The live-action remake of Disney’s classic “The Little Mermaid” is out this weekend. The performance of Halle Bailey as Princess Ariel has been widely praised, but some on the right lambasted the casting of a Black actress in the role as an example of—of course—wokeness on the part of Disney. The film’s director, Rob Marshall, dismisses the notion as quickly as he can. “It was never: ‘Let’s do a woke version of ‘Little Mermaid,’ ” he tells Naomi Fry. “It was: ‘Let’s just do the best version.’ ” Marshall took an unusual path toward directing: he began his career as a dancer on Broadway, moving to film only after becoming injured while performing in “Cats.” Since then, he has directed “Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and “Mary Poppins Returns.” For “The Little Mermaid,” he drew inspiration from the original Hans Christian Andersen text, which he says is a coming-of-age story about a young girl who breaks down barriers to understand herself and the world around her. “I just felt, wow, isn’t that the world we live in?,” he says. “I mean for me, the whole time I was doing this movie, it felt really like an antidote to the times we’re living in, the divisive world we live in.”
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Olivia Rodrigo Talks with David Remnick
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27:59Being called the voice of a generation might seem a little off to someone born after the millennium. But Olivia Rodrigo’s songs clearly hit home for Gen Z. She turned twenty this year, and has already been one of the biggest stars since 2021, when “Drivers License” became the No. 1 song on the planet. She won three Grammy Awards that year, including Best New Artist. One of her first public performances was on “Saturday Night Live.” Rodrigo’s second album, “Guts,” came out this month, and she remains proud to channel the frustrations of young people. “My favorite songs to sing are the really angry ones,” she told David Remnick. “Especially on tour, I’ll look out at the audience and sometimes see these very young girls, seven or eight, screaming these angry songs, so hyped and so enraged . . . . That’s not something you see on the street, but it’s just so cool that people get to express all those emotions through music.” Rodrigo talked with David Remnick about the lineage of singer-songwriters like Carole King, and dealing with social media as a young celebrity.
Hernan Diaz’s “Trust,” a Novel of High Finance
20:53The daughter of eccentric aristocrats marries a Wall Street tycoon of dubious ethics during the Roaring Twenties. That sounds like a plot that F. Scott Fitzgerald might have written, or Edith Wharton. But “Trust,” by the writer Hernan Diaz, is very much of our time. The novel is told by four people in four different formats, which offer conflicting accounts of the couple’s life, the tycoon Andrew Bevel’s misdeeds, and his role in the crash of 1929. And though a book like “The Great Gatsby” tends to skirt around the question of how the rich make their money, Hernan Diaz puts that question at the heart of “Trust.” “What I was interested in, and this is why I chose finance capital, I wanted a realm of pure abstraction,” he tells David Remnick. Diaz was nearly unknown when “Trust,” his second novel, won the Pulitzer Prize this year.
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Kelly Clarkson on Writing About Divorce
30:29Twenty years after her breakout on “American Idol,” Kelly Clarkson released an album called “Chemistry” that deals with the long arc of a relationship and her recent divorce. She sat down to talk with Hanif Abdurraqib, a music writer passionate about the craft of songwriting. “This literally was written in real time,” Clarkson reflects. “That was me being indecisive. Man, I have kids. Do I want to do this? Can I try again?” But writing about divorce as one of the best-known celebrities in America is very different from a young artist’s heartbreak anthem. “It’s easy to hide in metaphors when it’s not the biggest thing that’s ever happened,” she says. “Everyone’s going to know. Unfortunately my life is very public, especially in the rough times.” Plus, Robert Samuels, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer on politics and race, shares his secret indulgence: watching classic figure-skating routines on YouTube.
Naomi Klein Speaks with Jia Tolentino about “Doppelganger”
20:49For twenty-some years, Naomi Klein has been a leading thinker on the left. She’s especially known for the idea of disaster capitalism: an analysis that the forces of big business will exploit any severe disruption to take over more space in our lives. She was often confused with another prominent political writer, Naomi Wolf—once a feminist on the left who has, in recent years, embraced conspiracy theories on the right and is now on good terms with Steve Bannon. Klein’s new book, “Doppelganger,” starts with this simple case of mistaken identity and broadens into an analysis of our political moment, which she describes as “uncanny” in the psychological sense. “Freud described the uncanny as that species of frightening that changes what was once familiar to something unfamiliar,” she tells the staff writer Jia Tolentino. “It’s that weirdness of ‘I think I know what this is, but it’s not what I think.’ ” Klein argues that the left and the right have become doppelgangers of one another—and that denialism regarding climate change has widened to any number of topics, including the claim that Joe Biden is dead and is being played by an actor. “Whenever you don’t like reality, you can just say that it’s not real,” she says.
A Solution For the Chronically Homeless, and Listening to Taylor Swift in Prison
29:37About 1.2 million people in the United States experience homelessness in a given year—you could nearly fill the city of Dallas with the unhoused. But there are proven solutions. For the chronically homeless, a key strategy is supportive housing—providing not only a stable apartment, but also services like psychiatric and medical care on-site. The New Yorker contributor Jennifer Egan spent the past year following several individuals as they transitioned into a new supportive-housing building in Brooklyn. She found that this housing model works and argues that it could be scaled up nationally for less than the cost of emergency services for the homeless. But “no one,” Egan notes ruefully, “wants to see that line item in their budget.” Plus, Joe Garcia, an inmate serving a life sentence for murder in California’s High Desert State Prison, reads from his essay “Listening to Taylor Swift in Prison,” recently published by The New Yorker.
Richard Brody Makes the Case for Keeping Your DVDs
13:21At the end of this month, after more than two decades, Netflix is phasing out its DVD-rental business. While that may not come as a surprise given the predominance of streaming platforms, it’s a great loss to cinephiles, according to the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. Streaming services routinely drop titles from circulation, and amazing films may be lost to moviegoers. “Physical media is what protects us from being at the mercy of streaming services for our movies and our music,” Brody says. “It’s like a library at home.” Brody gives the producer Adam Howard a peek into his own personal stash of films, and picks a few DVDs of films he would take with him in a fire: Godard’s “King Lear” (“the greatest film ever made – literally”); “Chameleon Street,” by Wendell B. Harris, Jr.; “Stranded” and “The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean,” by Juleen Compton; and a box set of five films by John Cassavetes.
A Master Class with David Grann
34:00David Grann is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of two nonfiction books that topped the best-seller list this summer: “The Wager” and “Killers of the Flower Moon,” from 2017, which Martin Scorsese has adapted into a film opening in October. Grann is among the most lauded nonfiction writers at The New Yorker; David Remnick says that “his urge to find unique stories and tell them with rigor and style is rare to the vanishing point.” Grann talks with Remnick about his beginnings as a writer, and about his almost obsessive research and writing process. “The trick is how can you tell a true story using these literary techniques and remain completely factually based,” Grann says. “What I realized as I did this more is that you are an excavator. You aren’t imagining the story—you are excavating the story.” Grann recounts travelling in rough seas to the desolate site of the eighteenth-century shipwreck at the heart of “The Wager,” his most recent book, so that he could convey the sailors’ despair more accurately. That book is also being made into a film by Scorcese. “It’s a learning curve because I’ve never been in the world of Hollywood,” Grann says. “You’re a historical resource. … Once they asked me, ‘What was the lighting in the room?’ I thought about it for a long time. That’s something I would not need to know, writing a book.” But Grann is glad to be in the hands of an expert, and keep his distance from the process. “I’m not actually interested in making a film,” he admits. “I’m really interested in these stories, and so I love that somebody else with their own vision and intellect is going to draw on these stories and add to our understanding of whatever this work is.”
Alone and on Foot in Antarctica
25:00Henry Worsley was a husband, father, and an officer of an élite British commando unit; also a tapestry weaver, amateur boxer, photographer, and collector of rare books, maps, and fossils. But his true obsession was exploration. Worsley revered the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton and he had led a 2009 expedition to the South Pole. But Worsley planned an even greater challenge. At fifty-five, he set out to trek alone to ski from one side of the Antarctic continent to the other, hauling more than three hundred pounds of gear and posting an audio diary by satellite phone. The New Yorker staff writer David Grann wrote about Worsley’s quest, and spoke with his widow, Joanna Worsley, about the painful choice she made to support her husband in a mortally dangerous endeavor. This segment originally aired March 2, 2018.
No More Souters
49:42David Souter is one of the most private, low-profile Justices ever to have served on the Supreme Court. He rarely gave interviews or speeches. Yet his tenure was anything but low profile. Deemed a “home run” nominee by the George H. W. Bush Administration, Souter refused to answer questions during his confirmation hearing about pressing issues—most critically, about abortion rights and Roe v. Wade, which Republicans were seeking to overturn. He was confirmed overwhelmingly. Then, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and other decisions, he defied the expectations of the Party that had nominated him. Why? This episode, produced by WNYC Studios’ “More Perfect” and hosted by Julia Longoria, explains how “No More Souters” became a rallying cry for Republicans and how Souter’s tenure on the bench inspired a backlash that would change the Court forever. You can listen to more episodes of “More Perfect” here.
How Does Extreme Heat Affect the Body?
16:56The Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut was named after an N.F.L. player who died of exertional heatstroke. The lab’s main research subjects have been athletes, members of the military, and laborers. But, with climate change, even mild exertion under extreme heat will affect more and more of us; in many parts of the United States, a heat wave and power outage could cause a substantial number of fatalities. Dhruv Khullar, a New Yorker contributor and practicing physician, visited the Stringer Institute to undergo a heat test—walking uphill for ninety minutes in a hundred-and-four-degree temperature—to better understand what’s happening. “I just feel puffy everywhere,” Khullar sighed. “You’d have to cut my finger off just to get my wedding ring off.” By the end of the test, Khullar spoke of cramps, dizziness, and a headache. He discussed the dangers of heatstroke with Douglas Casa, the lab’s head (who himself nearly died of it as a young athlete). “Climate change has taken this into the everyday world for the everyday American citizen. You don’t have to be a laborer working for twelve hours, you don’t have to be a soldier in training,” Casa tells him. “This is making it affect so many people even just during daily living.” Although the treatment for heat-related illness is straightforward, Casa says that implementation of simple measures remains challenging—and there is much we need to do to better prepare for the global rise in temperature.