Spike Lee to Direct Roger Guenveur Smith’s ‘Frederick Douglass Now’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Read on: Variety.

Spike Lee is set to direct “Frederick Douglass Now,” his third movie adaptation of a one-man stage show by Roger Guenveur Smith, after “A Huey P. Newton Story” and “Rodney King.” The new film is set up at Buffalo 8, which produced “Rodney King” w…

All the Ways ‘The First Purge’ Skewers America and Donald Trump

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(Note: This post contains all the spoilers for “The First Purge.” The movie is also pretty hard on America, so read on at your own risk!)

The “Purge” movies have gradually shifted from horror tales about the potentially awful humans we share a society with, to political allegory about extremism in America today, to drawing what feels like a pretty clear line from current Republican leadership to the film’s near-future dystopia. But no “Purge” movie has been quite as explicit about its political commentary as the fourth installment, this week’s “The First Purge.”

“The First Purge” tells the story of how the U.S. could be made to accept an annual 12-hour period in which all crime becomes legal and Americans are free to murder each other consequence-free. The beginning of the movie shows how the New Founding Fathers of America, the extremist political party behind the Purge, manages to gain power. It’s also full of thinly veiled (and extremely not veiled at all) comments about our own country, suggesting we’re not nearly so far away from the Purge being a reality as we might believe. Even the movie’s release date on the Fourth of July is a pointed comment.

Also Read: Michelle Wolf: Ivanka Trump Is Like Herpes, She ‘Always Shows Up When We’re About to Get F–ed’ (Video)

Here are all the ways “The First Purge” makes a comment about the current state of America.

Shaking up Washington

Getty Images

The New Founding Fathers of America roll into power for a number of reasons, but a big one is a perceived failure by both the Republican and Democratic parties to represent the people. The party shows up promising big changes, even though we don’t see them offer a whole lot of explanation of what those will be — and the idea of the Purge comes up later, so it’s not something people are voting on. Sounds a lot like the vague and empty rhetoric of Donald Trump in the 2016 election, though.

The opioid epidemic

The big factor in the election of the NFFA is strife in America. The country is struggling economically during the election, undergoing a massive recession like the one the world suffered in 2008. Another big part of the turmoil: the opioid epidemic. Pundits in the early montage of “The First Purge” specifically reference this drug problem as having a major effect on the country. Of course, solving the crisis of people abusing and overdosing on opioids is also something Trump has been harping on since before the election.

Also Read: Stephen Colbert on Kennedy’s Supreme Court Retirement: ‘We Are Supremely Screwed’

Massive NRA endorsements

“The First Purge” presents the original idea of the Purge night as a sociological experiment carried out on Long Island. The NFFA says it plans to see if the Purge is something that can help reduce strife in America by allowing people to get out their aggressive feelings. Not everyone is on board with the idea, but one powerful interest group is fully supportive: the National Rifle Association. In the movie, NRA billboards encourage people to protect their Second Amendment rights and arm themselves for the experiment. Obviously, a yearly Purge would be very lucrative for gun manufacturers, since it is a huge incentive to get everyone to buy a gun, for either mayhem purposes, or just protection. Over in the real world, much has been made of the NRA’s political contributions to conservative politicians, especially as the gun control debate rages around mass shootings.

P—y grabber

After venturing out into the Purge night to save her brother, activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis) finds herself attacked by one particularly gross lawbreaker. This guy hangs out in the sewers, Pennywise-style, and uses a literal snare to catch Nya’s leg. While she’s stuck there, he reaches out of the sewer grate to grab her between the legs. Nya gets away, but not before calling to mind Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which he talks about how, as a star, he can “grab women by the pussy.”

Mercenaries on Purge night

Later in “The First Purge,” it becomes clear that most people on Staten Island aren’t really getting into the Purge idea, much to the chagrin of the NFFA. The government responds by sending groups of mercenaries in to run around and commit murder. As 7 & 7 (Mo McRae) tells Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), the tactics of those guys reminds him of Blackwater mercenaries who operated in Iraq in the 2000s. In the real world, Blackwater mercenaries infamously shot and killed 17 civilians in Iraq in 2007. Four Blackwater contractors were convicted of crimes for their actions in the massacre, including one for murder and three for manslaughter.

Also Read: Colbert: Trump and Putin Are Meeting Next Month for ‘Trump’s Annual Employee Review’ (Video)

The intel was wrong and they went ahead with it anyway

Back in 2003 the United States invaded Iraq under the pretext that the country was building weapons of mass destruction — an rationale that later was proven to be categorically false. Similarly, the natural results of the first Purge experiment clearly showed that they were wrong to try it — their intel was wrong and it turned out people generally did not want to murder each other — but the NFFA just sent in those mercenaries to kill a bunch of people to skew the sample. They essentially fake the evidence that the Purge is a legit concept, and then use that evidence to justify taking the Purge nationwide. Fascinating!

Russian mercenaries

It later comes to light that at least some of the mercenaries operating on Staten Island aren’t even Americans — they’re soldiers “from all over,” as 7 & 7 puts it. But the only mercenaries we hear that aren’t speaking English are, quite pointedly, Russians. That calls to mind the Russian interference in the 2016 election, which is well-established by the law enforcement and intelligence communities, but still consistently denied by Trump and his supporters — much like the NFFA benefits from Russian mercenary involvement in pushing their Purge plan national.

Police brutality in a baseball stadium

There are a lot of layers to this one. As the Purge night ramps up with paid gangs of soldiers roaming Staten Island, killing anyone they come across, “The First Purge” cuts to a baseball stadium, where a group of white men dressed as police officers (whether they’re actual police is unclear) follow a crawling black man, preparing to beat him with nightsticks. The parallel to real-world police brutality, specifically cases like the Rodney King beating, is pretty obvious. Shooting the scene in a baseball stadium calls to mind the saying “As American as baseball and apple pie,” making a substantial comment about the ubiquity of police violence against people of color. You might also read one more layer into the scene as well — since it takes place in a sports venue, it’s hard not to think of kneeling athletes protesting against police killings of black people across the country, as well.

Also Read: Colbert Has a Safe Place for Republicans to Dine in Peace: The Back of a Van (Video)

Nazi Ronald Reagan

The hardest-hitting commentary image in the entire movie comes late in its run, though. A gang of mercenaries stalks through the housing project tower where Nya and her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade) live, killing everyone they find as they go floor-by-floor. Their leader is a masked man wearing what looks like a plastic Nazi SS officer’s uniform. When Dmitri shows up and pulls a “Die Hard” on the soldiers, taking several of them out as a lone fighter, the SS commander removes his mask — revealing a Ronald Reagan look-alike. Though he looks a bit like the “Max Headroom” version of Reagan from “Back to the Future II,” the hair and angular face are pretty iconic, suggesting the appearance of the 40th president and conservative hero.

‘The First Purge’ MAGA hat

This one didn’t show up in the movie, but rather, its marketing materials. The teaser poster for “The First Purge” put the title of the movie on a red baseball cap with white embroidery — the spitting image of one of the “Make America Great Again” hats worn (and sold) by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. The symbolism of drawing a line between the politics of Trump and a night of legalized murder is pretty clear.

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7 Songs That Depicted Civil Unrest and Anticipated the LA Riots (Videos)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Twenty five years ago today, the Los Angeles riots erupted response to the shocking acquittal of four LAPD officers videotaped beating motorist Rodney King the year before. Over six days, 55 people died, 11,000 were arrested, and the city suffered approximately $1 billion in property damages. But the riots profoundly changed the city, laying bare systemic problems of race and class discrimination that had plagued LA for decades – problems music artists had been screaming about for years.

Warning: explicit lyrics.

Dead Kennedys – “Riot”

This 1982 song from the San Francisco hardcore punk band was inspired more by unrest in the 60s and 70s, but in 1992 it felt like a psychic prediction of what went down in LA. “Riot” laments how the energy expended fails to turn into full blown revolution, though at least after 1992 LA enacted several reforms to address the causes of that event.

Toddy Tee – “Batteram”

This 1985 track is one of Rap’s earliest LA-focused protest songs. Named after the battering rams used by LAPD to break into suspected drug houses (as seen in the film “Straight Outta Compton”), the track focuses on how frequently the tactic was deployed against innocent people.

N.W.A. – “F— Tha Police”

N.W.A. made its name as “the most dangerous group in America” thanks to this expression of rage against LAPD brutality and racial profiling. Hugely controversial when released in 1988 – prompting an angry letter from the FBI and threats of police boycotts – the reaction to the Rodney King acquittal showed it was an accurate reflection of the feelings of LA’s black community.

Guns n Roses – “One in a Million”

This 1988 track from the LA metal act saw lead singer Axl Rose channeling bitter, frankly racist and homophobic thoughts about the situation in LA in the late 80s. It sparked huge controversy upon release, something Rose seemed genuinely confused and annoyed by – a metaphor as good as any for the cultural climate preceding the riot.

Public Enemy – “Burn Hollywood Burn”

It’s not on this list just because of the lyric “I smell a riot going on.” Guest starring Ice Cube, this 1990 protest song rails against the way black people are depicted on film and television. Frustration that African American communities were being ignored by the media was a huge contributor to tensions leading up to the riots.

Ice Cube – “Black Korea”

We’ll be honest: This song doesn’t age very well. Ice Cube‘s 1991 track was written about the murder of 15-year old Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocery store owner just 13 days after the Rodney King beating. An unflinching depiction of racial tensions in South LA, it’s also unfortunately packed with racial stereotypes, and Cube was accused of inciting racism. Sadly, looters targeted Korean businesses during the riots the next year – a possibility threatened in the song’s lyrics.

Body Count – “Cop Killer”

Rapper Ice-T‘s punk side project Body Count became notorious for this song, released just one month before the riots. Despite massive outrage by police organizations, Ice-T wasn’t actually calling for the murder of cops – he insisted the song was an expression of rage against brutality. Name-checking Rodney King and LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, the song depicts police brutality as a problem all races should worry about.

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‘Let It Fall’ Review: John Ridley’s Powerful Documentary Examines the 1992 LA Riots

John Ridley: Why My LA Riots Movie Doesn’t Talk About Black Lives Matter

‘Let It Fall’ Review: John Ridley’s Powerful Documentary Examines the 1992 LA Riots

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

The powder keg that exploded 25 years ago in Los Angeles — after the shocking acquittal of the LAPD officers involved in the Rodney King beating — gets the documentary it deserves in John Ridley’s enthralling, heart-rending history “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992.” (The film screens theatrically for one week in New York and Los Angeles before debuting on ABC.)

Coming on the heels of a benchmark year for non-fiction movies about America’s ever-simmering racial tensions, from Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America” to Ava DuVernay’s “13th” and Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro,” it’s a worthy successor. Laying a groundwork of personal testimony and archival assemblage that tells the story of what Ridley, the Oscar-winning writer of “12 Years a Slave,” calls “the uprising,” there’s directness when needed, detail (often horrific) when appropriate, and complexity where least expected.

This is, first and foremost, a story about human beings, those who lived during a time when the worsening state of L.A.’s most economically constricted communities, and the increasingly negligent or destructive attitude toward them by the city’s police, were bound to result in violence. Ridley’s sly, thoughtful approach to the editing of his interviews is to introduce dozens of Angelenos of all colors — black, white, Asian — through their older, seen-it-all faces and some general remembrances, before letting us know who they are with names.

Also Read: John Ridley: Why My LA Riots Movie Doesn’t Talk About Black Lives Matter

Eventually, the picture is completed with revelations as to what part they played in the run-up to the riots, or the day of, as observers, participants, victims, heroes, or something else entirely.

It’s a surprisingly simple and humane technique, like an anonymous group therapy session that turns into an emotional deposition, or the war saga that gives you the characters’ pre-conflict lives so it can make their role in the battle that much more gut-wrenching. (Ridley shows a similarly artful talking-head technique on his ABC fictional series “American Crime,” which can make two-person dialogue scenes feel like the most private of interviews.)

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And in diligently sticking to interviewees who were directly affected by, or themselves influenced, the incidents Ridley recounts, he avoids the trap of larding his movie with experts and analysts who contextualize from afar. This is history from the inside, told by people who don’t always look like they’ve gotten past it, and it’s what makes “Let it Fall” so memorable.

Its power comes from moments like the realization that the gentle soul from South Central — who, early in the film, describes seeing his best friend gunned down by gangbangers — turns out to be one of a handful of African-American bystanders who helped save trucker Reginald Denny’s life. Or that the white cop with the correct outrage about his boss Daryl Gates is also the Incident Commander who made the tragically ill-advised decision to pull all the cops from the increasingly volatile 71st & Normandie area. With first-hand accounts like these, “Let it Fall” achieves a remarkable breadth regarding the depths of heroism and the terrible repercussions of human error.

In examining the events prior to April 29, 1992, “Let it Fall” provides a sobering reminder of the various strands of tension that corrosively paved the way. Ridley chose 1982 as the first bracket in his timeline title because it’s when the LAPD’s controversial chokehold policy resulted in the death of African-American James Mincey Jr. during an arrest. (The King-beating cops would cite the subsequent chokehold ban as the reason they couldn’t restrain King sooner.)

Also Read: ‘American Crime’: John Ridley Avoids Revealing the Central Crime of Season 3

The precursor narrative also includes a tumultuous 1988, in which gang violence hit the UCLA-adjacent Westwood area, leading to the murder of a young Korean woman (whose brother Ridley interviews). That crime was met by a disproportionately injurious police response called Operation Hammer that, in one night, willfully destroyed two southwest L.A. apartment buildings in a drug raid, leaving residents homeless, but yielding no arrests. Two weeks after King was beaten, 15-year-old African-American student Latasha Harlins was shot in the head by Korean shop owner Soon Ja Du, who thought she was stealing.

Du’s slap-on-the-wrist sentence with no prison time only added to the escalating hostilities between blacks and Koreans, and further signaled to a put-upon community that its citizens were as disrespected in death as they were in life. Surely video evidence of police brutality — 57 baton slugs from a cruel scrum of officers in full control of a downed suspect — would be met with justice, they hoped. But then a judge moved the trial to Simi Valley, maybe, prosecutor Terry White suggests, because his honor wanted to be able to commute.

Ridley’s handling of the riots is exemplary, both as archival-plus-interview storytelling, and as a painful road map of scary circumstance, risky curiosity, bad decisions, and brief shining moments of rescue. A good kid grows up to throw a brick that changes his life forever. A closeted lesbian cop outs herself to her partner, defies her superiors, and saves a life. Others carry expressions that suggest, What else did you expect?

The cumulative effect is of anger and fear ignored for far too long, and of a narrow-minded, slipshod protect-and-serve force made stunningly ineffective at either protecting or serving. Though both Rodney King and Daryl Gates are both gone now, their now-iconic TV-clip faces are the haunting extremes in Ridley’s sober, affecting film, the “Why me?” and the “Who, them?” as far apart as ever while a city burned.

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John Ridley: Why My LA Riots Movie Doesn’t Talk About Black Lives Matter

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Twenty-five years after it happened, the violence that wracked Los Angeles in the wake of the acquittal of four LAPD officers who brutally beat Rodney King has become an irresistible source of drama. ABC, Showtime, NatGeo, A&E, the Smithsonian Channel and others are broadcasting documentaries about the event this month, and a couple of those docs are also getting theatrical releases.

The longest and one of the richest of the films is “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992,” a chronicle from “American Crime” creator and Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley. A three-hour version of “Let It Fall” begins a theatrical run on Friday, with a TV version airing on ABC April 28.

The writer-director, who is also overseeing Season 3 of “American Crime” and the first season of Showtime’s “Guerrilla,” spoke to TheWrap about his longstanding interest in the event he refers to as an uprising, not a riot.

TheWrap: Didn’t you write a narrative script about these events years ago?
John Ridley: I did. About 10 years ago, Spike Lee and Brian Grazer and Ron Howard had approached me and asked if I would be interested in writing about the uprising.

I spent a year or so working on a draft that came in around 2007, and over the years it’s been on and off. In trying to stay as true as possible to the narrative, I found that people were not traditionally heroic or traditionally villainous. And in the economics of Hollywood, it was very difficult to do that kind of story, despite the best efforts of Spike and Ron and Brian.

Also Read: ABC’s ‘American Crime’ to Move Production to LA

How did the documentary come about?
About 10 months ago, Lincoln Square Productions approached me about doing a documentary, not knowing that I had written the narrative feature. And I thought there was a way to have an emotional honesty, but also work in a narrative structure that was a little nontraditional for straight-up news documentaries.

This is complicated storytelling, and I wanted to upend the audience expectations so they walk away and think, “What do I feel about what happened? And how different is it from what I thought I knew?”

What was your personal experience of that time?
I had just moved from New York to Los Angeles prior to Rodney King being assaulted. I was living in the Fairfax district the night of the uprising, so I was removed from the events of that first night. But most people in L.A. did not know how far it was going to spread and what areas were going to be affected.

During the daylight hours of that second day, as things were spreading, I remember thinking, “If there is not police intervention during the daylight hours, what is the night going to be like?” The police either did not have the desire or the capacity to contain this. And either one of those is not a place where you want to be.

Also Read: Rodney King Dies at 47

When you were making this, were you aware that several other filmmakers were working on docs about the same events?
There were one or two that we were aware of. It’s the 25th anniversary, and you knew that people were going to start looking at these stories. Every time you do something, you want to feel like the work you do is singular, even when you’re aware that you’re one of many.

And I do feel that this is an event that directly affected thousands of people, and indirectly affected hundreds of thousands. So if there are five or six or seven versions of this story, great. As someone who sat with this story, I hope there are versions that I can watch and say, “That’s good, I wouldn’t have thought about doing it that way.”

One of the thing that your film does extremely well is to take the time to back up and show us context. It singles out things we might not have connected with 1992. Was that a key for you when you were making it?
Absolutely. I was trying to pick some kind of narrative context, looking at it from a 10-year perspective, which was 10 years from the end of what you could call the chokehold era with in the LAPD. But also, I wanted to look at things like the 1984 Olympics, moments when elements of the city were very aspirational.

The idea was to put together this real mosaic of individuals that at the outset seem like a random collection of people recounting their memories of L.A. But then for all of them, it leads to 1992, when they can say very specifically, “This was my intention at this moment, this is why I made the decision I made.”

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Some of the other docs about this story openly tie 1992 to more recent events, and to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Right. But we don’t do that.

Why not? And do you think the story of the uprising tells us something about America today?
I think there are parallels to things that are going on, very, very clearly. And for other storytellers to make those connections, I get it and I respect it. But for me personally, Los Angeles is not Ferguson, not Baltimore, not Cincinnati. Those events deserve singular examinations.

So even though there are clear similarities and issues that do not dissipate over time, for me one of the challenges was not doing the easy math for the audiences. This is not a case of, “Now you understand L.A., so you understand the situation in other cities.”

Also Read: Idris Elba, John Ridley Join Forces for Showtime ’70s Civil Rights Drama

You also address social issues in “American Crime” and in “Guerrilla.” Do you feel an urgency these days to make television about the issues in our political and social landscape?
Absolutely. There is an urgency and an immediacy and an ability to do it. There are some very insightful and reflective films released toward the end of every year because of awards season, but the film business has changed.

The kind of issue-oriented storytelling in films that I grew up with is just not done with regularity anymore. But you do see in television, whether it’s “Black-ish” or “Transparent” or “Underground,” and I would hope to put “America Crime” in there. These are stories of race, gender orientation, so many thing that are vital socio-economic issues today.

You see television shows that are cognizant of issues, and there is an ongoing audience for that kind of storytelling, and studios and networks and content providers that are putting those kinds of shows out now with regularity. I think we can do a better job of telling those stories and reflecting those environments, but I do think TV has embraced and recognized the need to put those shows out.

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Trevor Noah Says Bill O’Reilly Was ‘So Racist It Somehow Became Funny’ (Video)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

“The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah celebrated Fox News’ decision to cut ties with Bill O’Reilly by recounting some of his most racist moments, saying the former “O’Reilly Factor” host “was so racist it somehow became funny.”

“Here at ‘The Daily Show,’ we want to give O’Reilly the sendoff he deserves,” Noah said. “Because let’s be honest, he’s not going to get it on Fox, that’s for sure. Those guys are probably going pretend that nothing is wrong.”

Noah continued: “You may not know this, but Bill O’Reilly was the biggest figure in the history of cable news. At one point, nobody even came close… because they were afraid that he might sexually harass them.”

Also Read: Al Sharpton Says Bill O’Reilly Promoted White Nationalism (Video)

Noah then played a series of some of O’Reilly’s most infamous moments, including flipping out while working for “Inside Edition” and yelling, “F–k it! We’ll do it live!”

Where most saw “madness” in O’Reilly’s on-camera tantrum, Noah said disgraced founding Fox News CEO Roger Ailes saw “greatness” and hired him to become the face of the network.

Noah then played a variety of examples of O’Reilly making controversial comments, joking that he had a “special place in his heart for black people.”

Noah then said the special place was “prison,” before playing more examples of on-air racism by O’Reilly.

Also Read: Fox News’ Dana Perino Explains Bill O’Reilly’s Absence From His Former Show (Video)

“Looking back on all of O’Reilly’s greatest hits, the one thing that’s hard to believe is that it took him this long to lose his job,” Noah said. “Maybe the reason Fox kept O’Reilly on for so long was that sometimes, he was so racist it somehow became funny.”

Noah then played another infamous clip, from when O’Reilly went to dinner at Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem with Al Sharpton and seemed legitimately surprised that a black-owned restaurant had well-behaved customers.

“This is so racist I can’t even be mad about it. Because you realize, in Bill O’Reilly’s mind, going to a black restaurant was basically going to be like walking into the middle of the Rodney King riots,” Noah said.

“The Daily Show” host concluded: “So, it’s sad to say, but farewell, extremely old friend.”

Check out the video above.

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Spike Lee’s ‘Rodney King’ Starring Roger Guenveur Smith Acquired by Netflix (EXCLUSIVE)

Read on: Variety.

Netflix has bought the rights to “Rodney King,” directed by Spike Lee and performed as a one-man show by Roger Guenveur Smith. The streaming service has scheduled the project to premiere on April 28. In addition to starring in “Rodney King,” Smith also serves as an executive produces. Steven Adams and Bob L. Johnson are producing… Read more »

‘Gook’ Director Justin Chon on the 1992 L.A. Riots (Video)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Justin Chon, Director of “Gook”

“Gook” director and star Justin Chon knows from personal experience what the 1992 Los Angeles Riots were like.

The Southern California native’s family owned a business in Compton, Calif., that was looted on the last day of the April 29-May 4 upheaval, which was sparked by the acquittal of the police officers videotaped beating Rodney King.

“I felt a need to tell the Korean perspective of what the riots were like because a lot of the Korean experience gets swept under the rug,” Chon told TheWrap at the Sundance Film Festival, where his film premiered to great reviews.

Also Read: Skylar Astin, Justin Chon in Talks for ’21 and Over’

“Gook,” which draws heavily from Chon’s experiences, examines the racial tension between the African American majority of South Central Los Angeles and Korean business owners and neighbors as the city descends into chaos.

Those tensions were the subject of much artistic output of the era, particularly by hip-hop artists, notably in Ice Cube’s 1991 song “Black Korea.”

But the Korean-American perspective on those events has rarely been presented in mainstream media, something Chon aimed to correct on the eve of the riots’ 25th anniversary.

Watch the full video above.

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