When They See Us

A still from the Netflix miniseries "When They See Us."

I try to save this space for my personal musings about entertainment and pop culture. This week, that just doesn’t feel right.

With the civil unrest going on nationwide in response to the killing of George Floyd, watching my friends get teargassed at the protests and the pain being expressed in marginalized communities, I don’t know what a 36-year-old privileged journalist can say to help during this time. There is no entertainment news for me to speak on because what is bigger than helping marginalized, hurting communities.

With that said, I want to take a moment to reflect. In pop culture, there are a pieces of art that have illuminated on injustice, racial disparity and calls to action. Some of them you’ve been told to watch a thousand times over, some you might not have given a chance before because “It wasn’t the right time.” The context has changed with the protests and the call for justice. Now is the time.

“When They See Us” — I wrote previously about Ava DuVernay’s heartbreaking 2019 Netflix miniseries about the Central Park Five. While a little shaggy at the beginning, it captures the inequality between the black and white community with such an empathetic, but stern touch that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The performances are superb and the message has never been more relevant. Please seek it out. (Streaming on Netflix)

“Monster” (A novel by Walter Dean Myers) — This book was introduced to me in a young adult literature class in college and I was absolutely blown away by it. Written as a script by a young black teen facing trial for murder, he records his experiences as friends and acquaintances turn on him, viewing him as the titular “Monster,” while he wrestles with being gaslit and framed as an awful person. It is a moving piece that’s not challenging with its words, but complex with its perspective.

“To Pimp A Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar — Hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar is the go-to example of a rapper who expertly crafts the experience of the anger, confusion and violence that comes with being a person who’s been marginalized by society, and rightfully so. It’s a celebration of black culture and community, sometimes profane, violent and crude, while also uplifting and spiritual. Tracks like “i” and “Alright” remain glorious proclamations of surviving hard times.

“The Wire” — Film critic Drew McWeeny said it best when it comes to the monumental HBO series created by David Simon — “We would do well to really take apart the idea of how many hours a week of network television are spent reinforcing the idea of the police as the heroes, even if they’re presented as flawed ... Simon, for example, has created entertainment that I think digs further into the institutional roots of how systems work than anyone else working in cop fiction.” It’s a challenging watch to start out, but worth the journey, as it breaks down so many failures of society (police, the education system, government accountability, journalism). You feel different after watching it.

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug