Interview

The Reckon Interview, Season 6

The Righteous Gemstones: Cassidy Freeman takes us behind the scenes of the misbehavin’ hit show

The South and Southerners are rich territory for comedy.

But it’s also hard to get it right. We all know someone who bristles when they hear a bad Southern accent. Or when they get the details wrong.

But few people make better Southern comedy these days than Danny McBride and Jody Hill. They’ve built a cult following around shows like Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals – depicting Southern men behaving very very badly. But also managing to capture the pain and heart at the root of a lot of these jokes.

But their latest show, the Righteous Gemstones, is their masterpiece. The family at the center of the show is an evangelical megachurch empire. And it’s got an incredible cast of McBride, John Goodman, Edi Patterson, Adam DeVine, Eric Andre, Walton Goggins, and my guest today, the incredibly talented, Cassidy Freeman.

I can’t think of a better way to start off season six of the Reckon Interview than with Cassidy Freeman taking us to church.

Want to understand the soul of America? Look South, says Imani Perry

In her new book, “South to America,” Imani Perry dives into the heart of the “changing same” of the American South.

We talk a lot about the ways that the South has progressed in the last 60 years. But as politicians across the South – and across the country for that matter – are attacking voting rights, LGBT youth, especially trans children, and working to erase Black history from textbooks… It does feel like we may be stuck in a changing same.

Her work fits into a long tradition like W.J. Cash’s The Mind of the South, Albert Murray’s South to a Very Old Place, VO Key’s Southern Politics in State and Nation and WEB Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America, as books that unlock a deeper understanding of America through an expansive analysis of the South.

Dr. Perry was born in Birmingham and most of her family remains in Alabama. But she spent most of her life living in Chicago and the Northeast. She’s currently a professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. And in this book she approaches the South as both an insider and an outsider. An exile, she calls herself. And it’s a framing that allows her to upend so many assumptions about the South that we hold about ourselves or that the rest of the world holds about us.

Perry’s South is a big South – a place filled with multiple Souths – that stretches from West Virginia to the Bahamas and beyond. Something in this conversation and in this book, will change the way you think about Southern identity and culture.

Why don’t more movies get made about the women of the civil rights movement?

Who determines which stories get told?

Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen state legislatures across the country move to limit students’ access to stories by and about Black and Brown Americans or by and about Queer Americans. In some cases threatening fines and punishment against students or teachers that step outside of the line.

In book publishing, massive consolidation in the industry has left just a handful of gatekeepers – mostly based in New York – that determine which stories are worthy of print.

Most newsrooms across the country still don’t look like the communities they serve.

In Hollywood, while there have been major strides to diversify in recent years, the ability to greenlight projects remains in the hands of a select few.

This week on the Reckon Interview, I had the pleasure of speaking with Aunjanue Ellis and Christine Swanson about their efforts to get a feature film made about Fannie Lou Hamer, an icon of the Mississippi freedom rights movement.

Elizabeth Hughey created poetry from an unlikely source: The words of Bull Connor

There are, by some estimates, more than one million distinct words in the English language. The average English-speaking adult will understand about 40,000 words but only use about 20,000 of them routinely.

Words are building blocks. They’re tools. We can use them to inspire or to attack. To make each other laugh or to make each other cry.

The same common language was used by Martin Luther King Jr. to liberate people as was used by Birmingham police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor to enforce segregation and inspire violence.

In a new collection of poetry called “White Bull,” Elizabeth Hughey has tried to make sense of and reclaim the words of Connor. For a decade, she sifted through his speeches, his private letters, even his receipts, to create a database of language from which she built something radically different. Turning the words of hatred into a language of poetry.

This week on the Reckon Interview, I chat with Elizabeth about what motivated her to take on a project like this. How her upbringing in the suburbs of Birmingham affected the way she sees the world. What it was like to sit in the headspace of one of the most known villains of the 20th century. We also talk about her decision to move back to Birmingham after years of living in the northeast to found a literary nonprofit, the Desert Island Supply Company, aka DISCO. And what she hopes people gain from this project.

The Reckon Report.
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