Tag Archives: Hollywood

Black Film & The Underground Spirit: 2

Che Ayende (Luis Laporte) as the conflicted actor Cairo in

Che Ayende (Luis Laporte) as the conflicted actor Cairo in “As an Act of Protest” (2001)

“…’Killer of Sheep’ was made the same year ‘Star Wars’ was released — and has not been seen ever since. While brothers are applauding the heroes from a galaxy far, far away – they’re completely inured to their fellow brethren right in their own backyards. The same was true nearly 15 years later when Wendell B. Harris was virtually paid to NOT make any movies. One look at his magnificent ‘Chameleon Street,’ and everyone knew that a powerful voice had arrived. And this scared everybody. I always found it disturbing that that the Black Entertainment Complex had not welcomed him — the man had won Sundance, after all — in the years when Sundance actually meant something.  They did not appreciate him they rejected him.  (Maybe they just didn’t know what to make of him…let’s not forget that old Satchmo himself was terrified of Charlie Parker.)

…In the early 1970’s, Huey P.Newton wrote a stunning essay and review of Melvin Van Peebles’ revolutionary ​”​Sweet Sweetback’s Baaadasss Song​”​and hailed it as a new vanguard cinema for black people – an example of real artistic-political storytelling that the oppressed could appreciate. Huey wrote that he hoped this would inspire a whole revolutionary genre of black pictures. Instead, Hollywood saw they could make money by having a brother on screen and decided to further the ante by “gambling” on pictures like ‘Shaft’ (by Gordon Parks, ironically, whose brilliant “The Learning Tree” has been forgotten even though it was the first major Hollywood movie by a black Writer and Director! Of course, the rest is history and like they have done to Rap music – everything caved in; the Blaxploitation era arrived and all the racist, stereotypical ‘skin flicks’ flooded the world and artists like Bill Gun, Burnett, and even Van Peebles himself vanished into thin air. No wonder Huey P.Newton died in a crack house: he had no movies to go see…”

— from “Towards a Black New Wave & Notes from the Underground,”
(Harlem, August 26, 2000)

(copyright 2000, 2014 by Dennis Leroy Kangalee)

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25th Anniversary of Public Enemy & Spike Lee’s Legendary Collaboration…

Riot on the Set: How Public Enemy Crafted the Anthem ‘Fight the Power’

Twenty-five years after ‘Do the Right Thing,’ Spike Lee, Public Enemy and Branford Marsalis reflect on the film’s anthem

Chuck D & Flavor Flav of Public Enemy [Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]

Chuck D & Flavor Flav of Public Enemy [Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]

Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy perform in New York City.
Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

By Kory Grow from Rolling Stone

“We needed an anthem,” Spike Lee said. “When I wrote the script for Do the Right Thing, every time when the Radio Raheem character showed up, he had music blasting. I wanted Public Enemy.”

The director may have asked for an anthem for his 1989 chronicle of big-city racial tensions, but what he got was a salvo. A quarter of a century has passed since Radio Raheem’s boom box served as a megaphone to a generation, spreading Public Enemy’s rap reveille over and over again in the movie, but “Fight the Power” has not lost an ounce of its revolutionary power or poignancy. Chuck D’s lyrics praising freedom of speech and people uniting while decrying racist icons still sound just as vital as anything Pete Seeger wrote, and production team the Bomb Squad’s ultra-modern collage of funk and noise for the track has never been replicated. The fact that Public Enemy made multiple versions of the tune – including the Branford Marsalis–infused, free-jazz cut for the movie and the more straight-ahead approach on their 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet – only shows the versatility of the song’s message.

To celebrate the legacy of the tune, and its impact both in and out of movie theaters 25 years later, Rolling Stone caught up with Lee, Marsalis and Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav and the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee and found out how they made an anthem.

Where does the “Fight the Power” story begin?
Chuck D: Spike, [producer] Bill Stephney, Hank and I had a meeting, and Spike simply said, “Hey look, I’ve got this movie based on all this tension going on in the New York area, the clashing neighborhoods, and I’m looking for an anthem.” All I remember was Spike was saying, “I’m looking for an anthem.”

Hank Shocklee: Spike’s original idea was to have Public Enemy do a hip-hop version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is kind of like a Negro anthem or spiritual. But I was like, “No.” I opened the window and asked him to stick your head outside. “Man, what sounds do you hear? You’re not going to hear ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ in every car that drives by.” We needed to make something that’s going to resonate on the street level. After going back and forth, he said, “All right, I’ll let you guys go in there and see what you guys come back with.”

When did the “Fight the Power” concept come up?
Chuck D: We like to work from titles down, so we came up with “Fight the Power” first. It was inspired by the Isley Brothers’ song “Fight the Power.” But the challenge was, could we make something entirely different that said the same thing in another genre?

Shocklee: We lived in the suburbs and were sandwiched by nothing but white communities. It was like we were the leftovers: We got what the white communities didn’t want to have, we got their spillovers. So we always had to kind of fight this adversity. We wanted to just make something that was going to say, “I’m mad as hell, I’m not gonna take it any more – I’m going to fight the system.” So that song that the Isley Brothers did, “Fight the Power,” resonated, but their version was a little soft. It didn’t resonate as deeply as I thought it should.

Chuck, at what point did you write the lyrics?
Chuck D: I was getting ready to head out on a European run with Run-D.M.C. in the fall of 1988. I remember writing a big chunk of it on a plane as we were flying over Italy. And D.M.C. was probably in the chair next to me. So I had the aftereffect and the glow of Run, D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay to inspire me, so to speak, in the writing of some of the lyrics.

“Freedom of speech is freedom of death” is a line that has always stood out. What prompted that?
Chuck D: A lot of that stuff like that line is like Bob Marley or Frederick Douglass: “There’s no progress without struggle.” There are a lot of things like that that I was able to incorporate it in there.

Why did you pick out Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 single “Don’t Worry Be Happy” as a negative thing?
Chuck D: Because”Don’t Worry Be Happy” doesn’t apply to protests. If you’re not worried and you’re happy, you’re like, why protest? Not everybody’s gonna feel like that.

What inspired the line about Elvis and John Wayne being racists?
Chuck D: [Comedian]Blowfly had a record called “Blowfly’s Rapp”in 1980. And there was a line in there where one of the characters in the song was a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and basically he had a lyric, “Well, I don’t care who you are, motherfuck you and Muhammad Ali.”

Why did you pick Elvis Presley and John Wayne, specifically?
Chuck D: Elvis and John Wayne were the icons of America. And they kind of got head-and-shoulder treatment over everybody else. It’s not that Elvis was not a talented dude and incredible in his way, but I didn’t like the way that he was talked about all the time, and the pioneers [of rock & roll], especially at that time, weren’t talked about at all. When people said “rock & roll” or “the King,” it was all “Elvis, Elvis, Elvis, one trillion fans can’t be wrong” type of shit.

But as far as “motherfuck him and John Wayne”… yeah, fuck John Wayne to this minute [laughs]. John Wayne is “Mr. Kill All the Indians and Everybody Else Who’s Not Full-Blooded American.” The lyric was assassinating their iconic status so everybody doesn’t feel that way.

Is that also how “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps” came about?
Chuck D: That came from the fact that Spike also discussed how there was a wall in the movie with people we respected as heroes on it. So “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps,” was saying, “You know what, we’ve got heroes on the wall, too.”

Flavor, how did you end up getting the John Wayne line?
Flavor Flav: A lot of the songs that Chuck D has written, I took parts. I’d say, give me this part, give me that part. And I’m very grateful for the lines he gave me. I ain’t gonna lie, because those are the most memorable parts of the record.

Was “Fight the Power” the first song considered for Do the Right Thing?
Lee: That wasn’t the first song they submitted. It was not “Fight the Power.”

What was it?
Lee: Not “Fight the Power.”

Shocklee: It was “Fight the Power.” He got the preproduction version. It was a sparse outline of the idea of the song. Spike, with all due respect, is not a rap guy, so he’s not gonna understand where it could go until it’s a finished production.

Chuck D: [Laughs] Spike misconstrued it as being a different song. It was a song in a rough stage with different elements brought up to the front. But Spike used it, because he had to present the film to a bunch of different investors. I remember checking out a screening with Hank in Brooklyn, and Spike had put in the rough draft of the song, and every time he played it, I was sinking in my seat, because I was like, “Oh shit. The song is not complete. It sounds like shit to me. And he’s going to put in the movie this many times? What the fuck!” I was like, “Man, we’ve got to come better than that.”

Hank, what was your goal when you were putting together the music for the track?
Shocklee: I wanted you to feel the concrete, the people walking by, the cars that are going by and the vrroom in the system. I wanted the city. I wanted that grittiness, the mugginess, the hot sticky, no-air vibration of the city [laughs].

How did Branford Marsalis get involved?
Branford Marsalis: I think it was Spike’s idea. I don’t feel at that the time that P.E. or Hank would have been suddenly compelled to use a saxophone.

Shocklee: I wanted to have a sax in the record but I didn’t want it in a smooth, melodic fashion; I wanted someone to play it almost like a weapon, and Branford was the guy. He came in the studio and he was incredibly gracious and very humble. He treated us as if we were musicians just like himself.

Marsalis: Hank did something that I’ll never forget. He made me do one funky solo, one jazz solo and one just completely avant-garde, free-jazz solo. And I said, “Which one them are you going to use?” And he said, “All three of them motherfuckers,” and he threw all three up. And the shit was killer. You had this Wall of Sound come in and the saxophones came in, and it was a Wall of Sound to accompany a Wall of Sound.

Branford, coming from a jazz background, what was it like playing over a Bomb Squad track?
Marsalis: It was not a normal chord progression. If it was C minor then it went to A-flat 7. It has the same sensibility as a James Brown tune, which is completely where they got it from. If you listen to when they go, “Fight the Power” and you hear that voice that goes, “Aahh,” that voice is not in the same key as the other shit. A musician would never do that. But it works. It unwittingly helped me expand my brain in a way.

Did you think you had a hit?
Chuck D: No, but when I heard Spike Lee put it 20 times in the movie, I was like, pssh. We realized early that film was probably going to be our outlet to deliver shit. We couldn’t rely on radio.

Marsalis: They had the greatest marketing tool in the world. They had a movie that people were going to see two and three times, that was going to be all over the world and it scared white people half to death — which ensured that it was going to sell.

Flavor Flav: When “Fight the Power” was being created, all I did was just come in, lay down my lyrics and I was out. I didn’t know that the record was going to be as big as it turned out to be. I just wanted to make a great record and keep it moving. And next thing you know, this phenomenal record was being played on the radio over and over and over. I’m like, wooow. This is crazy.

Chuck D: For all the talk about “Fight the Power,” there was always resistance to Public Enemy. It really got no higher than 16 on the R&B/black charts, which just goes to show you how much help black radio and urban radio gave us. It didn’t even crack the Top 10. It’s crazy, because in hindsight when they talk about the Number One rap record that meant something, “Fight the Power” is always at the top of those charts.

The B side to the original 12 inch features a hilarious meeting between Spike and Flavor. How did that come together?
Chuck D: They’re having a conversation – about what? Who the fuck knows. Flavor won’t remember it [laughs].

Flavor Flav: I don’t remember the B side.

What did you think of the movie’s opening credits, when Rosie Perez shadowboxes to the song?
Flavor Flav: It was just incredible, man, hearing my voice in a movie [laughs]. It was buggin’ me out. It was like the first time I ever heard “Public Enemy Number One” on the radio. It gave me that kind of feeling. Then also hearing my voice all throughout the movie – because that’s the only record that they really played in that movie, [actor Bill Nunn’s character] Radio Raheem would play nothing else but “Fight the Power” on his box, man. It was just an incredible feeling.

Chuck D: It was cool, because I thought I could get away with not doing a video [laughs].

Marsalis: I dug the song. I thought it was a hit from the get. I mean, Rosie wasn’t my favorite dancer necessarily, as someone who had a relationship with the arts that was rather broad. But it was cool. It was great to see. You know, Rosie was fine as hell so I didn’t object to that.

Shocklee: The track intensified the story. When Radio Raheem was with the boom box playing that song, that’s what was happening at that time, exactly. You could have walked out the theater and into a pizza shop, and that would have happened at that moment.

What do you remember about making the video?
Lee: All Chuck D and I wanted to do was reenact a march. So we had everybody show up. We marched from a specific space through the streets of Brooklyn and ended up on the block where we shot the film. We had to do it there. The movie is shot on one block. Stuyvesant Avenue, between Quincy and Lexington in Bed-Stuy. So we definitely wanted the destination of the march was the block where we shot the film. The stage was there. Perform.

Shocklee: That video was a really good thank-you that Spike did for us. We didn’t get paid for using the song throughout the film. It was the first big production budget that we’ve ever had for a video. When I first got the treatment, I thought it looked very simple. It was just, “Hey, we’re gonna do this march, make it seem like it’s a march on Washington, but we’re going to do it in Brooklyn.” I got to the set around 5:30 in the morning, and people were lined up. It looked like the Million Man March.

Spike, how did you get so many people there?
Lee: We just put the word out: “Public Enemy video.” People showed up. The police were scared though.

Why?
Lee: That many people? They always get scared. But there was not one incident. It was great. And the police were not a problem. As long as you’re done by 6, we’re all right.

Chuck D: It was like a rose really sprouted in Brooklyn. It was seriously a black movement of just being able to stand up and demand that the systems and the powers that be don’t roll you over. And this was a threat to America and it was a threat to the record companies at the time. That video was really powerful.

Chuck, what inspired the video’s intro, where you talk about the Civil Rights March on Washington from 1963?
Chuck D: I remember coming on in the video saying that the whole concept of the march in Washington wasn’t complete, but my words weren’t as sharp as I would like them to be, so I ended up saying, “That’s some nonsense.” And the way it was cut, I sound like I’m out of my damn mind [laughs].

Flavor Flav: That was one of the most craziest days of my life. But it was so amazing. It was my first time ever really doing a video shoot. And with that many people at my video shoot, it was crazy. Not only that but we had Jesse Jackson there, Al Sharpton was there, Tawana Brawley was in the video, too, as well. And the whole of Bedford-Stuyvesant. We had a good time that day, man. I would give anything to live that day one more time, that day was so amazing.

Flavor, who is the little girl you’re holding at the end of the video?
Flavor Flav: That was my daughter Shanique. She was three years old at the time. Now she’s 28 [laughs].

Lee: Chuck and Flavor just had so much fun. It was a great day. VH1 named it the Number One hip-hop video of all time. Well deserved. Rightfully so.

The version of “Fight the Power” on Fear of a Black Planet stripped away Marsalis’ solo and remixed the Elvis line. Why make different versions?
Chuck D: “Fight the Power” came out on Motown first, because of the soundtrack, but we were with Sony. We had to pull some structural things in order have “Fight the Power” on Motown as a single but also our own video on Sony and then being on Fear of a Black Planet the following year as the final track.

Shocklee: Putting on the Public Enemy album, it just didn’t make sense to have the same exact version. And I’m a big fan of each. Each record, to me, should live in its own space.

Finally, now that 25 years have passed, how do you feel the song holds up?
Chuck D: I feel like Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome.” “Fight the Power” points to the legacy of the strengths of standing up in music. Spike really made that record what it is. Because who puts a song in a movie that many times? Who does that?

Flavor Flav: I think it’s one of the most amazing things that Chuck has ever written. I’ve always looked at Chuck as one of the most amazing writers and lyricists ever. And a lot of the stuff that Chuck wrote was all accurate information. Chuck has been right a lot of times and that’s why I always backed up my partner.

Marsalis: Come on, that shit is anthemic. And for all of the people that love popular culture, there are a handful of songs that are actually anthemic in hip-hop or otherwise. And that one is one of them.

Shocklee: I think it was Public Enemy’s and Spike Lee’s defining moment because what it had done was it had awoken the black community to a revolution that was akin to the Sixties revolution, where you had Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. It created such an energy surge throughout the community that it became the template for every artist, every filmmaker, every rapper, singer, and it also sparked community leaders and teachers to understand the power of hip hop. And it made the entire hip-hop community recognize its power. Then the real revolution began.

 

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Ruby Dee 1922-2014

Image

 

A remarkable actress.

A passionate woman.

She was radical before being radical in Hollywood became hip. She knew risk in a way that would put any Hollywood ‘(H)Activist’ in 2014 to shame. This is a person who worked closely with such mavericks such as Lloyd Richards, Lorraine Hansberry and Jules Dassin. An artist who toed the line, pushed barriers, and helped interpret the soul, thoughts, and feelings of not only a generation or a race or a gender –

but an age where consciousness was not only something that the enlightened aspired to but where actors, too, were not mere hired arms

but instruments that illuminated the human condition and liberated the mental shackles impeding our evolution.

I hope your exit was joyful, Ruby.

(Say hello to Ossie for me)

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THE ANSWER (or: When they ask “what do you intend to do with your film?” a poem for guerrilla filmmakers and producers)*

Well, obviously you intend to share it. You won’t just leave it in your Aunt Edna’s socks drawer. (But then again, what if you did? Would that be a crime?)

 Kangalee at the famed Odessa Diner, NYC 2012 [E.Torres]

Kangalee at the famed Odessa Diner, NYC 2012 [E.Torres]

If the investor asks, obviously you well tell him your ambitions for the festival circuit and beyond. He’s concerned with money. And he should be. That’s who he is. But this Answer is intended for artists to be used…on other artists (actors, in particular)

Do singers actually ask composers: “So you want me to record this song? Hmmm…and what is your intention there?”

Would you have asked Langston Hughes: “What do you intend to DO with that poem once you’ve spilled it forth onto the page?”

So, I implore my fellow artists, my fellow Independent (truly) Filmmakers to use this as an answer to that most ridiculous question.

When asked: “What are you shooting with?”
Say: “An AK-47.”

Then remind them, that Gordon Parks wrote: it is a choice of weapons…

Cite Robert Kramer. Or John Cassavetes. Or…No.
Just be yourself and be honest and let it all hang out.
Because you are a beloved-madman anyway.

Say:

“We intend to blow minds if not souls. We intend to scrawl across the sky every single nuance and imperfect emotion contained in the film. We intend to agitate, inspire, affirm, or destroy all the energy that may be working for, against, or within us.

We intend to enlighten and scream.
We intend to howl with laughter.
We intend to think until our brain plates writhe like worms too well-oiled in a groping mud-slide.
We intend to reveal and admit.
We intend to entertain and challenge.
We intend to sprinkle
just a
little bit of beauty –
truth –
on this heaping mound of savagery
called Modern Life.

We intend to not lie and appreciate the pain of being honest.

And we intend to be proud as we say “This is who we are and what we were for the past year. We hope you understand part of it, if not actually like it. We hope it can inspire you to make your own film as well.”

​*you can use this as a stock answer anytime you want, anywhere you see fit, you don’t have to credit me because eventually you will come up with your own answer that’s even better. ​

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The Fetishization of Lupita Nyongo & the Dilemma of Black Actresses in Hollywood…

The Fetishization of Lupita Nyongo & the Dilemma of Black Actresses in Hollywood…

This article helped to give credence to my decision to move forward with my film project, “Octavia” — which was conceived to return to my protest art roots and theatrical background.  Urged by other writers who were supportive of my work, I wanted to create a role for a black actress that was at least as complex and interesting as my first cinematic character Cairo in “As an Act of Protest.”

This article only proves we are in a stranger, deeper dilemma as People of Color who may be involved in the Establishment Entertainment Complex or simply creating the advent of images under our own tables, with our own spoons.  Either way, it doesn’t matter.  Even maniacal Mao knew it:  “All art is propaganda.  But not all propaganda is art.”

I tell you: the creepy, insidious, patronizing, misogynistic racism of Hollywood in 2014 should outrage us.  But how can it?  We’re all slaves at the end of the day — shackled in mental slavery — and resistant to defining who we are on our own terms.  I mean that for EVERYBODY.  Hollywood and traditional Broadway, first and foremost, take their cue from Nazi Germany & the African Holocaust in the sense that they “break things down” and create TYPES…Didn’t von Verschuer do the same thing? And remember this if you read the article:  There is something bittersweet when African-Americans win awards given by a racist industry. Even more bizarre: Hattie McDaniel, who won the Oscar for playing Mammy in “Gone With the Wind” – did more for black people in the sense of her willingness to acquiesce and suffer in Hollywood so that Halle Berry or any other flavor-of-the-month in the “rhinestone sharecropping” of Tinseltown wouldn’t have to.  The Hattie McDaniels existed so wouldn’t HAVE TO debase ourselves or be conflicted as “what role to accept,” or revert to the perfunctory sexually subservient creature on screen who fulfills old White Men fantasies (isn’t that what Halle did in “Monster’s Ball”? Be honest. If that film showed a Jewess fucking a Nazi guard, you think the B’nai B’rith would’ve allowed it? Worse: they’d have burnt the ashes of the print! And rightly so.) etc.

So is there any difference between the racial dynamics of 1939 and 2014 in Hollywood? We have not even come full circle.  We are simply walking backwards. And seemingly enjoying the long empty road of our demise.

Pathetic. 

Black dramatists and filmmakers and producers need to get their act together.

Instead of Denzel bemoaning the fact that he still doesn’t get scripts offered to him (can you imagine?) – he should seek out some poor struggling blind alley scribe who could write emotional majesties for him and allow him to move into a new phase of his professional acting, career. I like Denzel Washington as an actor (although I admit I prefer his hungry, lean days) and that’s why I must tough on him. I expect more. I’m glad he did “Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway recently.

But isn’t it ironic that Lorraine Hansberry’s philosophical artistic message is still not be heeded? “A classical people deserve a classical art form,” she said. Not insulting offers to play a role in “The Jungle Book.”

*

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Double Standards

(OR: To the Woman Who Cannot Come To Terms With Her Past –A Response to A. Lichtenberg Who Tried to Write About Her Great Grandfather Being a Blackface Performer)

At first my knee-jerk reaction — laden with a slew of significance — if not, perhaps, just another symbol of my “over-sensitivity” (don’t you love when the oppressors or at least those with a fistful of dollars label your insight as “over-sensitive”? Only one cut from the cloth of the great Dutch Masters–I’m not talking about Rembrandt here–could say such a thing…could you imagine: hundreds of bodies beneath you cramped together in stinking shit shame and profound trauma while above a couple have a cup of tea on the upper decks?)

but here is no such thing as: Emotion Vs Rationale.
One who can’t think can’t feel.
You can’t feel, then you can’t think.

There is no enigma here.

But I digress as I often do, trembling just a little on the
in-side
of logic
cause I don’t see
how the
out-side
is getting
any better.

And as if to excuse this she explains he was a “Jew.”

Oy-vey.

Because the Jews, as we all know, were not forced into ovens — they were forced…to debilitate and make money off of the Blacks. Yes, guns were held to their heads and they had to make a choice.
?
(Sophie’s Choice: could you see old Meryl being forced to choose between “blackening” up and make fun of the Negroes or burning to death if she refused? Neither could I)

Well, I wanted to ask you, gentle writer:
“What would the difference be between Nazi ‘Shylock’ noses humiliating a Jewish Man and the surreal Jewish Immigrant in the good old USA who blackened his face to dehumanize and contort
the North American African Man?”

Well, I could not have another argument and implore her to see some Spike Lee film or try to prove my point. Even Scientists know: you don’t convert your opponents. You simply wait for them to die.

As the night wore on we spoke of many things, but my table kept coming back to your profound resistance,
your conscientious
un-willing-ness
to accept
who your great grandfather was:

a man who made his living denigrating the existence of my grandfather.

I believe in forgiveness, but I don’t believe in praying for an amnesia.
So your great grandfather was just another
Al Jolson
stopping the clock
mopping the docks
getting paid to mock

a people
you maligned in ghettos
even before
you fled Hitler’s.

____________

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