Janet Mock first heard the word “māhū,” a Native Hawaiian word for people who exist outside the male-female binary, when she was twelve. She had just moved back to Oahu, where she was born, from Texas, and, by that point, Mock knew that the gender she presented as didn’t feel right. “I don’t like to say the word ‘trapped,’ ” Mock tells The New Yorker’s Hilton Als. “But I was feeling very, very tightly contained in my body.”
Eventually, Mock left Hawaii for New York, where she worked as an editor for People magazine. “[Everyone was] bigger and louder and smarter and bolder than me,” she tells Als. “So, in that sense, I could kind of blend in.” After working at People for five years, she came out publicly as trans; since then, she has emerged as a leading voice on trans issues. She’s written two books, produced a documentary, and signed a deal with Netflix. In 2018, she became the first trans woman of color to be hired as a writer on a TV series—Ryan Murphy’s FX series “Pose,” which just concluded its final season.
This story originally aired January 4, 2019
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The Director Rob Marshall on Halle Bailey as “The Little Mermaid”
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16:10The 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.”
E. Jean Carroll and Roberta Kaplan on Defamatory Trump, and Dexter Filkins on Ron DeSantis
33:55Earlier this month, E Jean Carroll won an unprecedented legal victory: in a civil suit, Donald Trump was found liable for sexual abuse against her in the mid-nineteen-nineties, and for defamation in later accusing her of a hoax. But no sooner was that decision announced than Trump reiterated his defamatory insults against her in a controversial CNN interview. Carroll has now filed an amended complaint, in a separate suit, based on Trump’s continued barrage. But can anything make him stop? “The one thing he understands is money,” Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, tells David Remnick. “At some point he’ll understand that every time he does it, it’s going to cost him a few million dollars. And that may make a difference.” Carroll acknowledges that Trump will keep attacking her to get a laugh—“a lot of people don’t like women,” she says simply—but she is undaunted, telling Remnick, “I hate to be all positive about this, but I think we’ve made a difference, I really do.” Plus, the staff writer Dexter Filkins on Ron DeSantis, who finally announced his Presidential candidacy this week. In 2022, Filkins profiled the Florida governor as his national ambitions were becoming clear. “He’s very good at staking out a position and pounding the table,” Filkins notes, “saying, ‘I’m not giving in to the liberals in the Northeast.’ ”
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Jill Lepore on the Joy of Gardening
10:33It’s the time of year when many people feel an overpowering urge to dig—to plant their back yard or vegetable garden, or even the flowerpots on the fire escape. “I just love the whole process. I love the muck of it,” Jill Lepore tells David Remnick. “You’re kind of entrapped in a completely different rhythm, and it’s all so entirely out of your control. … It’s a never-ending process of education.” Lepore, a professor of history as well as a staff writer, wrote recently on her passion for seed catalogues, and shares a couple of things she’s excited about growing this year.
Behind the Scenes with Tom Hanks
37:48Tom Hanks has been a constant presence on the American movie screen for forty years. He has played a mermaid’s boyfriend, an astronaut, a soldier on D Day, an F.B.I. agent, an AIDS patient, a castaway, and a strange, innocent character running across America—among dozens of other roles. Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor two years in a row. Now in his sixties, Hanks has added another line to his résumé: novelist. “The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece”—an overstuffed, often funny, work of fiction—captures what he’s learned from forty years in the business. Hanks describes the process of moviemaking as equal parts chaos and monotony. “If anybody who we call a noncombatant, or a civilian, wants to visit the making of a motion picture, they will be bored out of their skull,” he tells David Remnick, insisting that it’s impossible to know on set whether a production will be a masterpiece or a flop. “You do not know if it is going to work out. You can only have faith.” Hanks spoke with Remnick onstage at Symphony Space as part of The New Yorker Live to kick off his book tour.
How Climate Change Is Impacting Our Mental Health
16:58In June, a first-of-its-kind lawsuit will go to trial in Montana. The case, Held v. Montana, centers on the climate crisis. Sixteen young plaintiffs allege their state government has failed in its obligation, spelled out in the state constitution, to provide residents with a healthful environment. The psychiatrist Dr. Lise Van Susteren is serving as an expert witness and intends to detail the emotional distress that can result from watching the environmental destruction unfolding year after year. “Kids are talking about their anger. They’re talking about their fear. They’re talking about their despair. They’re talking about feelings of abandonment,” she tells David Remnick. “And they don’t understand why the adults in the room are not taking more action.” Dr. Van Susteren is a co-founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, a network of mental-health providers concerned with educating colleagues and the public about the climate crisis.
Michael Schulman on the Writers’ Strike, and Samantha Irby with Doreen St. Félix
33:50The last time the Writers Guild of America hit the picket line was fifteen years ago, with a strike that lasted a hundred days and cost the city of Los Angeles hundreds of millions of dollars. This year’s strike has the potential to drag on even longer. At the core of the dispute is the question of who deserves to profit from the revenue generated by streaming services. “[Studios] tell us that they can’t afford the cost of us,” Laura Jacqmin, a veteran TV writer and a W.G.A. strike captain tells the staff writer Michael Schulman. “And simultaneously they’re on their public earnings calls, trumpeting bright financial futures to their shareholders.” Plus, the comedian and essayist Samantha Irby talks with the staff writer and critic Doreen St. Félix. Irby is beloved by fans for her particularly unvarnished truth-telling. She recently started writing for television on shows like Hulu‘s “Shrill” and HBO’s “And Just Like That . . .,” the “Sex and the City” reboot, which returns for a second season in June. But she has also maintained her memoir-writing practice, and is out with a new essay collection, “Quietly Hostile,” in May.
Germany’s Traumatized Kriegskinder Speak Out
20:21A troubling question looms over the Kriegskinder, Germans who were children during the Second World War: Was my father a mass murderer? These innocent Germans carried the guilt of their nation while their families often remained silent. The New Yorker’s Burkhard Bilger, whose grandfather was a Nazi, speaks with Sabine Bode, a journalist who encourages the now-elderly Kriegskinder to speak about their unacknowledged trauma. Bilger’s new book, “Fatherland: A Memoir of War, Conscience, and Family Secrets,” chronicles his years-long quest to understand the truth behind his family history. This segment originally aired October 14, 2016.
Have State Legislatures Gone Rogue? And Joshua Yaffa on Evan Gershkovich
31:09Just a month ago, the story of two lawmakers expelled from the Tennessee legislature captured headlines across the country. Their offense wasn’t corruption or criminal activity— instead, they had joined a protest at the statehouse in favor of gun control, shortly after the Nashville shooting at a Christian school. Earlier this week, Representative Zooey Zephyr, of Montana, was barred from the House chamber after making a speech against a trans health-care ban. In the past few years, in Arizona, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, legislatures have worked to strip powers from state officials who happen to be Democrats in order to put those powers in Republican hands. Jacob Grumbach, a political-science professor and the author of “Laboratories Against Democracy,” talks about how state politics has become nationalized. “If you’re a politician, and you’re trying to rise in the ranks from the local or state level in your party,” he notes, “your best bet is to join the national culture wars”—even at the expense of constituents’ real concerns. Plus, the contributing writer Joshua Yaffa talks with David Remnick about Evan Gershkovich, the first American reporter imprisoned in Russia on charges of espionage since the nineteen-eighties. “Evan was not sanguine or Pollyannaish or naïve about the context in which he was working,” Yaffa notes, but he returned to Russia again and again to tell the story of that country’s descent into autocracy.
King Charles III Takes the Throne
10:21On May 6th, King Charles will become the oldest person to ascend the throne of the United Kingdom. He is a bit of an odd duck to be the king, Rebecca Mead thinks. Charles has “long made clear that he considers his birthright a burden,” she writes. In fact, many things are a burden: during the ceremonies following the death of Queen Elizabeth, the new king “got into not one but two altercations with malfunctioning pens. . . . As his biographer Catherine Mayer puts it, ‘The world is against him—even inanimate objects are against him. That is absolutely central to his personality.’ ” Mead—a subject of the king, as well as a staff writer—talks with David Remnick about Charles III’s coronation, the problem of Harry and Meghan, and the future of the British monarchy itself.
Harry Belafonte, the Pioneering Artist-Activist
13:28We take it for granted that entertainers can—and probably should—advocate for the causes they believe in, political and otherwise. That wasn’t always the case: at one time, entertainers were supposed to entertain, and little else. Harry Belafonte, who died on April 25th at the age of ninety-six, pioneered the artist-activist approach. One of the most celebrated singers of his era, he had a string of huge hits—“The Banana Boat Song,” “Mama Look a Boo Boo,” “Jamaica Farewell”—while appearing as the rare Black leading man in the movies. At the same time, Belafonte used his platform to influence public opinion. He was a key figure in the civil-rights movement, a confidant of Martin Luther King’s; a generation later, he worked with Nelson Mandela to help bring down apartheid in South Africa. Belafonte joined The New Yorker Radio Hour in 2016, when the staff writer Jelani Cobb visited him at his office in Manhattan. This segment originally aired September 30, 2016.