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Hello and welcome to the cultural Sunday edition of the Daily, in which a Atlantic the writer reveals what entertains them.
Today’s special guest is Jenisha Watts, editor who work on our Legacy Series exploring “the lost black story” and who recently brought together Too $hort and E-40 to talk about the all-too-common murders in hip-hop. Jenisha first fell into a trance of Viola Davis while watching Fencesis proud to be a member of Beyhive and cried in her living room watching the third season of Love is blind.
But first, here are three Sunday readings from Atlantic:
Cultural Survey: Jenisha Watts
An actor I would watch in anything: Viola Davis. I remember seeing her on Broadway in Fences and fall into a Viola Davis trance. I left the room wanting to apply the same kind of excellence to my own craft. And I’ll never forget the scene on How to escape murder where her character, Annalize Keating, strips off all her makeup and takes off her wig, revealing her natural, wild frizzy hair. It was as if Davis was giving America a glimpse into the inner world of black women. [Related: The Woman King is an epic war film that complicates ‘good versus evil.’]
Best non-fiction work I’ve read recently: The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns, by William H. Turner. As a Kentuckian, I remember hearing about the people of Appalachia, but it was always the poor, uneducated white people. What I love about this book is that it places black people in Appalachian history.
An author by whom I will read anything: Jason Reynolds. He is the king of young adult writers but a poet at heart. I devoured his essay in you are your best thing, by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown. I admire his ability to experiment with different forms of storytelling and the level of skill and brilliance he brings to each book. I was on maternity leave when Ain’t burnt all the shine happened, and I was blown away by the artwork and its lyrics. He is someone who I think is beamed from another creative planet to generously bless us, the people of Earth, with his work. A bit like LeBron James and basketball.
A quiet song that I like, and a loud song that I like: Silent: “I never knew myself”, by Joseph Nevels. Strong: “Count Me Out”, by Kendrick Lamar. I attended Kendrick’s concert at Capital One Arena this year, and I don’t remember touching my seat. The show was like moving art. [Related: The impossible ambition of Kendrick Lamar’s new album]
A musical artist who means a lot to me: I am a proud member of the Beyhive. I’m impressed with Beyoncé’s ability to push herself to the limit, and she continues to push herself over and over again. Renaissance is a perfect example of its infinite range. [Related: Beyoncé’s Renaissance is a big, gay mess.]
The next concert I’m most looking forward to: Beyoncé, of course! She’s probably the only artist I’d use all my savings to pay for a front row ticket. Don’t tell my husband.
The last museum exhibition that I loved: Does the National Children’s Museum in Washington, DC count? My son loved greeting himself sitting in front of the gigantic mirrors. Inside the Smithsonian Castle, we also got to see 3D printed statues of female scientists at the #IfThenSheCan exhibit. So that was exciting!
Something I loved when I was a teenager and still love: Little shredded pill, by Alanis Morissette. I was in high school when my friend lent me the album. I had a gray CD player on which I played the scratched record, hoping it wouldn’t skip. The song “You Learn” is still my anthem. [Related: How Alanis Morissette’s music inspired a Trump-era musical]
Something I read recently: The magazine recently published an essay by Haruki Murakami, “Where do my characters come from?», and I wanted to reread The chronicle of birds to go up. A friend recommended the novel to me after going through terrible heartbreak in college, so it was interesting to pull it out of my library and see the various passages I underlined while trying to mend my broken heart. It was also refreshing to disappear from reality for a while, especially as a parent. [Related: Who you’re reading when you read Haruki Murakami]
A favorite story I read in Atlantic: by Caitlin Dickerson investigating the US government’s family separation policy. I’m still haunted by two story lines: “Jennifer Leon, a teacher at Bethany, was in the office one day when the private company that transports children from the border delivered a little girl ‘like an Amazon package.’ The baby was wearing a dirty diaper; his face was covered in mucus. I had to stop reading this investigation so many times, because the details were so disappointing, but the story stuck with me, which is the result of Caitlin’s incredible work as a journalist and brilliant writer. She’s a ruthless journalist. Selfishly, I’m proud to call her a colleague. [Related: The secret history of family separation]
My favorite way to waste time on my phone: Instagram! I am this account called Black Twitter Feeds, and it never disappoints. I laugh thinking about the nonsense I encountered on the site.
A good recommendation I recently received: My friend Aaron Holmes is like a walking cultural encyclopedia, so whatever he recommends, I always try to watch. He told me to look the bear and also demanded that I check Netflix A journey to infinity, which is a documentary featuring mathematicians, philosophers and physicists from around the world trying to explain infinity and its complex consequences for the universe. I still can’t understand how 400 billion years is nothing compared to infinity. Just wild. [Related: TV’s best new show is a study of masculinity in crisis.]
The last thing that made me cry: Before I tell you, Amanda Mull wrote an article explaining “Why America Loves Love is blind”, so I am not the only one who appreciates trashy television. I cried watching an episode of season 3 of the reality show, in which 15 single men and 15 women try to get engaged before meeting in person. My favorite couple was Bartise and Nancy. So when Bartise said “no” to marrying Nancy on their wedding day, I found myself sobbing. I cried even more when Nancy’s mother explained through tears why Bartise wasn’t good enough for her daughter. I don’t know why this particular episode hit me, but regardless…I was crying in my living room.
A poem to which I return: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read”He never didby Nikky Finney. When I was pregnant with my son, I played an old YouTube video of Finney reading the poem at the inauguration of his father, the late Ernest A. Finney Jr., who was the state’s first black chief justice. Caroline from the south. . I can still hear his words: “never promised his broken bones a birth / the making of this man’s silk deeds / came straight from polyester dreams.”
Read previous editions of Culture Survey with David French, Shirley Li, david sims, Lenika Cruz, Jordan Calhoun, Hannah Giorgisand Sophie Gilbert.
The week ahead
- Avatar: The Way of the Waterthe long-awaited sequel to James Cameron’s 2009 film (in theaters Friday)
- The season 2 finale of The White Lotus (on HBO tonight)
- National Treasure: Edge of Historya television sequel to the national treasure movies (first on Disney+ Wednesday)
Harry and Meghan are playing a whole different game
By Helen Lewis
Glory at last! Two minutes in Netflix Harry and Meghan documentary, the title of an article I had written in January 2020 flashed on the screen. “Harry and Meghan will not play along,” he said. Observing the departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from the royal family – and from Britain itself – the story said that “no royal has ever faced the press so directly, even if he could have wanted it”.
By that, I meant that Harry and Meghan had rejected the traditional bargain between the British royal family and the media: the press follows you everywhere, and you have to put up with it, because that’s part of the job. Now, three years later, we can see the new rules by which Harry and Meghan play. This six-part documentary is the mainstay of their multi-year, $100 million production deal with Netflix. The director, Liz Garbus, is nominally independent, but the series makes frequent references to the couple telling “our story”. The interviewees in the first three episodes, which released today, are mostly personal friends.
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Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.