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The power of community takes centerstage in “Rent: Live”



Michael Greif, Julie Larson, Adam Siegel, Vanessa Hudgens, Kiersey Clemons, Tinashe, Valentina, Brandon Victor Dixon, Brennin Hunt, Mario, and Jordan Fisher at FOX’S ‘Rent’ Sing-Along YouTube event in Los Angeles on January 15.  The show airs on Fox on Sunday, January 27. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup/REX/Shutterstock)

On Sunday night, Fox Television will broadcast its much-anticipated production of “Rent” as the latest in its series of “live musical theatre” events.

The groundbreaking, Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical is a re-imagining of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” and set in New York City’s gritty East Village. “Rent” tells the unforgettable story of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams during a time of great social and political turmoil. Winner of four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, writer/composer Jonathan Larson’s tour de force continues to offer an inspiring message of hope and friendship.

Larson never lived to see the success his creation would achieve – he died suddenly of a rare heart condition on the eve of “Rent’s” Off-Broadway opening in 1996.

For the Fox live broadcast, executive producer Marc Platt wanted to ensure a strong connection to Larson’s vision, and to that end he brought in several members of the original production staff.  Returning for the television adaptation are Emmy Award-winning casting director Bernie Telsey, costume designer Angela Wendt, and original director Michael Greif.

Greif, who also directed the original Broadway productions of “Next to Normal” and “Dear Evan Hanson,” spoke to the Los Angeles Blade about the show’s popularity – then and now.

“I think Jonathan was influenced by a number of wonderful shows,” he explains, “like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ ‘Hair,’ and ‘Runaways’ – which all managed to bring contemporary music into the musical theatre form.  But as we were moving through the 80s and into the 90s, there seemed to be fewer musicals that were about contemporary issues or using contemporary pop sound.”

“I think ‘Rent’ made such a great impression because its music is so terrific,” he continues.  “Also, I think we are tremendously moved by seeing how, in the face of a great crisis, a community can come together to battle and withstand the chaos and calamity surrounding them.”

It’s messaging like this that Greif says makes the show as relevant as ever in today’s cultural climate.

“I think it’s amazing,” he says, “that one of the very first lyrics asks how do you document real life at a time when fact and fiction are being so constantly blurred?  I think that’s never been more relevant than today, and I think it’s never been more important to honor and dignify parts of our community that live outside of the mainstream and to treat people with respect and consideration, in spite of their differences.”

At the time of its opening, “Rent” crossed boundaries with its inclusion of characters dealing with AIDS and gender non-conformity.  Greif says the new production honors that.

“In terms of the subject of AIDS,” he says, “we’ve chosen to set the musical as it has always been, in the early 90s, so that the character’s response can remain true to the ramifications of a positive HIV diagnosis at that time, when we all viewed that diagnosis as a death sentence.”

With the increase in transgender awareness that has taken place since the show originated, Greif says the remount does offer some opportunities to expand those aspects of the script in its approach to the character of Angel, a drag queen.

“In terms of the transgender experience,” he says, “we have the opportunity to speak to and clarify Angel’s path more than we have in the past.  Mark’s pointing to a discussion of Angel’s preferred pronouns has led the creative team to believe this would be something Jonathan would want to continue to explore.”

In the Fox production, Angel is portrayed by Valentina, best known for her time on the popular reality series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

The Blade was invited to the “Seasons of Love” fan music video event at YouTube space, where Valentina talked about her role during a Q&A with the cast and producers.

“As Angel, I have many, many costume changes, gender changes, makeup changes, health changes. And so I go on this journey of just transforming throughout the show,” she enthused.

“And it’s been very exciting to work with the wardrobe team and the makeup team to develop an Angel that is relevant and appeared accurate to the ’90s — but with the budget from FOX!”

Because it’s a live production, being able to change costumes quickly can be a challenge.

“We’re definitely keeping things like the zebra tights and just keeping the heart in Angel’s costumes,” she said. “And the quick changes are definitely a lot of pressure. Just imagine going from boy Angel, drummer on the street, to full-on drag woman-a woman-a woman-a, ‘Dora the Explorer’ wig, in four minutes. It’s like, a commercial break and one song and ‘Mary, pull the zipper real quick, girl!’” she quipped.

“It’s also figuring out, is it going to be zipper? Is it going to be snaps? Cause we gotta have it down to a science,” she acknowledged.

Live production or not, Greif says he and television director Alex Rudzinski (“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” “Grease: Live,” “Dancing with the Stars”) have worked to take advantage of the broadcast format.

“I had a lot of exciting conversations with our producer, Marc Platt, and with our choreographer, Sonya Tayeh, and set designer, Jason Sherwood,” he explains, “about how to retain the concert quality the show enjoys onstage, but also on how to take full advantage of the intimacy that the camera can afford.”

“And the resources we have,” he adds, “create the opportunity for our characters to visit some locations that have never been possible on stage before.”

For Greif, though, what ultimately matters is the message.

“I’d like for viewers, especially those who are not familiar with ‘Rent,’ and particularly young people who are feeling alienated or marginalized or unlovable, to see themselves in the characters,” he says.  “To recognize how each one of these characters finds worthiness, and ways in which they can feel seen and appreciated and valued.”

“And maybe,” he concludes, “they can find some hope that they, too, can find their community and their chosen family.”


In addition to Valentina, the “Rent” Live Broadcast stars Kiersey Clemons, Brandon Victor Dixon, Jordan Fisher, Vanessa Hudgens, Brennin Hunt, Mario, Tinashe, and Keala Settle.  It airs on Fox at 8pm on Sunday, January 27. 


This article also includes contributions by Susan Hornik.






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Welsh Olympic distance swimmer Dan Jervis comes Out

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming at the Olympics in Tokyo said he was inspired by Blackpool FC soccer player Jake Daniels



Dan Jervis (Screenshot via British Swimming Livestream-archive)

NEATH, Talbot County Borough, Wales – In a recent interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, 26-year-old British Olympian distance swimmer Dan Jervis revealed that he had given considerable thought before announcing to the world that he is gay.

Jervis told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast; “I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in — until I thought, Just be you.”

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming for the British team at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, told the BBC he was inspired by 17-year-old Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels, the professional soccer player who made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in that sport in the United Kingdom.

The swimmer also told the BBC it was important to be seen as a role model as he readies to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Jervis has previously competed winning a 1500m freestyle silver and bronze at the 2014 and 2018 Games in Glasgow, Scotland and Australia’s Gold Coast respectively.

“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he said and added, “You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m like them, and that I’m proud of who I am.”

The Olympian reflected on his decision to announce he was gay: “For so long, I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

“So if I can just be that someone people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s good.”

Jervis then said he revealed his sexuality to a close friend when he was 24: “At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself.”

“I said to her: ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say: ‘I’m gay.’ I was basically punching the words out.

“She was quite shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is I’m not going to change as a person.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known.

“It was something in the back of my mind, bugging me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved – but it came to about three years ago where I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds quite drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but there was something missing to make me properly happy.

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

The Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, UK on July 28.


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Online Culture

FCC asks Apple & Google to remove TikTok app from their stores

Its pattern of surreptitious data practices that are documented show TikTok is non-compliant with app store policies and practises



Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr disclosed a letter sent to both Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet asking the two tech giants to remove TikTok from their app stores over his concerns that user data from the wildly popular social media platform is disclosed and used by bad actors in China.

In his letter dated June 24 to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that because of its pattern of surreptitious data practices documented in reports and other sources, TikTok is non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies and practises.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr stated that if the companiest do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8.

The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.

Carr was appointed by former President Trump in 2018 to a five-year term with the FCC.

In March of this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a nationwide investigation into TikTok for promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms to youth.

The investigation will look into the harms using TikTok can cause to young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers. Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking last month.

TikTok has said it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users. The company says it has tools in place, such as screen-time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see, the Associated Press reported.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

TikTok has also had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently The Washington Post confirmed that the ‘Libs of TikTok,’ an influential anti-LGBTQ account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.

A year ago, an investigation by Media Matters found that TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

Numerous LGBTQ+ content creators have shared stories with the Blade about TikTok’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms that target otherwise benign content that is not listed outside of the platform’s polices and removed the content. In many cases restoring the posts after appeals or in the worst case scenarios banning the users.

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Online Culture

Facebook banning users who post that abortion pills can be mailed

When Facebook started removing these posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday



Facebook/Meta Headquarters Menlo Park, Calif. (Blade photo by Brody Levesque)

MENLO PARK, Ca. – Social media giant corporation Meta’s Facebook platform has removed posts and has banned some users who wrote posts detailing that abortion pills can be mailed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Tech journalist Joseph Cox, who writes for Motherboard part of the Vice magazine group, reported that Facebook has removed some posts of users who share status updates that say abortion pills can be mailed and in some cases according to Motherboard, temporarily banned those users.

When exactly Facebook started removing these and similar posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday.

Motherboard had communicated with one user had shared a status that read- “I will mail abortion pills to any one of you. Just message me,” who then told the publication in an email:

“I posted it at 11 a.m. and was notified within a minute that it was removed. I was not notified until I tried to post later that I was banned for it.”

Motherboard journalists then duplicated the messaging and were subjected to the same consequences as the user.

The post was flagged within seconds as violating the site’s community standards, specifically the rules against buying, selling, or exchanging medical or non-medical drugs. The reporter was given the option to “disagree” with the decision or “agree” with it. After they chose “disagree,” the post was removed. 

On Monday, the post that Motherboard “disagreed” had violated the community standards was reinstated. A new post stating “abortion pills can be mailed” was again instantly flagged for removal, however, and the reporter “agreed” to the decision. After this, the reporter’s Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours due to the posts about abortion pill.

The platform’s policy clearly states “To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.”

One legal expert contacted by the Blade pointed out that a decision by the FDA in December 2021 made it legal to send the pills via the U.S. Postal Service.

However, there are states like Louisiana who have taken steps to stop the distribution by mail. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) into law a bill that will prohibit pregnant people from getting abortion pills via mail.

Axios reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, that states cannot ban mifepristone, a medication that is used to bring about an abortion, based on disagreement with the federal government on its safety and efficacy.

“In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” the Attorney General said.

As part of efforts to limit abortion access, some states have taken action to block the use of telehealth for abortion. Six states, ArizonaArkansasMissouriLouisianaTexas, and West Virginia, have passed laws specifically banning telehealth for abortion provision. In addition,14 other states have enacted laws that require the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present during the procedure, effectively prohibiting the use of telehealth to dispense medication for abortion remotely.

The question for social media platforms is what can be ‘policed’ especially in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision and the FDA deciding that patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail.

Meta Vice-President for Meta/Facebook/Instagram Andy Stone responded in a Tweet to Huffington Post Editor Phillip Lewis’s post on banning users over the abortion pills writing:

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

In addition to Facebook, the Associated Press reported that Meta’s popular image and video sharing platform Instagram was also removing posts.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. “DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read. Instagram took it down within moments.

An AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”  The post was removed within one minute. The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.” Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched.

The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Meta/Facebook for a comment.

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