed, written by former Times executive editor Max Frankel. A similar defamation suit by the campaign against CNN was dismissed last fall, while another one remains pending in federal court against The Washington Post.
Russia Slows Access to Twitter, Saying That It Circulates Illegal Content
In its latest strike against online content that it doesn't control, Russia is throttling Twitter. State Agency Roskomnadzor has said that it is taking the action in response to the social media service not removing banned content, claiming that it had identified more than 3,000 unlawful posts that have not been taken down -- and warning it could implement a total block on the service.
Under Scrutiny About Race, British Media Admits There Might Be a Problem
The fallout from the Harry and Meghan interview created a rare public schism in the press, an embarrassing reversal, and raised broader questions about racism in Britain. In the wake of the explosive interview with Oprah, an influential professional society, the Society of Editors, speaking for the British news media issued a defiant response, rejecting the idea of racism and intolerance in British coverage of the couple. That group was then forced into an embarrassing about-face after objections from more than 160 journalist of color as well as the editors of both The Guardian and The Financial Times.
Congress Passes Biden's $1.9 Trillion Aid Bill
Joe Biden has signed the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package after weeks of back-and-forth debate in Congress, and one year to the day after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. The American Rescue Plan, which Biden first unveiled in January, will deliver aid to million of Americans and inject funds across the economy as the country continues to steer its way out of the pandemic. The legislation passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday by 220-211 vote after the Senate approved it over the weekend. No Republicans in the House or the Senate supported the package.
Relief Package Widens Reach of Health Law
With its expanded subsidies for health plans under the Affordable Care Act, the coronavirus relief law makes insurance more affordable, and puts health care on the ballot in 2022. President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation will fulfill one of his central campaign promises, to fill the holes in the Affordable Care Act and make health insurance affordable for more than one million middle-class Americans who could not afford insurance under the original law.
Garland is Confirmed as Attorney General, Backed By 70 Senators
The Senate has confirmed attorney general nominee Merrick Garland in a strong bi-partisan 70-30 vote, sending the federal appeals court judge to the Justice Department where he has pledged to shield the agency from politics and make the sprawling investigation into the deadly U.S. Capitol assault his "first priority." The margin of confirmation was the largest for an attorney general since Eric Holder, who secured 75 votes when he was confirmed as the nation's chief law enforcement officer in the Obama administration. Denied a hearing after he was nominated to the Supreme Court almost 5 years ago, Garland received the votes of 20 Republicans, including members of the party's leadership.
Fudge Wins Confirmation to Run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a Tough Task
Representative Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, becoming the first Black woman in decades to run an agency that will be at the forefront of the Biden administration's efforts to fight racial inequality and poverty. A Democratic member of Congress representing the Cleveland area, she earned the support of all Senate Democrats and many top Republicans, including minority leader Senator Mitch McConnell. She was confirmed in a final vote of 66 to 34.
Senate Confirms Biden's Pick for Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Senate has voted to confirm Michael Regan as the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which will play a central role in the Biden administration's plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, vehicles, and oil and gas facilities. The bipartisan tally in the Democratic-led Senate was 66-34 to confirm Regan, who will be the first Black man to lead the EPA. Regan, 44, was the head of North Carolina's environmental regulator, where he earned a reputation as a consensus builder.
'Let More People Vote': Biden Signs Executive Order to Ease Americans' Path to Polls
On the day that marked the 56th anniversary of march in Selma, President Biden signed an Executive Order to promote voting access and allow all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy. This Order will leverage the resources of the federal government to increase access to voter registration service and information about voting. The Executive Order will direct federal agencies to expand access to voter registration and election information, assist states under the National Voter Registration Act, improve and modernize vote.gov, increase federal employees' access to voting, analyze barriers to voting for people with disabilities, increase voting access for active duty military and other overseas voters, provide voting access and education to citizens in federal custody, and establish a Native American voting rights steering group.
Justices Back Student in Free Speech Lawsuit
The Supreme Court ruled that 2 former students at a public college in Georgia can keep their lawsuit going against a campus speech policy, even though the policy was dropped and the students are long gone. By a vote of 8-1, the Court said that because the students sought nominal money damages, the case is still alive. In his lone dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the ruling will keep the courts open "to any plaintiff who asks for a dollar," even if a ruling comes well past the end of the dispute that gave rise to a lawsuit. The case has been sent back to the lower court for further proceedings.
In Justices' Order, Cracks Form in a Legal Shield for Officers' Misconduct
The Supreme Court has hinted that it is ready to trim the doctrine of qualified immunity, which makes it difficult to sue government officials for violence and cruelty. For years, the Supreme Court has been hostile to lawsuits from victims of police violence, prisoners subjected to appalling cruelty, and others who sought to sue government officials for violations of their constitutional rights. That might be starting to change. In recent rulings, the justices ordered an appeals court to reconsider the cases of two prisoners in Texas, prompting debate about whether the Supreme Court is ready to trim the doctrine of qualified immunity. The doctrine has been the subject of scathing criticism across the ideological spectrum, and it became a flash point in the nationwide uproar last summer over police brutality, with activists and lawmakers calling for its reconsideration.
Biden Grants Protection for Venezuelans
Last week, the Biden administration granted humanitarian protection for Venezuelans, allowing an estimated 300,000 people to apply and remain lawfully in the U.S. They will have the opportunity to apply for Temporary Protected Status, a form of humanitarian relief, which can be granted when it is deemed unsafe to return to one's home country. Additional details will be published in the Federal Register. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is designating Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status for 18 months, until September 2022.
Biden Will Revisit Rules on Campus Sex Assault Enacted Under Trump
President Biden has signed an Executive Order directing his administration to review policies related to how schools handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and he singled out for possible changes a Trump administration regulation that bolsters protections for those accused of sexual misconnection. The Order requires an Education Department and Justice Department review of existing policies within 100 days. It says that the review should weigh whether the polices are consistent with the Biden administration's mandate that students shouldn't face discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, or in the form of sexual harassment or sexual assault. It calls on the education secretary to suspend, revise or rescind policies that don't meet that standard.