Looking for something to read, watch, or listen to in the new year? We asked Fund staff to share some of their favorite books, TV shows, movies, and podcasts about human rights.
Some of these are new, some are old, and some take place in a galaxy far, far away—but each one reminded us of the importance of fighting for a better, fairer world.
BOOKS & ESSAYS
“Actually published in 2017, but new to me in 2022 was discovering Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown. adrienne’s emphasis on the symbiotic relationship between us humans and nature, on the notion that change is constant and we must move and adapt through and with change yet still ground ourselves in action, and lean into those tensions, resonates so strongly. I’m increasingly applying emergent processes in our work and relishing it as it feels more reflective of the complexity and uncertainty that is our reality, and allows a spirit of humility, open inquiry, and creative collaboration to infuse our work and relationships.” – James Savage, Program Director, Enabling Environments for Human Rights Defenders
“On Repentance & Repair by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg has helped me organize my thoughts about how we relate to each other after harm, whether on a large scale (e.g. genocide vis-à-vis transitional justice) or a small scale (e.g. micro-aggressions vis-à-vis intrapersonal change). Like many good books, it wasn’t entirely new information, but it was organized differently and helped me put words on thoughts around safeguarding and accountability. I literally read it in two sittings. It is fantastic.” – Marianne Mollman, Director of Regional Programs
“Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, is my favorite book on women’s right to self-determination.” – Martine Target Louis, Director of Grantmaking Operations
“I found What You Have Heard Is True by Carolyn Forché in a bargain box outside a bookshop and thought it sounded interesting. She’s an American poet that’s persuaded by someone who is basically an El Salvadoran activist and revolutionary to join him in El Salvador. He takes her around the country, visiting senior military officials and indigenous communities, witnessing the aftermath of brutal murders of innocent people and having a run-in with the death squad. It’s non-fiction but told as a story, kind of investigative journalism, as the reader starts to understand with the protagonist how dangerous and problematic the inequality in El Salvador at the time. It takes place in the run-up of the civil war between the government and the FMLN (late 70s). I didn’t know much about this time (and still don’t!) so it was an uncomfortable eye-opener for me. And as with most stories with a shred of emotion, I cried.” – Ben Kammerling, Technical Marketing Manager
“Being really interested in geopolitics, my favorite books this year were Les Guerres de religion by Pierre Miquel and Georges Friedman’s The Next Hundred Years where he discusses American hard power and contradicts people who foresee the American superpower decaying.” – Souleymane Sagna, Program Officer, Children’s and Youth Rights
“I loved Elite Capture by Olufemi Taiwo—such a smart and clear correction to some off-track thinking about identity. I also loved Maurice Mitchell’s essay “Building Resilient Organizations,” about destructive ideas and arguments that are undermining activists and organizers and weakening their organizations. He’s writing from a very left point of view but what he said holds so true for so many human rights organizations.” – Akwe Amosu, Host, Strength + Solidarity podcast
“For fiction, I recommend China Room by Sunjeev Sahota, a fascinating novel about a veiled and sequestered young bride in rural Punjab in 1929 who seeks to discover the real identity of her new husband, who is one of three brothers, and The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, a brilliant and grueling multigenerational novel about the interplay of ethnicity, race, class, and gender in American history, and, in particular, about the systematic rape of African-American women and girls during slavery.
And for nonfiction, I recommend East West Street by Philippe Sands, which, though not new, felt very timely this year, as it uncovers the history of a street in Ukraine that was where Sands’s family lived, the site of numerous atrocities during the Holocaust, and the place of birth of those who created the modern campaign against genocide. Sands researches history like a detective, and he is able to uncover facts and make connections in the most amazing way. I also enjoyed Empire of Pain, Patrick Raden Keefe’s brilliant account of the origins of the opioid epidemic and the complicity of multiple generations and branches of the Sackler family; Amia Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex, series of smart, clear, and well-argued essays by an Oxford philosopher on feminism in the twenty-first century; and Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show, an evocative and engaging history of ACT UP that offers revealing look at what makes activism effective and who gets to tell the story of the struggle.” – Rona Peligal, Vice President for Development and Communications
MOVIES & TV
“I recommend a 2018 Lebanese movie, Capernaum, the story of a poor 12-year-old boy living in the slums, who runs away from his home after his parents marry his underage sister, and later sues them in court for bringing him into the world. It also sheds light on migrant Ethiopian workers in Lebanon.” – Zeina Barker, Grants Officer
“Two shows that I watched at the same time both made me think deeply about the role and position of women in the world: My Brilliant Friend on HBO and The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem on Netflix. Specifically, while the rights of women are still not respected in many places, even in societies where they are, this is new in human history. Women have endured so much violence and been given so little decision-making power, and this has really shaped societies in profound ways.” – Clare Gibson Nangle, Director of Strategic Partnerships
[Check out 8 more movies and TV shows about human rights to stream today.]
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed: an amazing film about the photographer Nan Goldin and the campaign she leads to force museums to remove the Sackler name because of the death and destruction they have wrought through the opioid epidemic. Incredibly revealing footage of Goldin in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and beautifully directed by Laura Poitras.
The Territory: A fascinating documentary about indigenous resistance to land clearance and housing development in the Amazon.” – Rona Peligal, Vice President for Development and Communications
“Andor—yes, the Star Wars show—was appointment viewing for me this year. With nary a lightsaber in sight, the show explores the politics of fear and hope in a galaxy far, far away. It offered a stark, unflinching look at the gritty reality of frontline work, the undying determination of idealism, and the moral complexities of capital-based philanthropy and funding grassroots movements. Want to know what it looks like to challenge systems of oppression? Watch Andor.” – Cooper Hewell, Editorial and Communications Manager
“I love the Ear Hustle podcast, which explores the daily realities of life inside a U.S. prison shared by those living it and post-incarceration stories from the outside. This last season they went international and delved into comparative analyses of the U.S. approach to incarceration versus more humane approaches in Nordic countries. I love the show because it’s made in collaboration with incarcerated (or formerly) people and is a rare window into their stories and a very poignant exploration of their lived experiences and those of people and communities impacted by their crimes.” – Brandee M. Butler, Acting President and CEO
[Want more human rights podcasts? Check out some of our favorites.]
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