ROQAYAH CHAMSEDDINE, “Sharp Edges” columnist and co-host of the “Delete Your Account” podcast
Best Thing I Read: “Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression”
First published in 1990, Robin D.G. Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe covers the role of the Communist Party in the fight against segregation, and their role in leading the anti-racist movement, specifically, in Alabama.
Best Thing I Saw: “The Fear of 13”
A captivating documentary filmed entirely from the perspective of Nick Yarris, a man convicted of murder and sent to death row. After spending 20 years in prison, he petitions the court to move up his execution date. It is a stunning film, and the manner in which his story is told makes it that much more moving.
Best Thing I Heard: Toots And The Maytals – “Broadway Jungle”
The Maytals, formed in the 1960s, are arguably one of the most important vocal groups to ever popularize reggae. The song “Broadway Jungle” captures the overall energy of the Jamaican ska group.
BRIAN SONENSTEIN, publishing editor at Shadowproof and “Prison Protest” columnist
Best Thing I Read: “Can’t Catch A Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, And The Limits Of Personal Responsibility” by Susan Starr Sered and Maureen Norton-Hawk
This is an important treatise on the emerging consensus around reform in criminal justice, which is to advocate for pouring resources into building “treatment” and “rehabilitation” on the foundations of the prison system. It sheds light on the ways in which some of these solutions have already failed to achieve their goals of a more fair and humane system. But its dissection of American individualism, the myth of “personal responsibility,” and the ways in which the two shape the delivery of justice and healthcare is, in my mind, a major missing part of the current justice reform conversation. In fact, I would say it’s a discussion we should have together as a nation about how it all feeds into a lot of aspects of American life.
Best Thing I Saw: “Century Of Self” by Adam Curtis
Documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis released an important film a few months back titled, “Hypernormalisation.” But I was even more moved by this earlier film series of his that I also watched this year. The film explores how Freudian psychology shaped early consumerism in America and traces these ideas as they ricochet over the decades. In particular, I was moved by Curtis’s analysis of how these forces shaped American individualism and self expression, and how that impacted Left activism after the 1960s. It is a fantastic chaser to the shot that is “Hypernormalisation,” and helps us see the development of the cultural idea that change comes by focusing on perfecting one’s self rather than believing in society and ideas bigger than who we are.
Best Thing I Heard: Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals on NPR’s “Tiny Desk”
I’ve been a fan of Anderson .Paak for a while, but I love this particular recording for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series for his incredibly tight performance with the Free Nationals. As a lapsed musician and someone who always wanted to learn how to play the drums, I really enjoy watching .Paak joyfully sing while playing effortlessly. Listen to the concert here.
DANIEL WRIGHT, “Bullpen” columnist and co-host of the “Around The Empire” podcast
Best Thing I Read: “Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime”
This essay from The New Atlantis, published in 2013, makes a compelling case that Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is actually a re-telling of Plato’s Republic. Of particular focus is Plato and Huxley’s reasoning within their respective works on the banning of knowledge and intellectual exploration. Banning poetry is considered necessary to preserve Plato’s imagined republic, which chiefly values justice, and banning unrestrained scientific research is considered necessary to preserve Huxley’s imagined world state, which chiefly values happiness. The essay concludes by asking who will ultimately control these forces in a future society that is technologically advanced to the point where such control is possible.
Best Thing I Saw: “Zero Days”
This documentary by Alex Gibney digs into the hidden story related to the US and Israel creating and releasing what was popularly known as the Stuxnet computer virus to damage Iranian nuclear weapons development. To tell the story, Gibney provides the viewer the landscape of state-based cyber warfare and why everything is so secretive surrounding it.
Best Thing I Heard: The Weeknd – “M A N I A”
I guess you could call this cheating because “M A N IA” by The Weeknd is not just music, but a music video made up of different cuts from The Weeknd’s upcoming album woven together to tell a surreal story about taming inner demons and finding a romantic partner worthy of trying to do so. Despite being someone who is not generally a hip hop or R&B fan, I found the video and music captivating. At the end of 12 minutes, I was interested in learning more about what was next for the panther and the man inside.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA, Shadowproof managing editor and “The Dissenter” columnist
Best Thing I Read: “Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture” by Paul Krassner
Paul Krassner pioneered satire with his counterculture publication, The Realist. He also was the co-founder of the Yippies and influenced by Lenny Bruce. Interested in the life of The Realist, I picked up this expanded edition of Krassner’s autobiography, which was initially released in 1993. Krassner’s brilliant “Parts Left Out Of The Kennedy Book,” what led to the creation of the Disneyland Memorial Orgy, and his work investigating Scientology for a satirical piece inspired me. It tapped into the mischievous and rebellious section of my brain and set me off in a direction that spurred me to write multiple satire pieces. In fact, I now plan to launch a satire column that will accept submissions from writers in 2017, and I highly recommend this book about Krassner’s life to anyone looking for creative inspiration, especially in the era of President Donald Trump.
Best Thing I Saw: “Moonlight”
Atop several best-of year-end lists, I saw this weeks ago and still marvel at the intimate cinematography of the film. It, along with the film’s structure, infuses a kind of poetry into the raw experience of coming-of-age as a black man in America. The cast makes every scene absolutely astonishing with their performances. Director Barry Jenkins deals with an array of issues, from life under structural racism to learning to love and respect yourself, without being heavy-handed, and it’s a masterpiece.
Best Thing I Heard: “Enter the Wu-Tang—36 Chambers” – Wu-Tang Clan
I have a book called, “The MOJO Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion,” that chronologically presents a collection of many of the best albums of all time. This year, I started in the 2000s and worked backward, listening to each album in its entirety whether it suited my tastes or not. I made it to 1993 and listened to this album. Days later, I watched “Luke Cage” and the episode, where “Bring Da Ruckus” plays as Cage gets revenge against Cottonmouth by breaking into his stash house. I don’t really know how I never came across this album until this year, but it blew me away. Plus, the great thing about the Wu-Tang Clan is it is a gateway to a range of music, like the oeuvre of Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, GZA, and RZA, all Wu-Tang members who have their own discographies. These artists all appear on each others’ albums, making it even more fun to discover and appreciate.