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‘Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Reveals Snow’s Backstory

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Readers of Suzanne Collins’ hit young-adult trilogy, The Hunger Games, will remember Coriolanus Snow as the tyrannical president of Panem and tormentor of rebel protagonist Katniss Everdeen. Collins’ highly anticipated new prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is here to flesh out the one-note villain.

Sixty-four years before Katniss enters the arena, Coriolanus—Coryo to a select few—is 18 years old, ambitious to the bone and secretly broke. He’s a student at the Capitol Academy, the school where the privileged children of the city spend their days preparing for college and prestigious careers in the only part of the country with resources and opportunity. But the First Rebellion, the civil war that was fought between the Capitol and the districts 10 years prior, has left the once-affluent Snows nearly destitute and fighting to keep up appearances. His father died a hero in the war and his mother before, so it’s just Coriolanus, cousin Tigris and their grandmother living in the luxurious family penthouse, struggling to make do with tattered clothing and little to eat.

When news of the prequel’s premise broke in January, fans of the original series spoke out against the need for a backstory about its major villain, comparing it to films like Joker that seem to provide justification for a character’s future cruelty. And the first chapters of Collins’ fast-paced narrative do stoke a certain amount of sympathy; Coryo is a boy under pressure, recovering from the traumas of war and losing his parents while striving to make a name for himself in a brutally classist society. But Collins wastes no time in planting disturbing clues about his true nature.

The Hunger Games launched with the scene at the Reaping, the annual ceremony where a boy and a girl from each of the 12 districts is selected to compete in a televised battle to the death—the Capitol’s punishment and reminder to the districts of their loss in the war. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes shows the same scene from the other side; a group of 24 Academy students, Coriolanus among them, watches with glee as the tributes are named. These students will be mentors—a new addition to the 10th annual games, designed to reinvigorate waning interest in the broadcast—and the winning tribute’s mentor will be awarded a major financial prize. It’s a move that sets in motion the games’ transformation from an unsophisticated gladiator-style battle royale to the technologically advanced spectacle of Katniss’ era—just one of the examples that Collins unveils about Coriolanus’s role in developing the morbid event.

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Coriolanus, whose vanity, arrogance and self-absorption are underscored by Collins, is desperate for the prize. And he’s all the more anxious when he realizes he’s been assigned the female tribute from deeply impoverished District 12, an assignment he views as below what befits his family name. But Lucy Gray Baird, a charming singer with an affinity for snakes, proves to be a contender—and a defining test of Coriolanus’s character. Through their story, Collins draws a stark line between love and possession.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes builds on the original series’ overt critique of violence and those who perpetuate it, again in terms that speak to a more mature audience than their young-adult marketing might suggest. But where Katniss was a heroine whose flaws were laid bare as she came into her own, Coriolanus sometimes feels reverse-engineered to fit his older mold, and the novel doesn’t fully explain the roots of his at-any-costs ambition. Collins might’ve been better served in exploring the Dark Days of Panem by bringing in the viewpoints of some of the supporting players like Sejanus Plinth, a District 2 transplant in the Capitol who views Coriolanus as a brother, or Lucy Gray herself.

For true fans of The Hunger Games, Collins shines most as she weaves in tantalizing details that lend depth to the gruesome world she created in the original series and Coriolanus’s place in its history. And while the character does not appear in the timeline, Collins subtly calls back to Panem’s true hero—one who rose out of a crisis even starker than that of this protagonist. Katniss found her way. Coriolanus, well, we already know how that story ends.

Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com.


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Why Nicole Avant Made Doc About Her Father – Variety

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When Nicole Avant was growing up in Beverly Hills in the 1970s and ’80s, her father, Clarence Avant, was one of the most connected and successful African American power brokers in the music industry. He launched record labels, owned radio stations and became a key figure in politics and the civil rights movement.

The Avant home was always buzzing with a stream of Hollywood and Washington insiders coming and going. “I knew that he was very powerful because the phone rang constantly and I always heard him fixing something or giving advice,” says Nicole, who made her producing debut with Netflix’s “The Black Godfather,” a documentary about her father. “And then I did see him on ‘Soul Train’ one day, and he was giving an interview with Don Cornelius. …That’s when I thought, ‘Oh, he must be a big deal because he’s on television.’”

That point is driven home by the documentary, which features interviews with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, David Geffen, Jamie Foxx, Sean “Diddy” Combs and the late Bill Withers, whom Avant signed to his Sussex Records while the singer was still working as an aircraft assembler.

Nicole Avant, who is married to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, says she had plans to shop the doc around before her husband snapped it up for the streamer. “I actually had this idea in my head since I was a little girl. I really did,” Avant, who served as Obama’s ambassador to the Bahamas, says on this week’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” “I had told Ted, even when I was dating him, there’s this idea I have for this film, and I said to him, ‘I’m going to take it to HBO.’ Once I started getting the interviews and everyone started confirming, Ted said, ‘Do you really have all these people saying yes?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, for sure.’ He said, ‘Let me take a look at it again.’ And then at that point, Ted is a part of the family, and he saw a solid film, and he saw an important film, and he actually wanted to tell the story just as much or even more than I did.”

What do you want people to know about your dad?

I really wanted people to take away that it’s important to have a strong sense of self. It’s important to keep moving forward. It’s important to pay back. It’s important to move the needle. Also, it’s very important to take risks in life. Sometimes you’re going to fail. Sometimes people are going to say no. So what? It’s a part of life. You keep going. You pick yourself back up again.

What did you learn about your dad while making the documentary that you didn’t know already?

I took it for granted how hard his childhood was and how abusive it was — having a stepfather, really beating up my grandmother in front of him and in front of the other children. My dad didn’t really have a childhood, and he took care of seven kids because everyone was working and they were so poor.

How hard was it to hear those stories?

Very hard for me. And it made a lot of sense when everything did fall down for him and everything blew up at one time and we lost everything. I think everything triggered to his childhood again of not having things he didn’t have or anybody to really rely on.

Tell me about a time in which someone really big turned up at the house and you were like, ‘What is this person doing here?’”

The one time I was very star-struck was when Whitney Houston showed up one day and I had just been listening to the “Greatest Love of All.” I’d sing it in the car like I was Whitney Houston. I was floored; I stood at the front door and I thought, “Oh, my God, this is a real celebrity. This is a big deal.”

If you were to make a scripted narrative about your dad, who would play him?

Forest Whitaker could play him because he knows him and he could “get” him actually.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Hear it in its entirety below. You can also listen to “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.


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Even Prince William Has To Deal With This Classic Family Dinner Challenge

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There’s no question about it: lockdown has changed our lives and transformed the way we work. And that goes for royals, too. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have adapted, taking their royal duties online, via a number of zoom calls. But not everything has changed… On his latest call, Prince William revealed that even he has to deal with this classic family dinner challenge.

Speaking to representatives of the PEEK Project, a Glasgow-based charity, on May 20, the Duke of Cambridge said the success of his family meal depend very much on “what’s on the table”. Joking with community chef Charlie Farrally, Prince William agreed that dinner time can be very challenging: “If parents put something on that children love, dinner time goes very well,” he said. “But if you put something on the table they don’t want to do, that’s another ball game.”

PEEK Project, Possibilities for Each and Every Kid, have been working throughout COVID-19 to provide balanced, and hot meals for families in need. The Duke of Cambridge praised them for their work and pointed out the immense pressure that parents are under as well.

The PEEK project has been supported in it’s work throughout the pandemic by the National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal. Were it not for lockdown, the Duke of Cambridge would have been in Scotland this week to meet representatives at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Obviously, this couldn’t go ahead face-to-face, but he still spoke to the chefs, volunteers, and the CEO via a video call. “I hope when I find myself up in Glasgow in the near future I can come and see you guys in person and congratulate you,” he added.


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Ozark’s Esai Morales to Replace Nicholas Hoult As ‘Mission: Impossible’ Villain – Find Out Why

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Esai Morales, known for his work in Ozark and How to Get Away with Murder, is joining the cast of Mission: Impossible 7 and Mission: Impossible 8, director Christopher McQuarrie revealed on his Instagram on Thursday (May 21).

However, Deadline is now reporting that Esai, 57, is actually replacing Nicholas Hoult in the movie in the villain role for the films.

The reason why Nicholas is being replaced? The Coronavirus pandemic has delayed production of tons of movies and television shows across the globe. As a result, the “delay put Hoult in conflict with another commitment.”

The film currently has a release date of July 23, 2021, but that could change as many films have had to alter release dates due to the global health crisis.

If you missed it, Nicholas just made a super rare comment about his two-year-old son.


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