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Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.
Today’s special guest is Jenisha Watts, a senior editor who worked on our Inheritance series exploring “lost Black history” and who recently brought Too $hort and E-40 together to talk about the too-frequent killings in hip-hop. Jenisha first fell into a Viola Davis trance watching Fences, is a proud member of the Beyhive, and cried in her living room watching season three of Love Is Blind.
But first, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:
Culture Survey: Jenisha Watts
An actor I would watch in anything: Viola Davis. I remember watching her on Broadway in Fences and falling into a Viola Davis trance. I left the play wanting to apply the same kind of excellence to my own craft. And I’ll never forget the scene on How to Get Away With Murder where her character, Annalise Keating, removes all her makeup and takes off her wig, revealing her natural, untamed kinky hair. It was as if Davis was giving America a peek into the interior world of Black women. [Related: The Woman King is an epic war film that complicates ‘good versus evil.’]
Best work of nonfiction I’ve recently read: 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 uneducated poor white people. What I love about this book is that it places Black people in Appalachia history.
An author I will read anything by: Jason Reynolds. He’s the king of young-adult writers but a poet at his core. I devoured his essay in You Are Your Best Thing, by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown. I admire his ability to experiment with different forms of storytelling and the level of proficiency and brilliance he brings to each book. I was on maternity leave when Ain’t Burned All the Bright arrived, and I was just blown away by the artwork and his words. He’s someone who, I think, is beamed from another creative planet to just generously bless us Earth people with his work. Kinda like LeBron James and basketball.
A quiet song that I love, and a loud song that I love: Quiet: “Never Knew Me,” by Joseph Nevels. Loud: “Count Me Out,” by Kendrick Lamar. I attended Kendrick’s concert at Capital One Arena this year, and I don’t remember ever touching my seat. The show was like movable art. [Related: The impossible ambition of Kendrick Lamar’s new album]
A musical artist who means a lot to me: I’m a proud member of the Beyhive. I’m in awe of Beyoncé’s ability to push herself to the absolute max, and she continues to outdo herself time and time again. Renaissance is a perfect example of her endless range. [Related: Beyoncé’s Renaissance is a big, gay mess.]
The upcoming concert I’m most looking forward to: Beyoncé, of course! She’s likely the only artist for whom I’d use all of my savings to pay for a front-row ticket. Don’t tell my husband.
The last museum show that I loved: Does the National Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C., count? My son loved waving at himself while sitting in front of the gigantic mirrors. While inside the Smithsonian Castle, we also got to look at 3-D-printed statues of women scientists at the #IfThenSheCan exhibit. So that was exciting!
Something I loved as a teenager and still love: Jagged Little Pill, by Alanis Morissette. I was in high school when my friend loaned me the album. I had a gray CD player where I’d play the scratched-up disc, 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 recently reread: The magazine recently published an essay by Haruki Murakami, “Where My Characters Come From,” and I was inspired to reread The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. A friend recommended the novel after I experienced a terrible heartbreak in college, so it was interesting to pull it from my bookshelf and see the various passages that I underlined while trying to mend my broken heart. It was also refreshing to disappear from reality for a stretch—especially as a parent. [Related: Who you’re reading when you read Haruki Murakami]
A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: Caitlin Dickerson’s investigation on the U.S. government’s family-separation policy. I’m still haunted by two lines from the story: “Jennifer Leon, a teacher at Bethany, was at the office one day when the private company that transports children from the border delivered a baby girl ‘like an Amazon package.’ The baby was wearing a dirty diaper; her face was crusted with mucus.” I had to stop reading that investigation so many times, because the details were so gutting, but the story has stayed with me—which is a result of Caitlin’s incredible work as a reporter and brilliant writer. She is a ruthless journalist. Selfishly, I’m proud to call her a colleague. [Related: The secret history of family separation]
My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: Instagram! I follow this account called Black Twitter Threads, and it never disappoints. I’m laughing thinking about the foolishness I’ve come across 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 watch The Bear and also demanded that I check out Netflix’s A Trip to Infinity, which is a documentary featuring mathematicians, philosophers, and physicists around the world trying to explain infinity and its complex consequences for the universe. I still can’t wrap my mind around how 400 billion years is nothing compared with 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, please note that Amanda Mull wrote an article explaining “Why America Loves Love Is Blind,” so I’m not alone in appreciating trash television. I cried while watching an episode in Season 3 of the reality show, in which 15 single men and 15 women attempt 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 mom explained through tears why Bartise wasn’t good enough for her daughter. I don’t know why that particular episode hit me, but whatever it was … I was crying in my living room.
A poem that I return to: I’ve lost count of how many times I have read “He Never Had It Made,” by Nikky Finney. When I was pregnant with my son, I’d play an old YouTube video of Finney reading the poem upon the investiture of her father, the late Ernest A. Finney Jr., who was the first Black chief justice of the state of South Carolina. I can still hear her words: “never promised to him at his broken bones of a birth / the making of this man’s silk deeds / came straight from polyester dreams.”
The Week Ahead
- Avatar: The Way of Water, the 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 History, a TV-series continuation of the National Treasure movies (Premiering on Disney+ on Wednesday)
Harry and Meghan Are Playing a Whole Different Game
By Helen Lewis
Fame at last! Two minutes into Netflix’s Harry & Meghan documentary, the headline of an article I wrote in January 2020 flashed on the screen. “Harry and Meghan Won’t Play the Game,” it said. Observing the departure of the duke and duchess of Sussex from the Royal Family—and from Britain itself—the story declared that “no royal has ever taken on the press quite so directly, much though they might have wanted to.”
By that, I meant that Harry and Meghan had rejected the traditional bargain between the British royals and the media: The press follows you around, and you have to put up with it, because it’s part of the job. Now, three years later, we can see the new rules by which Harry and Meghan are playing. This six-part documentary is the tentpole of their reported $100 million multiyear production deal with Netflix. The director, Liz Garbus, is notionally independent, but the show makes frequent references to the couple telling “our story.” The interviewees in the first three episodes, which were released today, are mostly personal friends.
More in Culture
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- Decoding the most important songwriter of our time
- The companies that are killing creativity
- The 10 best films of 2022
- T. S. Eliot saw all this coming.
- What made Neil Young’s voice irresistible
- Will Smith isn’t the main reason to avoid Emancipation.
- What Noah Baumbach gets right about White Noise
Read the latest culture essay by Jordan Calhoun in Humans Being.
Catch Up on The Atlantic
Check out some hopeful photos from 2022.
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Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.