The Media That Moved Us in 2017: Our Picks for Resistance and Joy

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The Media That Moved Us in 2017: Our Picks for Resistance and Joy

Rewire News Group Staff

And what gave us joy and food for thought includes a podcast by two girlfriends, a comic featuring a lie-detecting cat, the autobiography of a Black radical, a Mexican cookbook, and media about women in sports.

Last year, we published Rewire staff media picks that brought us joy and prepared us for the Trump administration.

2017 has delivered knockout punch after knockout punch: policy rollbacks, human rights threats, and environmental catastrophes on an unprecedented scale. But we have also seen some extraordinary victories, such as the reckoning of dozens of men who believed their power was license for assault and harassment; the marches of millions committed to resistance; and the defeat of Roy Moore in the recent Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate.

None of this has been easy. But we had some helpful companions along the way: books, poetry, films, and podcasts. So once again, we are sharing staff picks of media that helped us survive 2017 so we can stay active in 2018.

Auditi Guha, Northeast regional reporter
Battle of the Sexes (2017)

This film tells the story of legendary tennis pro Billie Jean King and her infamous 1973 match against sexist hustler player Bobby Riggs. At this time, there was no women’s tennis league and female players were paid a pittance compared to the men, based on the idea that men were more competitive, stronger, and more exciting to watch.

Here’s a snippet of the kind of dialogue that is sure to get your blood boiling:

Bobby Riggs: How about this: Man versus woman? Male chauvinist pig versus hairy-legged feminist. No offense. You’re still a feminist, right?

Billie Jean King: No, I’m a tennis player who happens to be a woman.

Battle of the Sexes isn’t a documentary nor the best movie on women’s rights. It’s glib, funny, light, and fictionalized. But it tells a story of gender inequality, sexism, and sexuality that still resonates with many women almost 50 years later. Here’s hoping the story of Billie Jean’s personal and professional struggle and activism at a young age empowers today’s women to carry on the fight for future generations, if not themselves. It’s not over until we are equal. But I also can’t help wondering how different that story would have been for a woman who wasn’t white, famous, and privileged.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Former Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy takes us on a breathtaking whirlwind journey through decades of Indian politics and society navigating war, peace, life, and love in this New York Times bestseller. An environmental activist who has come under intense scrutiny and made many enemies, Roy hits back with a compelling narrative that outlines the less-seen side of war and corrupt government processes in a complex, diverse country where nationalism is fast on the rise. She tells a story of the most vulnerable and dispossessed, and she exposes the brutal powers that assault them at every level of life in the world’s biggest democracy. She tackles an equally big span of complex issues of caste, trans rights, the occupation of Kashmir, tribal land enclosures, Hindu fundamentalism, Islamophobia, and separatist uprisings, in a way that takes readers beyond the headlines. The first chapter begins in a cemetery where we meet Anjum, a Muslim intersex woman, and it goes into the story of how Anjum’s mother contemplated killing her when she found the child had a penis and “a small, unformed, but undoubtedly girl-part.” This is how Roy discusses and demolishes subjects often taboo and rarely discussed in mainstream India. It’s often a rambling, heavy read but still a compelling and urgent tale for our times, told in Roy’s characteristic brilliant, lyrical prose.

Tina Vasquez, immigration reporter
Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán and Stacy Adimando

I started the year with one overarching goal—not to let the bastards grind me down—and one smaller goal: to only purchase “ethnic” cookbooks written by authors who are of that ethnicity, which proved to be harder than you’d think. But enter Nopalito, which I firmly believe to be one of the most important—and delicious—Mexican cookbooks ever. Gonzalo Guzmán’s food is glorious. On the days where I felt like I was being ground down covering a man who referred to Mexicans as “rapists” and “drug dealers” and implementing policies that harmed my community, cooking became necessary for my mind, body, and soul. Nopalito gave me the fuel I needed. I’ve spent long hours writing about disgusting anti-immigrant attacks and evenings making queso fresco to later crumble atop Guzmán’s tostadas de tinga poblana. Cooking Mexican food while working as an immigration reporter during the Trump administration has felt like an act of resistance. This year, Guzmán provided me with the playbook.

Laura Huss, editorial and research associate
Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

I spent most of this year focusing my out-of-work reading on history. I feel a sense of responsibility to continue learning about how we got here and learning more about the people who have resisted before us. History also helps keep hope levels elevated because I better understand that change happens and things can get better. This year, however, the historical autobiography that affected me most, Assata, did so in a way that I couldn’t have predicted. It left me feeling angry because Shakur’s detailed experiences mirror much of the present day. For example, the same week I read Shakur’s writing about how Black liberation movements were being targeted by the FBI COINTELPRO program decades ago, the FBI announced its attack on so-called “Black Identity Extremists.” So much of what Shakur confronted (and continues to do so in exile) contemporary activists also face because the same racist and prejudiced systems continue to survive and thrive.

Luckily, my anger was softened by another component of the book: the way in which Shakur honestly presented herself as an evolving person who always looked to learn more, from books or other people, throughout her struggle. Shakur vulnerably talked about herself as someone who had a lot to learn and whose politics were not always so radical in her youth. Her book taught me that revolutionary people are people, complex and evolving, who don’t just start life as a radical. Building an analysis and becoming a radical is a process. In the end, this is what gave me hope. We each have the capacity to keep growing despite how much we don’t know or do already.

Jessica Mason Pieklo, vice president of law and the courts
Burn It All Down” podcast hosted by freelance writers Shireen Ahmed and Jessica Luther, ThinkProgress sports reporter Lindsay Gibbs, and professors Amira Rose Davis and Brenda Elsey

“Burn It All Down” is a feminist podcast that is a must-listen for anyone who likes sports and politics. The hosts take an intersectional approach to the biggest sports stories of the day, and the result is a show that is wickedly smart and entertaining. The best part about the show? You don’t even need to be a sports fan to enjoy it. The hosts use sports as gateways into other issues like pay equality and gender equity in professional leagues, and, ultimately, just about every issue you could think of. I’ve played sports all my life and am ride-or-die for women’s soccer. So it is fantastic to finally have a show that delves into these issues and understands that not all sports fans live in man-caves in their basement.

Team Legal: Jessica Mason Pieklo and Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst
Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work by Gillian Thomas

This work by ACLU attorney Gillian Thomas was released in 2016, but it should be required reading in the Trump years. Because of Sex looks at the history of employment discrimination against women and tells the story of the individuals who pushed the law to recognize, among other things, that sexual harassment in the workplace is actually discriminatory. The stories are compelling, and the book makes the legal arguments accessible for everyone. This is not just a book for lawyers. This is a book for anyone who wants to understand the political undercurrents of the fight for sex and gender equality taking place in real time.

Ally Boguhn, political and campaigns editor
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

I couldn’t put down Louise Erdrich’s dystopian fiction novel, Future Home of the Living God, which imagines a future where evolution is reversing itself and pregnant women are rounded up by the government. The plot follows pregnant protagonist Cedar Hawk Songmaker as she writes journals to her future child and navigates this new world. Erdrich wrote the novel in the midst of the George W. Bush administration, which reinstated the anti-choice Global Gag Rule. Erdrich later reflected that when she went back and re-read the manuscript in 2016 she “felt I’d circled back to 2002, only worse.” As the Trump administration continues to curtail reproductive freedoms and civil rights, stories like this offer us a glimpse into what our society could look like if it slides further into extremes.

Jenn Stanley, senior producer
The Husband Stitch” (2014) by Carmen Maria Machado and “What I Don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch'” (2017) by Jane Dykema

I came to this short story via an essay, and both were exactly what I needed to read at the time. My friend and colleague at Rewire, Lauryn Gutierrez, posted the essay on social media. It came out the same week that the New York Times and the New Yorker published their Harvey Weinstein investigation pieces, sparking the beginning of the #MeToo campaign and a national conversation about how women are treated in a society and economy built by power-hungry men. “The Husband Stitch” is hauntingly intimate, achieved in part due to its universality. And reading the essay after feels like processing the story in a book club with your smartest female friends.

Amy Littlefield, investigative reporter
Pride (2014)

On a recent gloomy, wintry day, my friend Kerry handed me a DVD of the 2014 film Pride and assured me that it would warm my heart and inspire me. She was right. This film is a fictionalized account of a real solidarity movement between gay rights activists in London and striking coal miners in Wales in 1984. It is a story about organizing across cultural lines that feels deeply relevant to our time. And if the final scene doesn’t make you sob with joy, I can’t help you.

Cynthia R. Greenlee, senior editor
A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa by Alexis Okeowo

In the United States, religious extremism is too often framed as an eternal battle between Us—the forces of “good” and “democracy” and “civilization”—and a Muslim Them who seek a radical return to “backwardness” (no matter how the Religious Right has successfully mainstreamed evangelical extremism in this country). So New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo’s book about how people in four African countries have resisted religiously motivated hatred and violence is a revelation; it reminds readers that terrorism exists in many forms and that the people most affected are not those who live in some faraway land or the United States, but the people who must live beside those who terrorize them. It’s the girls who can’t play basketball in Somalia because al-Shabab militants think it is improper for the country’s women, who once played in leagues around the world; it’s the children kidnapped and subjugated by the bizarre incarnation of Christianity-ethnic nationalism-personality cult that is Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army; and a man who battled interpretations of Islam that supported enslavement in Mauritania, where it was legal until the 1980s and unprosecutable until 2007. Amid these stories of truly epic pain and courage, there is also a most unlikely love story. A Moonless, Starless Sky is weighty reading, but also studded with beauty.

Very Smart Brothas

I just can’t stand this site of Black humor and politics, brought to us by The Root. Which really means that I love it more than the cast-iron skillet I inherited from my mother. Among my favorite recent pieces: Panama Jackson’s “Where Were You When You Found Out Singer Bobby Caldwell Was White?” because I can remember when I discovered the man who sang the sampled-a-bazillion-times-over R&B standard “What You Won’t Do For Love” was white. It was doubly traumatizing when I saw he was white AND has a mullet. Then, there was Damon Young’s essay about how shocked he was that there were Black people who didn’t know that princess-to-be Meghan Markle is biracial. He assumed “that detecting blackness—even in trace amounts—was a superpower all black people possessed.” Growing up in Black Southern communities in the United States, I indeed learned of bazillion “foolproof” signs of even remote Black heritage (“check the hair behind the ears,” my father used to say with a smirk, as if you could discreetly do this). The VSB’s headlines alone provide much-needed hilarity and direct racial commentary (“White People Need to Be Better People,” to wit) that often points inward with bitingly funny commentary on middle-class Black bougieness, takes on parenting, and pop-culture criticism that makes my own culture new to me.

Christine Grimaldi, federal policy reporter
Call Your Girlfriend” by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow

Just one day into Trump’s presidency, I was in need of a healthier outlet for covering the long year ahead than, say, bourbon. I signed up for a training program to complete a ten-mile race, notwithstanding my inability to run a single mile without stopping. I thought a killer playlist would do the trick, but even the most up-tempo music failed to keep me going. What worked were podcasts—Jason Fagone’s “Kill Fee,” Sophia Carter-Kahn and April K. Quioh’s “She’s All Fat,” Kate Harding and Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s “Feminasty,” and above all, Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow’s “Call Your Girlfriend.” Ann and Amina’s warm friendship and hot rage toward the “Cheeto” powered me through the mile markers and to a second race, this time a 10K. I remember running along the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool to the August 4 episode, with highlights including “How to Lose a Mooch in 10 days,” “Cheeto Watch: the White House Commission on Opioids Comes Up With a Surprising Recommendation (Fund Medicaid!),” and “Fleeing from Central America After Being Accused, Prosecuted and Jailed for an Illegal Abortion, Which Was Simply a Miscarriage.” “Call Your Girlfriend” literally moved me in 2017, and I’m so grateful for it.

Stacey Burns, manager of social media outreach
Visages, Villages (Faces, Places), 2017 film by Agnès Varda and JR

Agnès Varda’s latest film, and possibly her last, literally moved me to tears. One of the only women directors associated with the French New Wave, Varda is an unsentimental 89-year-old and rejects any attempts to romanticize or patronize her—including from her young co-director (the playful French street artist, JR, who makes larger-than-life social realist murals out of photographic portraits).

 Visages, Villages is categorized as a documentary, and while it’s not fiction, it’s more like creative nonfiction—part memoir, part social commentary, a road movie, a buddy movie, an art film about art and artists as much as it’s about the townspeople at the center of the film. Varda, always a gleaner, is losing her sight; JR wears dark shades so we can never see his eyes. They travel the countryside in a van tricked out as a literal camera, settling from town to town to make documentary portraits of local residents: the farmers, laborers, and quotidian heroes memorialized by JR’s site-specific portraits and Varda’s interviews. It’s that dignity of the quotidian that always gets me with Varda’s films and that seems particularly important at this moment, when the daily headlines can feel crushing. So beautiful. So humanizing.

Andrew Villegas, copy editor
Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga is a comic book about family, our differences, war politics and smashing sexual taboos (the normalized treatment of a giant spider blorking a human, for instance, is treated with a searing reverence recognizing the plurality of our attachment and love). It challenges us to think about who we consider family and how we view them, and shows that family is what you make it: whether it’s a lie-detecting cat, a group of space meerkats, or a Prince Robot with a tube television for a head. The art is splendid, and the writing hums with an authentic rawness too often reserved for the privacy of our own homes or our own thoughts.

Regina Mahone, managing editor
The Justice Hustlers” series by Aya de Leon

This feels like cheating because I haven’t actually finished the books, but I’m very excited about Aya de Leon’s Justice Hustlers series (Uptown Thief and The Boss). In college, I thought I’d write novels for a living (and maybe one day will), and these books have me excited about creative writing again, especially telling sexy, feminist, justice-oriented stories. In Uptown Thief, readers are introduced to Marisol Rivera, who runs a health clinic providing services to sex workers; an exclusive escort service for wealthy businessmen; and Robin Hood-esque heists to help keep her New York City-based clinic open. It’s suspenseful and gives me so much hope for the stories we can, are, or will be telling. De Leon successfully turns tropes on their heads and re-creates what it means to be a superhero (and a villain). I’m looking forward to devouring The Boss during our holiday break.

Kat Jercich, managing editor
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby

I’ve been reading Samantha Irby’s “bitches gotta eat” blog for years, so I was obviously ecstatic to read her new collection of essays. This book has made so many top-ten lists of the year—as Irby might say, your sister-in-law can’t stop raving after she heard about it on “Morning Edition”—and for good reason. Irby muses on a range of topics, including the operatic interpersonal intricacies of seniors at a water aerobics class; the trials of working at a veterinary clinic where clients with haircuts costing more than both of our rents combined demand to know why they can’t get their Jack Russell seen in the next 30 minutes without an appointment; the complications of trying to navigate first-time strap-on sex, a chapter that made me scare the cat with scream-laughter; and the emotional gymnastics of weighing how, and where, to scatter the ashes of her father. I should make clear, by the way, that even as you read it to find humor and resiliency amid despair (not to put words in your mouth, but it has been A Year), We Are Never Meeting in Real Life will also sucker-punch you in the feelings. Read it before the year ends to cleanse your soul, or before a new one begins to give you hope and a newfound resolution never to leave your house after 11 p.m. on a weekend except in the most dire circumstances.

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