Our Top Books, Movies, and Podcasts of 2021
What WFCO Staff is Reading, Watching, and Listening To
A common conversation starter in 2021 is, “What are you watching on Netflix ?” The Women’s Foundation’s staff can answer that question, along with what we’ve listened to and read this year. If you’re undecided about your next page turner or binge-worthy series, see our staff-selected “essential eight” books, podcasts, and movies.
Podcast recommendation by Renee Ferrufino, vice president of development
“Believe Her” is a podcast about a “criminalized survivor” — a victim of abuse whose attempt to save their own lives, or the lives of others, is prosecuted by law enforcement. This podcast is about Nikki Addimando who shot and killed her partner, Chris Grover and was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison for murder. Nikki is a white suburban woman who has been the victim of domestic and sexual violence for most of her life. The trauma she has endured is incomprehensible. As I learned about Nikki’s journey and the failings of the system that is supposed to protect her, I felt sadness, fear, anger, frustration, and disappointment. It left me wondering, why we still choose to not BELIEVE victims? Why do our systems refuse to SEE what is in front of them? And, how can we better ADVOCATE for survivors?
“Change Sings, A Children’s Anthem”
Book recommendation by Louise Myrland, vice president of programs
“Change sings where?
There! Inside Me.
Because I’m the change
I want to see.”
The inspiring poetry and gorgeous illustrations of “Change Sings, A Children’s Anthem” spark meaningful conversations about equity with my young daughters each time we read this book written by Amanda Gorman and illustrated by Loren Long. The verses and the colorful scenes on every page draw readers in to join the movement and show the love in their hearts through their actions.
Book recommendation by Kaylyn Fern, development officer (also available as a movie on Amazon Prime)
“Just Mercy” highlights the institutional racism within our criminal justice system. Based on a true story and told by the the lawyer of Walter McMillan, a Black man accused of murder, Bryan Stephenson supports individuals who have been put on death row. As a Black lawyer, Stephenson faces his own set of barriers from law enforcement and the court. An easy read, “Just Mercy” portrays centuries long systematic oppression while sharing a heart wrenching story of a Black man wrongfully accused and sentenced to death row. It highlighted my own privilege as a white person, and reignited my passion for the work we do to achieve gender, racial, and economic equity. Stories like Walter McMillan’s are still sadly commonplace nearly 40 years later.
Book recommendation by Lisa Christie, vice president of communications (also available as a series on Netflix)
I read the book by Stephanie Land and watched the Netflix series that is based on the book. The Netflix series definitely takes liberties with the author’s story, but both are very good and paint a clear picture of the impossible choices and constant trauma that come with living in poverty. Domestic violence and financial abuse are also strong themes. Stephanie is a single mother and a domestic worker making a minimum wage. Choosing between leaving her young daughter with an unreliable relative or missing a job interview, sending a sick child to day care or losing critical wages – these are decisions she faces daily. Not only does her story make the impenetrable case for public supports such as food, housing, and child care assistance – it highlights their maddening gaps, too. This excerpt is one that I underlined and will not soon forget:
“My brain, stomach, nerves, everything was on constant high alert. Nothing was safe. Nothing was permanent. Every day I walked on a rug that could be yanked out from under me at any moment….The months of poverty, instability, and insecurity created a panic response that would take years to undo.”
Podcast recommendation by Alison Friedman Phillips, director of programs
Like many of us, I leaned into podcasts to fill the time during lockdown and one pod I won’t be unsubscribing to is “Maintenance Phase.” Hosted by Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes, it “debunk(s) the junk science behind health and wellness fads.” I found that description on their site but, to me, their research-based explanations of deeply entrenched ideas related to cultural topics like The President’s Physical Fitness Test, trendy diet crazes like celery juice, and extremely influential celebs a la Oprah, open your mind to the influence they have on our body image and (mis)understandings of health. I highly recommend either selecting a podcast topic that is of interest to you or starting from the first episode. Without a doubt you’ll learn something new and hopefully start to shift your thinking about body image and, ultimately, its tie to the patriarchy. And, for our friends associated with the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, both Aubrey and Michael share their personal experiences in the sector in a Patreon episode of Maintenance Phase.
“My Time To Speak: Reclaiming Ancestry and Confronting Race”
Book recommendation by Colleen LaFontaine, director of development
Part memoir, part inspiration, “My Time To Speak” will warm your heart and challenge your biases. Ilia Calderón is a woman of firsts and a mother, daughter, wife, entrepreneur, and journalist. Born in Columbia, Ilia was raised in poverty and in a home of love and high expectations. From childhood she faced discrimination growing up with both Arab and Jewish last names, yet she went on to become the first Afro-Latina to anchor a major evening news program in the U.S. In 2017, she famously interviewed Chris Barker, a major Ku Klux Klan leader, in his home in North Carolina, for which she won an Emmy. In her book she inspiringly shares her climb to the top of the media world and her challenges in finding love and building a family for herself. Spoiler alert – she does find love and is a raising an Asian-Afro-Latina daughter and teaching her to follow her dreams, overcome prejudice, and embrace her identities. We all have something to learn, and be inspired by, in this easy-to-read memoir.
Netflix recommendation by Erica Jackson, digital marketing specialist
“Passing” is the story of Clare and Irene, two women living in 1920s New York City. Both are light-skinned Black women and childhood friends, but while Irene chooses to live her life rooted within Black community and culture, Clare sheds her former identity and leverages her lighter complexion into a life “passing” as a white woman.
As a light-skinned mixed race woman, this movie spoke to me on so many levels. It’s hard not to sympathize with Clare and the choices she made. It’s also hard not to understand the feelings of jealousy displayed by Irene an she runs into her old friend by chance one day. There is no secret that there is inherent privilege to whiteness, and I too have wondered on occasion how my life would look if I were just a few shades lighter. For women of color, the intersectionality of race and gender can carry so much weight with not only the lives we live and the challenges we face, but also with the choices we make. Overall, the story was so beautifully told in black and white (literally), and I hope those who enjoy it reflect on the complexities of race and gender as much as I did after finishing this powerful film.
“The Warmth of Other Suns”
Book recommendation by Manushkka Sainvil, executive and board coordinator
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson chronicles “The Great Migration”, where millions of black families fled the atrocities and injustices of the South in the hopes of a better life in the North and Midwest. She reconstructs over 50 years of stories through the eyes of three individuals during their journeys. Through her incredible storytelling, I feel like I’m being transported through time, re-living the hopes and horrors endured by the Black community in the early 20th Century, many of which are sadly still true today. It’s a must-read for any history buff.