Taylor Swift, Beyonce Reporting Jobs Trigger Controversy 

US singer Taylor Swift arrives for the MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on September 12, 2023. (AFP)
US singer Taylor Swift arrives for the MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on September 12, 2023. (AFP)
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Taylor Swift, Beyonce Reporting Jobs Trigger Controversy 

US singer Taylor Swift arrives for the MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on September 12, 2023. (AFP)
US singer Taylor Swift arrives for the MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on September 12, 2023. (AFP)

It's rare for a news outlet to dedicate a reporter to one personality, but the publication USA Today has decided Taylor Swift and Beyonce are phenomena requiring their own beats.

The recent announcement by Gannett, which owns USA Today, that it was seeking two journalists to cover the biggest names in music as if they were running for president triggered both excitement and eyerolls -- and broader conversation about coverage priorities in an increasingly fragmented and financially precarious news media environment.

Gannett, which owns more than 200 daily newspapers, has slashed jobs across local markets over the past several years, laying off six percent of its news division in December.

So news of the Tay and Bey positions struck a nerve.

"I suppose now is a good time to remind Twitter that I'm the only full-time news reporter left at my newspaper that was sold by Gannett in December," said Brad Vidmar on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Vidmar, 41, works for The Hawk Eye, a newspaper in Burlington, Iowa that GateHouse, an investment firm-run publishing company, purchased in late 2016.

In 2019 GateHouse acquired Gannett and took its name, becoming the largest newspaper company in the nation -- and one with a reputation for scooping newspapers before curtailing their resources.

Gannett resold The Hawk Eye to a family-owned media company in late 2022 -- its staff a skeleton of what it once was.

"They just kept cutting and cutting and cutting staff all across the board," Vidmar told AFP. "What you saw was a situation where there are less reporters, reporters forced to take on multiple beats."

Losing local content meant filling the paper with wire stories or stories from the broader USA Today network, he explained.

Vidmar said Gannett's announcement of the Swift job made "my eyes roll."

"They've been downsizing newsrooms for years now, but of course they need somebody dedicated to covering Taylor Swift," he said.

'Shaping a generation'

Gannett said the new positions will be employed by USA Today and The Tennessean, the company's Nashville-based paper.

The aim of the new jobs -- which are in addition to three music reporters The Tennessean now employs -- will be to "capture the excitement around Swift's ongoing tour... while also providing thoughtful analysis of her music and career," Gannett said. Another position is aimed at similarly analyzing Beyonce's impact.

The NewsGuild's New York branch was skeptical, writing on X: "Gannett's strategy to be profitable again: 1) Lay off hundreds of reporters 2) Destroy local news coverage 3) Hire a Taylor Swift reporter."

Lark-Marie Anton, Gannett's chief communications officer, said in a statement to AFP that "these roles do not come at the expense of other jobs," noting that in Gannett's bid to "grow our audience" the company has hired 225 journalists since March and has more than 100 open roles.

"Taylor Swift and Beyonce Knowles-Carter are artists and businesswomen. Their work has tremendous economic impact and societal significance influencing multiple industries and our culture -- they are shaping a generation," Anton said.

Under pressure

Robert Thompson, a media scholar at Syracuse University, said his initial reaction to the new jobs was questioning whether "this is a joke."

But he said after more reflection "I think it would be silly to categorically dismiss this... There are so few things that everybody really kind of knows whether they're fans or not, and Beyonce and Taylor Swift are some of the very rare ones."

The jobs have the potential to allow for "really insightful ways to tell the story of 21st-century America through the lens of its most popular personages," he said.

On the other hand, Thompson acknowledged that negative reaction to the new jobs in light of dwindling local news coverage is reasonable.

"If you were to get a bunch of people together and say, 'We've got X number of dollars, how should they be spent?' Most of them would probably not say the Taylor Swift beat," he said.

"But that doesn't mean that separate from that context there can't be some really good things to come of it."

If performed correctly, the new jobs are not necessarily the "dream" careers some headlines have touted them as, he said.

The fan bases for both Swift and Beyonce are notoriously defensive -- music critics who make even the slightest negative comment about their idols can be doxxed or receive death threats.

And along with the "organized wrath" of Swifties and the Beyhive, the worlds these artists have curated are famously guarded.

Plus, Thompson noted, "the eyes of the profession are going to be on these poor folks when they finally get hired."

"That first piece that they file -- it better be really good."



Michael Gambon, Veteran Actor Who Played Dumbledore in ‘Harry Potter’ Films, Dies at Age 82

Actor Michael Gambon arrives for the premiere of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" in New York, July 9, 2009. (Reuters)
Actor Michael Gambon arrives for the premiere of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" in New York, July 9, 2009. (Reuters)
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Michael Gambon, Veteran Actor Who Played Dumbledore in ‘Harry Potter’ Films, Dies at Age 82

Actor Michael Gambon arrives for the premiere of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" in New York, July 9, 2009. (Reuters)
Actor Michael Gambon arrives for the premiere of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" in New York, July 9, 2009. (Reuters)

Michael Gambon, the Irish-born actor knighted for his storied career on the stage and screen and who gained admiration from a new generation of moviegoers with his portrayal of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in six of the eight “Harry Potter” films, has died. He was 82.

A statement by his family, issued by his publicist Thursday, said the actor died following “a bout of pneumonia.”

“We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon. Beloved husband and father, Michael died peacefully in hospital with his wife Anne and son Fergus at his bedside,” his family said.

While the Potter role raised Gambon’s international profile and found him a huge audience, he had long been recognized as one of Britain’s leading actors. His work spanned TV, theater and radio, and he starred in dozens of films from “Gosford Park” and “The King’s Speech” to the animated family movie “Paddington.” He recently appeared in the Judy Garland biopic “Judy,” released in 2019.

Gambon was knighted for services to drama in 1998.

The role of the much loved Professor Dumbledore was initially played by another Irish-born actor, Richard Harris. When Harris died in 2002, after two of the films in the franchise had been made, Gambon took over and played the part from “Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban” through to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.”

He once acknowledged not having read any of J. K Rowling’s best-selling books, arguing that it was safer to follow the script rather than be too influenced by the books. That didn't prevent him from embodying the spirit of the powerful wizard who fought against evil to protect his students.

Fiona Shaw, who played Petunia Dursley in the “Harry Potter” series, recalled Gambon telling her how central acting was to his life.

“He did once say to me in a car ‘I know I go on a lot about this and that, but actually, in the end, there is only acting’,” Shaw told the BBC on Thursday. “I think he was always pretending that he didn’t take it seriously, but he took it profoundly seriously.”

Born in Dublin on Oct. 19, 1940, Gambon was raised in London and originally trained as an engineer, following in the footsteps of his father. He made his theater debut in a production of “Othello” in Dublin.

In 1963 he got his first big break with a minor role in “Hamlet,” the National Theatre Company’s opening production, under the directorship of the legendary Laurence Olivier.

Gambon soon became a distinguished stage actor and received critical acclaim for his leading performance in “Life of Galileo,” directed by John Dexter. He was frequently nominated for awards and won the Laurence Olivier Award three times and the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards twice.

A multi-talented actor, Gambon was also the recipient of four coveted British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards for his television work.

He became a household name in Britain after his lead role in the 1986 BBC TV series “The Singing Detective,” written by Dennis Potter and considered a classic of British television drama. Gambon won the BAFTA for best actor for the role.

Gambon was versatile as an actor but once told the BBC of his preference for playing “villainous characters.” He played gangster Eddie Temple in the British crime thriller “Layer Cake" — a review of the film by the New York Times referred to Gambon as “reliably excellent" — and a Satanic crime boss in Peter Greenaway's “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.”

He also had a part as King George V in the 2010 drama film “The King’s Speech.” In 2015 he returned to the works of J.K. Rowling, taking a leading role in the TV adaptation of her non-Potter book “The Casual Vacancy.”

Gambon retired from the stage in 2015 after struggling to remember his lines in front of an audience due to his advancing age. He once told the Sunday Times Magazine: “It’s a horrible thing to admit, but I can’t do it. It breaks my heart.”

Gambon was always protective when it came to his private life. He married Anne Miller and they had one son, Fergus. He later had two sons with set designer Philippa Hart.


New Film on Historical Native American Murders Reflects Universal Themes, Says Scorsese 

(L-R) Osage Nation Princess Gianna "Gigi" Sieke, Osage Nation Princess Lawren "Lulu" Goodfox, Chad Renfro, Scott George, Julie O'Keefe, Brandy Lemon, film director Martin Scorsese, Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Julie Standing Bear, Christopher Cote, and Addie Roanhorse attend the premiere of Apple Original Films' "Killers of the Flower Moon" at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York on September 27, 2023. (AFP)
(L-R) Osage Nation Princess Gianna "Gigi" Sieke, Osage Nation Princess Lawren "Lulu" Goodfox, Chad Renfro, Scott George, Julie O'Keefe, Brandy Lemon, film director Martin Scorsese, Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Julie Standing Bear, Christopher Cote, and Addie Roanhorse attend the premiere of Apple Original Films' "Killers of the Flower Moon" at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York on September 27, 2023. (AFP)
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New Film on Historical Native American Murders Reflects Universal Themes, Says Scorsese 

(L-R) Osage Nation Princess Gianna "Gigi" Sieke, Osage Nation Princess Lawren "Lulu" Goodfox, Chad Renfro, Scott George, Julie O'Keefe, Brandy Lemon, film director Martin Scorsese, Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Julie Standing Bear, Christopher Cote, and Addie Roanhorse attend the premiere of Apple Original Films' "Killers of the Flower Moon" at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York on September 27, 2023. (AFP)
(L-R) Osage Nation Princess Gianna "Gigi" Sieke, Osage Nation Princess Lawren "Lulu" Goodfox, Chad Renfro, Scott George, Julie O'Keefe, Brandy Lemon, film director Martin Scorsese, Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Julie Standing Bear, Christopher Cote, and Addie Roanhorse attend the premiere of Apple Original Films' "Killers of the Flower Moon" at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York on September 27, 2023. (AFP)

Martin Scorsese, best known for his action-packed thrillers and gangster epics, now depicts an investigation into the murders of Native Americans in his latest film, "Killers of the Flower Moon", which previewed in New York on Wednesday.

Adapted from a nonfiction book of the same name, "Killers of the Flower Moon" tells the true story of the 1920s murders and disappearances of members of Osage Nation on oil-rich lands in the central US state of Oklahoma.

At a red carpet event at Manhattan's Lincoln Center, Scorsese told AFP his film about the 100-year-old crimes touched on broad themes.

"It's about a clash of cultures, misunderstanding each other, the sense of entitlement -- and it could be (about) not only Americans," Scorsese told AFP about the film, which he shot on Oklahoma's prairies with around 40 Osage Native Americans included in the cast.

The $200-million film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart, a man in love with a Native American woman (played by Lily Gladstone) who finds himself embroiled in a plot hatched by oil-hungry cattle magnate William Hale, played by Robert De Niro. An FBI agent, Jesse Plemons, is assigned to solve the murders.

"Killers of the Flower Moon" will be released in North American cinemas on October 20, before being made available on Apple TV+.

The violence and crimes depicted in the film "could be in any part of the world," Scorsese said. "It just so happens to be a story that actually reflects through the millennia."

"It's good to tell this kind of story now because people are trying to shy away from this stuff. Show it, talk about it," the "Gangs of New York" and "Taxi Driver" director added.

American writer David Grann, whose book the film was based on, told AFP that the story covers "one of the most monstrous crimes and racial injustices committed by white settlers against Native Americans for their oil money."

"What it is fundamentally about is what happens when greed is fused together with the dehumanization of other people," the New Yorker journalist said. "And what that led to were these genocidal crimes."

Grann believes that the history of the Osage Tribe, and of many Native Americans across the United States, has been "largely erased from our conscious".

"It was not taught in any of my schoolbooks. I never learned about it," he said.

In 2021, President Joe Biden became the first US president to issue a proclamation for Indigenous Peoples' Day, which coincides with the increasingly controversial national holiday celebrating explorer Christopher Columbus.

Principal Chief of the Osage Nation Geoffrey Standing Bear also appeared at the red carpet event.

"It's not just the Osage people -- all of the Native peoples have had their hard times for 500 years," the North American leader said. "And this movie shows us it still goes on.

"It wasn't that long ago. It was my grandparents' generation when this movie, the facts in it, occurred."


Bruce Springsteen ‘on the Mend’ but Won’t Return to Tour Until 2024 

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band perform on tour at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP)
Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band perform on tour at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP)
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Bruce Springsteen ‘on the Mend’ but Won’t Return to Tour Until 2024 

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band perform on tour at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP)
Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band perform on tour at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP)

American rock legend Bruce Springsteen announced Wednesday that he will postpone the remainder of his 2023 tour dates until next year, as he recovers from treatment for peptic ulcer disease.

The 74-year-old singer "has continued to recover steadily" and will continue treatment for the rest of the year on doctor's advice, the statement said.

"Thanks to all my friends and fans for your good wishes, encouragement, and support, I'm on the mend and can't wait to see you all next year," he said in a statement.

The artist beloved as "the Boss" has been on tour with his E Street Band since the start of the year.

But earlier this month he announced he was postponing his September concert dates in the United States due to his illness. He also postponed two shows in August due to an unspecified illness.

"Rescheduled dates for each of the 2023 shows, including those postponed earlier this month, will be announced next week, all taking place at their originally scheduled venues," the statement said Wednesday.

Anyone unable to attend on the new dates will be able to request a refund, it added.

The artist behind mega hits like "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark," Springsteen has sold more than 150 million records.

Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop on the inside stomach lining and the upper portion of the small intestine. The most common symptom is abdominal pain.

Speaking to AFP at the Manhattan film premiere of Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon," Steven Van Zandt -- a guitarist in the E Street Band -- said his longtime friend Springsteen "was doing better every day."

Still pulling marathons

Springsteen's current tour is the first he's gone on with the E Street Band since 2017, and he's been on the road most of 2023.

He traversed the United States before taking on Britain and Europe, then returned stateside in August.

Just before announcing his ulcer, the Boss played a nonstop three-hour set in his home state of New Jersey under a full late-summer moon.

Springsteen is famous for his marathon shows, with the longest clocking in at more than four hours, a performance he pulled off in Helsinki in 2012.

At his final show before going on leave earlier this month, Springsteen performed the hits -- including a majestic rendition of "Jungleland," a Jersey favorite -- and the deep cuts, including his rarely performed "Detroit Medley."

The artist also injected the show with his newer music off his most recent studio album "Letter To You," a meditation on loss and mortality from one of rock's ruminative stars.

The album fits neatly into his canon, with the layered guitars, dramatic percussion and glockenspiel swelling into the signature sound he coined with his E Street Band, the group he's performed with since 1972.


Egypt, Germany Bag Most Awards at Inaugural Hurghada Youth Film Festival

Winners at the festival pose with their awards. (Hurghada Youth Film Festival)
Winners at the festival pose with their awards. (Hurghada Youth Film Festival)
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Egypt, Germany Bag Most Awards at Inaugural Hurghada Youth Film Festival

Winners at the festival pose with their awards. (Hurghada Youth Film Festival)
Winners at the festival pose with their awards. (Hurghada Youth Film Festival)

Egypt and Germany have bagged most of the awards at the inaugural Hurghada Youth Film Festival, which concluded on Monday in a ceremony that was attended by a number of Arabic and Egyptian artists, including Hani Salama, Sulaf Fawakherji, and filmmaker Mohammed Abdelaziz.

German film “Night Guard” won the Golden Award for Best Feature Film, while the Silver Award for Best Feature Film went to French film “Sons of Ramses”, which will represent France in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars 2024. Egyptian film “The Abbasid History” won the Bronze Award for Best Feature Film, and Croatian filmmaker Neven Hitrec won the Best Director Award for his film “The Diary of Paulina”.

In the short film category, Egyptian film “Letter from Unknown” won the Golden award, Syrian film “Photograph” won the silver award, while the Portuguese film “Anna Morphos” won the bronze award.

The concluding ceremony celebrated the 93rd National Day of Saudi Arabia and honored the Saudi delegation that included novelist Abeer Samkari and producer Abdullah Badib.

Festival President, scriptwriter Mohamed el Bassosy said he was delighted with the success the Hurghada Youth Film Festival. “Everything I dreamed of for the first edition has been accomplished, and I hope for more in the forthcoming edition. A few months ago, no one had imagined a youth film festival in Hurghada, but today, we did it,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He revealed that preparations are underway for the 2024 edition, saying the organizers were seeking broader participation and increasing the number of guests.

Bassosy thanked actor Hussein Fahmi, president of the Cairo International Film Festival, for signing a collaboration protocol with the Hurghada Youth Film Festival.

“It was an amazing surprise, and we must thank the ministry of culture for signing an agreement with an emerging festival. According to the protocol, we will be sending a number of the Hurghada festival young participants to train at the Cairo Cinema Center, while the Cairo Festival will provide us with prominent guests and foreign films,” he said.


Hollywood Studios, Actors on Strike to Resume Talks Next Week 

A picketer carries a sign on the picket line outside Netflix on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
A picketer carries a sign on the picket line outside Netflix on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
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Hollywood Studios, Actors on Strike to Resume Talks Next Week 

A picketer carries a sign on the picket line outside Netflix on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
A picketer carries a sign on the picket line outside Netflix on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)

Hollywood studios and negotiators for Hollywood actors on strike will hold talks on Oct. 2, both sides said in a joint statement on Wednesday, in the first such meeting in months.

The SAG-AFTRA actors union, Hollywood's largest with 160,000 members, walked off the job in July asking for higher pay and for curbs on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in entertainment, demands similar to Hollywood writers.

The writers' union struck a tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents Walt Disney, Netflix and other studios on Sunday after five months of failed negotiations.

SAG-AFTRA has a wide range of performers with different issues they want addressed.

The performers want to protect their images and work from being replaced by "digital replicas" generated with AI while actors are looking for compensation that reflects the value they bring to streaming, specifically in the form of revenue sharing.

Other demands from actors include limits on self-taped auditions used in casting, which they argue are more costly than in-person readings. They also want hair and makeup artists who can work with various hair textures and skin tones, to ensure equity for all performers.


Movie Review: Documentary ‘Carlos’ Is a Loving, Respectful Portrait of Guitar Icon Santana

 Carlos Santana performs at the BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival in Napa, Calif., on May 26, 2019. (AP)
Carlos Santana performs at the BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival in Napa, Calif., on May 26, 2019. (AP)
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Movie Review: Documentary ‘Carlos’ Is a Loving, Respectful Portrait of Guitar Icon Santana

 Carlos Santana performs at the BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival in Napa, Calif., on May 26, 2019. (AP)
Carlos Santana performs at the BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival in Napa, Calif., on May 26, 2019. (AP)

A new documentary on rock icon Carlos Santana begins with the legendary philosopher-guitarist asking a simple question: “Do you believe in magic?”

“Magic. Not tricks — the flow of grace,” he says.

You may be convinced you do a little less than 90 minutes later by director Rudy Valdez’s intimate portrait of a man with a magical ability and a story told with few tricks.

“Carlos” is a traditional linear tale, tracing Santana’s formative years in Tijuana, Mexico, his set at Woodstock, his relentless touring and dive into spirituality, climaxing with his triumphant 1999 “Supernatural” album.

It’s lovingly told — and intimate. There is the first known recording of a 19-year-old Santana in 1966 — already a guitar master with a familiar, blistering style — and one later in life in which he delights his children behind a couch with sock puppets.

But some of the most powerful images are several old homemade clips Santana made himself, alone at home just jamming. It’s like hearing the magic flow straight from the source, watching unfiltered genius work while his guitar gently wails.

Valdez uses various images almost like a collage to capture his subject — talk show clips, old concerts, and newly conducted interviews with the master, one at sundown with the icon beside a fire. The only forced bit is a roundtable of Santana’s wife and sisters.

A highlight is watching Santana and his band play in the rain during 1982’s Concert for the Americas in the Dominican Republic. Other directors might show a short clip and go but Valdez lets it play long, a treat.

We see Santana grow up to a violinist father and a fierce mother, who became mesmerized by the blues-rock of Ray Charles, B.B. King and Little Richard. He was pressing tortillas at a diner in San Francisco in the late 1960s — he calls the city a “vortex of newness” — and go to the Fillmore to listen to the Grateful Dead and Country Joe and the Fish.

After being busted trying to sneak into the legendary venue without paying, impresario Bill Graham was so impressed by this skinny guitarist that he invited him to open for the Who, Steve Miller and Howling Wolf.

At Woodstock — he and his band wouldn’t have their debut album out for months more — Santana hits the stage very high by accident (Thanks, Jerry Garcia) and says a little prayer: “God, I know you’re here. Please keep me in time and in tune.” Throughout his set, Santana seems to be wrestling the neck of his guitar, which to him resembled a snake.

His first royalty check was spent on a home and a refrigerator for mom, fulfilling a promise. “It’s better than Grammys and Oscars and Heisman trophies. It feels better than anything,” he says in the documentary.

Inevitably, the fall comes, with the drugs and overindulgence. Shocked by the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Santana decides he must choose between heroin or spiritual meditation. He picks the latter, dresses in white, eats healthy, turn to jazz and decides to “surf the cosmos of imagination.”

With enduring hits like “Oye Como Va″ and “Black Magic Woman,” Santana was voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the first person of Hispanic heritage to be inducted. But he wasn’t done yet. “This Earth time is an illusion,” he argues, after all.

“Supernatural,” which arrived in 1999 during a Latin pop explosion, won a total of nine Grammys with such hits as “Smooth,” “Put Your Lights On” and “Maria Maria.” He is called a second-act king. Man, he’s a hot one.

Valdez shows real style illustrating that Santana’s bands were far from stable when it came to its lineups — he cleverly shows various different singers belt out the same section of “Black Magic Woman” live — and captures Santana today watching an old concert he did with his late dad. “He’s proud of me and I’m proud of him. And I miss him,” he tells the camera.

Santana deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of rock and that’s why in so many ways “Carlos” is a corrective to the thinking of people like Jann Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone, who overlooked Santana for his new book of transcendent rockers, “The Masters.” A master is hiding in plain sight.


Hollywood Writers’ Guild Leaders Call Off Monthslong Strike

Pedro Pascal (C) walks the picket line with striking SAG-AFTRA members outside Warner Bros. Studio as the actors strike continues on September 26, 2023 in Burbank, California. (Getty Images via AFP)
Pedro Pascal (C) walks the picket line with striking SAG-AFTRA members outside Warner Bros. Studio as the actors strike continues on September 26, 2023 in Burbank, California. (Getty Images via AFP)
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Hollywood Writers’ Guild Leaders Call Off Monthslong Strike

Pedro Pascal (C) walks the picket line with striking SAG-AFTRA members outside Warner Bros. Studio as the actors strike continues on September 26, 2023 in Burbank, California. (Getty Images via AFP)
Pedro Pascal (C) walks the picket line with striking SAG-AFTRA members outside Warner Bros. Studio as the actors strike continues on September 26, 2023 in Burbank, California. (Getty Images via AFP)

The leaders of the Writers Guild of America on Tuesday called off a monthslong strike that has paralyzed Hollywood, accepting a pay deal hammered out with production studios.

The powerful writers' union's board of directors "voted unanimously to recommend the agreement," it said in a statement, adding "the strike ends at 12:01 am" Los Angeles time on Wednesday.

The union's 11,500 members will have final say on whether or not to accept the offer, with a vote to take place between October 2 and 9, the group said.

Details of the deal released by the WGA on Tuesday seemed to show a victory for the writers, who were pushing for more pay amid the upending of the industry via streaming, as well as protections from artificial intelligence.

Bonuses will be in place for writers on a series that is viewed by 20 percent or more of a streamer's domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of its release, a win for writers who saw their residuals decline in the Internet age.

AI-generated material also can't be considered "source material," and thus undercut writers' pay if they work on a script that used AI.

The WGA also "reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers' material to train AI is prohibited," according to the summary.

Theoretically, the deal can still be rejected by the screenwriters, but most industry experts believe the ratification will be a formality.

Work on stymied TV and film projects can restart while the voting process is being completed.

Late night talk shows are expected to start airing again next month.

Actors' strike still unresolved

Thousands of film and television scribes had downed their pens in early May over demands including better pay, greater rewards for creating hit shows, and protection from artificial intelligence.

They have manned picket lines for months outside offices including Netflix and Disney, and were joined by striking actors in mid-July, leaving normally busy Hollywood lots all but vacant in a dramatic show of force.

Five days of intensive talks between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, culminated Sunday.

Industry watchers expect it will be welcomed by the membership.

"We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional -- with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership," the guild said Sunday.

WGA member Cylin Busby said while she didn't know all the details of the deal, she was optimistic.

"The messaging that we're getting from our union is so positive that I would be shocked if it's not a really good deal for the writers," she told AFP on Tuesday.

"I'm ready to get back to work."

Even if the deal is approved, Hollywood will remain a long way from normal service, with actors -- represented by the SAG-AFTRA union -- still refusing to work.

A resolution to that stoppage is expected to take a minimum of several more weeks.

Some of SAG-AFTRA's demands go further than those of the WGA.

And with hundreds of film and television shoots backed up, it could still then take months for Hollywood to clear the logistical logjam and get fully back to work.

Actors were on the picket lines Tuesday outside Netflix, being joined by members of the WGA who were there in support.

"Our strike is over. But the battle goes on until the actors get their deal," said WGA member Vinnie Wilhelm.

"We would not have gotten the deal that we have gotten if it weren't for the support of the actors."


Taylor Swift ‘Eras’ Tour Concert Film Going Global

 Taylor Swift attends the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, US, September 12, 2023. (Reuters)
Taylor Swift attends the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, US, September 12, 2023. (Reuters)
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Taylor Swift ‘Eras’ Tour Concert Film Going Global

 Taylor Swift attends the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, US, September 12, 2023. (Reuters)
Taylor Swift attends the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, US, September 12, 2023. (Reuters)

Taylor Swift's "Eras Tour" concert film is expected to be the cinematic event of the season -- and now it's going global, with tickets expected to go on sale in more than 100 countries.

The film was already slated for an October 13 release in North America but will now be available from that date at cinemas worldwide, including every Odeon location across Europe, according to a Tuesday statement from theater giant AMC.

"The tour isn't the only thing we're taking worldwide... Been so excited to tell you all that The Eras Tour concert film is now officially coming to theaters WORLDWIDE on Oct 13!" Swift posted on Instagram.

When 33-year-old Swift first announced the film it broke the record for pre-sales in the United States in one day, raking in $37 million.

It's expected the film could exceed $100 million in North American its opening weekend.

"I think we could be talking about the biggest film of the fall season, which is pretty incredible," Jeff Bock, an analyst for box office tracker Exhibitor Relations, recently told AFP.

Swift is taking a break from her wildly popular tour that began in March -- performances will resume in November and run late into next year. Some analysts expect it will become the first tour to break the symbolic $1-billion mark.


Spain Charges Shakira with Tax Evasion for Second Time, Demands More Than $7 Million 

Shakira attends the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, US, September 12, 2023. (Reuters)
Shakira attends the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, US, September 12, 2023. (Reuters)
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Spain Charges Shakira with Tax Evasion for Second Time, Demands More Than $7 Million 

Shakira attends the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, US, September 12, 2023. (Reuters)
Shakira attends the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, US, September 12, 2023. (Reuters)

Spanish prosecutors have charged pop star Shakira with failing to pay 6.7 million euros ($7.1 million) in tax on her 2018 income, authorities said Tuesday, in Spain’s latest fiscal allegations against the Colombian singer.

Shakira is alleged to have used an offshore company based in a tax haven to avoid paying the tax, Barcelona prosecutors said in a statement.

She has been notified of the charges in Miami, where she lives, according to the statement.

Shakira is already due to be tried in Barcelona on Nov. 20 in a separate case that hinges on where she lived between 2012-14. In that case, prosecutors allege she failed to pay 14.5 million euros ($15.4 million) in tax.

Prosecutors in Barcelona have alleged the Grammy winner spent more than half of the 2012-14 period in Spain and therefore should have paid taxes in the country, even though her official residence was in the Bahamas.

Spanish tax officials opened the latest case against Shakira last July. After reviewing the evidence gathered over the last two months, prosecutors have decided to bring charges. No date for a trial was set.

The public relations firm that previously has handled Shakira’s affairs, Llorente y Cuenca, made no immediate comment.

Last July, it said the artist had “always acted in concordance with the law and on the advice of her financial advisers.”

Shakira, whose full name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, has been linked to Spain since she started dating the now-retired soccer player Gerard Pique. The couple, who have two children, lived together in Barcelona until last year, when they ended their 11-year relationship.

Spain tax authorities have over the past decade or so cracked down on soccer stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for not paying their full due in taxes. Those players were found guilty of tax evasion but avoided prison time thanks to a provision that allows a judge to waive sentences under two years in length for first-time offenders.


David McCallum, Star of Hit TV Series ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘NCIS,’ Dies at 90 

US actor David Mccallum poses, on June 10, 2009 during a photocall presenting the TV serie "Navy NCIS : Naval Criminal Investigative Service" at the 49th Monte Carlo Television Festival in Monaco. (AFP)
US actor David Mccallum poses, on June 10, 2009 during a photocall presenting the TV serie "Navy NCIS : Naval Criminal Investigative Service" at the 49th Monte Carlo Television Festival in Monaco. (AFP)
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David McCallum, Star of Hit TV Series ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘NCIS,’ Dies at 90 

US actor David Mccallum poses, on June 10, 2009 during a photocall presenting the TV serie "Navy NCIS : Naval Criminal Investigative Service" at the 49th Monte Carlo Television Festival in Monaco. (AFP)
US actor David Mccallum poses, on June 10, 2009 during a photocall presenting the TV serie "Navy NCIS : Naval Criminal Investigative Service" at the 49th Monte Carlo Television Festival in Monaco. (AFP)

Actor David McCallum, who became a teen heartthrob in the hit series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." in the 1960s and was the eccentric medical examiner in the popular "NCIS" 40 years later, has died. He was 90.

McCallum died Monday of natural causes surrounded by family at New York Presbyterian Hospital, CBS said in a statement.

"David was a gifted actor and author, and beloved by many around the world. He led an incredible life, and his legacy will forever live on through his family and the countless hours on film and television that will never go away," said a statement from CBS.

Scottish-born McCallum had been doing well appearing in such films "A Night to Remember" (about the Titanic), "The Great Escape" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (as Judas). But it was "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." that made the blond actor with the Beatlesque haircut a household name in the mid-'60s.

The success of the James Bond books and films had set off a chain reaction, with secret agents proliferating on both large and small screens. Indeed, Bond creator Ian Fleming contributed some ideas as "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." was being developed, according to Jon Heitland's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book."

The show, which debuted in 1964, starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, an agent in a secretive, high-tech squad of crime fighters whose initials stood for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Despite the Cold War, the agency had an international staff, with McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, Solo’s Russian sidekick.

The role was relatively small at first, McCallum recalled, adding in a 1998 interview that "I’d never heard of the word ‘sidekick’ before."

The show drew mixed reviews but eventually caught on, particularly with teenage girls attracted by McCallum’s good looks and enigmatic, intellectual character. By 1965, Illya was a full partner to Vaughn’s character and both stars were mobbed during personal appearances.

The series lasted until 1968. Vaughn and McCallum reunited in 1983 for a nostalgic TV movie, "The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.," in which the agents were lured out of retirement to save the world once more.

McCallum returned to television in 2003 in another series with an agency known by its initials — CBS’ "NCIS." He played Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard, a bookish pathologist for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, an agency handling crimes involving the Navy or the Marines. Mark Harmon played the NCIS boss.

Co-star Lauren Holly took to X, formerly Twitter, to mourn: "You were the kindest man. Thank you for being you." The previously announced 20th anniversary "NCIS" marathon on Monday night will now include an "in memoriam" card in remembrance of McCallum.

The series built an audience gradually, eventually reaching the roster of top 10 shows. McCallum, who lived in New York, stayed in a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica when "NCIS" was in production.

"He was a scholar and a gentleman, always gracious, a consummate professional, and never one to pass up a joke. From day one, it was an honor to work with him and he never let us down. He was, quite simply, a legend," said a statement from "NCIS" Executive Producers Steven D. Binder and David North.

McCallum’s work with "U.N.C.L.E." brought him two Emmy nominations, and he got a third as an educator struggling with alcoholism in a 1969 Hallmark Hall of Fame drama called "Teacher, Teacher."

In 1975, he had the title role in a short-lived science fiction series, "The Invisible Man," and from 1979 to 1982 he played Steel in a British science fiction series, "Sapphire and Steel." Over the years, he also appeared in guest shots in many TV shows, including "Murder, She Wrote" and "Sex and the City."

He appeared on Broadway in a 1968 comedy, "The Flip Side," and in a 1999 revival of "Amadeus" starring Michael Sheen and David Suchet. He also was in several off-Broadway productions.

Largely based in the US from the 1960s onward, McCallum was a longtime American citizen, telling The Associated Press in 2003 that "I have always loved the freedom of this country and everything it stands for. And I live here, and I like to vote here."

David Keith McCallum was born in Glasgow in 1933. His parents were musicians; his father, also named David, played violin, his mother played cello. When David was 3, the family moved to London, where David Sr. played with the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic.

Young David attended the Royal Academy of Music where he learned the oboe. He decided he wasn’t good enough, so he turned to theater, studying briefly at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. But "I was a small, emaciated blond with a caved chest, so there weren’t an awful lot of parts for me," he commented in a Los Angeles Times interview in 2009.

After time out for military service, he returned to London and began getting work on live television and movies. In 1957 he appeared in "Robbery Under Arms," an adventure set in early Australia, with a rising actress, Jill Ireland. The couple married that same year.

In 1963, McCallum was part of the large cast of "The Great Escape" and he and his wife became friendly with Charles Bronson, also in the film. Ireland eventually fell in love with Bronson and she and McCallum divorced in 1967. She married Bronson in 1968.

"It all worked out fine," McCallum said in 2009, "because soon after that I got together with Katherine (Carpenter, a former model) and we’ve been very happily married for 42 years."

McCallum had three sons from his first marriage, Paul, Jason and Valentine, and a son and daughter from his second, Peter and Sophie. Jason died of an overdose.

"He was a true Renaissance man — he was fascinated by science and culture and would turn those passions into knowledge. For example, he was capable of conducting a symphony orchestra and (if needed) could actually perform an autopsy, based on his decades-long studies for his role on NCIS," Peter McCallum said in a statement.

In 2007, when he was working on "NCIS," McCallum told a reporter: "I’ve always felt the harder I work, the luckier I get. I believe in serendipitous things happening, but at the same time, dedicating yourself to what you do is the best way to get along in this life."