He had two options: take the risk or miss the opportunity. He’d been following the story for over a year. The capture. The prison break. The mile long tunnel and motorcycle. This man was not to be taken lightly. He was something like a legend, the world’s most wanted man. There was no doubt about it; it was a once in a lifetime chance. So he boarded the plane to a small city in the middle of Mexico. After another two hour flight and a hike through a lush jungle, a seven hour ride passing through random bits of farmland surrounded by more forest, a military checkpoint and more forest, he reached the designated location. There he is, “the world’s most famous fugitive.” Dressed in a silky shirt and pressed pants, he reaches out his hand. While the entire scenario feels like something straight out of a Hollywood thriller, it’s not. But it is about a movie, a movie Joaquin Gomez, also known as “El Chapo,” wanted to make about his life. Interestingly enough, it’s actor, filmmaker and political activist Sean Penn meeting with Mexico’s infamous drug lord.

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Never one to shy away from controversy, Penn, whether acting or not, has always been all about the action. From his film debut in Taps to his Academy Award winning role in Mystic River, Penn has always had a knack for playing complex characters not afraid to cross the line. In All the King’s Men, Penn portrays a politician straddling the line between power and corruption. In Milk, for which he won another Academy Award, Penn plays the role of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician elected into office in California. But he’s just as controversial off screen as he is in front of the camera. When he isn’t acting, he’s working as a political and social activist. More than willing to question those in position of power, Penn’s activism includes foreign policy, privacy issues, the role of media and the War in Iraq. “…One of the big things where we have to recognize we are complicit,” he told Al Jazeera while criticizing what we calls the American culture of complaint, “is that we have been far too comfort-addicted, which has led us to be reluctant to boycott corporate interests which are lobbying these policies in government.” Penn’s overwhelming philanthropy and charity work match his strong words. Besides actually touring Iraq to observe the war, the award winning actor joined rescue workers going door to door searching for Hurricane Katrina survivors. His nonprofit organization in Haiti demonstrates the actor’s passion for helping others.

Hollywood actor Sean Penn attends the 2014 Frontline Defenders Award Ceremony held at Dublin City Hall. Featuring: Sean Penn Where: Dublin, Ireland When: 07 Mar 2014 Credit: WENN.com **Not available for publication in Irish Tabloids or Irish magazines**
Hollywood actor Sean Penn attends the 2014 Frontline Defenders Award Ceremony held at Dublin City Hall.
Featuring: Sean Penn
Where: Dublin, Ireland
When: 07 Mar 2014
Credit: WENN.com
**Not available for publication in Irish Tabloids or Irish magazines**

Founded in 2010, J/P Haitian Relief Organization was created in response to the earthquake that nearly destroyed Haiti. Penn’s son Hopper was recovering from a skateboarding accident when he became aware of what he called the “Civil War” medicine style administered throughout the nation. What was supposed to be a two week trip relief effort ended up being a nonprofit organization that focuses on four key areas: medical camps, relocation management, community development and engineering and construction. “When you look down a city block of devastation and you see the pain and the death, you feel like, I can fix this,” he told CBS. He later realized that “it wasn’t about fixing [Haiti] anymore, it was about helping as much as you could.” Even after spending millions of dollars of his own money and living in a house with 20 volunteers, Penn’s just as determined to help empower the people of Haiti.

It takes a certain kind of person to navigate the worlds of acting, philanthropy and activism. It requires passion and diligence, risk taking and patience. It’s not for the faint of heart or for those afraid of backlash. It is most certainly not for those afraid to sit down and talk with people, even if they are the most wanted fugitive in the world.

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As “El Chapo” stretched out his hand toward the actor-turned GI-Joe-turned journalistic investigator, Penn returns the favor and the two shake hands, “El Chapo” eventually embracing Penn with a “commadre hug.” They share tacos and tequila and even take a picture together. “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats,” “El Chapo” admits boldly and unapologetically as Penn, and “El Chapo’s,” friends and family sit at the dinner table. It’s odd. Unexpected and slightly unnerving. The drug lord agrees to let Penn interview him. But plans fall through, the military gets involved and suspicions arise. Instead of a face to face sit down, the interview will have to take place over the phone. And it does. But as the world watches “El Chapo” speak about his life on a video recorded on a Blackberry phone in an undisclosed location, so do the authorities that have been searching for him for months. Very much like an unexpected plot twist, the drug lord is captured and arrested. Penn, far away, but very much involved, publishes his article in Rolling Stone. Though praised by some and condemned by others, the actor has once again managed to create an action filled drama that has everyone wondering what’s next.

Sharita Gilmore

It’s not the typical name you’d expect a band to have. In fact, it seems quite controversial. Slaves.

The connotations are too negative. The history of the word is too dark. It’s too heavy, especially for a group of young musicians from Sacramento, California. Besides, what in the world could post hardcore experimental rock and slavery have in common? But that’s what they call themselves. And the reason why is pretty simple, even if it still causes some heads to turn. “We’re a slave to what we love,” Lead Singer Jonny Craig told Alternative Press, a magazine focused on alternative and punk music. Whether offended or intrigued, one can’t help but wonder about the story, music and people behind an experimental rock band called Slaves.

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Despite being formed in early 2014, the band has already released two studio albums. Jonny Craig, the lead vocalist, brought the group together. In fact, Craig revealed the band members via his twitter account. In addition to Craig, there’s guitarist Alex Lyman, bassist Colin Vieira and drummer Tai Wright. With each of them coming from previous music groups, the guys joined their talents together, releasing Through Art We Are All Equals, their first studio album on June 24, 2014. Aware that most either love him or hate him, Craig explained the band’s name a little further in an interview on the Ryan Rock Show, a Los Angeles radio show. “Men have been enslaving men for as long as we’ve had gods to hide behind. Every man is a slave to what we love-whether it be women, drugs, music or sports. Through art we are equals.” Representative of everyday struggles, addictions and decisions, many of the tracks depict a kind of mental, social, emotional and relational enslavement. Heavy metal sounds, matched with pop rock guitar chords and subtle, consistent drum beats combined with Craig’s sultry smooth voice gives the band a very independent feel. While some tracks feel more ACDC inspired, others have a kind of R&B, reflective and emotional tone. From “The Young and Beyond Reckless,” to  “Starving for Friends” (which features Vic Fuentes of Pierce the Veil), the album’s lyrics remind listeners of the subtle ways we’re enslaved to various cultural aspects and expectations. Featuring Tyler Carter of metalcore bands Issues and Woe is Me, “The Young and Beyond Reckless,” begins with the following words: A puppet is only as strong as its strings/I forgive and forget, yet the truth still stings/ the lies are all easy, and the words are hard to swallow/the leaders get killed/we’re never fulfilled/yet we follow (we all follow). Like the lyrics, the band itself has experienced both the highs and lows of the young and beyond reckless.

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“This band has to fight through each other’s personal problems as a whole, and then the opinions the rest of the world forms of these things as a whole,” Craig told Alternative Press on another occasion. Anyone familiar with the band understands the strong opinions the lead singer referenced. Besides fighting hostility due to Craig’s drug use and internet scams, the band has also had to deny rumors of them splitting up after they were kicked off the Warped Tour due to an altercation involving Craig. Additionally, Lyman, the band’s guitarist was stabbed last year. But through it all, the band remained together. “We have all taken each other’s addictions, family problems, relationship problems on as a group and have each individually became the strongest we’ve been in our lives because of this,” Craig continued to explain in his interview. The band grew financially as well. Fans helped raise $29,000 in less than 48 hours after Slaves was kicked off the tour. Through it all, the band continued to thrive, releasing Routine Breathing, their second album in August 2015.

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Today, the band’s twitter account boasts of their latest tour, Us Against the World. In so many ways, the name of the tour speaks to their spirit. In the midst of scandal, addictions, family problems and physical altercations, Slaves proves one thing to be true: there is power in unity. United by their artistry and their personal experiences, the members of Slaves are like a small, everyday family: flawed, human, slightly dysfunctional but talented and preserving. Like the title of their second album, it’s the routine breathing that keeps them going: the day by day decisions that turn experiences into tracks and tracks into albums and albums into tours. Through it all, their music explores the vast range of human experiences.

-Sharita Gilmore