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Hollywood Tells Aung San Suu Kyi's Story in 'The Lady'

Scene from "The Lady"

Scene from "The Lady"

JUNE SIMMS: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I’m June Simms. This week on our program, we hear new music from Bonnie Raitt ...

And we answer a letter from a Chinese man who dreams of being a car designer …

But, first, we take a look at a new movie about Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.


"The Lady"

JUNE SIMMS: French director Luc Besson is famous for his often-violent action films like “La Femme Nikita” and “Taken.” But this week he released a film about a woman of peace. “The Lady” tells the story of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Christopher Cruise has more on the movie and its star Michelle Yeoh.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Aung San Suu Kyi left her family in England in nineteen eighty-eight for what she thought would be a short visit to help her sick mother in Burma.

(SOUND: “The Lady”)

AUNG SAN SUU KYI (Michelle Yeoh): “It will be hard for me to get to a phone, so don’t worry if it’s a while before you hear from me.”

But she stayed years.

Aung San Suu Kyi, also known as Daw Suu, followed in the political footsteps of her parents. Her father was a national hero in Burma. He led the campaign for independence from Britain in nineteen forty-seven. He was killed by political opponents soon after independence. Her mother was Burma’s Ambassador to India and Nepal when Daw Suu was a teenager.

Daw Suu became the leader of the democracy movement in Burma soon after she returned to her home country.

(SOUND: “The Lady”)

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: “It may be a little late to be saying this, but you realize I’ve never actually spoken in public before.”

MICHAEL (David Thewlis): “Well there’s no time like the present.”

That is David Thewlis playing Daw Suu’s supportive husband Michael Aris, a South Asia culture expert.

Malaysian actor Michelle Yeoh plays Aung San Suu Kyi. She learned to speak Burmese for the part. She says the language was especially important to re-create the first speech Aung San Suu Kyi gave to the Burmese people.

Michelle Yeoh and director Luc Besson on the set of 'The Lady'

Michelle Yeoh and director Luc Besson on the set of 'The Lady'

MICHELLE YEOH: “The first speech that she makes is in Burmese to her people to convince them, and to let them understand, that even though she did marry a foreigner even though she lived outside of Burma for so long, she was her father’s daughter. She can not turn away from what’s happening to her country. And all this is documented in Burmese. So we can’t take liberties and try and do it in English. It just wouldn’t be right.”

(SOUND: “The Lady” in Burmese)

Director Luc Besson found Burmese people to be in the movie’s background scenes. Michelle Yeoh says one of these actors was in a crowd scene for the speech. She says he cried through the entire speech.

MICHELLE YEOH: “We found out that he was there. He said ‘at that time in ‘88, I was in the audience looking up at Daw Suu, hearing her say the speech. Today I am standing behind her listening to her say the speech again.’”

Michelle Yeoh says Luc Besson found many background players who had lived through the events being represented.

MICHELLE YEOH: “He actually went to the Burmese refugee camps up in northern Thailand, and he cast about two hundred of them. All of them were not actors, but they were very natural, of course, I mean they were Burmese. So, the way they moved when they were with me helped me tremendously.”

Burmese officials would not permit “The Lady” to be filmed in Burma. It was shot in Thailand instead.

BURMESE OFFICIAL: “Madame, your restricted residence is at an end. You are now free to come and go as you please.”

Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest in twenty-ten. The movie is being released as the democracy leader is elected to parliament in a reforming Burma.

Car Designer Dreams

JUNE SIMMS: A young man in China has written to our relationship blog for advice about his career. The twenty-six year old studied automobile engineering and completed his university education last year. But, he has discovered his professional dream is to be a car designer. Right now he is working as an engineer at a carmaker, Ford. He wants to know how to make a career change.

We found someone who might be able to help. Anthony Prozzi is a senior designer at Ford in Michigan. He has been with the company for twelve years. But, he started his career in clothing design. Before he left to study car design, he worked for the menswear department of Donna Karan in New York.

Mr. Prozzi knows about change. His first college experience took him to New York University.

ANTHONY PROZZI: “I excelled in math and science. I attended New York University with the intention of becoming a doctor.”

But he says fashion always interested him. His mother was employed in the garment industry and he would watch her at work.

ANTHONY PROZZI: “I was just fascinated by the craft. Even as a kid I would make clothes for my GI Joe.”

To help support himself during college, Anthony Prozzi started working in the fashion design industry. He fell in love with that world and left NYU. After some time, he decided he needed a formal design education. He attended classes at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. While there he met Carl Olsen, a Pratt graduate, who was now the chair of transportation design at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan.

ANTHONY PROZZI: “He looked at my work and he’s like, ‘what are you doing here. You should doing cars and transportation.”

A Ford concept car at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan

A Ford concept car at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan

So Mr. Prozzi moved to Detroit and started studying at the Center for Creative Studies. The day he graduated he was offered a job in car design. He accepted and a few years later went to Ford Motor Company.

Mr. Prozzi says the young man in China should follow his heart.

ANTHONY PROZZI: “My advice to him is to take that leap of faith and find a great school. Send them your portfolio. Because the advisers there will guide him and be able to really nourish the talent that his has within. Because he has an engineering background that gives him an edge, because he’ll understand how things come together.”

Mr. Prozzi says he was very excited about being back in school, and exchanging ideas with people who shared his interests. And he loves car design, like our writer.

ANTHONY PROZZI: “He sort of said this in his letter, that, when he sketches, it’s very liberating. And the whole process of designing and creating, there’s a freedom involved in that. You really almost lose yourself in the process.”

We hope that helps our writer from China chases his car design career. And we hope you all keep writing to our relationship blog at You can also send us an email to Put relationship in the subject line and tells us you age, sex and country.


Bonnie Raitt's "Slipstream"

JUNE SIMMS: Musician Bonnie Raitt is back after a long break from recording. Her new album, “Slipstream” comes seven years after her last release. But, her voice and guitar sound as sure as ever.

Shirley Griffith plays some of the new music and brings us up to date about the performer.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Bonnie Raitt’s recording career began in nineteen seventy-one with her album, “Bonnie Raitt.” She was just twenty-two years old. Critics immediately recognized her great singing skills and guitar work. She was good at blues, rock, and country.

Bonnie Raitt performing at the Grammy Awards in February

Bonnie Raitt performing at the Grammy Awards in February

Forty years later, Bonnie Raitt still sounds pure and fresh. And she can give old songs new life like no one else. “Slipstream” includes a version of a song by Gerry Rafferty from nineteen seventy-eight. Raitt adds a reggae beat to “Right Down the Line,” for a thoroughly modern sound.


Two Bob Dylan songs can also be found on “Slipstream.” One is the bluesy “Million Miles.” The other is this heartbreaking love song, “Standing in the Doorway.”


“Slipstream” is the first release on Bonnie Raitt’s own label, Redwing Records. She told the New York Times that it was best to record on her own terms. “I like to have my freedom,” she said. She shares production credit with her friend, producer and songwriter, Joe Henry. (MUSIC: “You Can’t Fail Me Now”)

Bonnie Raitt is well known for her slide guitar work. We leave you with an excellent example, “Ain't Gonna Let You Go,” from “Slipstream.”


JUNE SIMMS: I’m June Simms. Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


Contributing: Alan Silverman

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