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Meet Anh Phoong, L.A.’s latest billboard celebrity, serving looks with Humberto Leon

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Meet Anh Phoong, L.A.’s latest billboard celebrity, serving looks with Humberto Leon

Anh Phoong stands in front of one of her L.A. billboards. Phoong wears Oori Ott bodysuit and shorts, Firmé Atelier jacket.

(Kanya Iwana/For The Times)

Anh Phoong isn’t afraid of heights. She has a vivid memory of herself in college dancing on top of a nightclub speaker. It’s an image that her friends won’t let her live down to this day, telling her, “Anh, all we remember you as is the girl on speakers.”

Now, she’s the woman on billboards.

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If her name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, it will when it’s said in a sentence: “Something wrong? Call Anh Phoong.” I first saw the personal injury attorney’s blue-and-yellow billboards last November. They struck me in a way that no other lawyer billboard has. There was a campiness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, so I snapped a photo and posted it on my Instagram story. “This is such a serve,” I typed. Immediately, other friends replied, also curious about this Asian woman who was giving Jacoby & Meyers and Shen Yun a run for their money.

Six months later I’m meeting Phoong for dinner. She’s in L.A. for her goddaughter’s college graduation and wants Asian food. Phoong is Chinese Vietnamese, which means I’m twice more likely to disappoint her with restaurant recommendations. And so, we meet at Lasita in Chinatown, a Filipino rotisserie spot that I know we’ll both love.

Phoong tells me a story over dinner. Earlier that day, Phoong and her assistant, Linh Lee, had been walking in downtown L.A., and just as they were about to cross the street, Lee saw her boss’s advert on the back of a bus. When she tried to get Phoong’s attention, she realized that it wasn’t Anh Phoong on the bus — it was Glen Powell. “Keep your hands clean. Call Dean,” the sign read. The actor was wearing a red sweater reminiscent of Phoong’s outfit in her billboards, standing in the middle of a blue-and-yellow sign. At the bottom corner, Lee noticed the Netflix logo and then it clicked: It was a parody poster promoting the streaming service’s new film “Hit Man.

Anh Phoong wears Gao top and skirt.

Anh Phoong wears Gao top and skirt.

“We weren’t sure if it was coincidental that [Netflix’s] billboards looked exactly like one of Anh’s, but after reading their slogan, we were sure it was an imitation,” Lee says. Phoong adds, “I’m flattered by that. The best compliment is when people try to imitate you.”

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Her catchphrase has a specific cadence — one that easily evokes a laugh after every recitation. It’s a simple rhyme that Phoong’s husband came up with during a vacation in 2016. The couple spitballed a few ideas on their cruise until they landed on her now-famous slogan, which she initially thought was “so stupid, it’s not going to work.”

Little did she know that the catchphrase would later catapult her Sacramento firm into the pop culture zeitgeist. When businesses pulled back on advertising spending during the pandemic, Phoong noticed all the empty discounted billboards in California. She took advantage of the bundles and expanded her business to the Bay Area. Last November, the “Queen of NorCal,” as she’s dubbed, finally set her sights on the City of Angels.

While most attorneys would slap a lawsuit, Phoong clapped back by taking over L.A.

“What started happening in Northern California was a lot of the L.A. lawyers were coming up here,” Phoong explains. “They would pretend to be me. They’re buying my name, buying Google ads.” One day, Phoong says, a man stormed into her office claiming to be her client. She had no record of him, but he insisted that he was telling the truth. After looking through his contract, Phoong discovered that the man called another firm’s number from a Google ad, which was posing as Phoong Law.

“Don’t buy my name and tell people you’re me. That’s straight up fraud,” she says. While most attorneys would slap a lawsuit, Phoong clapped back by taking over L.A.

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Almost immediately, her advertisements took the city by storm. “Just saw an Anh Phoong billboard in L.A… she’s EVOLVING,” someone wrote on X. “No single person or company has ever had a better billboard marketing campaign than her, and it needs to be studied in school,” TikToker Ben Trinh said in a video.

I didn’t realize until I moved here from the Midwest that Angelenos stan lawyers as if they were celebrities. When famed personal injury attorney Larry H. Parker died in March, there was an outpouring of tributes on social media. The 75-year-old lawyer was an early adopter of litigation advertising on TV, and became known for his catchphrase, “We’ll fight for you.”

Anh Phoong wears Oori Ott top and Leeann Huang skirt.
Photos for Image story on Anh Phoong and LA billboards.

Anh Phoong wears Oori Ott top and Leeann Huang skirt.

“Not everyone knows who the big movie or pop star is, yet we all know who the local injury lawyer is,” Alfonso Gonzalez Jr. tells me. The visual artist, who started his career as a billboard painter, recently closed out his installation at Jeffrey Deitch’s “At the Edge of the Sun” exhibit. Gonzalez hand-painted real local injury lawyer advertisements on over 30 canvases, from Adriana’s Insurance to James Wang.

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“The way we navigate the sprawling landscape on streets and freeways via car, combined with the influence of the movie industry, creates the perfect environment for the billboard format,” he explains.“There’s a long history of hand-painted billboards in Hollywood, primarily for movie posters, but also for local icons such as Angelyne,” Gonzalez adds.

In 1984, a series of billboards went up around town depicting a blond woman in suggestive poses. The only text was her name, Angelyne, emblazoned in hot pink letters. Nobody knew who this mysterious blondie was, but her billboards attracted the public’s attention — leading to offers from film studios and magazines. Gonzalez, who apprenticed under Angelyne’s original billboard painters, thinks of some of these lawyers as present-day Angelynes. But he also critiques the influx of personal injury billboards in his work by “humorously confronting marketing tactics such as fear-mongering and appealing to specific demographics.”

“I don’t want to intimidate people because a lot of the time you can’t be real with your lawyer”

— Anh Phoong

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Phoong says she’s not in the business of instilling fear. “I don’t want to intimidate people because a lot of the time you can’t be real with your lawyer,” she tells me over our plates of pork belly lechon and Napa caesar salad. “Anybody can get into a car accident … but you don’t know who you can go to except for the white guys.” She knows she doesn’t fit in, adding, “What you would typically see was an older white male; dominant, a powerhouse, and straight-faced. We wanted to be different.”

The first decision she made was to not wear a suit in her billboards. “I just want to be real; I want people to see me,” she says. In her first billboard, she was intentional about wearing a black dress because it felt “safe.” Phoong wanted to incorporate more of her personal style, telling me her favorite designers include Gucci, Hermès, Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana. Eventually, she added more colors to her billboard outfits, later donning a burgundy and blue dress that even inspired a drag look.

Alpha Andromeda has been doing drag in the Bay Area for years, but one particular performance last summer caught Phoong’s attention. The drag queen was in a trench coat performing to “Vroom Vroom” by Charli XCX on stage. Then, the lights went off and came back on. Alpha Andromeda was now in a blue dress impersonating Phoong, lip-syncing to her TV commercial intercut with Blondie’s “Call Me.”

A woman in white stands in front of green bushes.

Anh Phoong wears Koredoko top and Oori Ott shorts.

“That billboard that you pass on your commute everyday? That’s drag now!” Alpha Andromeda tells me.

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Being on a billboard wasn’t something Phoong was necessarily prepared for. “Struggling with teeth and being a young girl not feeling pretty enough, and then putting myself on a billboard? It’s a lot,” she says. “It’s not like ‘Oh, my God, I love myself so much.’ I was scared as hell.” She understands that the billboards are more than just about herself; it’s about representation. “The majority of my clients are minorities,” she explains. “I think they identify with me, and that’s who I want.” When Phoong Law traces their intake calls, their billboards are the No. 1 driving factor — and people aren’t just calling about legal services.

“I had a girl in Oakland, she was 12 years old, and her aunt reached out,” Phoong shares. The woman asked if the attorney had any merch to send her niece for her birthday. Phoong didn’t have any merch at the time, so instead she invited the girl out to lunch. (Since that encounter, however, the attorney is now on a shirt.)

As our dinner’s winding down, our server comes back with a slice of calamansi cream pie and recognizes who he’s been tending to all night. “Oh my God, you’re Anh Phoong!” he exclaims.

Photos for Image story on Anh Phoong and LA billboards.

We all laugh at the interaction, a sure sign that Phoong has officially seeped into pop culture — our modern-day Angelyne, decked out in Gucci.

In early May, Phoong finally met Alpha Andromeda. The attorney found herself back at the club for the reopening of the Stud, a historic queer bar in San Francisco that closed during the pandemic. There was already buzz that Phoong would be making an appearance that night. “This is the absolute CAMPIEST thing I’ve ever seen,” someone commented on the bar’s Instagram flier featuring the lawyer. A line began to form, and any bystander would’ve thought Lady Gaga was in the house.

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Phoong didn’t expect that reaction at all. “Is she even a lawyer? She’s just out there having fun,” she worried, telling me that she almost didn’t go that night. But just like the times she put herself on a speaker or her first billboard, Phoong told herself that night, “You know what? F— it. I want to do this.”

Production: Mere Studios
Makeup: Daphne Chantell Del Rosario
Hair: Adrian Arredondo
Photo assistant: Jeremy Sinclair
Styling assistant: Kelly Sachiko Page

Phillipe Thao is an entertainment and culture writer. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Teen Vogue, InStyle and Catapult.

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NBA signs media rights deal with Disney, NBC and Amazon, leaving TNT behind

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NBA signs media rights deal with Disney, NBC and Amazon, leaving TNT behind

An NBA logo is seen on an official game ball before a game, Feb. 1, 2014, in New York. The NBA said Wednesday that it is not accepting Warner Bros. Discovery’s $1.8 billion per year offer to continue its longtime relationship with the league and therefore has entered into a deal with Amazon Prime Video.

Jason DeCrow/AP


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Jason DeCrow/AP

The NBA signed its 11-year media rights deal with Disney, NBC and Amazon Prime Video on Wednesday after saying it was not accepting Warner Bros. Discovery’s $1.8 billion per year offer to continue its longtime relationship with the league.

The media rights deals were approved by the league’s Board of Governors last week and will bring the league about $76 billion over those 11 years.

WBD had five days to match a part of those deals and said it was exercising its right to do so, but its offer was not considered a true match by the NBA. That means the 2024-25 season will be the last for TNT after a nearly four-decade run.

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“Warner Bros. Discovery’s most recent proposal did not match the terms of Amazon Prime Video’s offer and, therefore, we have entered into a long-term arrangement with Amazon,” the league said Wednesday. “Throughout these negotiations, our primary objective has been to maximize the reach and accessibility of our games for our fans. Our new arrangement with Amazon supports this goal by complementing the broadcast, cable and streaming packages that are already part of our new Disney and NBCUniversal arrangements. All three partners have also committed substantial resources to promote the league and enhance the fan experience.”

What Amazon Prime Video gets

Amazon Prime Video will carry games on Friday nights, select Saturday afternoons and Thursday night doubleheaders which will begin after the conclusion of Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football” schedule. Prime Video will also take over the NBA League Pass package from WBD.

“The digital opportunities with Amazon align perfectly with the global interest in the NBA,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “And Prime Video’s massive subscriber base will dramatically expand our ability to reach our fans in new and innovative ways.”

The package also includes at least one game on Black Friday and the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game of the NBA Cup.

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“Over the past few years, we have worked hard to bring the very best of sports to Prime Video and to continue to innovate on the viewing experience,” said Jay Marine, global head of sports for Prime Video. “We’re thrilled to now add the NBA to our growing sports lineup, including the NFL, UEFA Champions League, NASCAR, NHL, WNBA, NWSL, Wimbledon, and more. We are grateful to partner with the NBA, and can’t wait to tip-off in 2025.”

ESPN and ABC keep the NBA Finals

ESPN and ABC will keep the league’s top package, which includes the NBA Finals. ABC has carried the finals since 2003.

ESPN/ABC will combine for nearly 100 games during the regular season. More than 20 games will air on ABC, mainly on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, while ESPN will have up to 60 games, mostly on Wednesday nights with some Friday games. ABC and ESPN will also combine for five games on Christmas Day and have exclusive national coverage of the final day of the regular season.

During the playoffs, ESPN and ABC will have approximately 18 games in the first two rounds each year and one of the two conference finals series in all but one year of the agreement.

NBC becomes a second network partner

The return of NBC, which carried NBA games from 1990 through 2002, gives the NBA two broadcast network partners for the first time.

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NBC will have up to 100 regular-season games, including on Sunday night once the NFL season has ended. It will air games on Tuesdays throughout the regular season, while a Monday night doubleheader would be exclusively streamed on Peacock.

NBC will also have the All-Star Game and All-Star Saturday Night. During the playoffs, NBC and/or Peacock will have up to 28 games the first two rounds, with at least half on NBC.

NBC and Amazon will also carry one of the two conference finals series in six of the 11 years on a rotating basis. NBC will have a conference final in 2026-27 followed by Amazon the next season.

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President Biden Addresses Nation After Dropping Out, Time For New Generation

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These dictators are different. 'Autocracy, Inc.' explains how

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These dictators are different. 'Autocracy, Inc.' explains how

Naval vessels participate in a Taiwanese military drill near the naval port in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan on Jan. 27, 2016.

Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images


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Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

The United States and other major democracies face the most challenging geopolitical landscape in decades. The crises include a bloody battle for land in Eastern Europe that challenges the principle of territorial sovereignty, the risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the coming years and a brutal war in Gaza that could still spread.

We are in a new era, but how do we define it, and what is the fundamental threat?

Several recent books tackle this crucial question. New York Times White House and National Security correspondent David Sanger calls this historical moment “New Cold Wars.” He sees the U.S. defending the West against a rising China and resurgent Russia. CNN anchor and Chief National Security analyst Jim Sciutto calls it “The Return of Great Powers.”

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In her new book, the Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum takes a different, more sweeping view. We are not in Cold War 2.0, she argues, but a battle for the future world order against what she calls “Autocracy, Inc., The Dictators Who Want to Rule the World.

Autocracy, Inc., is not a club. There are no meetings like SPECTRE in a James Bond movie, where villains give progress reports on their kleptocratic gains and attacks on democracy. Instead, Applebaum writes, it is a very loosely knit mix of regimes, ranging from theocracies to monarchies, that operate more like companies. What unites these dictators isn’t an ideology, but something simpler and more prosaic: a laser-focus on preserving their wealth, repressing their people and maintaining power at all costs.

These regimes can help each other in ways large and small, Applebaum writes.

Countries such as Zimbabwe, Belarus and Cuba voted in favor of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at the United Nations in 2014. Russia gave loans to Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro, while Venezuelan police use Chinese-made water cannons, tear gas and surveillance equipment to attack and track street protesters.

Of course, U.S. companies have also supplied authoritarian regimes. When covering the crushing of the democracy movement in Bahrain during the Arab Spring, I rummaged through bins of empty rubber bullet canisters made by a company in Pennsylvania.

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More recently and more alarming, though, have been China’s tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin’s June visit to North Korea, which the U.S. accuses of supplying weapons to Russia.

But Autocracy Inc., uses more than conventional arms to attack democracies. In order to retain power and build more wealth, autocrats also undermine the idea of democracy as a viable choice for their own people. Fearful of its former Soviet republics drifting further West – see Ukraine – Russia and its three main TV channels broadcast negative news about Europe an average of 18 times a day during one three-year stretch.

Autocracy, Inc.

China extends its message through local media and helps other dictatorships. After satellite networks dropped Russia Today – RT – following the invasion of Ukraine, China’s StarTimes satellite picked up RT and put it back into African households, where it could spread Moscow’s anti-Western, anti-LGBTQ message, which resonates in many African nations.

The goal is not to persuade people that autocracy is the answer, but to encourage cynicism about the alternative. Applebaum says the message is this: You may not like our society, but at least we are strong and the democratic world is weak, degenerate, divided and dying.  

How did the world end up here?

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Applebaum is strong on how Western misjudgment and greed enabled and empowered autocrats over the decades. A working theory in Washington and Berlin was that greater economic integration and dependency between the West and China and Russia would serve as a glue and deterrent, making conflict too costly. But Europe’s dependence on Russian gas predictably backfired. Moscow used it as a source of blackmail following the invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, corporate America’s heavy investment in China helped fuel the country’s extraordinary economic rise, but didn’t lead to the desired political results. Instead of becoming a more liberal, Western-friendly regime, the Communist Party became a more powerful rival. Among other things, Beijing used its new wealth to build islands in the South China Sea and a blue-water navy to challenge America’s.

At just over two hundred pages, Applebaum’s book is slender. She might have done more to detail the boomerang effect of globalization. When American companies exported jobs to China, they cut labor costs, boosted profits and lowered prices for consumers. Those business decisions devastated communities built on everything from auto plants to furniture factories.

That sowed the seeds for the populist backlash in 2016 that continues to roil the country to the benefit of America’s authoritarian opponents.

What is to be done? First, make life harder for dictators.

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Applebaum says democratic nations have to make it more difficult for kleptocrats to stash their money overseas. She suggests an international coalition of treasury and finance ministry officials across Europe, Asia and North America work to strengthen transparency and tighten laws together.

This will be tough. Kleptocrats make lucrative clients for lawyers, financiers and real estate agents. One of London’s unofficial industries is money-laundering. And, in a complex political landscape, it can be useful for democracies to work with corrupt regimes to achieve bigger goals.

Another way to combat dictatorship is for democracies to deliver at home, as Charles Dunst argues in Defeating the Dictators: How Democracy Can Prevail in the Age of the Strongman. Political grid-lock, income inequality, stagnant wages and rising crime can provide fertile ground for populists.

Anti-incumbency and accountability have stood out as themes during this epic year of elections as voters punished long-serving parties, such as the Conservatives in the UK and the African National Congress in South Africa.

More broadly, Applebaum says, democratic countries need to reduce their economic dependence on authoritarian rivals. Europe’s reliance on Russian gas was an embarrassing and costly lesson. Minerals could prove another one for the United States.

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Today, the U.S. only produces 4% of the world’s lithium and 13% of its cobalt, while China processes more than 80% of all critical minerals.

With the world’s next geopolitical fault-line perhaps lying in the waters around the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea, this kind of math just doesn’t figure.

Frank Langfitt is NPR’s Global Democracy correspondent. Previously, he spent nearly two decades reporting overseas, based in Beijing, Nairobi, Shanghai and London. In February 2022, he covered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

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