Grammy award-winning singer Pharrell may have been fired from three different McDonald's as a teen, but that didn't stop him from opening what has become one of the hottest restaurants in Miami.
The singer hosted a soul food brunch Saturday along with his dad Pharaoh, a self-taught chef, known for his sweet and spicy Nono Sauce, as part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Growing up, family meals were the heart of the Williams home, a place to "hear what's exciting at your parent's job."
"Cooking is a reflection of your parents, the energy, the love. Food is a connector and it's a meeting place," Pharrell told The Associated Press during an interview before the brunch.
Back home, Pharaoh Williams was always in the kitchen and so were his grandmothers. Favorite dishes included his dad's chicken and pork and fried catfish with a special sauce that Pharrell says was more savory than spicy.
"His seasoning was what was always so distinctive with my dad's cooking and both my grandmothers cooked like that," he said.
At Saturday's sold-out $150 per ticket brunch at the upscale Swan restaurant in Miami's design district, they served platters of cornmeal-crusted catfish with chow chow, juicy BBQ chicken and ribs, cheddar grits and French toast with candied oranges and amaretto whipped cream.
Back in the kitchen, a team of chefs hustled to carry out Pharaoh Williams' menu, pulling mini sweet potato biscuits out of the oven and crusting copious plates of catfish. Fellow Grammy winner DJ Khaled, and former "Breaking Bad" co-stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were among the guests savoring the food on a tropical jungle style patio.
Happy to leave behind his fast food days, Pharrell opened Swan restaurant and its swanky upstairs Moroccan-themed Bar Bevy in 2018 with South Beach nightlife guru and LIV club owner David Grutman. The restaurant has been a hotbed for celebrities, especially during the Super Bowl and recent Art Basel weeks, where everyone from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West to Leonardo DiCaprio and Bono have indulged.
Grutman and Pharrell partnered with Top Chef Europe champion executive chef Jean Imbert for their restaurant, while Pharrell works on the side with a line of food products for his father.
But the "Happy" singer is clear about his role in the restaurant business — he happily stays out of the kitchen.
"I didn't cook then. I don't cook now," he laughed, adding "I love food."
He has a deep appreciation for the culinary arts, comparing it to "the same way I work in music. You're adding different sounds and things together," he said.
"Ingredients are like instruments. It's how you use them and it's who's using them. That's what makes one song different from the next, one style different from the next."
When dancer Camila Prins entered Sao Paulo's Carnival parade grounds, a costume of feathers clinging to her sinuous body, she fulfilled a dream of feminine beauty nearly three decades old.
Prins says she first realized she wanted to be a woman at a Carnival party at age 11, when, like the other boys, she was allowed to dress like a girl as part of the burlesque festivities. Now, in the final minutes of Saturday, she became the first transgender woman to lead the drum section of a top samba school in either of the renowned Carnival parades put in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Prins, 40, was hand-picked to be "godmother" of the Colorado do Brás samba school's drum section, an iconic role fought over by dozens of models and TV celebrities. Her duty was to dance infectiously for 65 minutes in front of the drummers, using her legs to drive their rhythm while judges assessed the school's parade.
"Gorgeous women wanted to be here. I'm very excited because this shows we can be anywhere. We can be godmother of the drummers, we can be owners of a samba school," Prins told The Associated Press before the parade. "Soon they will see many other transgender girls, who will find it easier than I did."
Colorado do Brás, which rose to Sao Paulo's top samba league only two years ago, made a bold decision in picking Prins for the role, despite Brazil's Carnival being a party at which few things have never been tried.
Transgender people remain something of a taboo among Brazilians, even in Sao Paulo, the country's most cosmopolitan city and host to the world's largest gay pride parade. Brazil has more slayings of transvestites and transgender people than any country in the world. In 2019, 124 were killed, 21 of them in Sao Paulo state.
As godmother of the drum section, Prins teamed up with a drum queen who has a similar role, and together they worked to dazzle fans in the Sambadrome bleachers with their beauty and sex appeal. Prins said she was counting on her penetrating brown eyes, long blond hair, strong legs, open smile and imposing breasts to help win points from the judges.
Colorado do Brás finished the 2019 parade in 11th place, only two spots above the cutoff for being relegated back to a lower league. Directors of the samba school decided to try for something different this year, since the group has fewer resources than richer samba schools. Its floats and costumes were clearly less luxurious than the main challengers for the title.
Keila Simpson, president of Brazil's National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals, was happy Prins secured her prominent Carnival role, and said their community aims to make cases like hers the new normal.
"We have to be proud of Camila and hope her symbolic message allows us to think of reducing violence against trans people. Why can people celebrate her at the Sambadrome while trans people on the street are subject to violence?" Simpson said. "We don't have data, but there are many violent cases against us during Carnival. Because there's more of us outside, there's more attacks."
Sao Paulo is trying to root out persecution of LGBT people during Carnival, and this year set up 20 tents spread among major street parties to handle cases of violence against the community. Psychologists, police officers and social workers are on hand until Wednesday for revelers who are victimized.
English teacher Alessandra Salvador, a transgender woman who encouraged revelers to come to the city hall tent at the LGBT street party Minhoqueens, said she was excited by Prins' selection.
"I don't even watch parades that much, but this year I will when she is on," Salvador said. "It is good to see one of us being talked up. We don't get it so often. If we don't get that in Carnival, we won't get it anywhere else."
It's been a long road for Prins to reach the big leagues. She has worked as a professional dancer for 20 years and, though she lives in a small town in Switzerland with her husband, practices her steps at home all year and listens to samba incessantly. As Carnival nears, she splits her dance routine with ab workouts and squats at a gym, then makes her annual return to Brazil.
Prins' first time dancing as a samba school's godmother came in 2018, in the second division of Sao Paulo's Carnival league. And it wasn't easy.
"Many people turned their backs, because they thought I shouldn't be there. They thought it was a role for a woman," Prins said. "Little by little I won them over with a lot of respect and true dancing."
Prins said her friends in Switzerland feared for her because of the increase in violence against transgender people, and because of the rise of far-right political groups in Brazil. She said she was worried about an increase in hateful comments aimed at LGBT people since President Jair Bolsonaro took office Jan. 1, 2019, but she planned to keep her smile and march on.
Just before midnight, when Colorado do Brás finally started its parade, a TV Globo reporter approached a tearful Prins in front of her drummers. She was already the most talked about of all 2,200 members of the samba school, even more than eight young topless women dressed as "goddesses of the sea."
"I feel so blessed this is happening. I came here to hold my banner and dance samba to the face of prejudice, for all the LGBT community," she said. "Trans girls, I am sure your day will come, too. I am just the first, many more of you will follow."
Lizzo was named entertainer of the year and "Just Mercy" won best motion picture, best actor and best supporting actor Saturday at the NAACP Image Awards, as the show that recognizes entertainers of color ladled honors on the film that was snubbed by bigger shows throughout awards season.
"We are such a beautiful people, this is just a reminder of all the beautiful things that we can do," said Lizzo as she accepted the night's last and biggest award, leaping and dancing off the stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium as the show ended.
Host Anthony Anderson of "black-ish" opened the show, telecast on BET for the first time, with a monologue that took a shot at the lack of diversity at the Oscars and Hollywood's other ceremonies that handed out awards earlier in the year.
"Unlike other awards shows, we actually have black nominees," Anderson said. He may well have been talking about "Just Mercy," the acclaimed film that was snubbed by the Oscars, Golden Globes and other ceremonies in the long awards season.
Michael B. Jordan won best actor in a motion picture for his role as a crusading defense attorney in the film, and Jamie Foxx won best supporting actor for the wrongly convicted man he fought for.
"This project is a lot bigger than me. It's about every person that's wrongfully convicted and sitting in a jail cell right now," Jordan said as he accepted the award.
Foxx won his fifth career image award for his role in "Just Mercy," saying, "Thank you so much, black people, African-Americans, and everything else we are."
He added, "Its always great to get it from black folks because we are so talented."
Lupita Nyong'o won best actress in a film for her role in "Us," and 15-year Marsai Martin won best supporting actress for her role in "Little" over superstar names including Jennifer Lopez, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer.
Martin's award went with three more she won Friday for her roles in "Little" and "black-ish" during the non-televised first night of the Image Awards.
"Thank you to all the beautiful black girls out there who inspire me every day," Martin said as she accepted the supporting actress award.
Martin's "black-ish" cast mate Tracee Ellis Ross won best actress in a TV comedy series, her ninth career Image Award.
"I love being a part of this ever-growing chorus of black women owning our legacies," Ross said as she accepted the award.
It was a big Image Awards all-round for "black-ish," which took home seven, including best TV comedy and best actor in a TV comedy for host Anderson.
The NAACP gave its Chairman's Award, which goes to people who show exemplary public service and "create agents of change," to civil rights legend U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
"The NAACP has been like a bridge over troubled waters," Lewis, who is suffering from pancreatic cancer, said in a pre-taped acceptance speech from Washington. "We're going to have some more troubled waters, and we're going to need the NAACP."
Rihanna received the NAACP President's Award for special achievement and distinguished public service. She called for racial, religious and cultural unity during her acceptance speech.
"If there's anything that I've learned, it's that we can only fix this world together," Rihanna said. "We can't do it divided. Tell your friends to pull up."
She added, "We've been denied opportunities since the beginning of time, and still we prevail ... Imagine what we can do if we do it together."
Beyoncé was the big winner at Friday night's non-televised gala, winning six awards, including outstanding female artist and album. She also won outstanding duo/group for her collaboration with her 8-year-old daughter Blue Ivy, and Saint Jhn.
For the South Korean crew behind the latest hit drama "Crash Landing on You," recreating the life in North Korea was a painstakingly meticulous process with big political risks.
"At first, we were even told not to use the word 'chairman'" when referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said Joo Dong-man, a props manager for the story about a South Korean billionaire heiress who accidentally paraglides into North Korea and falls in love with an army captain.
Apart from its fantastical plot line with prominent stars like Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin, the drama has been creating a buzz for its unconventional take on North Korea.
With detailed portrayals of the isolated country down to words, objects and the makeup style, the cross-border love story even drew praises from several North Korean defectors in South Korea. Behind the effort are people like Joo, who had soaked in almost everything about the secretive regime — collecting details from books, experts and North Korean escapees.
Joo said recreating life in North Korea was a difficult process, simply because there's no guidebook on multiple hurdles he had to hop over - skillfully and delicately – to accurately depict the country while dodging criticism. He said rules, self-imposed by the production team themselves, were arbitrary and frequently subject to change.
"Later, we got permission (to show propaganda slogans)," Joo told The Associated Press. He said three names from North Korea's ruling family dynasty – Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un – were banned till the very end.
The surreal plot – cross-border love between beautiful heiress and a handsome North Korean soldier from the top military family – doesn't fail to show occasional glimpses into the most repressive authoritarian regime in the world. The team had to tread carefully in order to avoid glorifying or misrepresenting the state.
They blurred the portraits of the Kim dynasty, which are mandatory in public places and private homes in North Korea. Objects displaying the faces of the Kims are practically illegal in South Korea, where wearing or possessing them could be considered praising the regime, which is punishable by law. The two rivals are still technically in a state of war.
Since all North Korean adults are required to wear a pin with the leaders' images to show their loyalty, Yang Hee-hwa, a costume manager, said the cast had to wear them too. But she devised her own safe way of doing so. "Our badges were almost half or one third smaller (than actual badges)," Yang told AP.
The team created scenes that had "the least resemblance to South Korea," according to Joo. He said the most difficult props was smartphones made in North Korea, which came from a series of meetings with defectors, including one based in Yanji, the Chinese city near North Korea. Joo declined to comment further on the process due to sensitivity of the matter.
Joo brought with him three North Korean phones, each as much as three times the price of an iPhone.
Joo said some scenes were exaggerated for theatrical reason. One scene where a woman puts together a makeshift plastic shower stall to keep the water warm for longer drew a complaint from one of defectors for being "too condescending." The defector who advised the team had told him that such method was used in the 1960s.
However, Kang Na-ra, a Youtuber who defected in 2014, said people living in rural parts of North Korea still use it. Kang was one of the escapees who provided real-life depictions of North Korea – from a group kimchi-making session to a popular make-up style that emphasizes the eyebrows.
The South Korean actors speak with a North Korean accent and use expressions less familiar in the South.
The drama series aired its final episode this week. For Yang, this was an opportunity to create something new. "Everything we did was the first so there wasn't any benchmark (to follow)," said Yang. "I think we've created the benchmark."
"To be honest, we always showed poor and famished scenes when it comes to North Korea," Kang said. "But I really like this drama because it shows that North Korea is also a place with people, and they know how to share despite the scarcity."
The drama is one of a few reminders of Kang's faraway home. It's also a distant place for both Joo and Yang, because neither nation allows contact with the other's citizens.
"I thought about how nice it would've been to film in Pyongyang," Joo paused. "Well the time will come one day."
The name that keeps coming up during deliberations at Harvey Weinstein's rape trial — Annabella Sciorra — will be front and center again on Friday when jurors are expected to hear a reading of a large chunk of her testimony.
Before concluding its third day of deliberations on Thursday, the Manhattan jury sent the judge a note saying it wants to review the cross-examination of the "Sopranos" actress and any follow-up questioning by prosecutors.
The jury has already focused on emails that Weinstein sent regarding Sciorra, including ones to the private Israeli spy agency he allegedly enlisted to dig up dirt on would-be accusers as reporters were working on stories about allegations against him in 2017.
Sciorra, now 59, was the first accuser to testify and took the witness stand nearly a month ago, telling jurors how the once-powerful movie mogul showed up unexpectedly at the door of her Manhattan apartment before barging in and raping and forcibly performing oral sex on her in late 1993 or early 1994.
On cross-examination Sciorra was grilled about why she opened her door in the first place and didn't find a way to escape if she was under attack.
Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno asked: "Why didn't you try to run out of the apartment? Did you scratch him? Try to poke him in the eyes?"
"He was too big" to fight off, Sciorra responded at one point. "He was frightening."
Weinstein, 67, is charged with five counts stemming from the allegations of Sciorra and two other women — an aspiring actress who says he raped her in March 2013 and a former film and TV production assistant, Mimi Haleyi, who says he forcibly performed oral sex on her in March 2006.
Sciorra's accusations are key to the most serious charges that jurors are weighing in the closely watched #MeToo case — two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. The charge requires prosecutors to show that a defendant committed a prior rape or other sex crime, but doesn't have the statue of limitation constraints that would bar her allegations from consideration on their own.
The Associated Press has a policy of not publishing the names of people who allege sexual assault without their consent. It is withholding the name of the rape accuser because it isn't clear whether she wishes to be identified publicly.