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Thank God for Zendaya.

Thank God for Zendaya.
By Jewel Wicker • Issue #9 • View online

For the most part, I liked MTV’s new series 16 & Recovering as much as I can like a show about teenagers struggling to navigate the struggles of substance abuse and mental illness. In general, I think it’s hard for most people to understand the implications of appearing on reality TV. There’s no way to prepare someone for the type of attention it can attract. This is doubly so for people struggling with substance abuse. Add teenagers into the mix and it just boarders on exploitation to me. Despite my reservations, I gave the show a chance.
16 and Recovering follows a group of students who attend Northshore Recovery High School as they navigate the school year while trying to maintain sobriety. The show handles substance abuse with the care I find is often missing from media coverage. Whether a student is feeling suicidal or in the midst of a relapse, there’s a tenderness displayed by the school’s faculty that forces us to reconsider why most schools still lean towards punitive measures when it’s clear they aren’t effective. (Note: There’s a lot of hugging on this show and I’m not at all insinuating that we should move towards a school structure where hugging is encouraged among staff and students.) At Northshore, students aren’t suspended for relapsing, they’re given the tools they need to help them get back on track. “I let what they needed kind of guide me philosophically,” the school’s principal Michelle Lipinski told CNN. “It was interesting. When I opened myself up to that dialogue, they wanted to talk, but they couldn’t talk to their traditional school educators because a fear of retribution or fear of…suspension or disciplinary [action]. It was just a totally different conversation.”
Before watching this show, I had no idea recovery schools even existed. According to a 2019 Time article, the schools first appeared in the late 1970s. At the time of publication, “about 40 [existed] nationwide, including in Minnesota, Texas and Massachusetts.” Vanderbilt University associate professor Andy Finch told the publication that about 85% of the schools are public or benefit from public funding.
A look at 16 & Recovering and the list of schools that are apart of the Association of Recovery Schools makes me wonder how many Black students are benefiting from the existence of these schools? The only Black person prominently featured in the docuseries is a teacher. Like most media coverage about substance abuse recently, it’s left me wishing that Black people were granted the same empathy that white people grappling with these issues are often granted. (I wrote about this topic a few years back for Buzzfeed.)
Although I didn’t finish season one of HBO’s Euphoria because I found it to be extremely triggering, I was so happy to see Zendaya win an Emmy for her performance in the show. Having a program geared towards teens that features a Black lead struggling with substance abuse without falling into the stereotypes we’ve seen historically is MAJOR.
Jewel Wicker
LOL I found an old graphic for the music/entertainment blog I started when I was 16. HELP.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT (a few of my bylines from the past two weeks):
I got to learn about the history of one of America’s first Black churches for this story and it was an absolute delight.
Class Action Park (HBO MAX)
Class Action Park | Official Trailer | HBO Max
Class Action Park | Official Trailer | HBO Max
If you liked the Fyre Festival documentaries, I highly recommend watching this documentary about another dumpster fire started by an overconfident rich person.
An essential, infuriating read about the ways in which Black homeowners in Atlanta are being taken advantage of as property value in predominately Black neighborhoods continues to rise as a result of gentrification.
This was a great read, especially as we continue to think about the Emmys that aired over the weekend. Victor Luckerson spoke to the grandchildren of William Danforth Williams, whose family history serves as an anchor for Watchmen’s (HBO)historical tie to Tulsa. (Although the character Will Williams, and his family’s movie theater are based on their family’s history, the rest of the character’s life isn’t based on the real-life Williams.)
Antebellum and Lovecraft Country are Gorgeous Empty Suits by Soraya McDonald for The Undefeated
Soraya McDonald is a Pulitzer Prize finalist for a reason. I haven’t seen Antebellum yet, but her take on why HBO’s Lovecraft Country falls short is spot on. (I also recommend reading Vulture’s episode reviews of the show. They’re fantastic and really capture why I’ve been so frustrated with the series.)
This piece is a thoughtful take on New York rap by one of my favorite music critics.
That reality flies in the face of popular hip-hop-head logic, which suggests that New York City “fell off” as comeuppance for years of downplaying southern rap and only returned to glory as artists here embraced sounds from further down shore, and while it’s not an entirely untruecorrelation, the truer story is that 20 years of pressure from two Republican mayors with lofty dreams of stamping out crime, coupled withuneven policies that hit communities of color hard throughout the ’90s and 2000s, had a demonstrable financial effect on the culture. It’s a problem we’re still dealing with.The city didn’t fall; it was pushed. 
Did you enjoy this issue?
Jewel Wicker

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