Backtalk: Student Moans

This week, Dahlia and Amy get upset about student loans. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign recently unveiled a student loan forgiveness plan as part of her platform, finally seriously centering the student debt crisis as something the government should help alleviate. How we talk about the student loan crisis is important because it can shift the focus from student responsibility to how predatory loaning is screwing us all. And we still want to know what you want to see re-booted in Amy vs Dahlia!  Text “reboot” to 503-855-6485 to let us know what you think!

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Barry Jenkins’s deeply moving If Beale Street Could Talk is now on Hulu and a must-watch of this James Baldwin adaptation about Black love against a the harsh reality of structural anti-Black violence.

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Little Labors by Rivka Galchen is a delightful miscellany of ruminations, metaphors, and tales of motherhood.

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When anxiety circles around and around in your brain, Fiona Apple knows how you feel in “Every Single Night.”

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[FULL TRANSCRIPT]

DAHLIA: Men in power are working overtime to control our bodies, our lives, and our futures. Abortion access, freedom from sexual violence, and economic security are key to building a world where all women can thrive. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the National Partnership for Women and Families are standing together to take our power back. Learn more at NationalPartnership.org/standtogether.

[theme music]

AMY: Hi. Welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Amy Lam, Contributing Editor at Bitch Media.

DAHLIA: I’m Dahlia Balcazar, Senior Editor at Bitch Media.

AMY: And every episode we start off by talking about our favorite pop culture moment. What is yours, Dahlia?

DAHLIA: I have a great recommendation. I actually recommended it to you recently, Amy. It is the Root of Evil podcast, and it’s become sort of like a pop culture moment for me because, unfortunately for me, my name is Dahlia, and there is a famous murder that is the Black Dahlia murder. And I sure heard about that all the time when I was growing up.

AMY: [Chuckles.]

DAHLIA: But The Root of Evil podcast is hosted by two women, Yvette and Rasha. They are sisters, and it’s their sort of unarchiving and exploring this really deep and complicated family history through which they think that they have uncovered that their grandfather was the killer of the Black Dahlia. And their grandfather was this man named Dr. George Hodel. He was a gynecologist in Hollywood who had already been suspected of a few murders, was a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. And then in this very strange, sort of circuitous way these women, their mother had been adopted, and so, as the mother found out who her parents were, her daughters also started finding out more and more about the family. And the podcast is incredible. It’s The Root of Evil. There’s also a TV show spinoff of it called I Am the Night, which was directed by Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman. It’s just, I love true crime stuff, and this is also like a true crime thing that sort of I’ve known a lot about for a long time, sometimes not because I wanted to.

This story one, I’m fully convinced by everything they say. And if you Google “Hodel mansion Los Angeles” there are incredible photographs of the house in which this doctor lived, but also the house in which they think he killed women. And the house is terrifying and gorgeous, and I’ve never seen architecture like it. It was actually designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, so it’s stunning. And just like everything about this story is fascinating. I just devoured the podcast as quickly as I could.

AMY: Yes, and I totally second that recommendation ‘cause I actually started it, but I was like I don’t know if I can stomach it. ‘Cause it’s kind of a difficult podcast to listen to because there’s so much abuse happening within this family.

DAHLIA: Yeah, that’s true.

AMY: Yeah. I have to be in a mood. And I am also a huge true crime head, so but I still have to be in a mood to listen to this. I think because of the intimacy of the fact that it’s these two women investigating what their grandfather did. And I so hear you. I also think he’s the one who killed Elizabeth Short.

DAHLIA: Totally.

AMY: Yes. And so, it’s that not only is he a totally maniacal murderer who killed Elizabeth Short, but he also sort of passed down this legacy of abuse to his children, which is really fucked up. But it is such a moving podcast. I’m almost done listening to it, but it’s blowing my mind. It’s so well done and so good, and I’m so glad you recommended it. And I’m also so glad you mentioned that house. Do you remember when were on a group chat talking about the podcast, and I was just like, Oh my god! I had an ex-boyfriend who lives around the corner from that house! I used to have really loud sex there! [Laughs.]

DAHLIA: [Chuckles.]

AMY: [Keeps laughing.] Ahh! I was like, Oh, this is my very small, tenuous connection to [laughing] the Black Dahlia murder.

DAHLIA: I can’t believe you’ve seen that house in person multiple times!

AMY: Yeah. I used to drive by it. I mean it’s not super viewable to the street. I didn’t realize it until I Google Mapped it. ‘Cause in the podcast they mentioned where it is, and I’m like, I know where that intersection is. But it’s set far back from the street, so I actually didn’t see it. But I knew exactly where. I could picture it in my mind’s eye. But yes, thank you so much for that.

My favorite pop culture moment of the week, and it has to do with RuPaul’s Drag Race.

BOTH: [Laugh.]

AMY: This is like a total flip side of the energy that we’re talking about. It’s a show that I just love, and I know it’s a big problematic fave because RuPaul has come out and said transphobic things about who can compete on the show. But I think that RuPaul has also stepped back on it because in the last season of the Drag Race All Stars, there was a trans woman on it. So I think that the show is becoming more progressive in spite of RuPaul. But the thing I wanted to talk about was there was a lip sync for your life in this most recent episode for me, and it was with Brook Lynne Hytes and Yvie Oddly. They were singing Demi Lovato’s “Sorry, Not Sorry.” And it is one of the most compelling lip sync for your life’s ever. I’ve watched it dozens of times already. It makes me tear up every time I watch it. It’s just like….

DAHLIA: [Laughs.]

AMY: I think there’s just like so much emotion and knowing the story arc of both of these people on it. And it’s just so much artistry. And both of the styles of the two drag queens are so different, but they’re also interpreting the song in a way that works for them. And this show honestly, RuPaul’s Drag Race has gotten me through some tough times. Like I had a really awful depressive cycle earlier this year, and I would just lay on my floor and watch bootleg versions of old seasons ‘cause I can’t, I don’t wanna pay for them. [Laughs.] I’m so bad.

DAHLIA: [Laughs.]

AMY: But like these really pixelated, terrible versions of them just to see a reality TV show about people, about queer people living their full lives. I just can’t get enough of the show. And this lip sync for your life just shook me. It was so good! And I think it might be hard to understand how incredibly good this lip sync was if you’re not like, haven’t been watching the show. So I urge you to watch the show and then come to this lip sync for your life. It is so incredible, so moving. And I think that when I watch things like that, I just feel like I want all the art that I take in, all the art pieces that I watch, I view, and that I love, I want them to all move me in the same way. So, I think it will become a barometer for me from now on.

DAHLIA: [Laughs.]

AMY: Like [laughs] did this film move me like the lip sync for your life between Yvie Oddly and Brooke Lynn Hytes? So, that is my thing. [Laughs.]

DAHLIA: Yeah, that’s your yardstick for the rest of your life.

AMY: Yes. But that is my favorite pop culture moment.

[cutesy bells ring]

I wanna take the time to thank people who are taking their time to rate and review us on iTunes because it really helps with visibility for the podcast. We got a new review from username goy2-11, and they say, “I realize that while I kick back every week and learn about some pop culture, laugh, and mentally snap my fingers in agreement when you say something on point, you two have no idea I even exist.”

BOTH: [Laugh.]

AMY: Yes, we do! We’re reading this right now! “You are always talking about how much you appreciate reviews, and felt like it was my time to pay my dues.” Thank you! [Laughs.]

DAHLIA: Thank you.

AMY:Backtalk is a little haven where I get to listen to like-minded folks talk about stuff that matters to me. Sometimes talking about issues of injustice or how whack things are right now weighs on me pretty heavily, but Amy and Dahlia keep it light while still having informed and insightful conversations. I am a big fan of your personalities, and you two honestly put me in a good mood when I listen. Even the little zing noise between segments gets me.”

DAHLIA: [Laughs.]

AMY: YES! Thank you so much!

DAHLIA: Thank you so much.

AMY: Yeah, I think our producer, she would also love hearing that, [laughs] that the zing noises [inaudible].

DAHLIA: Even the zings are happy-making.

AMY: Yes. Like I’ve said a billion times, we really appreciate it when you take the time to rate and review us on iTunes. We seriously, honestly read them. I know I do [chuckles] ‘cause I like positive. Everybody should! [Laughs.] I realize that I think that’s part of my personality type. A friend of mine had me do like—I mean I’ve done a thousand different types of personality things, but I think one of them is I liked being affirmed.

DAHLIA: Yes, me too.

AMY: And so, thank you. Yes, it just means a lot. I think we say this often about how we— I’m sitting in a closet talking to myself essentially, across the country from Dahlia, who’s sitting in a smaller, or a bigger, closet in a way.

DAHLIA: [Laughs.]

AMY: [Laughing.] We’re just talking to through the internet. So, it’s one of those things where we’re not sure who’s listening or how they feel about the show. So when people leave feedback like this, it’s just very heartening, and we just really appreciate it.

And since we’re talking about the podcast, we wanted to give you all a heads up that we have split the feed! What does that mean?

BOTH: [Laugh.]

AMY: So, since forever, Backtalk and Popaganda has been on the same feed that’s run by Bitch Media, but we decided to split the feed so that Bitch Media has two channels, essentially, one for Backtalk and one for Popaganda. And if you’re subscribed now, you are subscribed to the Backtalk feed, and we would love it for you to also subscribe to the Popaganda feed. And we won’t be having new episodes of Popaganda while we’re searching for a new host. After the new host comes on board, we will have a whole slew of new episodes. But please make sure to subscribe to the Popaganda feed. And if you’re listening to us now, like I said you are subscribed to the Backtalk feed, but we just wanted to give you a heads up that the two podcasts have separated in terms of what feeds they are. Hope that I wasn’t like too in the weeds about it, but this is just an FYI and heads up.

DAHLIA: And one more announcement from us. We’re recording this episode a little bit in advance. So since I’m slightly worried that I’m going to lose this week’s Amy vs. Dahlia—

AMY: OH MY GOD, DAHLIA! You can’t say that!

DAHLIA: Ha ha! [laughs] Yeah, I can say that. [Laughs.]

AMY: [Screams.]

DAHLIA: We’re extending voting for another week, so. We were arguing about what old TV show should have a reboot, and Amy’s pick was the show Small Wonder, about a girl robot. And my pick was the show The Wonder Years, about a family growing up in the Vietnam War era. If you have a vote for either one of those, text the word “reboot” to 503-855-6485 to let us know what you think. And on the next episode of Backtalk, we will share your votes.

[cutesy bells ring]

AMY: Today, we are going to talk about the scourge of so many of our existences: student loans. We are recording this episode a week early, like Dahlia had said, and it was recently announced that Elizabeth Warren showed part of her platform that she’ll be campaigning on for her presidential bid in 2020, which a side note, can we just rejoice however briefly at the idea that we get to vote for someone to replace that repugnant pile of corpse shit who is in office now? I know 2020 is still kind of far off, and it’s going to be actually probably a really horrible year ‘cause of all the campaigning. But maybe let us have a very small sliver of hope there. [Chuckles.]

DAHLIA: Yeah, it’s soon. In a way it’s very soon.

AMY: Yes. But like I was saying, so, Elizabeth Warren unveiled a part of her plan for higher education, and part of it calls for the immediate cancellation of up to $50,000 of student loan debt for people with lower incomes. That’s 50 with a 5-0. And the plan is that like if you’re someone earning less than $100,000 a year, then $50,000 of your student loan debt would be wiped out automatically. So, in effect, this plan would affect a majority of the 45 million people who owe more than a collective $1.5 trillion in student loans, which is so mind boggling. And the way this plan succeeds is that she’s also proposing to tax the ultra-rich. She literally has [laughs] a plan called the ultra-millionaire tax, and that would be the tax that would subsidize the loan forgiveness.

So, when she announced his plan, she of course, she received overwhelming support because student debt is a serious crisis. It is so real, and it is fucking up so many young people’s lives and people who aren’t even that young too, because they actually go back to school, or people have been carrying loans for decades. And I read figures that students who graduate in recent years owe on average between, I’ve seen figures that are like between $30,000-38,000, and that is so much money! And that doesn’t even take into account how maybe their parents also took out about the same amount of money in student loans to help their kid go through school. So, if you think about the combination of student loan monthly payments stacked on top of regular life bills and also trying to get a well-paying job in this economy is really enough to call the culmination of all this, a crisis for a lot of students and recent grads. So, we wanted to talk about how the student loan situation is such a big deal. And it’s become such a big deal that it’s become a priority for a presidential candidate to address specifically in their campaign.

DAHLIA: I’ve been going through some self-imposed financial tidying of my student loan debt. And something that I am really kind of shocked by myself to realize is that as much as I would’ve said, even as a teenager, things like, “Oh, the American dream isn’t real. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps isn’t a thing that happens,” you kind of have to accept that ethos if you’re going to take on student loan debt. And you have to, for many people, take on student loan debt if you’re gonna get an education. And not just undergrad. I’m also thinking about friends of mine who are in graduate school, friends of mine who are in medical school or law school where it’s just the expectation is like, yes, this costs an obscene amount of money that you don’t have. So, you’re gonna take that out in loans, and that’s what’s gonna happen. And you’ll pay that off later. And I think it’s really kind of mind blowing.

But also I guess speaking of how we like to have affirmations, announcing her plan, Senator Warren wrote, “The enormous student debt burden weighing down our economy isn’t the result of laziness or irresponsibility. It’s the result of a government that has consistently put the interests of the wealthy and well-connected over the interests of working families.” And I feel like that’s so important to hold onto as much as you can because it’s so easy to internalize the idea like, oh my God. I haven’t been able to pay down my $30,000 of debt in the 10 years that I’ve been out of college, thinking that that’s on you. You know, that it must be possible, otherwise how could this system be working? When in fact, it’s not necessarily possible, and the lenders don’t care.

AMY: Yeah. And because the notion of the borrowing is based on the idea that you need the degree so that you can get a job, so that could pay back your loan. But when they tell you that, nobody talks about how the job is not guaranteed, you know? And so, it’s like you’ve worked really hard to get through school, and you worked really hard to maintain your loans. But nobody tells you, “Well, but you might not get that job to pay back the loans.” And I think that’s where the crux of the issue is, is we’re being sold on this idea that in order to be successful, like you’re saying, you need to go through school and then use that degree that you get in school to get a job and then use the income you earn from your job to pay back your loan. But that’s not how it, that’s not like—The way that we live our lives isn’t like an A to B to C to D kind of like a trajectory. And in fact, it goes from like A to W, and W is like the fucking wastebasket ‘cause you’re like your life is fucked ‘cause you owe all this fucking money, you know?

Actually, the comedian Hassan Minhaj has a show called The Patriot Act on Netflix, which is so great. And he has a whole episode about student loans, and the focus of the episode is really about how the lenders, the companies who manage our loans, and the type of predatory tactics that they use that harm their borrowers. And the show pointed out how the lending company and their workers actually don’t tell students all the resources that they have about repayment plans, all the options that they have to make it work for their loan situation. Instead, it’s like the loan companies are just really about making as much money as possible and getting their money back and have no regard for how the borrower’s living.

There’s this really fucked up scene where this person is describing how they’re on the phone with the lending company and the worker, and the worker’s telling him that he has to make this specific amount of payment, which the borrower just like cannot afford. And then the borrower makes a joke about like, “Well, I’d have to move out of my apartment and live in my car in order to make that payment.” And the lending company worker on the other end of the line just goes like, “Yeah, you might have to do that.” [Laughs.] Instead of being horrified, like, “Oh my gosh, we wouldn’t want you to have to do that. Let’s figure something else,” they were just like, “Yeah, maybe you have to live in your car to pay this loan back.” And it’s just so inhumane on so many levels because how can we ask 17, 18, 19 year-olds to sign away tens of thousands of dollars, which is just tens of thousands of dollars on principle, not counting the fucking interest. ‘Cause interest can balloon the entirety what you pay back to sometimes double the amount.

I was floored how much interest I was paying. I remember one time I sent in a check for a payment, and I was just like, I’m gonna get ahead! I think I got a new job or something and actually had some money. And I sent in the first payment I had sent in, in a while ‘cause I think I got my loan deferred. And I remember I think it was like a $500 check, and I think like 400 of it went to interest, and 100 of it went to principle.

DAHLIA: Ugh.

AMY: And I was floored! I was so angry!! I was shaking. So, I think that 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds do not have the, I don’t think they have the true capacity to understand what they’re signing up for. And then they’re doing this, and then we saddle them with this responsibility after they graduate without a guaranteed job to pay this back. You know, I think essentially, it isn’t just about how school is expensive. Students have to take out these enormous loans to pay for school, and then students are not guaranteed jobs that would give them income to pay the loans back. But this is also about how the government outsources the management of loan repayment to these privately-held companies that don’t give a fuck about people.

DAHLIA: Right.

AMY: They’re just about making money. So, in the end, it’s just about capitalism and how capitalism is inhumane! Like in this situation, we’re asking people to live in their cars because they can’t afford to pay rent and their student loan payment back. Like how is that any humane way to live? And why is this institution that’s tied to government funding letting us live like this or even encouraging it? It’s just so mindboggling, like you said.

DAHLIA: I think another level to this is that many people sort of in the millennial age group, in our age group, graduated into a recession. And like you said, Amy, we’re out there trying to find the jobs that would help them pay back their loans and weren’t finding things like that. And a lot of people went back to school to say, like Okay, well not only do I have this debt that I need to work off, but also, I need to be able to have a career to sustain myself forever, including paying off these loans. And so, I mean that’s another thing. [Chuckles.] It’s like I hate to say that the older I get, the more I’m like, “Oh! As a child I was so naive, and I understood so little.”

AMY: [Chuckles.]

DAHLIA: But I really feel like every time I think about sort of finances and the economy and capitalism, I just think things are changing so quickly that it’s not even like—I mean of course I guess the lenders knew that they were being predatory, and people who make money off of loans have always been predatory. But I think another thing that so many of us couldn’t have conceptualized is, again, graduating into a recession, or graduating into a time when a lot of jobs are the “gig economy” is taking over. You know, so much is changing in terms of how work is structured for most people. And that wasn’t something that was even like a glimmer in my eye when I was in high school or in college. It’s not something that you can prepare for. Because the economy and the world is moving at the speed of light, it feels like, especially for millionaires trying to make more money. And it’s just changing so fast for young people or people in their 20s and 30s and 40s with no real safety net, you know, without a government that is prioritizing helping these people support themselves and use their education to support themselves and to help others.

AMY: Yeah. I think the point that you make that it was nothing, not something that we could prepare for, like we didn’t have a conception of this. It’s because like you’re saying, the generations before us, they didn’t go through this. They didn’t go through this type of student loan debt crisis where this is like hounding their lives and actually driving decisions that they make. Because the things that were modeled for a lot of people was that like your parents, maybe they finished high school. Maybe they went to college, but they got a degree. And then there was sort of like a track for them to then get a job, and then they have a secure job for many decades, and then they retire, you know. The situation that we find ourselves in now was not modeled for us.

DAHLIA: Right.

AMY: Like we don’t know how to navigate a world where like you know, I have friends that graduated with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And they are not making the income that they need to make to pay that loan back in a timely way so that they don’t end up paying like a million dollars after they’re done paying it with interest. And I think that that means something that how we manage this has not been modeled for us. Not only has it not been modeled for us, we have these predatory loan companies coming after us, not giving a fuck how we live our lives. But they just want their money back compounded with this all this like wild amounts of interest.

Yeah. I think it’s just, the fact that this hasn’t really been addressed for so long until, like addressed seriously to the fact that it’s in a presidential campaign bid, that’s kind of mindboggling. But I think it’s also really smart of Elizabeth Warren to talk about this because I think she’s aware that a lot of us are voting, and a lot of us would love this loan forgiveness. But it’s just wild that it even got to this point and that education would even be that expensive that you know—

DAHLIA: Ugh, that is such a nightmare.

AMY: —that students would have to take out tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousand dollars, just to become educated when there are countries, other developed countries that provide free university educations to their students. Because we’re just learning shit, you know what I mean!? And we’re learning shit so that like theoretically, then we can have productive lives doing types of work that we love.

And I think the other impact the debt that we incur and that we carry with us is that it might force us to do work that we don’t really care that much about or that might be not a good fit for us. And that might even cause mental health issues because maybe you’re doing something that’s very much against like what you wanted to do, but you need to do it to get by. And I know even that’s a luxury ‘cause at least you still have of a job, you know. But I think that this is definitely a situation that  because it’s for a really long time, it affected such a small portion of the population in terms of people of voting age, I guess.

DAHLIA: Yeah, right.

AMY: There are so many people who are much older than us who don’t have to deal with this that it wasn’t being talked about as much. And it wasn’t being talked about with a seriousness of saying that this is a serious crisis, and it’s affecting a lot of people’s lives in a very tangible way. And I think that as more young people grow to be middle-aged people who are saddled with these enormous amounts of debt, it’s becoming a more serious topic. And I think that this is something that’s really needed to be talked about on par with like if there was some type of medical thing that lots of people are being affected by. You know. This is like a serious thing that fucks up people’s lives for a really long time.

DAHLIA: Even if Senator Warren doesn’t win the nomination or doesn’t win the presidency, just coming out with this policy plan puts pressure on all of the other Democratic runners to at least consider, if not adopt, something like that along the line. Especially if people really, really support this plan. And so, I think obviously, we’re some while out from not having a President Trump, but it is really encouraging that the party is taking this issue seriously. Because, like you’re saying, it is the first time it’s really been addressed this way. And not only just addressed but sort of addressed with compassion saying like, you guys aren’t lazy or irresponsible. The government has not been taking care of you.

AMY: And the government has encouraged you to take this debt on and had actually given you pathways to take this debt on. You know, something as simple as signing a piece of paper. When I sign up for a credit card, I have to go through all this rigmor-er….

DAHLIA: [Laughs.]

AMY: This whole thing, you know, where they check my credit score. They ask me how much money I earn. They wanna make sure I am who I am in order to borrow credit from this company, right? But when you’re like 17 or 18, and you’re signing your promissory note, yes, you have to have a cosign person who is often your parent, but nobody’s checking your 17-year-old ass to see what earning potential you have in the next decade to pay this loan back, you know? Like we’re signing up for loans that these government agencies have no idea if we can pay back. And then after we graduate, they sell our loans to private institutions that fuck what with us, that don’t care about our humanity, that just want their money back.

And I think that this is a real way to address well, we haven’t been taking care of you guys. We told you that you need to go to college, and then we didn’t make college affordable. So then we made you sign up for these loans, and then now we’re like, Okay, we just set you off with being saddled on average of $35,000 in student loans, which is like an annual income for some people, for a lot of people with middle class jobs. This is wild!

DAHLIA: Totally, yeah.

AMY: So, it only makes sense that this has come up in the conversation in this way. And like you said, this is a really good thing. And I also really appreciate the point that you made that I yes, now it’s gonna maybe, hopefully push other candidates to address this and so that we can hear also what their ideas are to alleviate this for so many millions of people.

[cutesy bells ring]

And at the end of each episode we give you a read, watch, and listen recommendation. Dahlia, what is your read recommendation?

DAHLIA: I recently finished the book Little Labors by Rivka Galchen. The book described itself as an enchanting miscellany. It’s sort of short vignettes about motherhood and about babies. And one of my favorites of the vignettes is “The Rumination.” If a baby is a drug, what kind of drug is the baby?

BOTH: [Laugh.]

DAHLIA: And so, the narrator sort of talks about how her life changes after having a baby, but also sort of this, she describes the baby in different kind of animal terms. Like sometimes she feels like the baby is a puma. Sometimes she feels like the baby is a chicken. But one of the things that she says sort of over and over is like, if you discovered that you had the secret ability to communicate with a very cute monkey, wouldn’t you spend all of your time communicating with a very cute monkey and sort of forging this deep intimate bond with this like little cute alien? And I just really loved it. I thought the book is really lovely, and it’s also about women writers and sort of how little babies appear in literature. In fact, there’s a section of how many more times there are dog characters in famous novels than there are baby characters.

DAHLIA: It’s many. Everyone has a dog, and no one has a baby. So, that book is called Little Labors by Rivka Galchen.

AMY: I have the watch pick, and it is If Beale Street Could Talk. News alert: If Beale Street Could Talk is now on Hulu. So, if you have a Hulu account, get on that. I didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters, but I’m so glad it is on Hulu. It is absolutely stunning, and it has so many beautiful performances. And the main couple is played by KiKi Layne and Stephan James, and they are so brilliant in it. Regina King won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role. She plays the mother of KiKi Layne. And of course, there’s an appearance by my super fave Brian Tyree Henry. Director Barry Jenkins created this gorgeous rumination on love, the strength of love, the strength of love against the harsh reality of structural anti-Black racism in the ’70s New York City. And is such a devastating film! I am a fucking emo baby, okay?

DAHLIA: [Laughs.]

AMY: ‘Cause I cry. I cried so much! Like there are so many slow, gorgeous, subtle nuance moments. And I am not exaggerating when I said—And I didn’t really know what the film was about. I didn’t really know the premise or the plot. I just knew that it was gonna be a gorgeous film about this Black couple in love and injustice. That’s all. That’s like the main barebones of what I knew. And from the first shot of the film, I was crying ‘cause it was so beautifully shot and so tender. And you could see that these two characters were so deeply in love, and that love was so palpable that I was just—Because I knew something was gonna happen to them that would separate them, I was devastated already. And I’m not exaggerating. It was within the first three minutes. I clocked it. I was like, okay, how many minutes has this film been on so I can know when I start to cry?

DAHLIA: [Laughs.]

AMY: I cried then, and I cried sporadically throughout the film. And then I cried at the very last scene, at the very last shot. It is so beautiful. And it’s just like the tension is perfectly built. I have read critiques from some film viewers who said it was too slow. I don’t think that that’s a good way to look at this film. I think it’s because this film was made in a very particular way, and it isn’t about being too slow or too faster or anything in that way, but it’s about showing a life. And I think that it shows the life of these two people who are deeply in love and how structural white supremacy kept them apart. It is so gorgeous. The cinematography is beautiful. The costume design is beautiful. Oh! What a touching fucking film!

And I just think that the humanity of the characters just jump out at you. It is gorgeous. Please watch If Beale Street Could Talk. Please, I implore you. And it’s just so beautiful, and I think it’s just like as a piece of art, it’s just gonna survive forever, and people will talk about how gorgeous it was. I just can’t say enough about this. And I actually kind of wish I would’ve seen this in the theater so I could have seen the gorgeousness of it on a big screen in a dark room. But watching it on Hulu, getting parked into my gigantic TV was just as good. [Laughs.] So, please check that out.

DAHLIA: I have the listen pick this week. And speaking of student loans and speaking of debt.

AMY: [Laughs.]

DAHLIA: And last week Amy and I were talking about how hard it is to be an adult. I don’t know. It’s just that time of year. It’s like a spring-cleaning sort of season in my brain, emotionally. [Chuckles.] I’m the kind of person when I get very anxious and stressed out, I sort of ruminate, and I think all of these like what if, this what if that, what if this, what if that? And I sort of feel like I can’t stop that when I’m very anxious. One thing that helps me is talking to my friends. And another thing that helps me is listening to music. And this song “Every Single Night” by Fiona Apple, it really reminds me of myself when I get into those sort of loops, this sort of sense of not being able to turn off your own brain. But it’s a really, really—That sounded like such a downer. You know, I think that this song is about being in that state and then making something, making art or making joy or making melody or life out of it, you know. And that’s something that is hard to do when you’re feeling all of that anxiety. But I feel like listening to music can be a reminder of that. So, this is one of my favorite songs, “Every Single Night” by Fiona Apple.

[Fiona Apple’s “Every Single Night” plays]

♪ “Every single night I endure the flight….” ♪

AMY: Thanks for listening.

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening.

♪ “Butterflies in my brain/
These ideas of mine/
Percolate the mind/
Trickle down my spine/
Swarm the belly, swellin’ to a blaze/

That’s where the pain comes in/
Like a second skeleton/
Tryin’ to fit beneath my skin/
I can’t fit the feelin’s in, oh/

Every single night’s alight/
With my brain….” ♪

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Cher Vincent. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to bitchmedia.org and donate.


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by Amy Lam
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Amy Lam is Bitch Media’s contributing editor. Find her at @amyadoyzie.