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Oprah Winfrey conquers acting fears

in ‘Henrietta Lacks’


Before Henrietta

Lacks died of cervical cancer in

1951, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hos-

pital in Baltimore removed some of

her cancerous cells to grow outside

her body in a petri dish.

Dubbed HeLa, the cell line

from the 31-year-old African-Amer-

ican woman became one of the

most utilized in medical research,

helping establish billion-dollar

biomedical industries around the

world for cancer treatment, vac-

cines — including Johan Salk’s po-

lio inoculation — and even in-vitro


It was all done without her

knowledge or consent. Struggling

with poverty and racism in Balti-

more, Lacks’s family discovered

the truth accidentally years later.

Writer Rebecca Skloot’s subse-

quent account, “The Immortal Life

of Henrietta Lacks,” rocketed to

public attention earlier this decade,

spending 75 weeks on the New

York Times paperback nonfiction

best-seller list, and prompting a

public debate about the ethics of

harvesting people’s cells.

Now Oprah Winfrey has

helped bring the story of Lacks and

her “immortal” cell line to the small

screen in a HBO film adaptation of

the book that debuted on Saturday

to mixed reviews. The narrative

focuses on Skloot’s interactions

with Lacks’s daughter Deborah,

played by Winfrey. A toddler when

Oprah Winfrey and Richard

Plepler attend the after party

for”The Immortal Life of

Henrietta Lacks” premiere at

TAO Downtown in New York

City. — AFP

her mother died, she alternates be-

tween enthusiasm and suspicion

of the project, eager to learn about

her mother but prone to wild con-

spiracy theories.




who once worked as a reporter in

Washington, was determined to

co-produce the film after reading

the book. But the hugely successful

talk show star — who is one of the

country’s most influential public

figures with her own cable channel,

OWN — said she long resisted the

idea of acting in it.

“I was really afraid to do this

role,” she said this week during a

promotional tour with the director

George Wolfe, who had urged her

to take it on. “I said from day one,

‘George, I don’t want to make a fool

of myself.’”








Indianminister ridiculed as bizarre

drought plot backfires


An Indian politician who attempted to

cover a dam in sheets of polystyrene has been left red-

faced after his bizarre water-saving scheme backfired.

Tamil Nadu state minister Sellur K Raju waded into the

dam with dozens of sheets of polystyrene, convinced

they could help reduce water evaporation in the

drought-stricken state. But the noble yet puzzling ef-

fort went belly-up almost immediately as strong winds

lifted the lightweight sheets into the air, tossing them

across the surface of the water. Footage of last Friday’s

incident showed officials in rowing boats pursuing the

airborne sheets, while others used rocks to try and keep

them in place. Elsewhere broken chunks of the white

polymer plastic, stuck together with colored tape,

were seen washed up on the dam banks. The minister

defended the hare-brained scheme — which report-

edly cost one million rupees ($15,500) — saying he had

been told “thermocol technology” could reduce water

evaporation. “I learned about this (technology) from

a source,” he told reporters, without elaborating. Im-

ages of the minister flailing waist-deep in water with the

unwieldy sheets attracted widespread scorn on social

media, where Indians blasted the botched experiment

as a waste of public money. “Instead of using thermo-

col sheets to cover the entire dam, how about using a

huge tarpaulin sheet to cover the sun. Problem solved,”

one Twitter user wrote sarcastically. “Tamil Nadu’s Next

project, putting sunglasses to the Sun!” said another.

The dam on the Vaigai river is a key water source for

many in the southern state, where irregular rainfall has

caused a prolonged drought in many parts.


Man lucky to escape croc clutches

in Australia


A man who accidently snorkeled headfirst

into a crocodile in northern Australia escaped with

minor injuries as wildlife officers Monday worked to

track down the reptile. The croc, measuring up to

two meters (6.5 feet), “reacted defensively” when

the swimmer “inadvertently” swum into it on Sun-

day near popular Lizard Island in Queensland state.

“The man suffered minor cuts and abrasions to his

head and was treated for his non-life threatening

injuries on the island,” a department of environment

spokesperson said. “Wildlife officers are traveling to

the area and will search the area for the crocodile

responsible.” The waters surrounding Lizard Island are

a known hotspot for crocs with signs in the area cau-

tioning swimmers of the threat. In a separate incident

Sunday, a crocodile was found decapitated near

Innisfail in Queensland, prompting authorities to warn

it was illegal to kill the reptiles. “Based on an initial

inspection, the four meter animal appears to have

been deceased for some time,” the department

spokesperson said. “(The Queensland Department of

Environment and Heritage Protection) would like to

remind the public that it is illegal to deliberately in-

terfere with, harm or kill crocodiles without authoriza-

tion.” People can be fined up to A$27,425 ($20,700)

for killing a crocodile, which are protected.


Bride-to-be awaits Florida fiancé’s

parole after 32 years


An 82-year-old bride-to-be will

finally have the chance for her big day when her fi-

ance is released from prison next month 32 years after

they met. The Tallahassee Democrat reports Wanda

Pate hasn’t seen fiance David Monroe Goodwin in six

years, but talks to him on the phone four times a week.

Goodwin has spent 40 years behind bars for his role

in the murder of four people in Florida during a drug

smuggling operation in 1977. Goodwin was initially

sentenced to death even though he wasn’t in the

vicinity of the killings. He later received a life term and

is due to be paroled May 2. Pate tells the newspaper

she never would have dreamed of falling in love with

a prisoner, “but it happened.”


Cockfighting in Cuba:

Clandestine venues


Cuban farmer Pascual Ferrel says his

favorite fighting cock’s prowess was “off the charts,”

so after it died of illness he had the black and red

rooster preserved and displays it on his mantelpiece

beside a television. “He fought six times and was in-

vincible,” the 64-year old recalled fondly, talking over

the crowing of 60 birds in his farmyard in the central

Cuban region of Ciego de Avila. Though it is banned

in many parts of the world, cockfighting is favored

throughout the Caribbean and in Cuba its popularity

is growing. Last year, Ciego de Avila opened its first

official cockfighting arena with 1,000 seats, the largest

in Cuba, to the dismay of animal rights activists who

see it as a step backward. Cockfighting is a blood

sport because of the harm cocks do to each other in

cockpits, exacerbated by metal spurs that can be at-

tached to birds’ own spurs. After the 1959 revolution,

Cuba cracked down on cockfighting as part of a ban

on gambling, recalls Ferrel. Over the years that stance

has softened. Official arenas have opened and hid-

den arenas are tolerated as long as there are no

brawls. Enthusiasts argue that cockfighting is a centu-

ries-old tradition. Critics say it is cruel, and they blame

its popularity on lack of entertainment options, poor

education on animal welfare, and its money-making



Hillary makes appearance at

New York film panel


Hillary Clinton, who

until recently had avoided the

spotlight in the wake of her elec-

tion defeat in November, made a

surprise appearance at New York’s

Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday

as a panelist to discuss illegal el-

ephant poaching.

The discussion followed the

premiere of Academy Award-win-

ning director Kathryn Bigelow’s

virtual reality documentary “The

Protectors: Walk in the Rangers’

Shoes.” The eight-minute film al-

lows viewers to experience what it

is like to work as a park ranger try-

ing to save elephants in the Demo-

cratic Republic of the Congo.

“We’ve got to bust this mar-

ket,” Clinton said of the global

ivory trade. The unexpected pub-

lic appearance on Earth Day was

one of several Clinton has made

recently, following a period of si-

Andrea Heydlauf (L-R), Chief Marketing Officer for African Parks,

Rachel Webber, National Geographic Partners’ Executive Vice

President of Digital Product, director and writer Imraan Ismail join

former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attending a panel

discussion after the VR screening of National Geographic’s “The

Protectors: A Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes” at the Tribeca Film Festival

in New York. — Reuters

lence after the former Democratic

presidential candidate lost the

November election to President

Donald Trump. “When we were

looking at this, we thought there

were three overriding goals: stop

the killing, stop the trafficking and

stop the demand,” she said.

While China is the world’s big-

gest market for illegal ivory, the

United States ranks No. 2, Clinton

said, requiring Americans to take

a leading role in fighting elephant

poaching. Clinton also mentioned

the March for Science, which took

place in Washington and other

cities around the world earlier on

Saturday. The Earth Day event was

in effect a protest against what

critics say has been the Trump

administration’s disregard for

evidence-based knowledge and re-



Moss returns to TV in Hulu’s

‘Handmaid’s Tale’


“The timing has

been uncanny,” says Margaret At-

wood, marveling at how her 1985

novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” has

not only been given renewed life

as a TV series but has also gained

disturbing urgency.

“Last Nov. 7, they thought they

were making a fantasy fiction se-

ries,” Atwood says. “On Nov. 9,

they thought maybe they were

making a documentary.”

However you take it, “The

Handmaid’s Tale” premieres

Wednesday on Hulu with three

gripping episodes. The remain-

ing seven will be released each

Wednesday thereafter.

The cast includes Joseph Fi-

ennes, Alexis Bledel and Samira

Wiley, and stars Elisabeth Moss as

Offred, who, as one of the few re-

maining fertile women in the cruel

dystopia of Gilead, is among the

caste of women forced into sexual

servitude in a desperate attempt to

repopulate a ravaged world.

Such is life in this totalitarian

society, where human rights are

trampled and women in particular

are treated as property of the state.

Needless to say, Offred is a

career stretch for Moss, who re-

mains best known as proto-fem-

inist copywriter Peggy Olson on

the advertising drama “Mad Men,”

and who initially caught the audi-

ence’s eye as First Daughter Zoey

Bartlet on “The West Wing.”

Now 34, Moss further ex-

panded her horizons during

the “Handmaid’s Tale” shoot in

Toronto: She took on the addi-

tional role of producer.

The tone of “The Hand-

maid’s Tale” is subdued, reflect-

ing the oppressive conditions

the women live under. And it

posed an acting challenge for

Moss, one that Atwood, 77, as

the novelist who created her

character, calls “pretty diffi-


Moss’ problem, says Atwood,

“is to show someone who is un-

able to speak out, because it’s

too dangerous, but who has to

convey to the audience those

emotions she is suppressing. We

must be able to be inside her

mind, while also being in the

larger situation.”


Musicians in aquariums make

sounds in a silent world

By Camille Bas-Wohlert

AARHUS, Denmark —

Talk about

fluid tunes: A group of innovative

Danish musicians submerged like

fish in an aquarium have created an

underwater concerto with instru-

ments specially adapted to reso-

nate in a silent world.

In the central Danish town of

Aarhus, a Godsbanen center con-

cert hall looks more like a fish farm

than a music set, with its jumble of

water tanks, canisters, tubes, pipes

and retrofuturistic objects.

One after the other, the five

members of the Between Music

band — Laila, Robert, Morten, Dea

Maria and Nanna — descend into

their own individual glass-paned

water tanks for their latest project

AquaSonic, where they play the

violin, cymbals, bells, a crystallo-

phone with a pedal, and a kind of

hurdy gurdy with a long neck.

Hydrophones, or special mi-

crophones that pick up the sound

of the music in the water, amplify

the soundwaves, producing mu-

sic that resembles the sounds

whales make.

A ioneer in the field of

aquatic music, Laila Skovmand

wears several hats with the en-

semble: she is artistic director,

music and lyrics writer, and vo-

calist. She sings both underwater

and at the water’s surface.

Like a siren, her lips at water

level, Skovmand releases a cap-

tivating chant. “I’m an educated

singer and I wanted to explore

new songs. I got the idea that if I

sang into the surface of the water I

might get some other timbre, some

A member of the Between Music band, performs with a custom-

made instrument in a glass water tank during the AquaSonic

underwater concert in Aarhus, Denmark. The Aquasonic underwater

concert takes the audience on a unique and fascinating voyage into

uncharted territory. The work presents five performers who submerge

themselves in glass water tanks to play custom-made instruments

and sing entirely underwater. Transformed inside these darkly

glittering, aquatic chambers, they produce compositions that are

both eerily melodic and powerfully resonant. — AFP

delays, so I tried that,” she explains.

The group collaborates with

engineers and makers of musical

instruments to develop water-

resistant instruments whose

sounds respect the harmonies

composed by Skovmand.

“There are a lot of musical

limitations. There are so many

things we can’t play because of

the struggle with the water, the

struggle with the sound, but I

think that what the water gives

is that special kind of timber that

you can’t get in air,” she says.

The resulting effect is a sound

closer to an accompaniment for Ti-

betan meditation than it is to cham-

ber music. And it’s far from other

well-known tributes to water such

as Maurice Ravel’s “Fountains” or

Luciano Berio’s “Water Piano”.

While the water transports the

sound, it also stifles it and slows it

down considerably: the effect is a

bit like playing Pink Floyd or Jean-

Michel Jarre in slow motion.

Musician and producer Rob-

ert Karlsson plays the violin —

made of carbon fiber — and the

crystallophone, a distant relative

of the glass harmonica invented

by Benjamin Franklin.

Nanna Bech performs the ro-

tacorda, an instrument inspired

by a traditional Byzantine hurdy

gurdy. It has six stainless steel

strings which can make sound

either with a sustained pulling

of the string or when fingered.

“It’s the only one in the world so

I don’t even have a teacher. And

that’s a shame!,” she jokes.

Skovmand also plays the hy-

draulophone, a type of underwater

organ. “We want to show that the

impossible is possible, to discover

a new element with live music,”

says Karlsson. The band spends the

entire performance under water,

surfacing regularly as part of the

choreography to take breaths of air.

Ahead of the recent Aarhus

concert, the ensemble spent al-

most six hours in the tanks in

one afternoon to prepare for that

night’s 50-minute performance.

The water is kept at 37 degrees

Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit).

“We do some diving training,

practicing to hold our breath

under water,” Bech explains.

And she has developed a special

technique to sing under water.

“I can’t let the air bubbles

get out of my mouth, because

they will become bubbles (in

the water) and that makes a lot

of noise under water. So I can

only make short notes.”

For Karlsson, making music in

water has a magical effect on him.

“I’m actually not very fond of wa-

ter personally. I can feel claustro-

phobic in a bathtub. But somehow

when I get into this tank and am

playing an instrument, I get calm

and really secure,” he says.

Between Music is currently

performing AquaSonic across Eu-

rope. After a world premiere in

Rotterdam last year, the band is

now touring Denmark, and will

take part in the International Di-

aghilev Festival in Perm, Russia in



Guatemalan land activist wins

Goldman prize


Rodrigo Tot,

a 60-year-old farmer and activ-

ist, was awarded the prestigious

Goldman Environmental Prize on

Monday for work in his Guatema-

la homeland, an honor that comes

after two previous Latin Ameri-

can winners were murdered in

the last year. The diminutive,

soft-spoken evangelical pastor

was recognized for defending his

indigenous Q’eqchi community’s

lands against a mining company

and the government.

In a statement, Goldman

praised Tot for “intrepid leadership

of his people and defense of their

ancestral land” and noted his fight

has come at great personal cost: In

2012, one of his sons was shot to

death in “an assassination that was

passed off as a robbery.”

Tot said he was grateful for the

honor but remains the same leader

and person as before. “I think this

could be a stimulus for the work we

do,” he said, adding that he consid-

ered the award all to be recognition

for “the struggle, because we are

fighting hard for our land and our

natural resources.”

Latin America is one of the

most dangerous regions for en-

vironmental activists, with more

than 450 of them murdered be-

tween 2010 and 2014, according to

the London-based group Global

Witness. In March 2016, Goldman

honoree Berta Caceres of Hondu-

ras was killed by armed men who

invaded her home. And in January

2017, Mexican indigenous leader

Isidro Baldenegro, another recipi-

ent of the prize, was slain in Mex-

ico’s northern state of Chihuahua.

Tot, leader of the Agua Caliente

“Lote 9” community in El Estor in

Guatemala’s eastern department of

Izabal, has fought for decades to try

to make the government recognize

locals’ right to fertile farmlands

that are also coveted by mining in-

terests for nickel and gold deposits

that lie beneath.