Philadelphia, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Lawyers for Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill will ask an appeals court Tuesday to overturn a 2008 drug and gun conviction that's kept the Philadelphia rapper on probation for a decade.
The city judge who oversees the case and sent him to prison in 2017 on a parole violation has a grudge against the performer, the lawyers said, and city prosecutors agree.
Prosecutors under District Attorney Larry Krasner have filed a motion supporting his bid to toss the conviction and be retried under a new judge.
Mill, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, has become a symbol for criminal justice reform after Judge Genece Brinkley sentenced him in 2017 to two to four years in prison for minor probation violations. He spent about four months in prison before a court ordered him released last year.
Defense lawyers hope to persuade the state Superior Court that Williams' conviction be thrown out based on alleged credibility issues with the now-retired police officer who was the key witness against him at the nonjury trial. The officer said the then-19-year-old Williams pointed a gun at him during the arrest outside his southwest Philadelphia home. Williams has denied pointing a gun at police.
Williams has frequently tangled with the judge over terms of his parole, especially over reporting requirements and travel rules that he says conflicts with his music career. Brinkley, after a 2015 hearing that included testimony from Williams' then-girlfriend, Nicki Minaj, said she "has done nothing but try to help the defendant."
Williams is a fixture at NBA games in Philadelphia and has the support of many high-profile celebrities and athletes. He appeared in last month's season finale of Saturday Night Live, performing beside DJ Khaled, John Legend, SZA and other artists in a tribute to slain rapper Nipsey Hussle.
New York, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Baz Luhrmann's Elvis Presley biopic has found its King.
After a competitive casting contest, 27-year-old actor Austin Butler has been cast as Presley. Ansel Elgort, Harry Styles and Miles Teller all reportedly tested for the role ultimately won by Butler, who last year appeared in the Denzel Washington Broadway revival of "The Iceman Cometh."
Luhrmann says in a statement that through "a journey of extensive screen testing and music and performance workshops, I knew unequivocally that I had found someone who could embody the spirit of one of the world's most iconic musical figures."
Production is to begin early next year on the Luhrmann-directed film. Tom Hanks co-stars as Presley's manager Colonel Tom Parker.
Butler also has a role in Quentin Tarantino's upcoming "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood."
Beverly Hills, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — The pressure was on for young actors Shahadi Wright Joseph and JD McCrary when they got word that they'd been cast as the voices of young Nala and young Simba in "The Lion King." Not only was it an ambitious remake of an iconic film, but it was their first major Hollywood project.
Then they found out that their characters adult voices would be done by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Donald Glover, and it took "just waiting to be king" to a whole new level.
But director Jon Favreau was confident that they could fill the "big shoes" of their adult voices for the film, which opens nationwide Thursday evening. Fourteen-year-old Shahadi, for one, had a pretty big advantage: At age 8, she played young Nala in the Broadway production. In fact, casting director Sarah Finn submitted only her name to be considered. Favreau was on board.
"She understood the role, she understood the music and she's got an incredibly powerful Broadway voice," Favreau said. "She's just this very unique talent."
JD, 11, was less of an obvious choice. He didn't have much of a resume in film work. Finn, who had helped find Neel Sethi for "The Jungle Book" years ago, had to cast a wide net to find her young Simba, from seasoned veterans to open call unknowns. Favreau said JD broke through as the front-runner when he saw YouTube videos of him singing.
"He definitely had the right voice and a lot of personality as well," Favreau said. "He was somebody who was really interpreting songs and putting a lot of personality into it."
Then, as the filmmakers were getting ready to make the then-8-year-old JD an offer, they learned that he'd just collaborated with Glover on the Childish Gambino song "Terrified."
"Donald definitely vouched for JD and said he was great," Favreau said. "I felt there was something pre-ordained about (it)."
JD said getting that call was, "One of the biggest moments of my life."
The two young actors had the benefit of being able to record together in the studio, which doesn't often happen for animated films. It allowed them to riff and play off of one another's personalities.
"I feel like if I didn't work with JD we wouldn't have that chemistry on the screen," Shahadi said. "It would have been mindless actors just saying the lines and not actually feeling them."
She found it particularly liberating to be able to mess up and improvise in the studio. It was a stark contrast to performing for a live audience on Broadway, where she said you "cannot make a mistake."
Favreau also made sure that the young actors had a sense of the world they were inhabiting through a Virtual Reality demo that allowed them to see Pride Rock and the rest of the settings.
"The VR was really cool," McCrary said. "It was like your first sneak peek, but you were in it, you could feel it."
It's been three years since Shahadi and JD were cast, which for kids at that age can feel like a lifetime of waiting. But they've been busy. Both worked in other films released this year. Shahadi played the daughter of Lupita Nyong'o in Jordan Peele's "Us," and JD appeared in "Little" alongside Marsai Martin.
On the day after the world premiere in Los Angeles, both were riding high from finally seeing the movie on screen with a receptive audience, many of whom could be heard crying at key parts.
"I made a lot of people cry," JD said proudly.
And then of course there is the fun of being in proximity to so many stars.
"It was awesome! So cool!" JD said, nearly jumping out of his seat with excitement. "I was backstage with Chance the Rapper, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Blue Ivy, Donald Glover, everybody!"
Shahadi said she was still recovering from meeting Beyoncé for the first time.
As for what's next, both are looking forward to more acting roles, and they even have a suggestion for the next one.
"I want to re-do 'The Wiz,'" JD said. He'd play the Scarecrow and Shahadi would be Dorothy.
"That would be dope," he said.
Beijing, July 16 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Disney's live-action remake of its classic animated film "The Lion King" continued to lead the Chinese mainland box office for a forth day after hitting the big screen Friday, according to China Movie Data Information Network Tuesday.
The ambitious blockbuster filled with computer-generated imagery (CGI) spectacles grossed 48.95 million yuan (7.12 million U.S. dollars) on Monday, with its total box office income adding up to 421 million yuan.
"The White Storm 2: Drug Lords," sequel to the 2013 crime action film "The White Storm," took second place with a daily box office revenue of 41.39 million yuan, with its total box office drawing closer to 1 billion yuan.
Coming in third is domestic film "Looking Up," which grossed about 17.56 million yuan in presale.
Los Angeles, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — An Australian model was sentenced Monday in Los Angeles to community service and probation for slapping a flight attendant and going on an obscene tirade during a flight, with a federal judge saying he believed she was deeply remorseful and did not deserve fines or prison time.
U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney sentenced Adau Mornyang to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
Prosecutors had sought a month in jail for Mornyang. But Carney said he believed she was truly sorry after she tearfully read a statement in court saying she is now receiving treatment for anxiety and depression brought on by childhood trauma, instead of self-medicating like she did at the time of the flight.
"I've learned to deal with my emotions and trauma in a proper way," Mornyang said as she stood crying with her arm around her lawyer, her usually long hair cropped to a short flattop.
The incident, she said, has "pushed me to have proper medical treatment."
She talked about the humiliation of hearing the recording of herself during the trial.
"I'll do what it takes to prove to the world that I am not that woman," Mornyang said, and asked the court for "forgiveness, kindness and mercy."
The 25-year-old, a native of South Sudan who migrated to Australia as a refugee at age 10, was convicted of felony interference with a flight crew and misdemeanor assault. She was acquitted of a third count of assaulting an air marshal.
Mornyang was nine hours into a Jan. 21 flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles and had apparently been drinking wine excessively when she began "yelling obscenities and racial slurs and flailing her arms," prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum.
Her fellow passengers complained to the crew. But she only lashed out more when flight attendants attempted to calm her, and she slapped one of them. Several air marshals had to come out from undercover to help deal with her, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said in court Monday that Mornyang's statement of remorse said little about the passengers and crew whose flight she made so difficult.
But Carney welcomed the statement, and he said before sentencing that "I do believe she's remorseful and that she's committed to getting treatment to make sure this never happens again."
Carney said he had often sentenced terrorists, murderers and drug dealers, and that "those people need to be in custody," but not people like Mornyang.
"The trial process was punishment in and of itself," Carney said.
He added that her financial circumstances made the fine that would usually come with this crime untenable.
Mornyang is also required to submit to drug tests and receive mental health counseling throughout her three-year term.
She appeared relieved as the hearing ended. She did not talk to reporters outside court.
"I want you to have a wonderful life," the judge said after handing down his sentence. "I hope I never see you again."