Alaska, July 8 (AP/UNB) — Princess Daazhraii Johnson grew up eating dried salmon and moose-head soup — foods labeled weird by other kids who had no understanding of her culture and traditions.
Now the Fairbanks woman and other Alaska Natives are presenting their world to a general audience with "Molly of Denali," the nation's first-ever children's series featuring indigenous leads. The animated show, which premieres July 15 on PBS Kids, highlights the adventures of a 10-year-old Athabascan girl, Molly Mabray. Her family owns the Denali Trading Post in the fictitious community of Qyah, whose residents are both Native and non-Native.
"We have an opportunity with this show, with 'Molly of Denali,' to inform and to show us in a positive and respectful light," says Johnson, creative producer of the series and a member of an Athabascan group, Neets'aii Gwich'in. Her family has roots in Arctic Village, Alaska, but she grew up all over the state, she says, including summers spent with her grandmother in the Gwich'in village of Fort Yukon.
Native Americans voice the indigenous characters in the series, which is co-produced by Boston-based WGBH and animation partner Atomic Cartoons in collaboration with Alaska Native advisers and script writers.
Molly is voiced by 14-year-old Sovereign Bill of Auburn, Washington. Bill, who auditioned for the role after hearing about it through a Seattle-based Native youth theater group, is a member of the Muckleshoot Indian tribe in Washington and the T'ak Dein Taan clan of the Tlingit tribe from the southeast Alaska community of Hoonah.
Bill said her mother was deeply touched by one of the stories in the hour-long premiere: a look at Molly's grandfather, who left his traditional drum with a friend way back in his youth. Molly goes on to find the friend and drum in another community, using clues in an old photo of her grandfather and his friend to search the internet. It turns out the grandfather had given up singing along with the drum after he was sent away — as scores of Native children once were — to boarding school, where students were prohibited from practicing their tribal songs amid language suppression efforts. The story ends with the grandfather reconnecting with those cherished traditions.
Bill said her maternal grandmother also had been sent away to boarding school. Given her family's background, Bill's mother was nearly brought to tears because of the story's "good message," the teen said.
"It's able to pass on that message through a kind and loving and kid-friendly way," she said. "But it's still teaching and it's still giving those important values."
As for Johnson's childhood food favorites, dried fish makes an appearance in the show. What about moose-head soup? "Not yet," Johnson says with a laugh.
Following the longer premiere, the 30-minute show will run mornings seven days a week, according to WGBH executive producer Dorothea Gillim. PBS ordered 38 half-hour episodes besides the premiere, with 13 episodes set for the first rotation. Each episode also includes a short video featuring real Alaska Native children living life in a vast state populated by multiple Native groups with their own diverse cultures and languages.
Gillim said she long wanted to do a show featuring a store that's a social center for locals, like a local store of the Rochester, New York-based Wegmans grocery chain was for her growing up in that city. And WGBH co-creator Kathy Waugh always wanted to do one on an outdoorsy girl. The store became a trading post when the creators decided to place it in Alaska after hearing that then-President Barack Obama visited the state in 2015.
PBS gave the green light for a pilot on the concept. That prompted the non-Native creators to reach out to indigenous experts in Alaska, creating a team of cultural advisers for the pilot and, ultimately, the series.
"We knew immediately that we needed to partner with Alaska Natives to develop it so that it was truly authentic," Gillim said.
Among those ongoing advisers is Anchorage resident Rochelle Adams, a Gwich'in Athabascan linguist who still lives part time in the tiny Yukon River village of Beaver in Alaska's interior, where people continue to live a subsistence lifestyle, hunting for moose and black bear. In 2016, Adams and other advisers met with Gillim for two days in Fairbanks in what Adams describes as an intensive time fleshing out the characters and their community. Adams said she hopes the series educates the world amid so many misconceptions about the state and Alaska Natives.
Each episode contains two stories introducing children to various cultures, people and places through Molly, her dog Suki, her Native friend Tooey and African-American friend Trini, whose family moved to Alaska from Texas. To reflect the community's fictitious location near Denali, North America's tallest mountain, Molly's family is Gwich'in, Koyukon and Dena'ina — three Athabascan groups among 11 with ties to the region, Adams said.
That level of storyline attention is a long way from Adams' childhood, when she never saw anyone like her or her family depicted in pop culture.
"All I saw was people that didn't look like us," she said. "So working on this has been such an honor for me."
New York, July 8 (UNB) - Actor Cameron Boyce, best known for his role as the teenage son of Cruella de Vil in the Disney Channel franchise "Descendants," has died. He was 20 years old.
Boyce, who played Carlos de Vil in the "Descendants" movies, died Saturday at his home in Los Angeles, according to his spokesperson.
An official cause of death has not been announced, but his family released a statement Sunday saying Boyce "passed away in his sleep due to a seizure that was a result of an ongoing medical condition for which he was being treated.
"The world is now undoubtedly without one of its brightest lights, but his spirit will live on through the kindness and compassion of all who knew and loved him. We are utterly heartbroken," the family statement said.
According to his bio on the Disney Channel, Boyce was born and raised in Los Angeles. He was a dancer who got his acting start in commercials, then television and film. Boyce starred alongside Adam Sandler in "Grown Ups" and "Grown Ups 2," and other film credits include "Mirrors," ''Eagle Eye" and the indie feature "Runt." He also starred in the upcoming HBO series "Mrs. Fletcher."
"Descendants 3" is scheduled for release in August.
His spokesperson said Sunday that Boyce was also a philanthropist who used his celebrity to advocate for those without a voice, including the homeless. Last year, he was honored for his work with the Thirst Project, bringing awareness to the global water crisis and raising more than $30,000 for the organization to build two wells in Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, in efforts to bring clean drinking water to the region.
In 2017, he received a Daytime Emmy Award with Disney XD for his participation in the series "Timeless Heroes_Be Inspired," in honor of Black History Month. He appeared alongside his grandmother Jo Ann Boyce, one of 12 black teens known as the Clinton 12 who were the first to integrate into public school in Clinton, Tennessee, according to his Disney Channel biography.
A Disney Channel spokesperson released a statement Sunday saying that from a young age, Boyce dreamed of sharing his artistic talents with the world and was fueled by a desire to make a difference in peoples' lives through his humanitarian work.
"He was an incredibly talented performer, a remarkably caring and thoughtful person and, above all else, he was a loving and dedicated son, brother, grandson and friend," the statement said. "We offer our deepest condolences to his family, castmates and colleagues and join his many millions of fans in grieving his untimely passing. He will be dearly missed."
Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger tweeted Sunday: "The Walt Disney Company mourns the loss of #CameronBoyce, who was a friend to so many of us, and filled with so much talent, heart and life, and far too young to die. Our prayers go out to his family and his friends."
Several of Boyce's co-stars reacted to his death on social media Sunday.
Sandler tweeted : "Loved that kid. Cared so much about his family. Cared so much about the world. Thank you, Cameron, for all you gave to us. So much more was on the way. All our hearts are broken."
Berlin, July 8 (AP/UNB) — Artur Brauner, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who became one of post-World War II Germany's most prominent film producers, died Sunday at age 100.
Brauner's family said he died in Berlin, the German news agency dpa reported.
Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said Germany has lost one of the most important film producers of the post-war years, saying it was "a great gift for our country" that Brauner chose to make movies in Germany and support its democratic rebuilding. She also paid tribute to his efforts over the decades to ensure that the victims of the Holocaust were not forgotten.
Brauner produced hundreds of films. They included several 1960s revivals of the "Dr. Mabuse" crime movies and other hits such as "Girls in Uniform," starring Romy Schneider.
Several of the films he produced had Holocaust theme, including Agnieszka Holland's Golden Globe-winning "Europa Europa" about a boy in Nazi Germany joining the Hitler Youth to try to conceal the fact he is Jewish.
His "Babi Yar" in 2003 centered on the 1941 Nazi massacre of Jews in Ukraine, in which several of Brauner's relatives were killed. Brauner was disappointed by the lack of box-office success for the film in Germany, saying the test of "whether the German cinema public has become politically more mature" had "clearly negative" results.
He also had a share in producing "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," set in Benito Mussolini's Italy, which won the Oscar for best foreign-language movie in 1972.
Brauner described "Morituri," a 1948 movie about a group of concentration camp inmates helped to escape by a Polish doctor near the end of the war, as his most important film. It received a negative reception at the time but Brauner called it "practically the first film that dealt with the issue of Nazi victims."
Brauner believed his lighter post-war films matched the public's taste.
"People wanted to be entertained after the terrible war, and I had a feeling for the needs of the audience," he told the Funke newspaper group in 2018.
His persistence helped. He recalled driving 36 times through communist East Germany from Berlin to Munich in his rickety Volkswagen to persuade the actress Maria Schell to play the part of a penniless pregnant woman in the 1955 drama "The Rats," one of his favorite films.
Brauner said there was no one in the movie business he would never work with again, though there were plenty he would like another chance to work with — among them the late director Fritz Lang, "if he would keep to my budget targets."
In recent years, Brauner was worried by the rise of right-wing populism in Europe.
"I can only recommend to young people that they don't fall into the clutches of populists around the world and stand up with all their might to nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia — now and not when it is already too late," he the dpa news agency in 2018.
The son of a Jewish wood merchant, he was born as Abraham Brauner on Aug. 1, 1918, in the Polish city of Lodz. Brauner discovered his love for the cinema at an early age and often went straight from school to a screening. After finishing school in 1936, he joined an expedition of young documentary filmmakers to the Middle East, then studied in Lodz until Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939.
Brauner, his parents and four siblings fled east and survived the war.
His parents later emigrated to Israel. Brauner himself considered emigrating to the United States, but her briefly returned to Lodz, then moved to Berlin with his brother, Wolf.
In West Berlin, Brauner co-founded the Central Cinema Co., which went on to become one of Europe's most important production firms, increasingly expanding into television in the 1960s.
Even as he turned 100, he was discussing scripts almost daily with his daughter Alice. "As soon as I am no longer around, I can give up working," he said.
Brauner's wife, Maria, whom he married in 1947, died in 2017. He is survived by their four children, Fela, Alice, Sammy and Henry.
London, Jul 7 (AP/UNB) — Stevie Wonder surprised concertgoers in London Saturday night by announcing that he will take a break from performing so that he can receive a kidney transplant this fall.
The 69-year-old music legend made the announcement after performing "Superstition" at the end of a packed British Summer Time concert in London's Hyde Park.
He said he was speaking out to quell rumors and sought to reassure fans that he would be okay.
"I'm going to be doing three shows then taking a break," he said. "I'm having surgery. I'm going to have a kidney transplant at the end of September this year."
He said a donor has been found and that he would be fine, drawing cheers from a devoted crowd of tens of thousands that stretched out from the stage as far as the eye could see.
"I came here to give you my love and to thank you for yours," he said. "You ain't gonna hear no rumors about us. I'm good."
He did not provide additional information about his kidney illness. There had been a recent report that Wonder was facing a serious health issue.
A representative for Wonder didn't immediately respond to a request Saturday for details about his health. He has kept an active schedule, including performing recently at a Los Angeles memorial service for slain rapper Nipsey Hussle.
Wonder, who has received more than two-dozen Grammy Awards, has produced a string of hits over a long career that began when he was a youngster who performed as Little Stevie Wonder. His classic hits include "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Living for the City."
Wonder seemed in top form throughout the concert, performing a series of his hits and paying tribute to musical heroes including Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and John Lennon. He performed stirring rendition of the latter's "Imagine" near the end of the show.
He fans reveled in the warm summer night — though a light drizzle fell near the end — and the career-spanning retrospective that evoked Wonder's early days as a young Motown star.
He did seem less ebullient than in the past and made his health announcement in a somber tone with a severe look on his face. But he was smiling as he left the stage with the band playing the memorable conclusion of "Superstition" one final time.
Rio De Janeiro, Jul 7 (AP/UNB) — Joao Gilberto, a Brazilian singer, guitarist and songwriter considered one of the fathers of the bossa nova genre that gained global popularity in the 1960s and became an iconic sound of the South American nation, died on Saturday, his son said. He was 88.
Joao Marcelo said his father had been battling health issues though no official cause of his death in Rio de Janeiro was given. "His struggle was noble. He tried to maintain his dignity in the light of losing his independence," Marcelo posted on Facebook.
A fusion of samba and jazz, bossa nova emerged in the late 1950s and gained a worldwide following in the 1960s, pioneered by Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, who composed the iconic The Girl From Ipanema that was performed by Gilberto and others. His wife Astrud Gilberto made her vocal debut in the song.
Self-taught, Gilberto said he discovered music at age 14 when he held a guitar in his hands for the first time. With his unique playing style and modern jazz influences, he created the beat that defined bossa nova, helping launch the genre with his song "Bim-Bom."
By 1961, Gilberto had finished the albums that would make bossa nova known around the world: "Chega de Saudade," ''Love, A Smile and A Flower," and "Joao Gilberto." His 1964 album Getz/Gilberto with U.S. saxophonist Stan Getz sold millions of copies.
"It was Joao Gilberto, the greatest genius of Brazilian music, who was the definitive influence on my music," singer Gal Costa wrote on social media. "He will be missed but his legacy is very important to Brazil and to the world."
Born in Bahia in northeastern Brazil, Gilberto moved to Rio de Janeiro at a young age. He was influenced by U.S. jazz greats and recorded songs in the United States where he lived for much of the 1960s and 1970.
Over his career he won two Grammy awards and was nominated for six, and the U.S. jazz magazine DownBeat in 2009 named him one of the 75 great guitarists in history and one of the five top jazz singers.
An entire subsequent generation of Brazilian musicians, including Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso, are considered his disciples.
Journalist and bossa nova expert Ruy Castro called the death of Gilberto a "monumental" loss.
Castro wrote in his book "The Wave that Built in the Sea" that Gilberto loved soccer and was a fan of the Fluminense club, whose games he liked to watch with a guitar in his hands.
"He managed to create a mystique about him abroad, being who he was and not even speaking English," he told the Globo television station.
The musician had spent his final years wrapped in legal troubles, debts and disputes with his children. His last live performance was in 2008 and he canceled a commemorative show to mark his 80th year because of health problems.
With little interest in giving interviews, he'd become known as the "reclusive genius" in the streets of Leblón, the neighborhood in a southern part of Rio where he lived but was seldom seen.
His funeral is to be held on Monday. He is survived by three children.
Singer Daniela Mercury called Gilberto a "genius who revolutionized popular Brazilian music. He taught us how to sing in the most beautiful way in the world."
"Go in peace, maestro," she wrote.