There are still very few answers about what led to the police killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this year. Police officers battered their way into Taylor’s apartment, serving a "no-knock" warrant, and shot Taylor five times. As the FBI and Kentucky state officials continue to investigate the death, a new documentary from The New York Times Presents digs into official reports and documents to piece together what went wrong. "The Killing of Breonna Taylor" also paints a picture of who she was as a person through interviews with Taylor’s friends and family. Host Frank Stasio talks about the story with popular culture experts Natalie Bullock Brown and Mark Anthony Neal for #BackChannel, our recurring series connecting culture and context.
They also review the cultural contributions of four recently deceased icons: actor Chadwick Boseman, Kool & The Gang founding member Ronald Bell, soul singer D.J. Rogers and professional baseball player Lou Brock.
Neal and Brown also untangle the many threads of HBO’s new series "Lovecraft Country," starring Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett. The fantasy show created by Misha Green examines systemic racism through the genres of horror and science fiction.
They are also joined by scholar Martha S. Jones to look at the history of the relationship between Black women and voting rights in the U.S. Jones is a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and the author of "Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted On Equality For All" (Basic Books/2020).
Neal on "The Killing of Breonna Taylor":
One of the things that we've seen a loss of in the last two decades or so, is really good, quality, investigative journalism. And when we do see it in this moment, it often takes several platforms in order to bring it out. It's always kind of an achievement — with the New York Times, and Hulu and FX — to be able to do this this hour-long, investigative examination of everything that led up to Breonna Taylor's death, the aftermath of it, to talk to the people that we needed to hear from in various different ways. … It allowed us to counter the dehumanization that occurred, obviously in Breonna’s death, but also in terms of the ways that they attempted to further kill her and her reputation afterwards.
Brown on the legacy of Ronald Bell:
I have specific memories related to "Celebration," related to "Too Hot," related to "Diana." Their music was in many ways kind of the bread and butter of that time for me ... There's so much that hit me when I found out about Bell's death, because it's like you're losing a family member, because they were such a big part of your life — even though I never met him [and] wouldn't necessarily know him on the street. But his music, what he created, what his band meant during that time period when I was growing up — it's kind of priceless.
Neal on how artistry was different in the 70s and 80s:
"Get Down On It" was a song that was played at my 16th birthday, a skating party. And whenever I hear that song, I'm back in the Bronx at the Skate Key for my birthday party. And it was at a time when you had music that impacted upon communities, but you didn't necessarily have that kind of touch with the artists themselves. You didn't necessarily know what they look[ed] like. There was no Instagram and Twitter and all those kinds of things. So there really was a connection directly with the music more than anything.
Brown on "Lovecraft Country":
There is this veneer of what is "real," like what is familiar in terms of racism, what we think we understand about it, the surface of it. But then there's all this — I think it's allegory and symbolism that really speaks to the horrors and absurdity of racism.
Jones on the role of intersectionality in Black women’s activism over the 20th century:
For a long time in our history, Black women are quite alone in offering up a political vision for American democracy: a vision of a democracy that does not trade in racism and does not trade in sexism. That is the principle that Black women will enunciate at the beginning of the 19th century. And they will carry that all the way forward.