Afrocentric splendor, mandatory chicken, "affluenza", and more.
Digest #8, August 2nd 2020
Beyoncé's Black is King, released Friday on Disney+, is a revelation. The visual accompaniment to The Lion King: The Gift, the film features several Nigerian artists I absolutely adore, like Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Wizkid and Mr Eazi. As expected, every costume choice, movement, and setting is intentional and layered with meaning. The music of The Lion King: The Gift was criticized for being heavily (almost exclusively) West African. Beyoncé has listened and paid tribute to a much wider range of African cultures visually, from the Mursi women of Ethiopia to the Himba people of Namibia. This thread by Zikhona Valela on Twitter is a great summary. This Diet Prada post also features some of the best looks. My only criticism of this film is that we never get to enjoy any individual shot for too long. We see incredibly complex and beautiful scenes that are gone as quickly as they arrived. If you've seen Beyoncé's other visual albums (Lemonade or the eponymous Beyoncé), you'll know exactly what I mean. If you're outside of the US and you can't access Disney+: I'm sorry. But when this film inevitably becomes available to you on another platform in the future, you have this absolute audiovisual splendor to look forward to.
A screenshot showing costuming from one of my favorite shots. The white- and black-clad adults and children play a human game of chess on a board in a garden, it's stunning.
If you're a chicken-eater, you have to make these roasted chicken thighs with peaches, basil and ginger. It doesn't matter how skilled (or unskilled) you are as a home chef, you can nail this. I am confident that it's so wildly easy to make that I would genuinely like to hear if it's even possible mess it up. It doesn't make complete sense on paper, but you're just going to have to trust me. The flavors are out of this world. It's fresh, seasonal (if you're in the Northern hemisphere, at least) and amazing. That's it, end of conversation. Just go make it!
Photo from Jessica at How Sweet Eats. Pictured with the thighs intact, which is how I prefer to make it. Y'all should know by now that I'm rarely a recipe puritan. This is no exception.
Today I learned about the disturbing concept of affluenza. Have you heard of it before? It's a conflation of the terms affluent and influenza (i.e. the flu) and is lauded as an affliction uniquely experienced by rich kids. The term rose to modern popularity when a Texan teenager named Ethan Couch stole two cases of beer from a Walmart store and drove his father's car with 7 people in it, speeding at 70 miles an hour (110 km/h) in a 40 (64 km/h) zone. He hit and killed Brenna Mitchell, whose car had stalled at the side of the road, and three people who came to her aid: Holly and Shelby Boyles, and Brian Jennings. Couch's blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, and he tested positive for Valium and marijuana. Despite all of this, he was given a sentence of just 10-years probation and mandated therapy after his lawyers argued he had affluenza; that he was too rich to know better and had been raised without boundaries. Classism is obvious here, but can you even imagine the treatment of a Black, or Latinx teen if they committed just a single one of the crimes of the above? Even if they were equally rich, this defense would never have worked on anyone but a white boy. I may not be entitled enough to have affluenza, but I sure feel sick hearing about it.
The four people Ethan Couch killed. Image from WFAA-TV.
Like many people, I binge watched Indian Matchmaking on Netflix pretty quickly. It's an interesting insight into what for many Indians is apparently a lived reality, and was definitely entertaining. But the show was also widely criticized by Indian people for showcasing toxic ideas, as it is underpinned by a blatant and unabashed colorism. It also leans deeply into casteism. In the opening scene of the first episode, the show's lead 'Sima Aunty from Mumbai', mentions the importance of caste, lumping it in with a number of other physical characteristics as something of importance to be regarded in a potential partner. This article by the Atlantic summarizes these issues well.
[Sima] lumps an entire social system, which assigns people to a fixed place in a hierarchy from birth, together with anodyne physical preferences. Though it’s rarely mentioned by name on the show, caste appears on almost every criteria list that Taparia’s marriage-hopefuls lay out. By coding caste in harmless phrases such as “similar backgrounds,” “shared communities,” and “respectable families,” the show does exactly what many upper-caste Indian families tend to do when discussing this fraught subject: It makes caste invisible.
The show is definitely worth watching, but with a very critical lens. As @nushkaykay said on Twitter, "I recommend it a 100% for hate-cringe-binge-watching."
Sima Aunty, center, surrounded by screenshots of different moments and characters in the show. Image from The New Indian Express.
Michelle Obama's new podcast is everything I hoped it would be. Real conversation, warm and insightful, recorded at home during quarantine. It, as we would expect, has extremely high production value. And yet, it maintains a warmth and humor that keeps it feeling entirely authentic at all times. In her first episode, Michelle is joined by her husband, President Barack Obama. Even the first few seconds make you love the show - it features outtakes of Michelle practicing the intro to the episode, with Barack making jokes about it. This is a masterclass in creating a strong hook. The episode that follows is a discussion between Michelle and Barack about their upbringings, their family and shared life. It's an obvious (and smart) angle to take for a strong launch, and it completely works. The other guests in first season are going to be the people Michelle is closest with: her mom, her brother, friends, and colleagues. The Spotify promo tells us who some of these guests will be: Conan O'Brien, Valerie Jarrett, Kelly Dibble, and more. I'm so here for it. Ready and waiting for the next episode Michelle.
Image from Spoitfy.
One of my favorite books in our home library isn't one I bought, nor was it given to me. I actually found it in the attic of our house after we bought it, one of many puzzle pieces that helps us dream up narratives about what the former residents were like. It's a 25th anniversary edition of the book Life Doesn't Frighten Me, combining the works of two of my favorite Black cultural icons: Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat. In 1993 the force that was Angelou (poet, novelist, playwright, actress, dancer, and civil rights activist) published her poem Life Doesn't Frighten Me in this format, juxtaposing her words with images painted by Basquiat. This came five years after his passing, with the book serving as a form of tribute to an unparalleled urban street artist who ascended to universal acclaim. The poem is one of bravery, triumph and a strength of spirit. Basquiat's works, complex yet childlike, live perfectly alongside Angelou's words. The poem makes me think of the power of faith (in whatever we keep our faith in, spiritual or otherwise), and of the strength we find within to overcome life's challenges. If you find a copy somewhere in life, I hope it inspires you too.
Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn't frighten me at all
A photograph by me, of a layout within my copy of the book.
I first heard this spellbinding cover of Tamia's "So Into You" by Childish Gambino AKA Donald Glover for Triple J's Like a Version live on air back in 2015. For my non-Australian readers, Triple J is an iconic Australian youth radio station, and Like A Version sees musical powerhouses create their own live renditions of different songs. This cover is beyond amazing, and I've probably listened to it hundreds of times. Donald Glover is some kind of mystical human who seems to have endless swathes of talent. He excels to the highest levels of achievement as an actor, rapper, lyricist, producer, director, comedian, screenwriter, DJ, and clearly also as a singer. The man has the voice of an angel. I hope this video brings you some joy today!