Here’s the latest on films, books, and music you may have missed.
The Reluctant Radical. This thought-provoking documentary provides an intimate profile of Ken Ward, an organizer who joins with others in civil disobedience to draw attention to the urgency of action on climate change. He was part of a small group of activists who closed valves in multiple states to shut down tar sands oil pipelines, resulting in trials where they have mounted a defense based on the necessity of acting to prevent a greater harm.
First Reformed. A timely feature film explores how despair can set in when individuals face difficult times without support from a broader community. A pastor at a New England church who lost his son in Iraq is asked to counsel a young man distraught over the ability of powerful corporate interests to block climate action. Meanwhile, a parishioner reminiscent of the Koch brothers is the most important donor to the church.
Minding the Gap. A young man in a decaying town in the Midwest made this documentary about himself and his skateboard buddies who are all trying to transcend dysfunctional families and avoid repeating a cycle of domestic violence.
The Last Hot Lick. The former bass player for a band that was popular 50 years ago now leads a lonely life touring small-time bars in the Northwest with his guitar, until he meets a woman who is also wandering and becomes his singing partner. All is not what it seems, however, as this down-to-earth feature film unfolds.
Fort Maria. A Bulgarian immigrant to the American South has raised an adopted African American daughter as a single mom. The daughter, now grown, searches for her birth family roots, while the woman who raised her confronts a crisis of her own. This strikingly visual feature film was made without giving the four women who are the main characters an exact script to follow, resulting in an unusual level of authenticity.
So Much Yellow. An 11-minute short feature set in the early 1960s shows a young couple taking the wrenching step of institutionalizing their four-year-old son, who has Down syndrome. The story is told from the point of view of his eight-year-old sister.
Nana. At a time when polling shows that two-thirds of American millennials don’t know what Auschwitz is, this documentary tells the story of one woman who was taken as a child to that German concentration camp where more than a million Jews and others were killed. By luck, she survived, and as an adult she led tours there so new generations would learn how genocide can happen.
Underfire. A young man in the U.S. infantry in World War II carried a small camera with him and took 8,000 photographs of battle scenes, fields of dead bodies, soldiers during down time, German prisoners of war, and much more. In this powerful documentary, he revisits many of the same sites and talks in poignant terms about his feelings then and now.
Frantz. In the aftermath of World War I, a young German woman and her in-laws mourn the death of her fiancé at the hands of French soldiers. A young Frenchman appears at his grave site, also in mourning. From there, relationships develop in unexpected ways, and more is revealed about why he has come.
World and Town by Gish Jen (A.A. Knopf). In this richly layered novel, a Chinese-American woman, her Cambodian immigrant neighbors, and her white former lover all are trying to find their way in a small town where the struggles of family farms, the growth of fundamentalist Christian churches, and other changes pose new challenges.
Brass by Xhenet Aliu (Random House). An unusual first novel by the Connecticut-born daughter of Lithuanian and Albanian parents tells the story of one such immigrant and that woman’s daughter as they try to come to terms with their past.
This Is an Uprising by Mark Engler and Paul Engler (Nation Books). Does social change come in small incremental bites won by large organizations, or as a result of mass mobilizations that create a crisis for those in power? Or through a combination of these two? Is it possible to reform the capitalist system, or better to create pockets of alternative culture? These are some of the age-old questions explored in this highly useful book with examples from recent history, helping today’s activists clarify their own strategic thinking.
Edith’s War by Peter A. Witt (Texas A&M). Edith Witt was a lifelong social activist and writer who was involved in labor organizing and a sit-in for racial justice in the 1930s, served overseas in the Red Cross during World War II, stood up to McCarthyism in the 1950s, joined the civil rights march to Selma in 1965, helped build community organizations pushing for affordable housing, and led a fight to preserve marshlands north of San Francisco. Her nephew skillfully presents her previously unpublished historical accounts, letters, and other papers that described her experiences in her own words.
Unseen by Darcy Eveleigh, Dana Canedy, Damien Cave, and Rachel L. Swarns (Black Dog and Leventhal). Four journalists who have worked for the New York Times selected photographs of African Americans that were taken for that newspaper but never published. Each photo is accompanied by illuminating text that explains the story behind it, often with comments about why the picture wasn’t used and what readers might have learned if it had been.
The New Prophets of Capital by Nicole Aschoff (Verso). A journalist takes a close look at Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, Whole Foods’ John Mackey, and Oprah, concluding that they are just the new faces advancing the legitimacy of class privilege and power, consumer culture, and capitalism itself.
In a Day’s Work by Bernice Yeung (The New Press). At a time when sexual violence against women in Hollywood and the national media has received a lot of publicity, a journalist takes an in-depth look at harassment and assault against low-wage farm workers, domestic workers, janitors in office buildings, and others who can least afford to lose their jobs. She shows how laws and enforcement need to be strengthened, and details efforts by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other organizations to empower women to win justice on the job.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (Random House). A realistic novel for teenagers focuses on the dreams, roots, and growing pains of a female Mexican-American high school student.
Down Girl by Kate Manne (Oxford University). Misogyny is defined as the practice of silencing or punishing women who challenge male domination, according to this book by a philosophy professor.
Dying to Work by Jonathan D. Karmel (ILR). Forty-five years after passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), 4,836 U.S. workers were killed in a single year, roughly 2,000 more than were killed on 9/11. About 50,000 more die each year from job-related illnesses, and another 3.8 million workplace injuries and illnesses are reported. The great majority of this carnage could be prevented if proven protections came before corporate profits. This book provides facts, solutions, and human stories from more than a dozen types of work, from grocery clerk and hotel housekeeper to logger and manufacturing worker.
Health Care Under the Knife edited by Howard Waitzkin (Monthly Review Press). A team of experts on health care policy and practice produced a comprehensive analysis of why Obamacare will not solve fundamental problems in the U.S. system, how the financialization of health care has intensified, why big foundations like Gates are part of the problem and not the solution, and what can be done.
Moment of Truth edited by Jamie Stern-Weiner (OR Books). A range of voices from Palestine and Israel debate major questions about the possibilities for peace and justice.
Inside Iran by Medea Benjamin (OR Books). A basic primer provides an introduction to Iranian history, culture, and current politics, as well as the record of counterproductive U.S. intervention and confrontation under presidents of both major parties.
Class War, USA by Brandon Weber (Haymarket). Twenty-five readable, illustrated stories describe some of the best known movements in U.S. history in which working people confronted corporate and political power, from strikes by women workers in the 1800s to the UPS strike of 1997 and the Fight for $15 today.
Stand Up! by Gordon Whitman (Berrett-Koehler). In recent years, more and more people want to do something about the state of the world beyond signing online petitions and sharing rants on social media. A community organizer discusses steps for getting involved to help build a more powerful movement.
Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (St. Martin’s). In a book with a well-chosen title, a black feminist speaks on relationships with white women, the need for collective solutions to collective problems, the intersection of race and class, and more.
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World). The African American author of Between the World and Me provides a frank examination of why America made so little progress despite having its first black president.
Women of the World. A not-to-be-missed live album by a group of four female singers who hail from India, Italy, Japan, and Haiti/the U.S., backed by a skilled percussionist from Canada. The group has a full range of styles and songs from around the world, from energetic and playful to spiritual with gorgeous harmonies.
Les Blues Du Richmond by Duck Baker (Tompkins Square). A virtuoso fingerstyle guitarist plays in a variety of styles, including folk, jazz, ragtime, Irish, and blues.
Southbound by Bob Rea. 13 original songs in Nashville style range from serious – about the war in Vietnam or what to do when “the law got a license to kill” – to wry humor, like “Screw Cincinnati” about a woman’s old boyfriend who “keeps making her dance around the barroom too slow, while he whispers romance and steps on her toes.”