You may wonder why self-appointed goodwill ambassadors to the world, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, were so happy to leave the U.S. for Namibia. It turns out the super movie couple are interested in freedom, but not necessarily freedom of the press.
Pitt and Jolie held a press conference yesterday in Namibia to say they aren’t getting married, are still rich and happy, and that they’re finally leaving the West African state for Los Angeles.
They limited the press conference to just Namibian reporters who, trust me, had better things to do considering their readers have never seen a Pitt or Jolie movie and are living on a dollar a day.
But the real non-understanding of Pitt and Jolie is that the Namibian press is locked in a battle for their lives with local politicians like the country’s former president Sam Nuuyoma.
Nuuyoma, recently retired, was one of three government officials at the press conference according to a report in The Namibian, the country’s independent newspaper.
For humans rights advocates like Pitt and Jolie, Nuuyoma’s presence was pretty interesting. In 2002, the first president of Namibia abruptly appointed himself minister of information and broadcasting, making freedom of speech a little, uh, difficult in a country that is barely hanging on for dear life.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Nuuyoma — perhaps taking a page from Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe — has routinely attacked reporters from his country calling them “unpatriotic” and “the enemy.”
Nuuyoma also briefly banned foreign films and TV shows from Namibian TV, including the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” and the sitcom “Designing Women.” You can only imagine what he would have thought about Angelina’s “Tomb Raider” or Pitt’s “Fight Club.”
Things have not changed under the country’s new president, Lukas Hifikepunye Pohamba, a Nuuyoma ally. In the last couple of weeks, a former photographer for The Namibian, the daily newspaper, has been arrested twice for trying to get a picture of Pitt and Jolie.
John Liedenberg, a South African, has become a cause celebre thanks to the movie stars because Namibia offers almost no rights to journalists.
According to press reports from that country, Liedenberg was arrested on municipal property last week and pronounced guilty of trespassing. At different times during the Pitt-Jolie stay his passport and camera equipment have been confiscated.
The list of government clampdowns against Namibian media is long. Last year, the high court gagged the press from reporting on negative claims against a chain of luxury lodges fearing that tourism would stop.
Treatment of the press is so bad in Namibia, in fact, that an organization called The National Society for Human Rights was formed several years ago to protect reporters’ rights.
The NSHR — which is usually busy with more important matters — issued a statement on April 24 strongly condemning the deportation of foreign journalists from Namibia who wanted to cover the Pitt-Jolie visit.
“As the principal human rights monitoring and advocacy organization in this country, we strongly repudiate this unprecedented and blatant violation of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media…
“The presence of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Namibia does not elicit any concern for national security and so on, such that the deportation of reporters could have any lawful or constitutional basis. If anything such deportation in this fashion constitutes a very grave embarrassment and threatens to bring Namibia’s democratic status into serious question.”
Oscar nominee Matt Dillon is trying to get to Darfur, Sudan. So far, though, he’s not having much luck.
At last night’s premiere of the hilarious HBO comedy series “Entourage,” Matt showed up to support his brother, Kevin Dillon, who plays the lovably loutish Johnny Drama, an out-of-work has-been actor whose younger brother is the biggest star in Hollywood. Strangely enough, it’s a part made in heaven for Kevin, who routinely steals his scenes.
But while Kevin is killing in “Entourage,” Matt is trying to get a visa for the Sudan. The reason? He has a friend with the U.S. government who’s working there right now, and he’d like to go before his friend his transferred out. Alas, he said, even former ambassador and diplomat Richard Holbrooke has been trying to help, with little result.
“I think other actors have criticized them,” Dillon told me last night, “And they’re not so happy about that.”
Last Christmas, for example, George Clooney and his father Nick visited neighboring Chad and had nothing nice to say about Sudan.
Maybe they didn’t like “Crash,” I suggested to Matt.
“Yeah,” he quipped, “they were probably upset about how my character treated black people.”
Dillon is no stranger to dealing with international entities. A few years ago, he made an excellent indie movie in Cambodia called “City of Ghosts,” which is worth renting. Sudan could do a lot worse than let Matt Dillon into his borders, believe me.
Meanwhile, I caught at least three "Sopranos" last night at the cavernous Buddha Bar after-party munching on delicious food in a Tibetan theme park setting.
Aida Turturro (Janice), Little Steven van Zandt (Silvio) with his beautiful wife Maureen and Robert Iler (A.J.) were busy celebrating the end of their second to last season this past Sunday. They’re looking forward to the last eight episodes, which begin filming in July and should air in January.
Van Zandt, who should get the supporting actor Emmy this year for his droll take on Silvio, has a busy summer even with "The Sopranos" wrapping up production.
His Underground Garage show on Sirius Radio is such a hit that it has spawned a series of live rock tours around the country. And, of course, even when "The Sopranos" is over, he’s still got his job with that other Boss — Bruce Springsteen.
“Entourage” — we saw two episodes from the new season — looks like it will finally break through as major hit this summer.
The shows we saw pick up with the premiere of “Aquaman,” the fictitious big screen thriller directed by James Cameron (in a cameo) and starring Vincent Chase (Adrien Grenier).
Everyone’s back, including Johnny Drama, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), “E” (Kevin Connolly) and Ari, the agent played with balletic magnificence by Jeremy Piven.
This season, Ari has a full-time sidekick in the person of his deadpan and slightly fearful assistant Lloyd, who may turn out to be the key to the whole show.
Actor Rex Lee, who made sporadic appearances in the past, joins the cast full time just as Ari moves into a scrubby 10th floor office in West Hollywood where the elevator is broken and things are looking pretty bleak.
But we learn a few new things about the self-obsessed agent: he has another client in James Woods, who plays himself. And Ari’s wife, who’s supporting his launching of his new agency with her trust fund, is unhappy with their sex life.
Piven continues to be a revelation as Ari. He’s Ted Knight from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Martin Mull from "Fernwood Tonight" and Dabney Coleman in "Slap Maxwell" all rolled into one.
Ari is such a fully formed character that he verges on caricature, but so far Piven — who gets a lot of ink in the tabloids for behaving “just like Ari” in public — has kept him under control.
It’s a thin line that could easily be crossed. He told me last night the production has only finished 11 of the season’s 20 episodes, but a little flourish in No. 2 — Ari’s in-office workout — should get him the Emmy award he so deserves at this point.
Indeed, “Entourage” is now as much about Ari as it is Vincent and the boys. I asked Piven last night which of the other guys he’d like to play if he weren’t Ari. He said, “That’s a very good question,” but didn’t answer right away as he was besieged by fans at the Buddha Bar after party who wanted their pictures taken with him.
I’m not sure if he ever answered the question, he’s so happy playing Ari, but I think he finally shouted these words over the din, “My wife.” It was a great Ari answer.