television

A Black Samurai Fighting Giant Mechas? ‘Yasuke’ Asks, Why Not?

by Andrew Limbong

At first, it’s not clear who’s fighting whom. All you know is that it’s Kyoto, 1582 and dudes are getting absolutely sliced up. Then come in the big mechas, and they have huge guns and swords for arms that contribute to the bloodshed. And then there are the sorcerers summoning beams of arrows that would cut their opponents down if not for those other sorcerers conjuring protective shields.

This is the world of Yasukethe new anime series on Netflix about the real-life Black warrior who served under Oda Nobunaga, one of the great unifiers of feudal Japan. The show’s creator, LeSean Thomas, first read about Yasuke in 1960s children’s bookKuro-suke, by Kurusu Yoshio. It is, of course — with the aforementioned mechas and sorcerers — not a straight take on history. “Knowing that we were going to be Trojan horse-ing the story through the beautiful medium of Japanese anime,” said Thomas in an interview, “why not?”

Thomas, originally from the Bronx, is a Tokyo-based animator who worked with MAPPA, the prestigious animation studio, to bring Yasuke to life. His previous Netflix show, Cannon Busters, was a similarly fantastical and adventurous romp based on his own original comic book series. With Yasuke he didn’t really see the need to do a straight-ahead version of a guy with such a scant historical record. “I don’t think true historical biopics in Japanese anime are popular,” he said. “Historians will like it, but it’s kind of boring for the average viewer.”

Instead, this Yasuke, voiced by LaKeith Stanfield, is a washed up ex-samurai loner, who finds himself in the care of a young girl with special abilities. He’s quiet and standoff-ish at first, like all the great archetypal lone-wolf heroes. He’s tall, scarred, kind of jacked. And, instead of being bald like he is in that ’60s children’s book Thomas read, he’s got dreadlocks. Which was kind of a big deal for musician Flying Lotus, who did the music and served as an executive producer on the show. He’s worked on animation before but this was his first time actually having a hand in crafting the story — which put his lifelong anime fandom to good use. In an interview, he talked about honoring Yasuke’s story while pushing new ideas, new sounds, and “a lot of things we just haven’t seen before, unfortunately.”

Which is as good a place as any to bring up the lack of Black characters in anime. While there have been some (including in Thomas’s Cannon Busters), it’s still few and far between enough that a release like Yasuke, with the Black character being front and center of the narrative, is notable. Flying Lotus told me about seeing Dragon Ball Super: Broly in theaters a while back, with, “nothing but Black kids in the audience. Nothing but,” he said. But when it comes to on-screen representation, “All we got is Piccolo, man. Piccolo don’t count.”

I think platforms like Netflix are trying to make anime spaghetti. Everyone loves spaghetti.

LeSean Thomas

(Real quick: if you’re not a Dragon Ball fan, Piccolo counts as a “person of color,” inasmuch as he’s green — and there’s not enough space here to unpack Mr. Popo — but “Piccolo is Black” is a take that’s gone from meme to almost canon in the Dragon Ball fanbase. As Flying Lotus says, with a hedging tilt to his voice, “he’s kind of a brother? Kind of. Kiiiiind of?”)

But the dearth of Black characters in anime and the rest of Japanese pop culture is changing, says Yoshiko Okuyama. She’s a professor of Japanese studies at the University of Hawaii, who specializes in film and manga. She says current population trends in Japan have made the country more “welcoming” to foreigners — if out of sheer necessity. She says there has been recent interest in portraying the historical figure Yasuke in Japanese pop culture, and “that kind of spotlight is an indication in Japanese interest in multiculturalism.”

Anime is growing as a global, multicultural artform, with the help of platforms like Netflix. As this happens, Yasuke creator LeSean Thomas has seen his fair share of gatekeepers and snobs trying to define what makes real, authentic anime. But he’s seen hip-hop grow from a small scene in the Bronx to becoming the “lingua-franca of youth music culture” around the world right now. No reason why anime can’t be the same. Or to compare it to another medium, “I think platforms like Netflix are trying to make anime spaghetti,” says Thomas. “Everyone loves spaghetti.”

This story was edited for radio by Nina Gregory and adapted for the Web by Andrew Limbong and Petra Mayer.

‘The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’ Finale Makes A Poignant Reveal

by Eric Deggans

Warning: There are spoilers aplenty here regarding the final episode in the first season of Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

It’s tough to imagine a better week for TV fans to meet a Black Captain America. 

Days after the world exhaled in relief as Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, Marvel unveiled Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson as the new Captain America — in the process, making a poignant argument for why a Black hero would stand up to a defend a country that often mistreats people who look just like him.

The reveal came during the final episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a Disney+ series that mixed splashy fight scenes and awesome cameos from underused Marvel movie characters with weighty talk about the nature of heroism. 

The consequence of the reveal was underscored by a new series title flashed at the end of the season finale: Captain America and the Winter Soldier. As any real superhero fan knows, the original Captain America — Chris Evans’ blue-eyed dreamboat Steve Rogers — decided to return to the 1940s and live out his life as a normal man at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Rogers’ last act in that movie was to hand his legendary shield over to Sam Wilson as an old man, encouraging his former sidekick to continue its heroic legacy.

But having a Black man step up to be a symbol of America at a time when police brutality and systemic racism are front-page issues couldn’t be a simple matter. 

Even though the first season of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier focused on a complicated plot about super-powered freedom fighters becoming terrorists, the real purpose was to spend six episodes transforming the Falcon. We watched him become a Black hero who could shoulder Captain America’s red-white-and-blue Vibranium shield, fully aware of all the issues he was taking on. 

“Every time I pick this thing up, I know there are millions of people out there who are going to hate me for it,” Wilson says in one poignant speech in the season finale. “Yet I’m still here. No super serum. No blond hair or blue eyes. The only power I have, is to believe we can do better.” At a time when average people are risking their safety to protest police brutality, putting so much on the line for the belief that America can be made better by the hard work of earnest people, that kind of speech feels like a rallying cry.

In the comic books, Marvel’s storytellers realized a long time ago that Captain America had the most impact when he challenged and resisted the nation’s exceptionalist propaganda, rather than reflecting it. So it was particularly satisfying to see this series create a Captain America for a new age – when so much of the nation’s systemic racism is directly challenged. 

This also explains why so much in this series outside of Sam Wilson’s storylines felt so underdeveloped, especially the supposed bad guys, terrorist/freedom fighters, the Flag Smashers. These were average people who had taken a substance similar to the “super soldier serum” which gave the original Captain America his increased speed, stamina and strength. If you need to dig into the complicated backstory of the Flag Smashers, you can read it here. 

Suffice it to say, these villains were so average, they added little beyond motivation for Wilson’s Falcon and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier to bond. The Flag Smashers also gave a reason for the heroes to tap the expertise of a villain dedicated to killing anyone who takes a super soldier serum, Daniel Bruhl’s Baron Zemo.

I wish the show had also spent a little more time with John Walker, the PTSD-suffering ex-soldier initially selected by clueless American officials to be the new Captain America — only to lose the title when he murdered one of the Flag Smashers. Walker, played by blue-eyed celebrity son Wyatt Russell, is seen in the last episode with another compelling character, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a hint we’ll see more of both.

Black characters accepting a subordinate status always rubs me the wrong way. So it was a revelation to see the argument made in this series that all the performance-enhancing serums, propaganda rallies and traditionally white-bread staffing decisions in the world can’t surpass a dedicated Black man determined to defend his nation while also holding it accountable.

Here, Walker was positioned mostly as a nightmarish example of what happens when an insecure, damaged guy chases the mantle of Captain America – and the super soldier serum – for all the wrong reasons. (I still don’t understand why his only punishment for killing a subdued terrorist suspect in broad daylight was losing a job. Though that does sound familiar.) 

I’ll also jump down the superhero fandom rabbit hole a bit more to complain about one other thing in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: the fight scenes. Marvel’s superhero movies have always been careful about how each hero’s power stacks up against others, even across movies. So it always irritated me a bit that these Flag Smashers, who are essentially average – if desperate – folks given great speed and strength from a serum, could successfully take on the Winter Soldier, a highly trained assassin with matching speed and strength, a Vibranium arm and who fought the original Captain America to a draw several times. OK. I feel better now.

I’ll be honest: As a Black comic book and superhero fan, I wasn’t always in love with Marvel’s big screen version of Sam Wilson/The Falcon. The films had a way of always reminding us he was Captain America’s second fiddle – in ways the character himself, a proud Black man, inexplicably encouraged. “I do what he does, just slower,” Wilson said, nodding toward beefcake white hero Steve Rogers in one memorable line from the 2014 film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Ugh. 

Black characters accepting a subordinate status always rubs me the wrong way. So it was a revelation to see the argument made in this series that all the performance-enhancing serums, propaganda rallies and traditionally white-bread staffing decisions in the world can’t surpass a dedicated Black man determined to defend his nation while also holding it accountable. 

Pulling off that two-step of defense and accountability might just be the biggest feat this new Captain America achieves. 

And this Black superhero comics nerd can’t wait to see him try.

‘Lovecraft Country’ Creator Aims To Reclaim The Horror Genre For People Of Color

Sam Briger

The HBO series Lovecraft Country takes the real horrors of the Black experience in the 1950s and adds to it the supernatural terrors of the horror genre.

Series creator Misha Green says she sees the show — and the novel by Matt Ruff upon which it is based — as a chance to reclaim “the genre space for people of color and for people who had usually been left out of it.”

“Horror, which is my favorite genre, works best for me when there’s a metaphor,” Green says. “One of my themes I keep coming back to is: What are people willing to do for metaphorical and physical survival? And that’s always the stuff that scares me.”

One episode explores the theme of white privilege through the lens of Ruby, a Black woman who becomes white after taking a potion. After some discussion of what Ruby would do as a white woman, the writers decided that she would enjoy a mundane day at the park.

“That is really what part of the privilege of being white is: You get to live your life uninterrupted,” Green says. “A person of color in America has so many moments daily where they’re interrupted because of their skin color.”

We don’t know yet if there will be a second season of Lovecraft Country, but if there is, Green knows what she’d call it: “This would be the title of it — Lovecraft Country: Supremacy.”


Interview highlights 

On why she loves horror 

I just like to be scared. I think it’s also one of the reasons I feel like we go to drama in the first place, to live vicariously through something. So you get to live your fears on screen and then you go, “OK, I can tackle that, maybe.” You get a little braver in life. … When I was a kid, like watching It, watching Alien, watching those kinds of movies, I was like, “OK, I’m terrified. But now I feel a little braver.” Afterwards, I feel like I can go and tackle the real horrors a little bit more.

On Black representation in genre fiction

I feel like one of my absolute favorites is the original Night of the Living Dead and then The People Under the Stairs [and] Candyman. So there [were] spaces for Black horror, they just weren’t rampant. I feel like that’s all of Black art right now. People are like, “We’re in this huge renaissance!” and I’m like, “I remember in the ’90s I could go on TV and see more all-Black casts than I can see now.” So I feel like it’s always been there, but you have to seek it out. And the mainstream — definitely when it comes to horror, sci-fi and all of these genre fantasy spaces — are all white in a way. And so that was exciting to me, to have this kind of show that could jump to all the places and be like, “Yeah, we can be here and we don’t have to die first, guys.”

That was exciting to me: to have this kind of show that could jump to all the places and be like, “Yeah, we can be here and we don’t have to die first, guys.”

‘Lovecraft Country’ creator Misha Green

On developing the sound for Lovecraft Country, which sources audio from different moments in culture, like a Nike Ad or the poem “Whitey on the Moon”

I wanted to do something different than I had done on Underground with sound. We used contemporary music on [the WGN America show] Underground [which Green co-created] and it was very successful in kind of bringing the past into the present and I wanted to build on that. I want to come in with an audio viewpoint on the show.

One of the things that we were talking a lot about with the show was this idea of it being out of time, that they’re going and doing things, they’re going to space, they’re going back in the past, so how do we break that up? And then that idea of “scource” as we called it, which is source and score, came to me of using these pieces. I had been soaking in things like Beyoncé’s Lemonade and I Am Not Your Negro. And it was hearing those voices in those poems and [James] Baldwin’s voice. And I was going, “Oh, can we do that in Lovecraft Country?” So that was kind of our big audio swing, was this idea of taking found footage audio and placing it wholesale over scenes and using it as [a] score.

On her priorities for developing her own writer’s room 

Diversity and younger writers, I think that it was important to me. It’s one of the things that I said to HBO is that I don’t want upper-level writers. They were really pushing upper-level writers, which was understandable, because it’s a very big, ambitious show, an intricate show. But for me, I was like, I want new voices. Hollywood is the biggest storytelling machine there is and we all live our lives through stories, so it is giving us a story on how to live our lives, and right now it’s a monolith of white men. And I think it’s very important to change that. So when I had my own room, I knew that it was not going to look like the rooms I had been in before and that it was going to be a struggle, too, because I think in a lot of rooms, the minority voices are not there to actually be heard. So figuring out how to encourage everybody to be like, “You have a platform here, speak up! Speak up! Let’s talk. Let’s figure it out.” [That] was also an interesting new turn for me.

Heidi Saman and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

‘Superstore’ Is A Big Box Of Joy, Laughter And Inevitable Romance

by Stephen Thompson and Ronald Young Jr.


SUPERSTORE — “Essential” Episode 601 — Pictured: (l-r) Mark McKinney as Glenn, Lauren Ash as Dina, America Ferrera as Amy — (Photo by: Greg Gayne/NBC)

For six seasons, the NBC comedy Superstore has told the story of a fictional big-box store in St. Louis. Until the last handful of episodes, the show starred America Ferrera, and found humor in serious topics like income inequality, health insurance, unionization, and corporate greed. Its final season is airing now, with storylines about COVID-19 and racial justice. Superstore is also a big, broad, goodhearted workplace comedy in the spirit of The Office, full of wacky oddballs — played by Ben Feldman, Mark McKinney, Lauren Ash, Nico Santos, Nicole Sakura and Colton Dunn, and more — and slow-burning romantic intrigue.

The audio was produced by Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy.

In ‘Fargo,’ Everything’s Up To Date In Kansas City

by Aisha Harris and Glen Weldon

FARGO — Year 4, Episode 1 – Pictured: Jeremie Harris as Leon Bittle, Chris Rock as Loy Cannon, Corey Hendrix as Omie Sparkman, Glynn Turman as Doctor Senator. CR: Elizabeth Morris/FX

The fourth season of Fargo stars Chris Rock as Loy Cannon, a ruthless Kansas City crime boss battling an Italian-American gang for power in the 1950s. In order to keep the peace while doing business, Loy and his rival swap their youngest sons as hostages. The series is both an immigrant tale and a migrant tale viewed through the familiar lens of a gritty mobster saga. Though true to the Coen Brother’s sensibilities, creator Noah Hawley injects it with darkly oddball humor and characters.

The audio was produced by Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy.

Return Of ‘The Mandalorian’ (And Baby Yoda)

by Eric Deggans

The secret weapon of Disney+’s The Mandalorian, is discovery.

It’s pretty much in the DNA of the series — which became a streaming TV phenomenon last year — on the strength of a new character the series calls “The Child” but most of us fans call Baby Yoda.

The goal: to explore all the nooks and crannies of the Star Wars universe that the big movies ignored and build compelling stories around them.

I’m happy to note the first episode of the show’s second season leans hard into it with spectacular results. We see a new side of Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine, learn the aftermath of the second Death Star explosion (seen in 1983’s Return of the Jedi), uncover fresh depths in the Tusken Raiders’ culture and meet a character from the original films whose legacy has shadowed this series since it debuted with the Disney+ service back in November 2019.

(Don’t worry, I’m not dropping that name. But there will be a few smaller spoilers and hints sprinkled through this review, so consider yourself warned.)


For disenchanted Star Wars fans like myself – folks who have grown frustrated and dismissive of the bloated predictability in the franchise’s recent films – The Mandalorian is an impressive, expertly-executed do-over. It revisits and reinvents a fictional world loaded with storytelling promise, too often underutilized on the big screen in the drive to build the next sci fi blockbuster.

From its start, The Mandalorian had simple goals and a direct style. Built around a bounty hunter presumed to be a member of a legendary warrior race, the first season turned on his discovery of The Child during a job and his decision to become its defender.

Fans knew immediately this kid was a pint-sized specimen from the same race as one of the most famous Star Wars characters, Jedi Master Yoda. Over the course of the first season, “Mando” — a nickname from the show which sounds so close to a slur I resist deploying it – discovers he must find other members of this race and bring The Child to them, pursued by remnants of the evil, authoritarian Empire who realize the youngling is a powerful resource.

For all those who complained about the series’ slow start in 2019, this year’s model kicks off with a swirl of intensity. Our Hero survives a fight, only to learn he must head to Tatooine to find another Mandalorian who might know where The Child’s people live.

Once there, he stumbles on Mandalorian armor any Star Wars fan would instantly recognize, worn by a local marshal played by the best actor to ever embody a sharp-shooting lawman, Justified alum Timothy Olyphant (told you there would be a few spoilers). The moment Olyphant lets fly with one of his smart-alecky quips, you know these two are teaming up for something.

If the mothership Star Wars movies are space operas built around reimagined fragments of samurai films and the legends of medieval knights, then The Mandalorian finds its tone in a slightly different genre: it’s a straight up Western.

And there is no greater Western trope than the story of a scrappy, dusty frontier town threatened by a grand danger, depending on a stalwart sheriff and mysterious, gunslinging stranger to help save the day.

The great challenge of The Mandalorian is to keep us entertained, even as it references familiar storytelling most fans know so well, they can predict the end of the tale even as it begins.

Because we know how Westerns work, we know Our Hero and Olyphant’s character will form an uneasy alliance, after a tense initial moment. We know they’ll eventually find success. We know that success will cement an uneasy, culture-bridging alliance between the townspeople and the Tusken Raiders, marauding pirates who attack Luke Skywalker in the very first Star Wars film.

But the brilliance of The Mandalorian’s new installment is how it deploys revelations about the Star Wars universe to keep us guessing and engaged, topped by the episode-ending reveal of a character that will make fans squeal with anticipation and delight (How do I know this? Guess who squealed loud enough to wake my neighbors when the final scene appeared?)

Creator Jon Favreau — who wrote and directed this first episode of the new season – seems to have learned from critical snipes about the first season. The storytelling pace here is quicker, with more reveals that spark deeper questions; just as scenes lapse into the gobbledygooky space jargon needed to build the plot, we get a little action to break things up and remind us we’re watching a gritty, occasionally grand adventure. And the new episode is 55 minutes long, compared to last season’s installments, which averaged about 40 minutes each.

Best of all, I left this new episode eager to see what comes next, and a little annoyed with Disney+ that they don’t follow Netflix’s binge model and drop an entire season at once.

This new episode of The Mandalorian proves the first season wasn’t a fluke. They have revitalized one of sci-fi’s biggest franchises, boosted one of media biggest streaming services and marked a bold new chapter for one of TV’s most ambitious and well-crafted series.

Not a bad day’s work — even for the coolest Mandalorian in a galaxy far, far away.

Why You Should Stream ‘Watchmen’

by Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon, Soraya Nadia McDonald, and Daisy Rosario

The HBO miniseries Watchmen recently earned 26 well-deserved Emmy nominations. And if you haven’t seen the series, now is a good time to catch up. Watchmen is not strictly an adaptation of the landmark comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — it’s technically a sequel. It stars Regina King as an ex-cop in Tulsa Oklahoma who’s not-so-secretly the masked vigilante Sister Night. It also stars Don Johnson and Tim Blake Nelson, alongside Jean Smart and a very odd Jeremy Irons, who may or may not both be playing characters from the comic. Showrunner Damon Lindelof has set the show within a big, weird world that keeps getting bigger and weirder, even as it seeks to comment on some very contemporary, real-world issues. (This episode originally aired on November 6, 2019.) 

The audio was produced and edited by Jessica Reedy.

Diego Luna Says Shared Meals On ‘Pan Y Circo’ Transformed Cast And Crew Alike

by Rachel Martin, Simone Popperl, and Lilly Quiroz

Diego Luna wants you to start talking. 

The star of Y Tu Mamá También, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Narcos: Mexicoand Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has a new series that he hopes will compel audiences to do that. It’s called Pan y Circo, or “Bread and Circus,” out Friday on Amazon Prime Video. 

The title is a reference to the poem “Satire X” by Roman poet Juvenal, who wrote in the second century that bread and circuses — food and entertainment — are all that’s needed to convince Romans to give up their political freedoms.

“The title was not my idea,” Luna says. “When I heard it that first time, I was like, it’s perfect. It’s perfect because it has the irony that the show wants to have. Also it’s kind of like the show. It’s the reaction of many years of bread and circus in this country,” Mexico.

But the concept applies in many other countries as well, according to Luna, “where politics are a kind of a show for us to witness and get hooked.”

Luna says he believes that coming together to eat and talk is the first step in breaking that cycle. In the first episode of Pan y Circo, he asks the audience to imagine a better future after the pandemic is over: “Even after the end of the outbreak, the damaged systems will remain damaged,” he says in the series’ first episode. “And if we want to fix them, if we have the will to repair what’s wrong, we have to sit at the table.”

In each episode of Pan y Circo, Luna hosts groups of scientists, artists, thinkers, activists and journalists for a meal and conversation. They talk about daunting societal problems, including gender violence, climate change and racism. They don’t always agree on the problem, or what can be done about it. Sometimes the disagreements get heated.

And of course, they eat together at the same table, something that’s no longer possible as a result of COVID-19. The disease highlights the urgency of what Luna is trying to accomplish: “With this pandemic, I live in a country where the numbers are horrible, but it’s because we were sick already,” he says. “It’s not because of the pandemic. We were sick, and we were doing nothing. Now we have the chance to actually do something because we know how vulnerable we are.”


Interview Highlights 

On the importance of food and cooking to the project

It’s been 10, 15 years that I’ve been really obsessed with what happens in the kitchen. Everything is the kitchen. No matter how much you want people to stay in the living room or at the table, it always ends up in the kitchen. And it’s where you say everything, where you allow yourself to actually open, where the meaningful conversations happen.

The table is a place where at least we can remind ourselves that we can share the food. Doesn’t matter who you voted for, what you believe in. At least sharing the food is something we are capable of doing. And it’s the first step [before] the next one, which is the one that matters to me: How can we find a way to work together in this stuff?

After the elections in Mexico, I was seeing with a lot of worry and sadness how polarized my own family was, my friends, my work, my partners. There was no way to actually be in a discussion that didn’t suddenly get to the point where people started saying: You’re with me or against me.

To me, that’s very dangerous, because in that moment, we as a society become incapable of actually bringing any kind of change. To be able to actually do something as a society, we need to find that civil power. We have to work together. We have to find a way to sit at the table and find those things we can agree on.

On the way the conversations were transformative for the cast and crew

It was very interesting because I sat down at that table thinking I was one person and I ended up realizing I wasn’t. … I was fooling myself. And it confronted me with my ignorance and the very little that I do. And it was really interesting, the process, because that happened not just to me, but to the whole team of Bread and Circus

I sat down at that table saying, I’m not a racist, I’m definitely not a racist. And after half of the dinner, I was like, holy s***, how much have I benefited through my whole life from the system, and how little I have done to fight it!

But it was very interesting to have that reflection, because then the dinner ends, and we come out from the control room. The team comes out, and we sit down and we start talking and we have a mezcal, and we discuss what just happened. And you can realize how these tables ended up transforming all of us somehow.

On how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the series

We were in post-production. We finished the shooting of the six episodes that Amazon agreed on doing with us. So I sat down and edited it for quite a long time with the team. And we were almost done, and thinking on how to put it out there, when the pandemic happened.

For me, the pandemic happened in a very specific way, very different from most of the people in Mexico. I was in London, and I was about to start working there and I was sent back home. Then I came here [to Mexico]. There [were] no cases, and it was like a different reality, you know, a parallel world where things were still the same for a few weeks.

And then my kids got sick; they were [among] the first cases in Mexico. We were talking about putting the show out, and I was experiencing that and they were sick and I wasn’t. So I couldn’t be close to them without having to protect myself as if I was working at NASA.

So I said, what if we do a show about this moment? And that way we can put all these topics in the table because we’re starting from the point of: If we don’t think about this now, if we don’t do anything about gender violence, about migration, about the climate emergency, if we don’t react now, then what’s the point of all this craziness we’re living? … It was like, oh, my God, I have everything, and at the same time, [if] I can’t hug my kids, then I have nothing.

‘I May Destroy You’ Let Michaela Coel Explore Dangerous Areas In A Safe Place

by Terry Gross

Arabella (Michaela Coel) attends a support meeting with other survivors of sexual assault on HBO’s I May Destroy You. Coel, the show’s creator, writer, director and star, based the series on something that happened to her.

Note: This interview discusses, and the show contains, scenes depicting, and stories about, sexual assault.

The new HBO series I May Destroy You is a stylish, sometimes funny drama about a very serious subject: rape and sexual assault. 

The series centers on Arabella, a young writer who is raped after her drink is spiked at a bar. Michaela Coel, the show’s creator, writer, director and star, was assaulted in a similar way when she was writing and starring in her first TV series, Chewing Gum.

Coel says she initially wanted to create a series about sexual assault because of her own experiences. But as she heard from other people who had similar stories, she began to think more broadly.

“I realized that many people had some sort of experience that was connected to mine,” she says. “There were so many different ways to explore consent and how it affects us today. What better place for a story than one that I felt many people could find an identification in?”

Writing the show was especially difficult: “It almost sent me around the bend, back into the shock,” she says. “I was probably already suffering from PTSD.” 

But Coel says that acting was a different story: “We had a therapist that was on site at all times, so it felt like I could be safe to explore very dangerous areas in a very safe playground.”


Interview Highlights

On piecing together what happened to her after she was drugged and raped 

In many ways, Arabella’s story … is very similar to mine, but there are differences that I’ve intentionally kept so there’s always a distinction between myself and Arabella. But yes, I was writing all night in the production office that I was making a TV show for, and went on a break to meet my friend in a bar. And I had a drink, [I blacked out], and then I was back at work typing and finishing the episode that was due and didn’t quite realize my phone was smashed.

I was a mess, but I didn’t quite connect the dots until I had a flashback. And then, yes, I had friends who helped me going through Uber receipts, bank statements, calling other friends to literally try and gather the pieces. So our stories are different, but there are many, many similarities. … 

It’s such a strange experience. And I think for a lot of people, they don’t even have a flashback at all. It’s even stranger that I had a flash that enabled me to end up going to the police to give DNA swabs, or all these things technically should never have happened. I wasn’t supposed to remember anything. It’s troubling. 

On relating to how Arabella minimizes what’s happened to her because of other suffering in the world

I definitely look at myself and my tendency to look out instead of looking in and sometimes looking out is almost an escape from looking in. So, yes, there are hungry children. There is a war in Syria. Not everybody [has] a smartphone. And within this world, you were raped. … If you’re using the outside world to escape your introspection, I think that’s where Arabella goes wrong and where I’ve definitely gone wrong in my life.

On rethinking her relationship with social media 

I used to spend a lot of time on social media, scrolling. I loved being on Instagram Live. It felt very natural for me to start a live feed and to share my thoughts and to read the thoughts of other people and to constantly be engaging. I would make yoga videos for Instagram. I wonder, for me, whether I was feeling alone and feeling very marginalized and like I needed to connect, but was perhaps too unaware of how to connect with myself and my trauma and even my friends, and so it seemed like a very easy way to connect with loads of people. But very similar to Arabella, I did realize that to kind of go on the journey of introspection that I wanted to go on, and that I needed to go on to make the show, I would have to severely limit my time and cleanse my algorithms and the people I was following, to just quiet down the noise the social media makes.

On how she learned to write for TV for her first series, Chewing Gum

I Googled “how to write a series.” … It was so helpful. … [I learned] structure, understanding a comedy, and ending on a high before the commercial break and setting up the world of the character, the structure of acts, whether you’re doing a 5-act structure or 3-act structure. It gave me information that I think was definitely helpful. I already had my ideas and I had Chewing Gum Dreams the play, but was attempting to write it in the television world, which I had very little idea about, other than being in a few TV shows. 

On joining the Pentacostal Church as a teenager and speaking in tongues

We would do this thing called prayer in the park, and one of those prayer days, that was when I first spoke in tongues. … I think it did come out of me unprovoked, and I was definitely having an experience of something beyond and I liken that very much to the writing process when I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to write, but I put my fingers on the keypad and something flows. It’s also like improvising as a comedy group in English. This just happens to be tongues. And it’s unexplainable. But, yet, it does happen. … 

I remember being very emotional. Very, very, very emotional. And then life carries on as normal. And I think I even got some, “Congratulations! Welcome, tongue speaker! You have spoken in tongues!” Sometimes I’d be in church and I’d speak in tongues again. I definitely don’t speak in tongues anymore, but when I meditate, sometimes I cry.

On reflecting on the way she is perceived as a Black British person compared to how her Black friends are perceived in the U.S. 

I do have some Black friends in America, and I think we find it fascinating and discuss these things quite a lot. … I do hear from some of my friends that in America, people like me who are British African, are seen differently as people who are African American. Perhaps there’s a strange privilege being me in America that is denied to people who are African American. And I don’t know whether it’s because I don’t share that history, of slavery, being the descendants of slaves, that African Americans do with people in America. … 

[There’s also] something about the accent. I think Britain has done a very good job of perpetuating the narrative of being very fine and fancy and elegant. And I think this somehow enters the minds of Americans when they hear it — which, it’s interesting, because it’s not real. It’s not real at all! It’s all based on these stereotypes and prejudices. I sometimes say, “I’ve dropped out of college three times. But my voice is giving you a different story!” 

Lauren Krenzel and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

From ‘Parks And Recreation,’ A Brief But Delightful Return To Pawnee

By Linda Holmes

It’s been five years since Parks and Recreation ended its run, after a final season that jumped forward into the future — specifically, to 2017. We haven’t got the nifty transparent touchscreens their 2017 showed. Instead, we have a pandemic, and we have social distancing, and we are doing without many of our comforts, large and small. But for a half-hour on Thursday night, we did not have to be without our friends from Pawnee.

The special, conceived, written and filmed during the weeks of isolation that have idled much of Hollywood, began — after an intro from Paul Rudd’s lovable rich dummy Bobby Newport, who’s living an oblivious life in Switzerland — with Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) checking in via video chat. He was at home with their kids; she was somewhere else. He’s in Congress; she works for the Department of the Interior. There are nods to the things he’s done to amuse himself during lonely moments in the past, from his Claymation experiment to his complicated board game, Cones of Dunshire. She’s worried about him.


But Leslie, being Leslie, is running a phone tree with all her former colleagues, because she checks in on everybody to make sure they’re all right. She calls up Ron (Nick Offerman), who’s out in his workshop in the woods — and he’s still doing battle with his second ex-wife, played by Offerman’s wife Megan Mullally. What makes that particularly funny is that Ron is with Tammy 2, but the show is otherwise stuck with the limitations of actors who can’t be in scenes together, even though the story would have them living together. This is sometimes solved with humor, as when April (Aubrey Plaza) is not with Andy (Chris Pratt) because he’s locked himself in the shed (classic Andy). It’s sometimes solved with simple logic, as with Ben and Leslie’s busy jobs, or when Ann (Rashida Jones) is quarantining separately from Chris (Rob Lowe) and their kids because she’s still working as a nurse. It is a pure quirk of casting and the intersection with reality, but it’s also very funny, that out of all these people, only Ron and Tammy 2 can be together.

The episode, written by show creator Michael Schur and a virtual room of the show’s former writers, finds some very clever ways to incorporate the oddities of video calling. Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Donna (Retta) are using the same tropical background on their call together, because they are always looking for ways to live well. To treat themselves, as it were. And Garry (or Jerry, or Terry, or whatever they’re calling him right now) (Jim O’Hehir) is unable to figure out how to turn off the camera filters that make him look like a dog or a baby.

But one of the reasons I tried — oh, I really tried — to keep my expectations low with this special is that Parks has always been, for me, a show about togetherness. At weddings, at funerals, at parties and weird public events, it’s typically been at the height of its powers when a group connects. And I’ve seen enough Zoom calls to know that groups of faces on a screen have their charms, but they can’t really get to the emotional place that a group hug wants to go.

I was wrong to doubt.

Because of course they found the perfect final moment; of course. It wasn’t just the “Bye Bye Li’l Sebastian” singalong (although it was that, obviously). It was that we got a little slice of what became my favorite story of love in all of Pawnee when Ron reminded Leslie to stop taking care of everybody else and let people take care of her. This group of writers found a true character beat, one that made sense for the moment and is absolutely what the Ron we know would need to tell the Leslie we know, that they could write into this special. Mostly, yes, it’s just a visit — with the whole gang, with Joan Calamezzo and Perd Hapley and Dennis Feinstein and Jean-Ralphio. And that was such a spirit-lifter that it would have been really fine.

But then there was that little bauble of a reminder that even though they’ve been separated for years, even before social distancing, these people still love each other, and they still know each other. It’s so funny now to look back at the great feature Vulture did in early April in which writers speculated about what their COVID-19 episodes would look like. Schur said a lot of things that didn’t come true in the special, quite. But he also said this: “Ron would be thrilled because now there’s a reason for him to be alone with no one bothering him. But he would worry about Leslie.” And that little bit of emotional realness in an entry that’s largely jokes, is the part that survived.

That, and the lighters, and the singing … well, I cried, of course. But it was the nice kind of crying. Maybe I even needed it. And hey, sometimes that’s all you can ask for from a visit with old friends.