Visionary Black television, Sicilian fennel dumplings, a page-turning mystery, and more.

Digest #10 - August 15th 2020

Visionary Black television, Sicilian fennel dumplings, a page-turning mystery, and more.
The Seven - A weekly digest by Keeya-Lee Ayre

Digest #10, August 15th 2020


One

I wouldn’t normally recommend a show having only seen its pilot, but I started David Makes Man on Friday and I’m so excited about it. In a single episode it manages to confront poverty, socioeconomic mobility, Black American masculinity, identity, loyalty, family obligation, child abuse, colorism, and more. But the issues aren’t remotely forced. They unfold, authentically, from the perspective and daily experiences of the central character, David. Writing in such a complex way, but making it seem effortless, transcends skill: it’s an art form. Beyond its substance, it’s also a stunningly beautiful show. When you watch it, you feel like you’re peering into a special, secret universe. There’s magical realism, vibrant shots, an experimental score, and a slow, confident pacing that certainly doesn’t dawdle but doesn’t hurry through anything. I haven’t actually seen television this beautiful before AND it has compelling characters with a plot that draws you in. I'm utterly delighted, but not surprised, by how good this show is. It's written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the Academy Award winning film Moonlight, and its executive producer include Oprah and Michael B Jordan. 2020 may have brought a lot of terrible things, but it also seems to be the year of astoundingly good Black television. It's already been renewed for a second season, I'm glad to say, since one episode in I’m already all the way here for it.

Promotional poster for the show, from the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

Two

I subscribe to Misfits Market, which, for those who don't know, is a (somewhat controversial) service that sends 'ugly' organic produce from farms and suppliers directly to consumers; but you don't have any say in what you're given. Though I'm usually delighted by figuring out how to cook with whatever shows up, we received a large fennel bulb a few weeks ago. I side-eyed it, and put it into the vegetable compartment of our fridge, with no real plans to use it. Fast forward to Thursday this week: I opened the fridge to find four huge fennel bulbs staring back at me, after several straight weeks of their arrivals. I'm not a fan of aniseed flavors. So, I found myself thinking well what the f%&k am I supposed to do with these? Aha, I thought, Ottolenghi will save me! I've never met an Ottolenghi recipe I didn't like. I googled and found this gem, an article he wrote for The Guardian called - yes really - "Yotam Ottolenghi’s fennel recipes". I swear he has never let me down. I made the Sicilian fennel and parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce (sans parmesan, as I'm still nursing and Leo's cow's milk allergy hasn't gone anywhere). They were so easy and so good, I now am actually looking forward to the next surprise bulb.

The wonderful dumplings that weren't actually aniseedy at all. Photograph by Louise Hagger for the Guardian.

Three

I finished reading A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight on Friday night. It's a murder mystery that was slow to take off, and it took a few shorter reading sessions for me to finally get into the plot. But, once I was immersed, I couldn't stop. I got to the end by furiously flipping through each page, despite my exhaustion from a long work week, and staying up until 1am with a torch under the covers. For its genre, which can be often be gimmicky and silly, it's well written. It jumps between character perspectives and legal documents, allowing readers to put the puzzle together from seemly disparate pieces of evidence. Indeed, a lot of the plot revolves around themes related to personal success (or rather, external social perception): careers, parenting, and centrally what makes "a good marriage". The ending, given the completely unexpected twists and turns, was a genuine shock. An enjoyably, yet annoyingly implausible one. It's set in Brooklyn, and I mean honestly, how would all these random people secretly know each other in a city of millions. Putting that aside, I was satisfied with the ending and I genuinely never saw it coming.

Cover of the novel, published by Harper.

Four

Do you know what deepfakes are? To simplify it, they’re AI-generated videos that are created to convincingly impersonate people. They are also are a powerful tool with the potential to accelerate the erosion of democracy. If you think I’m being extra, this video from The Economist lays out the essentials in under six minutes. It introduces an interesting concept called “mental antibodies”: the idea that if we have enough information and exposure, we can inoculate ourselves against fake news. Pay close attention to the entire video, right up to the final screen. I don’t want to give you any spoilers so just trust me; it’s worth your time no matter how much you already know.

A close-captioned screenshot from the video.

Five

I recently discovered this fantastic podcast from the writers of the BBC comedy quiz show QI, called No Such Thing As A Fish. In the show, the four hosts discuss interesting trivia they've discovered that week. The most recent episode, number 334, "No Such Thing as a Babysitter's Trade Union", discusses a topic that's been on my mind a lot lately: drive-in movies. In a COVID-19 landscape where our household takes social distancing extremely seriously, the activity keeps popping into my mind as a contender, so I was intrigued to learn about their history. Did you know they were originally marketed as an inclusive alternative to cinemas? The elderly and people with physical disabilities didn't need to leave their accessible cars. Larger people didn't need to worry about fitting into cinema seats. Parents who were usually excluded from cinemas could bring their children. The title refers to babysitters who protested on-site because they believed that drive-ins were ruining their livelihoods - though they agreed to cease after being given free hot dogs and movie tickets. I've given a bit of this episode away, but not everything, it's a much more involved story than my synopsis lets on. And that's only fact one!

The artwork for No Such Thing As A Fish episode 334, "No Such Thing as a Babysitter's Trade Union".

Six

I recently watched the film The Assistant, which follows a day in the life of Jane, a college graduate and aspiring producer working as a junior assistant in a toxic environment. She has a Harvey Weinstein-esque boss, who we never actually see pictured. The film shows how abuse unfolds in small, seemingly-mundane actions, and how enabling environments function on a daily basis. As someone who has, as a very young woman, worked entry level desk jobs in unhealthy, male-dominated environments... this film felt absolutely too real. But in an incredibly important way, and it's very validating to see a story like this being told on screen. I love slow, quiet, beautifully shot films, but I know they’re not for everyone. If you like slow pacing, and delicate plots with subtleties that point to much larger social ills - watch it. If that doesn't sound like your thing, I'll definitely say to skip it. In the US, it's currently available on Hulu.

A still from the film.

Seven

This week, I'm sending you off with something that my friend Francois sent me on Instagram this week. It is an absolutely beautiful rendition of Swami Jr’s “Bom Dia” by Brazilian singer Vanessa Moreno, and Mozambican singer Lenna Bahule. It brought a huge smile to my face. If it makes you smile too, please pass it on!

A still from the video.

The Seven is a weekly digest sharing a collection of seven carefully curated stories, recipes, images, movies, essays, books, songs and other content. Thoughtfully contextualised and passed along with consideration, for your mental nourishment.


Every month, I'll be running a book giveaway that is free to enter for all subscribers. For August, I'm giving away a copy of Malaka Gharib's I Was Their American Dream, the graphic memoir discussed in digest #7. If you win, you will receive either a paperback (posted anywhere in the world for free) or an ebook: your choice. Enter here.


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