In 2015 I began recording a Culture Diary, consisting of all I read, watched, experienced in Culture. (I omit casual exposure: background music; restaurants, unless the purpose is a culinary experience).
After a few months it became clear that the majority of what I was absorbing came from authorial voices that were Male and White.
For various reasons, that became something I wished to change, so I named 2016 the #YearOfNoWhiteMen: a year in which I seek to only experience culture where the primary authorial voice is someone other than a white male.
I have stretched this rule at the edges: if the creator is a white male but the core of the story is different, I’ll allow it (the TV series Orphan Black, for instance). I’ve bent the rules for research I’m doing on projects of mine. I’ve attended the work of friends because I wanted to support them, etc.
To mark the midway point, my thoughts on a few highlights from the first 6 months of the year, and what I’m looking forward to between now and 1/1/17:
The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
This novel was a gift from my brother. It follows the life of a storekeeper in D.C., a recent immigrant from Ethiopia who keeps ties with two friends (also immigrants) as they all struggle to make a life in America. They each adapt to and assimilate to America in different ways, with various consequences. At the same time, the narrator’s neighborhood is slowly gentrifying: a wealthy professor moves in next door, and our shopkeeper makes friends with her daughter, and ultimately starts a relationship with the prof. Beautifully written, heartbreaking story, and an essential point of view: America through the eyes of someone who has come here to find that maybe America didn’t want him to come after all.
Trajal Harrel's Paris is Burning at Judson Church / Antigone Sr.
I already wrote about this in my 3 month check in. 2+ straight hours of modern dance, voguing, spectacle and exorcism. I will see this man's work anytime I am anywhere near it.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
This Thai film won the Palmes d’Or at Cannes in 2010, and the MFA was set to screen the director’s follow up film, so I checked this out. Not the kind of film I would typically enjoy. It is very quite, not much narrative. It focuses on a farming family who gather as one of their members is dying. But there is a sly and evocative twist of the supernatural that I found incredibly powerful, and the film is also just beautiful throughout. Gorgeous. Haunting. I still see images of this in my mind when I’m drifting to sleep.
If you don’t know yet, you won’t believe me.
And if you do know, you don’t need to read me.
Baby Cobra, Ali Wong.
Stand up special on Netflex. Ali Wong writes for Fresh Off The Boat and filmed this set when she was 8 months pregnant. Wrecked me.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, by Ana Lily Amirpour
This is a great example of a big lesson for me this year. I started off seeking non-fiction: memoir, history, documentaries.
And while it is certainly important to listen to a range of voices speaking their own truth, it is essential to listen to those same voices speaking their fantasies.
This is an Iranian Western Vampire movie, with one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in years. If that grabs you, go watch this RIGHT. NOW.
ON DECK - #YONWM Part II
Pieces I’m looking forward to in the coming months:
More Octavia Butler
I read Parable of the Sower this spring which I often liked, but didn’t completely take me there. However that, combined with Lovah reading Kindred and reading about other Spencer works, has gotten me really excited for her other novels. On the docket are WildSeed and Clay’s Ark.
Black Panther, Ta-Nehisi Coats and Brian Selfreeze
I don’t know how I screwed this up but I tried to pre-order this and somehow bought something that won’t come till August, so I still haven’t read it. But the anticipation is just building up. Cannot wait to chew this.
The Hemingses of Monticello, by Annette Gordon-Reed
About not only Sally Hemings, but her entire family, who were fundamental in making Jefferson’s life what it was. When I visited Monticello in May, I got really excited by the huge contradictions of our 3rd president. Planning on writing a sex farce about hypocrisy called Thom and Sal.
What have you read, watched, experienced this year by a voice different from your own?
And what are you looking forward to?