JIM COLGAN: Hi there. I’m Anna’s longtime friend and now neighbor, Jim Colgan. On today’s show, how to stay informed when the news seems just so bad. All right. Let’s start the show.
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ANNA SALE, HOST:
Hey, y’all. You’re listening to IT’S BEEN A MINUTE. From NPR. I’m your guest host, Anna Sale. There is a lot going on in the world right now. Parts of Europe and North America have had record-breaking heat waves. COVID infections are on the rise again, as is inflation. And all of it seems so dire, heavy, unrelenting. Maybe you’re wishing you could just ignore it all, turn away from the news. My first guest understands this feeling. It happened to her, too.
AMANDA RIPLEY: You know, it kind of crept up on me because I’m so accustomed to relishing the news.
SALE: That is Amanda Ripley. She’s a journalist and author and host of the Slate podcast “How To!” And for Amanda, cutting back on her news consumption was a big change.
RIPLEY: I was one of those people – we’d go on vacation and I would, like, spend all this time trying to find an actual newspaper wherever we were. I felt like reading the news made me more curious. I felt like I was part of a conversation that was interesting.
SALE: But in 2016, during the campaign season before Donald Trump was elected president, she started to find news coverage really draining.
RIPLEY: It was leaving me worse off sometimes, not better off. And I just felt really ashamed of it because I want to be informed. I don’t want to stick my head in the sand. You know, I want to be someone who cares what’s going on in the world and who knows what’s going on in the world.
SALE: Amanda wrote about this recently in an opinion piece in The Washington Post. It’s titled “I’ve Stopped Reading The News: Is The Problem Me Or The Product?” She says, even if the news is bad, maybe the way journalists cover the news ought to change.
What do you think changed in 2016 in how the news was framed? Do you think it was framed in a different way before then, or do you think it was the volume or the news itself?
RIPLEY: Yeah. Well, we know – right. That’s a really good question. I’m curious what you think, too. I mean, we know that news avoidance in the United States and many other countries had been going up before Trump, before the pandemic, before lots of things, right? So for me personally, I think what changed was, first, the news had become aerosolized, right? Like, it’s everywhere. It’s – you can’t contain it. Even, you know, I turned off all my notifications. I stopped watching TV news. That’s just, like, basic hygiene at this point. But even so, you know, it just leaks into every crevice of your consciousness. Like, people will text me, oh, my God, did you hear? Or, you know, in my inbox is, of course, is filled with newsletters and other things. And also, I think journalists themselves have been both captured by our political conflict in some cases and harmed by our political conflict. So they are struggling to find a way to have impact and be heard and be useful in a world in which we are not trusted by many millions of people. So the effect of that is to make things even more scary because we’re trying to be heard, you know, like when you – when someone’s not listening and you just get louder and louder.
SALE: Well, you made me just think about my 3-year-old who will start out by trying to get my attention by going, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. And then by the time – when I try not to turn to her, it becomes, (shouting) Mommy (laughter).
SALE: And then everybody’s stressed. And then we both forget what she was trying to say to begin with. And it’s not a useful interaction.
RIPLEY: That basically sums up my relationship with the news right now. Thank you. We’re done here. Goodbye.
SALE: But I think it’s not just for journalists that feeling of shame that you mentioned, that, you know, many of us have been taught and think about the news as an important part of being engaged civically.
RIPLEY: It is, yeah.
SALE: And so when you felt that shame of, like, this is actually not good for me, what did you do then?
RIPLEY: So I kept it to myself, like one does when one feels ashamed. I told very few people about this struggle, maybe my husband, my best friend. Then I started noticing little signals out in the world that maybe I wasn’t alone. Like, the Reuters Institute does this survey every couple years, and they actually just did it again of news avoidance and found that 42% of Americans sometimes or often actively avoid contact with the news. And I thought, wow, that’s a lot of people. That’s like, roughly, if you expand it out, a hundred million people.
SALE: It’s a lot of people.
RIPLEY: That’s a lot of people. And they all have different reasons, right? And that again, was like, oh, maybe there’s something else going on here in addition to my own sensitivity to this information. And that’s when I started really trying to investigate, what do we know about what humans need to process the world around us today? And where’s the gap between that and what we’re getting?
SALE: Well, in your thinking about this, I’m really struck that what you seem to be saying is it’s not only that the news is doom and gloom, that it’s bad news and there’s a lot coming at us. You are also saying the work of journalists and the way that journalists craft their narratives and structure stories is part of this. And can you tell us more? How did you identify what could be done better? What are the missing elements in news today that could make avoidance less likely?
RIPLEY: What I find is that there are these three things that seem to be missing from – not from the news as it happens – this is important – but from the news as we cover it.
SALE: The way we tell the news, the stories we tell.
RIPLEY: The way we tell, what we include, what we don’t include, what I cut out of my stories, what I keep. And those things, just again to really distill it down, are hope, agency and dignity.
SALE: Oh, I love these three elements. They make me think about a lot of things.
RIPLEY: I bet.
SALE: Hope, agency and dignity. Hope – what does that mean? What ought to be in a story that you don’t typically see in a mainstream news article?
RIPLEY: Yeah, like I think it’s important to take hope as almost the spiritual definition of it, not literally everything’s going to be fine (laughter), right? Like, not airy fairy hope or not, you know – David Bornstein, who co-founded the Solutions Journalism Network and is a journalist, he calls it hope with teeth. So it’s the kind of hope that’s rigorously reported. And sometimes, you get hope because literally some community is working on a problem and seeing some progress, even if they’re far from you. But sometimes, it’s a lot more subtle, right? Like, sometimes people get hope just from showing each other compassion, from being able to accompany one another through grief and show each other grace, right? You know, I was allergic to words like this in the past, I have to admit. I’m not proud of it, but it sounded really soft. And, like, this is hard news we’re doing here. You know, I used to cover terrorism and crime and disasters, but increasingly, I see hope as fundamental to human functioning.
SALE: Agency. When you think about how agency ought to show up in journalism, what does that look like? Who is doing that well?
RIPLEY: Well, one of the things that I love about agency, or the sense that you can – you or your fellow humans can do something, even something small – right? – even if it doesn’t fix the problem, there’s something to be done. One of the things I love about agency, all these things, is that you can experience them vicariously, right? You’re getting a sense of agency because you’re watching your fellow humans do something, whether it’s, you know, a city that has managed to dramatically reduce homelessness. Even if it’s far from you, that is a sense of agency. And I don’t think some reporters, especially at the national level, don’t always appreciate how important it is to feel agency because they have it in a way that most people don’t. Most people cannot call up a senator and get a callback, right? Like, you don’t even know what it feels like to be able to do that, most people. So I think that’s part of the problem.
SALE: One thing that I thought about as I was reading – as I was thinking about agency and reporting, I notice my news avoidance is the most present and, like, visceral when I’m reading about climate change. And there’s something, Amanda, about agency in climate coverage that I’ve struggled with as a citizen of the world, as a consumer of news, because there are the climate stories that say, here’s what you can do in your own household. Here’s how you can recycle. Here’s how you can think about electrifying your home. And then I think but, really, this is a story about multinational corporations and governments figuring out a plan and committing to a path forward together, and focusing on my household is missing the point. So are there stories where, when you focus on agency, you are missing the larger story about structures, institutions and systems that are failing?
RIPLEY: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that is definitely a challenge, right? So I’m not going to pretend it’s not. I feel that myself. But I don’t think it’s quite as binary as I used to think. Like, I used to think, we either focus on small, individual actions like recycling or multistate, nation-state treaties, you know. Last time I checked, collective action is the simultaneous action of many, many individuals. You can’t really sever them. So I think they both matter. But one way to do agency and still be, I think, honest and true to the structural big problems that you’re talking about is to do stories that have a wider lens. So look at a problem over a longer time period through history, or look at a problem far away and look at how another country is working on it. Because once you know it can change, then it opens up a whole range of possibilities for your own country.
SALE: And you also say dignity, which makes me think a lot about how, as a news consumer, how am I being included, called in? Am I being treated with respect? Is my community being treated with respect? How do you think about dignity showing up in journalism? What do you mean by that?
RIPLEY: Yeah. I mean, do you think – I think this is the least appreciated of the three.
SALE: And it’s my favorite that you mentioned…
SALE: …Because it’s so rarely talked about.
RIPLEY: I know. It’s weird, right? I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t think about it until I started researching human behavior in conflict. And one of the things you learn is that dignity drives so much of human behavior. And the flipside of that is violations to dignity drive human behavior. So one example of that, at an extreme end, is humiliation, which is sort of what Evelin Lindner, the psychologist, calls the nuclear bomb of emotions. So until you understand dignity, people’s behavior doesn’t make sense, especially under stress. So I reached out, as I often do in times like this, to Shamil Idriss, who’s the head of Search for Common Ground, which works to prevent violence all around the world. And he said, to him, that dignity is a feeling like, I matter – that my life has some worth, right? And that is incredibly important to humans for all kinds of evolutionary reasons.
And so in journalism, what does that look like, right? How do we translate that? How do you treat people? So that would include the people you interview, your audiences – how do you treat them like they matter? And, I mean, I’m curious what you think. Like, for me, the biggest change I’ve made is how I listen to people. And you’re really good at that already. So, like, what I call looping – there’s different names for it, but I hear you do it a lot, where you listen to people, and then you try to distill what they said into the most elegant language you can muster and check if you got it right – which I had never learned to do in journalism, you know? And now I do it all the time.
SALE: Mmm hmm. So you’ve made me think a lot, as a journalist, about the kind of work that I make. But I also am trying to challenge myself to be more intentional about the news I consume, to see if it fits these qualities. And I have to tell you, a lot of it doesn’t. A lot of the news I consume does not include hope, agency and dignity. For you, as you rebuilt your news diet, how does it look today? How is it different than when it was something you decided you couldn’t take in in the way you were taking it in?
RIPLEY: Yeah. Well, I’ll just walk you through my day. I haven’t figured this all out. But now, I wake up. I still subscribe to The Washington Post in print because I’m old school. I pick it up off of my stoop in Washington, where I live, and I put it immediately on the counter, where I do not look at it until the evening. And then I will listen to a podcast that is maybe a little off the news – right? – but about the news. But I think the problem I still run into is this unexpected encounters – when I get ambushed, right? And I really – I’ve started to resent it, which is maybe a little irrational. But, like, you know, I’ll open up my phone, and someone will text me about some, like, mass shooting that’s happened. And I do want to know about those things, but, like, I don’t necessarily want to know about them at that moment, right? Like, I want to control my engagement with them.
But as, you know, incredible as it sounds, I have actually found The Christian Science Monitor to be a great source of hope, agency and dignity. And you, just reading it, have the sense – and this is like – I know this is going to sound a little strange, but there’s this really subtle sensation you get that, like, this place has your back – that they want good things for you, but they’re also not going to lie to you, right? Like, they’re not going to sugarcoat it.
But there’s a few things that they’ve done structurally, but also in the tone, that are different than when I read those same subjects in, say, The New York Times. One thing they do is, in their content management system, you can’t turn a story in as a reporter until you’ve filled out a field that’s called Why We Wrote This.
RIPLEY: And then that becomes, like, a blurb in the – every single story has a Why We Wrote This, right? So think about what that means. Like, you’re treating your audience with enough respect to feel like you owe them an explanation, and it forces you, as the writer, to think about and articulate, like, why we’re doing this story and not another one; why we’re covering this atrocity, even though it’s been covered a thousand times already; how we’re trying to do it differently. So that’s one example.
SALE: It’s another example of forcing intentionality. It’s saying, we had to take a moment and connect this back to our mission, and we’re going to tell you what our mission for this piece was. And going back to ego – if you don’t have a good mission, you got to write a better piece (laughter), you know?
RIPLEY: Right. Right.
SALE: And you mentioned some of the things that you have done structurally in your life at the beginning. But for the doomscrollers who are listening, who have a habit of – that’s just what they do when they have downtime – they tell themselves, well, I’ll just pick up on the news, and it ends up making them feel bad. Like, what are just a few new routines that they could think about that you found that were helpful to you?
RIPLEY: Yeah. So like with any habit change, you want to create some friction, right? So make it a little harder. Like, if I were trying to stop eating cake, I wouldn’t have, like, six cakes on my countertop, right?
RIPLEY: That’s not – like, that’s not a fair fight. So you obviously remove these things from your phone. For God’s sake, you know, remove Twitter from your phone. Remove – you know, make it so you have to work a little harder to access these things. I think setting aside a specific time of day is really helpful if you can pull it off. That’s hard for people with, you know, multiple jobs and little kids. But if you can do that, you know, we know there’s a lot of research that that helps a lot.
And then you are going to get pulled into stories that are really painful and leave you hopeless. That’s the nature of life, right? So then, the question is, what do you do then – right? – if you don’t want to put your head in the sand and you do want to know? And you’re going to – you know, until we fix this journalism problem, Anna, then you’re going to have these dark moments that help no one. So in those times, I think that’s where we really need to recognize, like, acknowledge that feeling – right? – not run away from or suppress or necessarily ruminate on those feelings but just acknowledge them, like, label them. And then you can – you know, the advanced AP level, which I’m still working on getting to, is questioning the assumptions – right? – that you can find in your thoughts at times like that.
SALE: I’m going to picture – anytime I open up a news app or a social media app on my phone, I’m going to picture going face down in a cake, thanks to that example you gave me.
SALE: And I’m just going to – do I really want to go face down into a cake right now? Or do I want to wait and cut myself a nice piece with a glass of milk later on (laughter)?
RIPLEY: Right. I love that. Yes, that’s a great image. And sometimes, yes, I want to go face down in the cake.
SALE: (Laughter) Sometimes it’s what you need.
SALE: Amanda Ripley is an author, journalist and host of the Slate podcast “How To!” You can read her op-ed in The Washington Post. Coming up, Jordan Peele’s new horror film “Nope” is out this weekend. We talk about the history of the Black horror genre, going all the way back to the 1940s.
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SALE: You’re listening to IT’S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I’m Anna Sale. Summer blockbuster season is well underway, and one of the buzziest films of the year hits theaters this weekend, the movie “Nope.”
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KEKE PALMER: (As Emerald Haywood) But that’s why, back at the Haywood Ranch, as the only Black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood, we like to say, since the moment pictures could move, we had skin in the game.
SALE: “Nope” is a horror film, but it’s the kind with scope. The plot involves ranchers, a theme park, aliens. It stars an incredibly talented cast led by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. It’s also the latest from director Jordan Peele. Peele brought us “Get Out” in 2017, and it won an Oscar for best original screenplay. Since then, he’s been at the forefront of a transformation in the horror genre.
TANANARIVE DUE: I really cannot overstate the importance of “Get Out” and just adding literally a vocabulary for executives to understand that Black horror, queer horror, marginalized horror is not only a thing, but it’s a thing with value, and it’s a thing that can make you money, which is the part they need to hear.
SALE: That’s Tananarive Due, author, screenwriter and executive producer of a documentary about the history of Black horror.
DUE: The documentary, “Horror Noire,” that I executive produced did not get the green light until he won the Oscar for that.
SALE: Oh, wow. Being a hit wasn’t enough. It also had to get the Oscar.
DUE: Right. It got the Oscar and boom. And another example that isn’t about me is the director Rusty Cundieff, who did the cult classic “Tales From The Hood” in the 1990s, got the green light for “Tales From The Hood 2” after “Get Out.”
SALE: Tananarive teaches horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA, and she loves Jordan Peele and the many horror films he’s made with his production company Monkeypaw, so much so that she actually built a whole lecture series around them. But Tananarive also has a deep appreciation for the rich history of Black creators in horror that Jordan Peele and his work are really just one part of. And that understanding, that love, goes way back for her. And just a heads up, we talk about trauma and violence against Black people in this conversation.
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SALE: What is your earliest horror movie memory?
DUE: I’ll go back to the Universal classics on Creature Features, which used to come on WPIX Channel 6 in Miami, Fla., when I was growing up. My late mother, Patricia Stephens Due, was a huge horror fan, so I’m sure she was the one watching it. And the two that stick out – it’s going to be between “The Fly,” the 1950s version, which ends with that iconic moment where the fly with the human head is in the trap going, help me, help me. But no one can hear.
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DAVID HEDISON: (As Andre Delambre) Help me. Help me. Please, go away. Go away.
DUE: So scary. That might be it. Or “The Mole People” is a close second, and “The Mole People” because that was so obviously to me a slavery metaphor that I was on the mole people’s side when they had their uprising. And that’s – that really stuck out to me as a kid.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The blood-lusting mole people storming from their subterranean caverns.
SALE: Oh, so you were a child and understanding it as a narrative about slavery?
DUE: I didn’t get that consciously, but I related because they’re whipping them. They’re being forced to work, and they have an uprising. And so I might not have consciously seen that as slavery, but I definitely empathized with them, and I felt that experience.
SALE: So you mentioned your mother was a big horror movie fan. What do you think she got out of watching them?
DUE: I so wish I had had conversations with my mother about why she loved horror. I mean, we watched tons of horror movies together. I know she’s the reason I love horror. She gave me my first Stephen King novel, which was “The Shining,” when I was 16. I never asked her why, but I’ve come to some conclusions about that. I think it was because of my mother’s not only personal trauma during the civil rights era, when a police officer threw tear gas in her face, a canister in her face, when she was 20 years old – and for the rest of her adult life, 80% of the time she wore dark glasses, even indoors, because of sensitivity to light as a result of tear gassing – and not only that but knowing what happened to everyone else she was in the movement with, including Dr. King; and not only that but knowing what her intergenerational trauma was, I feel like horror was her way of dealing with that. Horror was her way of visualizing monsters you can actually sometimes even destroy. Like, before your eyes, you get to win. You hold up the cross, the vampire goes away. Or even if you don’t win, those characters, the smart ones, are teaching you survival lessons. You know, it’s just that feeling seen, you know, within the fact that sometimes we feel unsafe.
SALE: So with horror, you are creating entertainment and a commodity out of narratives that pick up on real trauma. So you’ve talked about creators getting these opportunities, but have you seen some films that you feel like were trying to tell stories about the real trauma of marginalized groups, whether it’s Black people, women, queer people, where you felt like they didn’t walk that delicate line exactly the way you’d hoped they would?
DUE: Yes. Oh, my gosh. Of course. You know, it’s just – it’s understandable that if you’ve been excluded for so long and you finally do get that green light, you finally do get that platform, you want to put the whole story in there. This happened to us. But, I think – here’s the thing that I – and this is just plain advice I’m going to give to creators, marginalized creators who are getting these opportunities. Horror is, first and foremost, entertainment. And if your version of reality is so oppressive, is so suffocating that it has come to the forefront of the story and made it no longer, for lack of a better word, fun – right? – entertainment, horror, puts us in touch with that 10-year-old kid we used to be, staying up too late watching this because it’s fun to be scared in a safe way. And what happens when too much reality bleeds in and what gets labeled, and I think sometimes mislabeled, as trauma porn is horror that leans too much into the real – like, for instance, lynching is horror.
SALE: Mmm hmm.
DUE: Yeah. Lynching is horrific. Lynching is a terrible legacy that this country has. But I am not entertained by watching lynching. I’m not entertained by it because I know my history. I’ve heard too many of those stories from my real-life family who had to flee potential lynching. It’s not fun to watch somebody being lynched. And I think sometimes that’s sort of a knee-jerk go-to. Especially for an artist who doesn’t come from a horror background but has had an opportunity to tell a horror story, that’s what’s going to emerge as the horror in their minds. And I think what some new artists are forgetting is that what makes horror fun is that it’s fantasy, right? And it’s because it’s supernatural that people like my mother, for example, could take a step back from the reality of actual horror of beatings and violence and racism, watch it through the veil of the supernatural and just have fun feeling scared in a way that leaches out the real fear, gives you an expression for it, gives you someone to cheer for and gives you an ending, for God’s sake. Whereas in real life, there is no ending. There’s no ending in the horror in real life. But in a movie, even if your characters don’t win, at least you can say the damn movie’s over, right?
DUE: That’s done. That’s done.
SALE: I really appreciate that distinction you’re making from – between the horrific and horror. You also make a distinction between Black horror and Blacks in horror. Can you tell me what you mean by that?
DUE: Yeah, this is a distinction I have to give credit to Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman, but a great example would be the movie “Candyman,” which Bernard Rose directed that came out of the ’90s. Everybody – you know, a lot of people know that version. Tony Todd’s…
DUE: Don’t start with that.
DUE: And even now, I still have a very visceral reaction to the idea of repeating Candyman five times in the mirror, and I’ve already said it too many times in this interview.
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MARIANNA ELLIOTT: (As Clara) If you look in the mirror and you say his name five times, he’ll appear behind you, breathing down your neck. You want to try it?
DUE: So it’s an effective film. I don’t hate it. In fact, there are ways that I love it, but it’s also – it has some problematic aspects. So, Helen, the white researcher – and this is all embedded in the Clive Barker story, except he never wrote the characters as Black. Candyman wasn’t Black in the original short story, so when you add race, inadvertently, now you’re layering it with some sort of problematic aspects of looking at this housing project as an urban jungle, these people as somewhat subhuman, a lot of Black faces as props who don’t actually become fully functioning characters in the story. So the original “Candyman” is Blacks in horror. In fact, in some ways, Black masculinity itself feels like the monster.
DUE: So in the reboot sequel to “Candyman,” you flip it. It’s like, OK, you want to tell a story about Black trauma? Let’s tell a story about Black trauma. But it’s through a Black lens, where the monstrosity then, again, veering into the fantasy realm, which both of them do. It’s a supernatural phenomenon but now with that added element of body horror, like, the monster within. Like, your body is changing and you can’t control it. That’s scary, and that’s not reminding me of real-life traumas.
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YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II: (As Anthony McCoy) Candyman.
TEYONAH PARRIS: (As Brianna Cartwright) Anthony.
ABDUL-MATEEN: (As Anthony McCoy) Candyman.
PARRIS: (As Brianna Cartwright) Anthony, no.
ABDUL-MATEEN: (As Anthony McCoy) Candyman.
PARRIS: (As Brianna Cartwright) Stop.
ABDUL-MATEEN: (As Anthony McCoy) Candyman.
PARRIS: (As Brianna Cartwright) Stop it.
ABDUL-MATEEN: (As Anthony McCoy) OK.
PARRIS: (As Brianna Cartwright) You better not be messing…
ABDUL-MATEEN: (As Anthony McCoy) OK, OK. OK.
SALE: “Candyman,” then, is an example of Blacks in horror being reimagined as Black horror. When you think about an early Black horror movie in film history, what’s one of the first ones that you think of?
DUE: It would be “Son Of Ingagi,” which was from the 19 – it was from 1940, and oh, my gosh, all of the…
SALE: 1940 – oh, I want to know what this movie was about. What was it about?
DUE: Basically, “Son Of Ingagi” was a riff off of a very popular movie that had come out in the ’30s, which was called “Ingagi,” which actually was kind of racist, frankly, because it had these sort of intimations that Africans had been mating with gorillas. And they purported that this was a true story. And it became very popular, kind of a cult hit. And so what happened was “Son Of Ingagi” tried to reclaim, I guess, “Ingagi” and make it theirs. And it’s an all-Black cast, which doesn’t sound as significant to say in 2022, but it is significant in 1940, especially an all-Black cast where it opens with a wedding, newlyweds on a honeymoon. We’re just living our lives.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Married to the laws of the state, I pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss your bride.
DUE: We’re being ourselves. He works at a foundry. He has a regular job. He has a bunch of friends who come to support them, just like a white audience, you know, would expect to see in a white film. Listen, it’s not a great horror movie. It’s not even a great movie, but it’s a significant movie because it is Blacks embracing genre – of Black creators and actors embracing genre but doing it with what a lot of Black horror creators do. Yeah, we’re going to entertain you, but we’re also going to teach you. We’re going to teach you that we have professional degrees, too, that we are homeowners, too, that we fall in love and get married, too. All these things that – all the lies that have been told cinematically about Black life.
SALE: Do you think there’s enough awareness among marginalized creators about the history of the tropes of marginalized characters in horror?
DUE: No, not at all. I mean, frankly, with, say, Native American characters, they only ever appear, almost, or traditionally have only ever appeared to be spiritual guides. And this is something I have discussed with my writing students. I was like, look, if you are creating a character simply to be a spiritual guide, you’re doing it wrong. And it’s fine for a character to have spiritual information, but they have to have their own life and their own reasons for even talking to your protagonist. Why should they put themselves at risk to help you?
SALE: Mmm hmm.
DUE: That really does go back to the faithful servant trope, and this is true of Black characters who – magical Negroes. Just look at all the old horror movies where the Black character is the one with the magical knowledge, and that character’s often a spiritual guide because they’re using that knowledge to help steer you. And then in a movie like “Annabelle,” that spiritual guide might also sacrifice themselves to save your life, so now they’re the sacrificial Negro. And I think a lot of creators have not asked themselves, why are these such familiar and comfortable images? What I noticed was after the diversity push, this one-two punch after “Black Panther” and “Get Out” where you’re starting to see more Black faces in genre, some of those tropes started to come back because the creators didn’t spend enough time trying to think about how to make these real characters. So they’re like, oh, yeah, we need to check these boxes.
SALE: Mmm hmm.
DUE: So what happens when you have a two-dimensional character of color? They turn into a trope. It’s the sassy friend, it’s the sacrificial Negro. I mean, I don’t want to name names, but I swear, there have been some movies since “Horror Noire” that I was just shocked at how obvious it was that these characters were being used in this trope-y (ph) way. We just told you not to do this. So, I mean, that just speaks to how naive I was. There’s no such thing as putting it to rest. It’s going to be a constant re-education process.
SALE: I understand you’ve gotten to see “Nope.”
DUE: I did.
SALE: I have not gotten to see it yet. Anything you want us to think about when we go in to watch that movie that you’ve been left thinking about after seeing it?
DUE: You know, there’s so much, but it’s so hard not to be spoiler-y (ph). You know, I will say this. I’m just a huge fan of Jordan Peele’s work, his vision, what he was able to create with “Get Out” and “Us,” which – with what I call the Monkeypaw method, OK? And the Monkeypaw method for me has three components. The first component is that it’s going to be a Black-led story. The second component – and this is what I want people to think about when they watch “Nope” – is that it can seem like pure entertainment on the surface, but, if you’re willing to engage with it and think about it, there is all kinds of meaning layered in. And a lot of people understand that about Jordan Peele already. But “Nope” just looks so much more like a big summer blockbuster popcorn movie…
DUE: …Which it is. And I could not be more excited because Black people deserve a damn blockbuster popcorn movie, too – right? – meaning as the leads, not just as the audience. And the third component of the Monkeypaw method is that it is a very careful about the way it depicts violence against Black people. And I know that’s very deliberate and I know that is to avoid falling into what people call trauma porn, right? Because, as – you know, one of the great things about being a Black horror viewer is that we were so often excluded from these movies that we didn’t have to experience watching a lot of Black people get killed sometimes. Sometimes there were no Black people in the movie, right? And it hits different. It hits different when you’re watching someone who looks more like you getting killed. And I would say that in “Nope,” just like in “Candyman” – which he didn’t direct, but he co-wrote – there’s a lot of care in the presentation of violence that makes it cinematic without leaning into torture porn or gore. So that’s what – you know, ask yourself as you’re enjoying the ride in “Nope,” what is this movie really about?
SALE: As I’m stuffing my mouth with popcorn…
SALE: …As you say.
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SALE: Thanks again to author and screenwriter Tananarive Due. You can catch “Nope” in theaters this weekend. Coming up, we play a game we call Who Said That, this time with IT’S BEEN A MINUTE guest hosts past, present and future.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS’ “FLICKER”)
SALE: You’re listening to IT’S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I’m Anna Sale. And with me are two very special people – Julia Furlan, who was a former guest host of IT’S BEEN A MINUTE, who is also working with me right now on my usual podcast, Death, Sex & Money. And Tracie Hunte is also here, who will be your new guest host in just a couple of weeks. Welcome to you both.
TRACIE HUNTE, BYLINE: Hello.
SALE: You all…
JULIA FURLAN, BYLINE: Yeah.
SALE: …I think we’re setting the world record for the most IT’S BEEN A MINUTE guest hosts in one conversation. It’s happening right now.
FURLAN: An honor.
SALE: It’s really exciting.
HUNTE: Well, it’s – oh, the most WNYC also affiliated…
FURLAN: Yeah. Hell yeah.
HUNTE: …IT’S BEEN A MINUTE guests.
FURLAN: Represent, you know?
SALE: WNYC, New York’s home station. OK. We brought you all here to test your pop culture news knowledge and we are going to play a game – maybe you’ve heard of it – called Who Said That?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA”)
KANDI BURRUSS: Who had been saying that?
PORSHA WILLIAMS: Who said that?
KENYA MOORE: Who said that?
SALE: Here are the rules. I’m going to share a quote you might have heard in the news this week, and you guess who said it or what it’s about. There are no buzzers. You can just yell out the answer. There are zero prizes, but there are bragging rights. So…
HUNTE: Yes. Yes, yes.
SALE: …Bring your competitive spirit.
SALE: Are you ready?
HUNTE: I’m ready.
FURLAN: As I’ll ever be.
SALE: OK. Quote No. 1 – “stick around long enough and maybe you’ll find the best moment of your life in a drive-thru in Las Vegas at 12:30 in the morning.”
HUNTE: Oh, oh, oh. J.Lo, J.Lo.
FURLAN: Oh, oh, oh. J.Lo, J.Lo.
(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)
SALE: Oh. That’s a tie.
FURLAN: That’s right. I mean, who could miss the J.Lo and Ben Affleck news? Like, you couldn’t avoid that.
HUNTE: Oh, my God. Yes.
SALE: That’s right. That’s J.Lo, now Jennifer Affleck, formerly Lopez. I want to know from the two of you, do you see their marriage in 2022 as a symbol of progress?
SALE: The reason I ask that is because I don’t – do you remember the tabloid culture of the early aughts and how they were – like, the treatment of them as a couple? And I feel like now there’s just a slightly – there’s a different frame in how they are represented and sort of, like, maybe – I don’t know if celebrated is the right word now, but I feel like…
SALE: …There’s a general, like, consensus, like…
HUNTE: No, yeah.
SALE: …You found each other. It seems like you to make each other happy, you know, and with less sort of – I don’t know…
FURLAN: …I think – well, you know what?
HUNTE: I mean, I feel like there’s a couple of lenses to look at, like, the way they were looked at back then. And I think part of it was, like, at the time, Ben was such, like, a serious person who did serious movies. He’d had an Oscar for…
SALE: The air quotes.
HUNTE: Yeah – well, yeah. I mean, we’re all ridiculous people, so that’s why I’m doing air quotes. But, like – but that – he was seen as that. And so then him getting with this, like, you know, huge Latina pop star was, like, so, like, what? Why is he even with her? He should be dating, like – you know? And also – I feel like I’ve read something where he’s also said, like, you know, race came into it. Like, people were also, like, kind of looking down on them because, you know, she was Latina.
SALE: Yeah, he said he felt like that coverage was driven by racism.
HUNTE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And so I – you know – and so I do think the – yes, OK, I will – fine, fine. I do see what you mean by progress. I’m, like, talking myself into it. Yeah.
FURLAN: Well, in a mediacrit (ph) way, yeah, that’s definitely true. Like, the environment has changed. And I think that the – you know, we’re really looking at that specific era of news and saying, what was happening?
HUNTE: Yeah. Yeah.
FURLAN: But I don’t know that it’s gotten that much better. If I’m honest, I don’t know – I have, like, pretty low expectations for how media has, like, quote-unquote, “improved.”
HUNTE: Right. Yeah.
SALE: Fair. Fair. You all both shouted that out at the exact same time, so the score is currently one to one.
HUNTE: One to one.
SALE: And you shouted it out before we got to finish that quote. It ended, “love is a great thing, maybe the best of things, and worth waiting for.” All right. Moving on to quote No. 2 – “shouts to Showtime and shouts to the hive.”
FURLAN: Oh, yeah, “Desus & Mero.”
(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)
SALE: “Thanks for being part of the journey.”
HUNTE: Yeah, it is, “Desus & Mero.”
FURLAN: “Desus & Mero.”
HUNTE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You get it, Julia. I was a little slow on that one.
FURLAN: Oh, Desus and Mero, the beloved podcast hosts and hosts of “Desus & Mero” on Showtime, called it quits a couple days ago. Bummer.
SALE: And it was a big deal. So that tweet was from Desus Nice on Twitter, a reply to an announcement that he and co-host The Kid Mero will no longer be working together on their joint Showtime series “Desus & Mero,” going forward working on separate projects. Rumors had been floating around that they’d had a falling out. It was confirmed Monday. And it was very sad. I feel like the eulogies for that show online were just how much love…
HUNTE: Yeah. Yeah.
SALE: …How much love there was for that show and for the community they built and how special the two of them were together. Were you two fans, members of the hive?
HUNTE: Yes. Yes.
HUNTE: Yes. I used to listen to the podcast every Saturday morning when I was walking my dog. I think the thing that makes me saddest is the idea that their – they had a falling out so severe that they can’t work together. And I just really want them to be friends again. The fact that their friendship is over is, like – or maybe over – hopefully they reconcile…
FURLAN: Who knows, yeah.
HUNTE: …Oh, my God – is, like, heartbreaking to me.
SALE: Thank you for what you gave us…
SALE: …While you were doing it.
SALE: OK. The last question. It’s – the score is now….
HUNTE: Two to one.
SALE: Two to Julia, one to Tracie.
HUNTE: I know.
SALE: The final quote.
FURLAN: Oh, my God.
SALE: “I was playing Satan’s sister, and he was killing me. So he had me in a position where I couldn’t escape…”
SALE: “…And lying on the floor, and he just farted. Now, I fart, of course, but I don’t fart in people’s faces.”
FURLAN: Wait, oh, my God, I don’t – wait.
HUNTE: Julia, do you know what it is? I have no idea.
FURLAN: I’m, like, really at a loss.
SALE: I don’t know how you all missed this headline on social media this morning (laughter).
FURLAN: I have – farting?
FURLAN: I really – OK, wait…
FURLAN: I was like, is it a politician?
SALE: Oh, you know what?
SALE: A surprising politician…
FURLAN: Oh, my God.
SALE: …In the Golden State of California, no longer in office.
FURLAN: Arnold Schwarzenegger?
(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)
FURLAN: (Laughter) That hint was too good, Anna, thank you.
SALE: This quote is from actress Miriam Margolyes, talking about actor and former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
SALE: Earlier this week, she was on a podcast called “I’ve Got News For You…”
HUNTE: Oh, my God.
SALE: …Where she claimed that Schwarzenegger farted in her face during the filming of the 1999 movie “End Of Days.”
FURLAN: Oh, my God.
SALE: It may be the end of days, you all, now that we’re talking about this on NPR. I don’t know.
HUNTE: True. I – this is the breaking news I get out of bed for, OK? I can’t believe I missed this. This is incredible.
FURLAN: This is news to me. I am – my mind is blown. I’m…
HUNTE: I know.
FURLAN: …I’m so upset.
HUNTE: Can you imagine if a fart that you did, like, 20 years ago made news, like, later on?
SALE: Julia, you were correct.
SALE: That was the winning answer. Final score – Tracie one, Julia three.
HUNTE: And I did my best.
SALE: You really did, Tracie. I feel sort of envious that you had no idea what that quote was about.
SALE: I feel like you’re doing something right.
HUNTE: Oh, my God.
FURLAN: You know what that means, Tracie? That means that, emotionally, you win. Like, the fact that you didn’t know, that means that you win.
SALE: Julia wins the game, Tracie wins life.
FURLAN: Yeah, exactly.
HUNTE: OK. All right. All right. I’ll take it.
HUNTE: Yeah, sure.
SALE: Again, thank you to my fellow IT’S BEEN A MINUTE guest hosts Julia Furlan and Tracie Hunte, who’s going to be hosting the show in just a few weeks. Thanks for playing you two.
HUNTE: Thank you.
FURLAN: Thanks for having us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SALE: All right. This episode of IT’S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by Andrea Gutierrez, Liam McBain, Chloee Weiner and Janet Woojeong Lee. Our intern is Ehianeta Arheghan. Our editors are Jessica Mendoza and Quinn O’Toole. And this week, we welcome our new supervising editor, Jessica Placzek. Welcome, Jessica. Our executive producer is Veralyn Williams. Our VP of programming is Yolanda Sangweni. And our big boss is NPR’s senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann. All right, thanks for listening. I’m Anna Sale. Take care.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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