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Paramount, Skydance merge, ending Redstone family reign

NEW YORK — The entertainment giant Paramount will merge with Skydance, closing out a decades-long run by the Redstone family in Hollywood and injecting desperately needed cash into a legacy studio that has struggled to adapt to a shifting entertainment landscape.  It also signals the rise of a new power player, David Ellison, the founder of Skydance and son of billionaire Larry Ellison, the founder of the software company Oracle.  Shari Redstone’s National Amusements has owned more than three-quarters of Paramount’s Class A voting shares through the estate of her late …


Spain recovers lost ‘language’ of ringing church bells by hand

JOANETES, Spain — Xavier Pallàs plants his feet on the belfry floor, grips the rope, and with one tug fills the lush Spanish valley below with the reverberating peal of a church bell.  Clang-clong! Clang-clong! Clang-CLONG! The swinging bronze bell resonates with each strike of the clapper, filling the small stone tower with an undulating hum. Once Pallàs finishes his peals, the metallic melody fades to stillness. Silence returns to the tower, giving the valley’s soundscape back to the birdsongs and rooster crows.  For most, church bells are just a quaint …


New Orleans Essence Festival wraps up 4-day celebration of Black culture

New Orleans, Louisiana — For 30 years, the Essence Festival of Culture has brought together people from all walks of life and from around the world to connect through conversation, shared experiences and, of course, music. The nation’s largest annual celebration of Black culture was set to end Sunday with musical performances by Janet Jackson and a special tribute to Frankie Beverly & Maze, the soul band that closed the event for the festival’s first 15 years. Beverly, now 77, has said he is stepping away from performing live, and the …


‘Despicable Me 4’ debuts, raking in $122.6 million since opening Wednesday

New York — After a historically bad first half of the year, the box office is suddenly booming. “Despicable Me 4,” the Illumination Animation sequel, led the way over the holiday weekend with $75 million in ticket sales Friday through Sunday and $122.6 million since opening Wednesday, according to studio estimates Sunday. The Independence Day holiday weekend haul for the Universal Pictures’ release further extends the considerable box-office reign of the Minions, arguably the most bankable force in movies today. And it also kept a summer streak going for Hollywood. Though …


Pope deplores state of democracy, warns against ‘populists’

Vatican City — Pope Francis decried the state of democracy and warned against “populists” during a short visit to Trieste in Italy’s northeast on Sunday ahead of a 12-day trip to Asia — the longest of his papacy. “Democracy is not in good health in the world today,” Francis said during a speech at the city’s convention center to close a national Catholic event. Without naming any countries, the pope warned against “ideological temptations and populists” on the day that France holds the second round of a snap parliamentary vote that …


TikTok has launched tons of trends. Will its influence last?

new york — TikTok and its bite-sized videos arrived in the United States as a global version of the Chinese app Douyin in 2018. Less than six years later, the social media platform is deeply woven into the fabric of American consumerism, having shortened the shelf life of trends and revamped how people engage with food and fashion.  The popularity of TikTok — coupled with its roots in Beijing — led the U.S. Congress — citing national security concerns, to pass a law that would ban the video-sharing app unless its …


Anti-doping agency sharpens its tools for Paris Olympics

Lausanne, Switzerland — In the battle against drug use at the Paris Olympics, the International Testing Agency plans to deploy a more streamlined, high-tech approach to identify and target potential cheats. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Benjamin Cohen, director general of the ITA, said potential tools at its disposal included biological and performance passports as well as a mountain of other data. Upgraded software, possibly using artificial intelligence, could also help; an investigative unit aided by whistleblowers was making inroads; and increased cooperation with sports bodies and police was bearing …


London exhibit looks at Barbie’s design evolution over 65 years

LONDON — A new exhibition looking at the evolution of Barbie opens in London this week as the famed Mattel doll celebrates her 65th birthday this year.  “Barbie: The Exhibition,” running at the Design Museum from July 5 to February 23, features more than 250 items from the Barbie universe, including an array of dolls showing her changing appearance, design sketches and dream houses.  On display is a first edition of the first Barbie released in 1959 with blonde hair, angled eyes, dressed in a black-and-white swimsuit, along with later models …


Mount Everest’s highest camp is littered with frozen garbage

KATHMANDU, Nepal — The highest camp on the world’s tallest mountain is littered with garbage that is going to take years to clean up, according to a Sherpa who led a team that worked to clear trash and dig up dead bodies frozen for years near Mount Everest’s peak. The Nepal government-funded team of soldiers and Sherpas removed 11 tons of garbage, four dead bodies and a skeleton from Everest during this year’s climbing season. Ang Babu Sherpa, who led the team of Sherpas, said there could be as much as …


NYC’s interactive exhibition sends visitors on outer space journey

July 20 marks the 55th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. An interactive exhibit at Manhattan’s Intrepid Museum reminds viewers of the enormity of that undertaking and what went into the first moon landing. Evgeny Maslov has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. Videographer: Vladimir Badikov. …


Trafficked Cambodian artifacts returned from US

Phnom Penh — Buddhist monks in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh chanted blessings and threw flowers on Thursday to welcome 14 trafficked artifacts repatriated from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Angkorian artworks, which included a 10th century goddess sandstone statute and a large Buddha head from the 7th century, were stolen by antiquities trafficker Douglas Latchford before ending up in New York.   “I am so glad and so happy to see our ancestors back home,” Cambodian Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona said at the repatriation ceremony.   …


France’s renowned Arles photo fest goes ‘beneath the surface’

Arles, France — One of the world’s most renowned photo festivals, in the French town of Arles, returned this week with a timely ode to diversity at a moment when France is turning towards the far right. The Rencontres festival, which runs until Sept. 29, is spread across 27 venues in the ancient cobbled streets of this former Roman town in Provence and has been running since 1970. This year’s theme is “Beneath the Surface,” seeking to delve into diversity without the usual caricatures around minorities. The star exhibition is a …


What was the ‘first American novel’? On this Independence Day, a look at what it started

NEW YORK — In the winter of 1789, around the time George Washington was elected the country’s first president, a Boston-based printer quietly launched another American institution. William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy, published anonymously by Isaiah Thomas & Company, is widely cited as something momentous: the first American novel. Around 100 pages long, Brown’s narrative tells of two young New Englanders whose love affair abruptly and tragically ends when they learn a shocking secret that makes their relationship unbearable. The dedication page, addressed to the “Young Ladies of United …


Robert Towne, Oscar-winning writer of ‘Chinatown,’ dies at 89

NEW YORK — Robert Towne, the Oscar-winning screenplay writer of “Shampoo,” “The Last Detail” and other acclaimed films whose work on “Chinatown” became a model of the art form and helped define the jaded allure of his native Los Angeles, has died. He was 89. Towne died Monday surrounded by family at his home in Los Angeles, said publicist Carri McClure. She declined to comment on a cause of death. In an industry that gave birth to rueful jokes about the writer’s status, Towne for a time held prestige comparable to …


Panama’s traditional pollera dress faces uncertain future

Panama’s pollera is the country’s beautiful, elaborate and very expensive national dress, and one of the most recognized Latin American traditional costumes. But production of the gorgeous garment faces an uncertain future. Oscar Sulbarán explains why in this story narrated by Veronica Villafañe. (Camera: Oscar Sulbarán; Produced by: Veronica Villafañe) …


Shakespeare Library reopens in Washington with rare artifacts on display

Washington, D.C., home to the world’s largest collection of William Shakespeare’s works, has unveiled a treasure trove that most have never seen. The Folger Shakespeare Library reopened its doors after a four-year long renovation, revealing the most valuable part of its collection to the public for the first time. Maxim Adams visited the library. …


LGBTQ+ Pride Month culminates with parades in New York, San Francisco and beyond

New York — The monthlong celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride reached its exuberant grand finale on Sunday, bringing rainbow-laden revelers to the streets for marquee parades in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere across the globe. The wide-ranging festivities functioned as both jubilant parties and political protests, as participants recognize the community’s gains while also calling attention to recent anti-LGBTQ+ laws, such as bans on transgender health care, passed by Republican-led states. “We’re at a time where there’s a ton of legislation, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation,” Zach Overton, 47, said at the New …


Want to follow swimming in Paris? Then get up to speed on WADA, doping and China

TOKYO — The Paris Olympics open next month and the agency that oversees doping enforcement is under scrutiny following allegations it failed to pursue positive tests of Chinese swimmers who subsequently won medals — including three gold — at the Tokyo Games in 2021. The focus on the World Anti-Doping Agency and China’s swimmers raises questions for athletes about the fairness of the competitions and the effectiveness of doping control at the Olympics. “It’s hard going into Paris knowing that we’re going to be racing some of these athletes,” American swimmer …


Parties, protests mark the end of Pride month in US and beyond

NEW YORK — The monthlong celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride reaches its exuberant grand finale on Sunday, bringing rainbow-laden revelers to the streets for marquee parades in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere across the globe. The wide-ranging festivities will function as both jubilant parties and political protests, as participants recognize the community’s gains while also calling attention to recent anti-LGBTQ+ laws, such as bans on transgender health care, passed by Republican-led states. This year, tensions over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza are also seeping into the celebrations, exposing divisions within …


San Francisco store is shipping LGBTQ+ books to places where they are banned

SAN FRANCISCO — In an increasingly divisive political sphere, Becka Robbins focuses on what she knows best — books. Operating out of a tiny room in Fabulosa Books in San Francisco’s Castro District, one of the oldest gay neighborhoods in the United States, Robbins uses donations from customers to ship boxes of books across the country to groups that want them. In an effort she calls “Books Not Bans,” she sends titles about queer history, sexuality, romance and more — many of which are increasingly hard to come by in the …