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Editors’ Picks: What To Read, Watch, and Listen To This Winter

December 16, 2020
by Editorial Staff
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Some of our favorite new books, films, and podcasts, for your entertainment

Our editors have curated a list of entertainment to indulge in this autumn. Here are their top picks of web series, podcasts, films, and more, all produced by UC Berkeley faculty and alumni.

Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast

Co-hosted by Matt Levin ’07

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Ask any California resident what they hate about the Golden State. If their answer isn’t wildfires, it’s likely housing costs, the focus of the new biweekly podcast Gimme Shelter. Co-hosts Matt Levin of CalMatters and Liam Dillon of the Los Angeles Times explore issues ranging from housing affordability to bureaucratic gridlock at the State Capitol. While never straying too far from dire realities like housing shortages, homelessness, and gentrification, the hosts actually make housing policy fun. Give it a listen. They just might convince you to turn that backyard tool shed into a tiny home. —Dylan Svoboda

The Road from Raqqa

by Jordan Ritter Conn, M.J. ’10

In his debut book, The Road from Raqqa: A Story of Brotherhood, Borders, and Belonging, Jordan Ritter Conn covers the story of two brothers, Riyad and Bashar Alkasem. The pair grew up during the violence-ridden 1970s and 1980s in Raqqa, Syria, which later became the home of ISIS. The two split ways in their early adulthoods when Riyad moved to the United States. The book explores the brothers’ relationship with each other and their home. When he isn’t writing books, Ritter Conn, who honed his writing chops at J-school, is crafting long-form articles for The Ringer.  —D.S.

 A People’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area

by Rachel Brahinsky ’12 and Alexander Tarr ’14;  photography by Bruce Rinehart ’06

Historically, the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most progressive regions in the United States, if not the world. That history is undergirded by an endless class and racial struggle against those in power. A People’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area, written by Berkeley alumni Rachel Brahinsky and Alexander Tarr, and illustrated with photography from Bruce Rinehart, chronicles thousands of years of the region’s history through the lens of activists and unsung heroes. “The Bay Area is a place with entrenched injustices—racism, economic violence, homophobia,” the introduction reads. “This means that the work of understanding what has come before and how people have survived, fought back, reimagined, and dreamed is essential here, and beyond here.” —D.S.

Hella Black Podcast

by Blake Simons ’16 and Delency Parham

Oakland community organizers and educators Blake Simons and Delency Parham seek to advance Black political education and promote “all things related to Blackness” on their podcast Hella Black, which they launched in 2016. “We want to empower the people that are listening to go out and do something,” Simons told the East Bay Express. Simons and Parham also founded People’s Breakfast Oakland in 2017, a grassroots Black socialist organization that provides food, clothes, and hygiene supplies to Oakland’s homeless community. Look for Hella Black on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and SoundCloud. —B.B.

The Wombs of Women

by Françoise Vergès ’95

In 1970, newspapers revealed a horrific human rights abuse. Doctors on French-ruled Réunion Island, situated in the Indian Ocean, had been systematically giving Black Réunionese women forced abortions without their knowledge. Yet, the French feminist movement of the era largely ignored the atrocity. Vergès, who grew up on the island, illuminates this missing chapter of French history in order to challenge the entire construction of France’s historical narrative. First published in French in 2017, The Wombs of Women has a message that transcends borders. Vergès urges readers to leave behind the Eurocentric and nationalist feminism of the 1970s and embrace a multi-dimensional feminism that amplifies the voices of women of color. —Boyce Buchanan

Over the Moon

Screenplay by Audrey Wells ’81; starring John Cho ’96

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Before her passing in 2018, Audrey Wells penned the screenplay for Over the Moon, an animated musical fantasy film in which Chinese tween Fei Fei grapples with the death of her mother. When Fei Fei’s father—voiced by John Cho—decides to remarry, the young heroine embarks on a lunar mission to find legendary moon goddess Chang’e, with the hope that proving her existence will make her father reconsider. Released in October 2020, the film is the first animated feature from a major Hollywood studio with an all-Asian cast. Dedicated to Wells’s memory, Over the Moon is now available to stream on Netflix. —Maddy Weinberg

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ’11

This fall, Netflix released The Trial of the Chicago 7, a historical drama in which recent Emmy winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II portrays Bobby Seale, cofounder of the Black Panther Party. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the film recounts the infamous trial of eight activists indicted for conspiracy to incite a riot after protesting the Vietnam War outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Seale—the only Black defendant—was not one of the “Chicago 7,” as the group became known, and hadn’t even met the other defendants prior to the indictment. “I’m not with them!” Seale (Abdul-Mateen II) blurts out in one courtroom scene. “And speaking frankly, the U.S. attorney wanted a Negro defendant to scare the jury.” Seale was charged with contempt and, eventually, bound and gagged by bailiffs. “I wanted to do two things with this role,” Abdul-Mateen II, who studied architecture and ran track at Cal, told NPR. “I wanted to represent for Oakland, and I wanted to advocate for Bobby Seale and for his experience—the experience that he had in this trial. And I knew that if I could step into those shoes, and if I could go through that humiliation, that brutalization as Bobby Seale would call it … and portray a victory, as opposed to a defeat, then I felt like I would be doing a good job.” —M.W.

Cal Performances at Home

Photo courtesy of Ras Dia

Do you miss the feeling of being in an audience, the anticipation building in your stomach as you wait for your favorite performer to walk on stage? Thankfully, Cal Performances at Home brings the stage to you. The series, which began in October, features stunning performances from around the globe, streamed directly to your home screen. From the comfort of their couches, audiences can enjoy an evening with Yo-Yo Ma, feel the rhythms of Bria Skonberg’s jazz set flowing out from Louis Armstrong’s historic house in Queens, and listen to Julia Bullock’s powerful soprano. The programming is complemented by artist talks and interviews with Berkeley faculty. Viewers can catch all the performers they might have missed in an eclectic New Year’s Eve musical celebration that highlights the fall roster. —B.B.

Oral History Project with Willie Brown

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

There may be no person as important to California and San Francisco’s recent political history as Willie Brown. The powerhouse politician served for 30 years in the California State Assembly and two terms as mayor of San Francisco. Now he’s telling the story in his own words in a new 10-hour oral history from the Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library. Brown begins his tale in 1992, picking up where his earlier installment left off—in his last few years at the State Capitol and continuing into his tenure as the City by the Bay’s mayor, 1996 to 2004. —D.S.


Directed by Ai Weiwei

Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, was placed under lockdown on January 23, 2020. What happened in the months that followed was largely hidden from the outside world. In August, however, renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who briefly studied English at Berkeley, released Coronation, a surprise documentary chronicling the harshness of life under quarantine. Ai directed the film from exile in Europe with the help of dozens of volunteers in Wuhan, who, armed with concealable cameras, captured footage inside the city’s ICUs, temporary hospitals, and crematoria. The resulting vignettes display both the impressive efficiency of the Chinese government and the crushing emotional toll on Wuhan’s 11 million inhabitants. “Yes, it’s about the corona lockdown,” Ai told the New York Times, “But it is trying to reflect what ordinary Chinese people went through.” In one scene, mourners collect their loved ones’ ashes as state officials stand by, watching closely to ensure that their grief does not devolve into anger toward the government. “China has this very clear view that once you lose control, then chaos follows,” said Ai. Coronation is available to stream in the U.S. on Alamo On Demand. —M.W.

Back to School with Maz Jobrani

Co-hosted by Maz Jobrani ’94

Photo courtesy of Storm Santos

Why do people believe conspiracy theories? What is it like to run for city council during a pandemic? Can you buy Coca-Cola in Cuba? Maz Jobrani doesn’t have the answers, but he can find people who do. The comedian and frequent panelist on NPR’s news quiz Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! launched his educational podcast, Back to School with Maz Jobrani, in 2019 after his 10-year-old son stumped him with a question. Instead of relying on Google for answers, Jobrani calls upon professors and experts from all over the world. In September, he and his cohosts, Tehran Von Ghasri and Kaitlin Gleason, interviewed foreign correspondent Reese Erlich ’70, who confirmed that you can, in fact, buy Coca-Cola in Cuba. —M.W.

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