Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill December 23, 2020
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Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 37 NO. 48
Darius Russell of Russell's Pharmacy, p. 6 PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
CONTENTS NEWS 5
Grading the Raleigh City Council. BY LEIGH TAUSS
How local independent pharmacies are getting screwed. BY THOMASI MCDONALD
A Chapel Hill program overcomes language barriers in remote learning. BY SARA PEQUEÑO
FEATURE 10 The Year of Tragical Thinking.
BY LEIGH TAUSS
2020's 10 biggest stories.
21 things to watch in 2021. BY INDY STAFF
Our silver linings.
BY INDY STAFF
BY INDY STAFF
ARTS & CULTURE 18
A requiem for COVID's restaurant casaulties.
20 The music that got us through the year.
BY INDY STAFF
BY INDY STAFF AND CONTRIBUTORS
22 Tom Hanks stars in a sprawling Western fable. 23 A side-reel of the year's best movies.
BY GLENN MCDONALD
BY INDY STAFF AND CONTRIBUTORS
24 Our year in speculative fiction. BY SAMUEL MONTGOMERY-BLINN
THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes
COVER Design by Jon Fuller
WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper
Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño
EDITOR I AL
Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods
Interim Editor in Chief Leigh Tauss Interim A+C Editor Sarah Edwards Interim News Editor Eric Ginsburg Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald
December 23, 2020
Contributors Will Atkinson, Paul Blest, Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Brian Howe, Kyesha Jennings, Mary King, Drew Millard, Glenn McDonald, Neil Morris, Dan
Ruccia, David Ford Smith, Chris Vitiello, Ryan Vu, Nick Williams Interns Ann Gehan, Anna Mudd, Suzannah Claire Perry
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BACK TA L K
Last week, Sara Pequeño wrote about a $1.5 million drug
three UNC-Chapel Hill fraternities.
Facebook user LARRY AUSLEY had some questions. “Uh, has anyone stopped to do the math on 1,000 lb of pot or 100 kg of coke? Those amounts and an estimated value of $1.5 million don’t jibe,” Ausley wrote. “i struggle to care about the marijuana part of this and some folks are facing a life sentence for a drug crime,” responded ROBIN CUBBON. “what a waste of a person’s life and taxpayer dollars. meanwhile all our whitecollar criminals take millions from us and they never go to jail. put a [politian] or a ceo in jail for life...they kill more people than anyone.” “If it weren’t for the wealth and skin color they would have been caught years ago,” wrote JONATHAN HOROWITZ on Twitter. “They sent cocaine through the mail. They used Venmo. Students talked openly to faculty about that exact house in the picture all the time, that they were dealing some hard stuff.” On Facebook, ANDREW SNEE questioned the tone of a quote from the sheriff. ““We worked this case in order to save lives.” So different from the usual tone regarding a big drug bust. I wonder why.” On December 21, right under the holiday wire, Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order to permit to-go cocktails through the end of January. In response to a post from the INDY summarizing the decision—which bar owners have advocated for since March—reader JASON WILLIAMS questioned the demand for mixed drinks. “It doesn’t even make sense. Who is going to go to a bar and just order a togo drink. Nobody in their right mind would sit at a bar until 9pm and put a mix drink in the cup holder for the ride home.” Also on Facebook, reader SUE PIAZZA wondered if the order could go go a bit further. “Could we have a temporary legalization of weed as well lol.”
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15 MINUTES John Paradiso, 26 Managing editor of Hop Culture magazine BY ANNA MUDD email@example.com
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY SUBJECT
What is Hop Culture? Hop Culture is a digital craft beer magazine. We started in 2017 and wrote articles about the craft beer industry and its culture. Since then, we have started an event series. [Earlier], we were doing an event a month at places around the country, often tied to a brewery. Since then, we have done a few digital festivals; that’s something new we are tinkering with. In addition to all that, we do merch—glassware, T-shirts, and hats. We try to talk about beer in a way that people who know a lot about and love beer can understand, but also we want to introduce people to it. I think the reason Hop Culture first started was that in 2017, craft beer was still a pretty niche topic, but there were a lot of people curious about it, and there were more breweries popping up. So I think it really started as this platform where—let’s say you are interested in craft beer and you want a roadmap to it, but we are going to do our best to demystify everything that’s going on. We also are going to show you some of our favorite places and the interesting people making this great liquid.
a small podcast where I would go to breweries, interview the brewer, and try the beer. I realized that there’s a lot more to it than this liquid people enjoy casually. I love finding out what the story is behind those things people are working on, and the reason why I still love the industry is the people at the heart of it. I think it’s cool that people are working hard to do this thing they’re passionate about.
What are you drinking these days?
What drew you personally to writing about craft beer?
I was introduced to this really cool brewery in Austin, Texas called Yokefellow. They are focusing on some low-ABV drinkable lagers, which is one of my favorite styles of beer. I reached out and got a chance to try them, and they’re making some really cool stuff. North Carolina has some of my favorite breweries around. In my opinion, Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton is one of the best breweries on the East Coast. W
I was interested in beer mostly because there are such cool stories if you peek a bit beyond the beer itself. In college, I had
Visit hopculture.com to learn more and to read John’s writing. INDYweek.com
December 23, 2020
December 23, 2020
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Blunted Moonshot The Raleigh “Council of Go”’ checked off a laundry list of common-sense reforms in its first term, but with some glaring missteps BY LEIGH TAUSS firstname.lastname@example.org
ayor Mary-Ann Baldwin wanted 2020 to be Raleigh’s moonshot. Instead, the arrival of an unprecedented global crisis coupled with economic and social unrest, squashed those ambitions. But despite unprecedented challenges— and unlike the former “Council of No”—the new, development-friendly Raleigh City Council managed to make good on promises to boost alternative housing types in the city, legalize short-term rentals, and pass a litany of other common-sense reforms to streamline city processes. But early on, Baldwin revealed an authoritarian streak that undercut her visage as a great reformer. She wielded the bully pulpit, well, like a bully. She greenlit the backhanded dismantling of the city’s longstanding Citizen Advisory Councils, with disgraced former council member Saige Martin whipping votes behind the scenes. And questions about potential conflicts of interest arose after Baldwin took a job at big-time development firm Barnhill Contracting Company. But issues with Baldwin’s leadership came fully into the frame during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests this summer. Cops in riot gear unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, prompting a riot and damaging dozens of businesses downtown. Instead of reining in law enforcement, Baldwin issued draconian curfews, empowering cops to arrest anyone that disobeyed the order. At the same time, the City might as well have rolled out the red carpet for gun-toting, far-right Boogaloo demonstrators and anti-masker,
conspiracy-fueled ReOpenNC protesters, who gathered freely in the streets. It left more than a bad taste. Rebuilding public trust will be Baldwin’s biggest challenge if she hopes to secure another term. And yet, the Raleigh City Council accomplished more in one year than their NIMBY predecessors mustered in four years. They came in with sweeping ambition and a detailed checklist of campaign promises inspired by a vision of Raleigh’s future as an urban, walkable, and equitable metropolis. Here’s how we think they stacked up this year on the issues. ADUS BY RIGHT / SHORT-TERM RENTALS / COTTAGE COURTS Grade: A They said that they would do it, and they did. You can now build accessory dwelling units (or ADUs) by right, and Airbnb is no longer essentially illegal in the city. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT Grade: C Citizen Advisory Councils probably needed to die, but the surprise vote left many blindsided by the lack of community input in the decision. And a year later, it’s still unclear what will replace them. BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTESTS RESPONSE Grade: F Do better, Baldwin.
Raleigh mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin
PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
AFFORDABLE HOUSING BOND Grade: A A tax increase is a hard ask right now. But affordable housing is the city’s top priority, and the council was able to get the bond passed handily despite a campaign of detractors—including former council members—arguing it was a handout to developers. We hope that’s not the case—and that quality mixed-income developments along transit corridors will help bridge the city’s housing equity gap. PARKS BOND Grade: N/A This one isn’t their fault. We’ll count it as a withdrawal. The council had to prioritize other expenditures, and unfortunately, funds for Dix Park didn’t make the cut. Maybe next year. INVOLVE RENTERS Grade: B+ Renters—and not just property owners— are now notified about key projects in their neighborhoods. Maybe next we can actually pass policies that protect and advocate for them.
CREATE A POLICE ADVISORY BOARD Grade: C Unlike their predecessors, this council did manage to create a police advisory board. It doesn’t really do much, and they couldn’t get anyone to join at first, but they did create it. Granted, their hands are tied by the state legislature in terms of the board’s powers. We hope the council keeps pushing the General Assembly to expand the board’s oversight ability so it can actually hold police accountable. Until then, it’s basically a paper tiger. FINAL: BThe council’s first term leaves much room for improvement, especially in fostering transparency in government and enacting real, meaningful police reform. Still, they achieved many goals that will make it easier to build alternative housing in the city, despite the hindrance of economic and social upheaval. But unless they start working to mend some of Raleigh’s deeper wounds from this year, it’s unclear if they can rebuild the public trust needed to secure a second term. W INDYweek.com
December 23, 2020
N E WS Darius Russell of Russell’s Pharmacy PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
Insult to Injury For already struggling independent pharmacies, Blue Cross program brings more pain BY THOMASI MCDONALD email@example.com
orth Carolina’s largest health insurance provider announced in November that it would mail more than $200 million in health and wellness retail debit cards to its members. But as small businesses struggle to stay afloat amid rising COVID-19 infection rates, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has made accessing this juggernaut of financial benefits near-impossible for the wellness-focused companies that need it most: independently owned pharmacies. Last month, writer and gardener Frank Hyman called Russell’s Pharmacy & Shoppe in historic Old East 6
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Durham to ask about using the $500 gift card he had received in the mail from Blue Cross. Hyman was one of thousands of Blue Cross subscribers who received gift cards that the insurance provider had distributed to its members to provide them with a little financial relief in the face of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Hyman wanted to use the card at the two-year-old, Black-owned Russell’s Pharmacy, which is located on Angier Avenue. But his plan skidded off the rails when co-owner and pharmacist Darius Russell told him the drugstore lacked a credit card processing machine that
could process the 19 digits on the gift card. Cards like Visa and MasterCard normally have 16, Russell explained. Hyman wasn’t pleased. “BCBS is giving him and other local, Black-owned pharmacies the run around so their customers can’t use their debit card with them,” he wrote in an email to the INDY. Black-owned pharmacies aren’t the only ones who can’t cash in on the wellness card bonanza. Whether intentional or otherwise, it appears the Blue Cross wellness card favors national pharmacy chains such as Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart while giving the boot to local, independently owned druggists struggling to make an extra dollar during a pandemic that has shuttered many small businesses across the Triangle. The wellness card program has the added effect of “keeping their subscribers from spending their own money at the pharmacy of choice,” Hyman says. Russell figures he’s lost at least a couple thousand dollars in the month since the health and wellness gift card program began. “Yesterday, a patient with $400 on her card told me she would love to spend it locally,” he says. “I told her, ‘I wish I could, but I don’t have the capability yet.’” Russell says he’s called pharmacist colleagues in Durham, Carrboro, and Raleigh about the multi-million dollar gift card effort that has left them out in the cold. “It’s the same thing—they’re frustrated,” he says. “This is money that people could be spending locally, that we’re literally missing out on. My fear is we’ll get the [card reader] 30 days after the holidays. But by then, all of that money will have walked out the door.” Vip Patel owns Gurley’s Pharmacy in downtown Durham. He tells the INDY that the potential loss of a few thousand dollars could have effects beyond the holiday season. He explains that independent pharmacies aren’t just losing revenue; they could also lose patients, who might feel the businesses can’t take care of all of their needs. “The patient learns they can’t use their card, and they get frustrated and go to the large chains,” Patel says. “They start to feel that we can’t take care of the patient as a whole, so what’s the use of going there?” “I have a BCBS card, and I can’t use it in my own store,” he adds. “But I’m not going to use it at a chain pharmacy. Are you kidding me?” The gift card wouldn’t work for Maria Herrera at Josefs Pharmacy on Roxboro Street in downtown Durham, where she has been working since March. “I had to go to Walgreens,” she tells the INDY.
Russell says he first became aware of the health and wellness cards just before Thanksgiving, when one of his patients called the pharmacy to tell him that she had an over-the-counter gift card from BCBS. “She asked me about being able to spend the $350 on the card here,” Russell says. “I told her, ‘Sure.’” Russell subscribes to Blue Cross’s health insurance coverage, too. When he went home that evening, he found that the company had mailed him a card that had been loaded with $400. “So, I was excited,” he says. The next day, when the customer came in to use the card, Russell noticed it had 19 digits on the front. He ran the card through the store’s card reader, but it was a no-go. He kept trying. Still no success. So he called the company that handles his credit card processing. “They had no idea what I was talking about,” Russell says. He looked on the back of the gift card and called a 1-800 number that turned out to be for InComm Payments, an Atlanta-based company that partners with retailers to provide an array of financial services, including prepaid cards. Russell says he eventually received a call back from Melissa Flynn-Coffield, who works as an independent channel manager with Incomm Payments. “She told me I would receive a free card reader, and that the company didn’t realize there were so many independently owned pharmacies in the area,” Russell says. “She made it seem like BCBS had dropped the ball.” Russell says Flynn-Cofield promised that the company would circumvent the application process that usually takes 30 days to send out a card reader. Instead, he would receive it “as soon as possible.” Russell felt even more reassured the following day, when he received an email from Flynn-Coffield. She promised that help was just around the corner, and that “we are so close.” A week later, Russell still hasn’t seen an application or details about how to get on board, he says. Patel hasn’t gotten his machine, either. “We are still waiting for the special credit card processing machine,” he says. Russell and Patel both say it would have helped if independent pharmacy owners had been given a heads-up before the card was rolled out to the public. They said more information upfront— especially about the special card readers—would have given them a chance to decide if they wanted to even participate
in the program, which is funded by the Affordable Care Act’s temporary “risk corridor” program, designed to “stabilize health insurance premiums and backstop insurance companies willing to offer a new and risky product,” according to the Commonwealth Fund. “Not only are we losing money, but we never got a chance to decide if we wanted to figure it out or not,” Russell says about the card readers. Prasanna Bafna, who owns the Southpoint Pharmacy on Fayetteville Road, near Southpoint Mall, tells the INDY that he called “10 or 11” BCBS NC departments after he was unable to process the cards for his customers. “I spent around 15 to 20 hours on the phone with Blue Cross Blue Shield,” he says. What Bafna heard from Blue Cross officials about when small pharmacies will be able to process the card appears to be at odds with what Russell and Patel were told. “We were told we would have to wait until the New Year to get started,” he says. Incomm Payments officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Blue Cross NC spokeswoman Jami Sowers tells the INDY that participating retailers in the wellness card program “were determined, based on InComm Payments’ existing network of pharmacies; locally, regionally and nationally.” Sowers says the company is now working to ensure that all independent pharmacies across the state are able to access the benefit dollars from the gift card, and with future programs. Sowers adds that Blue Cross will also cover the $250 cost of a card processing machine for independent pharmacies that wish to join. Sowers notes that 14 independent pharmacists are already participating in the program, and at least 19 are in the process of being connected. But, according to the most recent figures from the N.C. Board of Pharmacy, from 2018, there are more than 1,800 independent retail pharmacies in the state. That means that less than one percent of independent pharmacies are set up with the Blue Cross program. If local pharmacists’ experience is any indication, the rest are worse off for it. Bafna, for example, says the loss of revenue has been significant. “A lot of customers come to the counter and ring up $30 to $40 in purchases and say, ‘We want to use the card,’” he says. “We have to tell them they can’t use the card and [to] put the items back on the shelf.” W
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December 23, 2020
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Lost in Translation Neighborhood support circles help refugee students through remote learning BY SARA PEQUEÑO email@example.com
t’s no secret that the pandemic has made everyone’s life harder. But remote learning presented a set of compounding challenges for refugee parents of school-aged children this year. San Da Win, a Karen refugee and mother to a kindergartener and preschooler, says that her older child’s teacher came to the house with an iPad in the spring. The teacher tried to explain, in English and sign language, how to use it for remote learning, and gave her an instruction sheet—also in English. “The next day, when she’s supposed to help her kids get into class, she just doesn’t know,” says Rosy Moo, coordinator at Refugee Community Partnership, translating for Win. “When the teacher came, there were no interpreters; there was no nothing.” Win is one of several parents who came to the Refugee Community Partnership (or RCP) during the first months of the pandemic with this story; public schools moving online meant that these parents were tasked with supervising their child’s education. In some cases, their children ended up missing school altogether. That’s when RCP connected with the town of Chapel Hill. Sarah Viñas, the assistant director of the town’s Office of Housing and Community, said the office’s employees had been hearing the similar feedback during check-ins with low-income families as the town built up its COVID-19 response. “One of the things that we heard time and again from the families that participated in those check-ins was the need for childcare and the challenges that working parents—and all parents—are facing with managing online schooling and the virtual learning environment,” Viñas says. 8
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Using $74,000 of federal CARES Act funding, the town and RCP partnered to create Neighborhood Support Circles. Now a provider comes for four hours a day, five days a week to help the children with schoolwork and homework, translate school documents, and help parents create a plan for the year. There are currently 12 providers who work with a couple dozen families, normally splitting an eight-hour workday between two families or small learning pods, depending on the number of children in a family. Most of the time, they speak the family’s native language. All 12 providers are paid for their work. “I think some of the really awesome benefits of this program is that all of the providers come from the same communities of the families that they’re working with,” says Meagan Clawar, RCP’s program manager. “There’s a shared language, or a shared culture. There’s a lot of benefits to that setup, and then the providers are also paid. So this is income we’re able to provide to young community members who are looking for a job.” Of the 59,000 people who live in Chapel Hill, around 10,000 are immigrants. Refugees make up 1,121 of those immigrants, fleeing Myanmar (formerly Burma), Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russia, and Syria. Almost 32,000 refugees have moved to North Carolina since 2002, according to the Omaha World-Herald; in 2018, the state had the seventh-highest number of refugee resettlements in the country. While the town of Chapel Hill reports that 24 percent of immigrants living here speak limited English, Chapel Hill-Carr-
A student is tutored virtually
PHOTO COURTESY OF REFUGEE COMMUNITY PROJECT
boro City Schools only has four interpreters on-staff: one for Chinese, one for both Karen and Burmese, and two for Spanish. Refugee Community Partnership has critiqued the system in the past: In an August 12 Facebook post, the group shared that they were disappointed at how little attention the school system gave to language accessibility, saying, “When you’re ready, we can help.” Children with special needs face additional barriers. Normally, children with disabilities would have teaching assistants, along with teachers, to give them specialized, attentive care. Parents aren’t trained specifically to do that. Many refugee parents were also working before the pandemic; Win says that taking care of her children—one who has special needs—means that she’s unable to work. Even getting groceries is an overwhelming task.
Currently, the program is only based in Chapel Hill. The partnership is only able to commit to the 12 current providers, and they don’t know if there will be enough funding in the future to keep the program up and running. “We’re kind of just forging ahead and hoping that things will fall into place,” says RCP’s Clawar. “It’s hard, because a lot of our funding came from COVID-specific funds. We and the town of Chapel Hill will have to hear when that next round of funding will come, if it will come.” Still, they know the project is worth it— both for the families and the providers. “This is one of the best things that I do, or the best thing that happened to me in 2020,” says Moo. “It just makes you feel so good to know that you’re helping these families navigate through this virtual learning.” W
Black Nativity PHOTOGRAPHY + WORDS BY JADE WILSON
Black Nativity is an annual production presented by the Triangle Performance Ensemble. Director Wendell Tabb and musical director Xavier Cason adapted this soulful celebration of the birth of Jesus Chris, originally written by Langston Hughes, for the Durham performance. This year looks a little different than usual: Due to COVID-19, the play, which was recorded prior to the pandemic, is being screened virtually. The show opened on December 18 and will stream thought December 31. W
December 23, 2020
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The Year of Tragical Thinking FEATURE
BY LEIGH TAUSS firstname.lastname@example.org
nd of year recaps always feel trite, and never more so than as I sit here, three days before what’s poised to be the loneliest Christmas of my lifetime, attempting to strangle some sense of meaning out of it all. I could lay some classic platitudes on you about how we made it, we’re stronger than before, evil never wins, yadda yadda. I could lament all the things we lost: loved ones, health, homes, and jobs. I could highlight our community heroes, the true People of the Year who risked death and kept society running this year. Or I could just say it like it is: This year was fucking excruciating. So numbed were we to the constant controversies of the Trump administration we fooled ourselves into thinking it couldn’t possibly get worse. But as my Jewish mother likes to say: It’s always darkest before it’s totally pitch black. COVID-19 upended the illusion that capitalism could slink on by with business as usual. Radical individualism coagulated with anti-science conspiracy theories to produce the anti-masker movement, and many, many people died who didn’t have to. A lot of people lost all hope. I did, for a while, too. I struggled this year. I lost some people very close to me. I gave into my worst impulses. I felt utterly alone. 10
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This weekend, I couldn’t get out of bed. The shades stayed drawn; I cocooned under blankets, didn’t get dressed, spent too much money to get a chicken biscuit delivered, and couldn’t even muster the energy to find a TV show worth half-paying attention to. My family is hundreds of miles away. I live alone. There are no presents under my secular Christmas tree. Then, something surprising happened. Coming home from work on Monday, I pulled into my driveway and found a package propped against my door. It was a velvet green Christmas stocking with little gold stars, with a bottle of wine inside. I’ve never had a stocking before. Atop it was a card, handwritten. “From a grateful Durham community— we see you, we value you, and we love you!!! :)” Like the Grinch, this little journalist’s heart grew three sizes. I cried, but this time not the sad kind. Just like a virus, that little germ called hope can spread so quickly once planted. It’s amazing what a little love can do. And that’s what I’ve missed most this year— feeling loved and part of a community. I’m ready to crawl out the black hole of 2020. I’m ready to hope again. To love and cry the good kind of tears and fight fearlessly for justice in this place I call home. I hope you are, too. W
The 10 Biggest Stories From 2020 BY LEIGH TAUSS, ERIC GINSBURG, THOMASI MCDONALD, SARA PEQUEÑO, AND SARAH EDWARDS email@example.com
o close out this year, we want to reflect on the stories that defined the last 366 days. Some—the pandemic, George Floyd Uprising, and November election—won’t surprise you. But if the banner stories of the year made it difficult for you to keep up with or remember the biggest local news stories of 2020, consider this your refresher.
The Coronavirus Pandemic Some events leave the lives of those who bear witness to them forever bisected. There was the time before COVID-19, before masks, social distancing, curfews, remote learning, and indefinite shutdowns. And then there is now, a time of uncertainty, social upheaval, and indelible fear. Hospitals running out of beds and ventilators, while outside in the parking lot, the dead are stored in refrigerated trucks. The four walls of our homes, once a sanctuary, morphed slowly into gilded cages as work-from-home turned from a luxury to a necessity. Workers forced to brave the front lines in healthcare, retail, and hospitality risked exposure to the deadly virus for inadequate pay. More distant by the day grow memories of bustling restaurants, the transcendent power of live music, and even the sometimes fractious family holidays where peak discomfort was squirming out of a prolonged embrace. Increasingly, we say our end-of-life goodbyes over Facetime. Much like 9/11, there is no going back to the before-time. Although a vaccine is knocking on the door, the fallout of this year won’t merely evaporate. That means reimagining the working class and coming to terms with the inequities four decades of unfettered capitalism have wrought in this country. It will mean recreating systems for healthcare, education, and hous-
ing as human rights. If we fail, we’ll be forever pining for the unreachable before, with darker days ahead. —Leigh Tauss
George Floyd/BLM Protests George Floyd should’ve been TIME’s Person of the Year. His cold-blooded murder at the end of May sparked what’s been declared the largest social movement in U.S. history. About 20 million people reportedly participated in demonstrations after his death (and the murder of other Black Americans including Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor), according to The New York Times. While the Black Lives Matter movement didn’t begin with Floyd’s gruesome murder, it’s far from over and will no doubt continue into 2021. Locally, the movement has taken various shapes since May. In Raleigh, protestors repeatedly faced state repression and curfews—the latter often preemptively. It later came out that Raleigh police used expired tear gas on protestors, according to a review of the department’s response. And a consultant hired by the city council said the department needs to review its use of force policies and tear gas. Some cities—like Portland, Oregon—banned tear gas this year. In Durham, high school students organized a massive march where they demanded that officers be removed from public schools. Protestors painted a gigantic yellow “DEFUND” in front of the city’s lavish new police station. Despite significant public pressure on the Durham City Council, the body still approved requested funding increases for its department, drawing protestors to the mayor’s home. The movement reverberated throughout the Triangle in countless smaller ways, influencing everything from book sales to art on boarded-up storefronts. But deeper,
1 May Black Lives Matter protest in Raleigh
PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
more meaningful change largely remained elusive. —Eric Ginsburg
Biden and Cooper Win, But Dems Fail Big In a normal year, this would be the top story by far. Trump’s one-term disaster presidency normalized incompetence to the point that his impeachment was barely a blip on the radar and his goons became more ghoulish by the day (see: melting Giuliani). But even though things felt very, very hopeless gearing up to the election, and no one was particularly excited about Joe Biden, Democrats were able to wrestle back control of the White House. It was a victory we had to hold our breaths for in the weeks after the election, and which the president still vehemently denies. Suffice it to say, most of us won’t breathe easy until January 20.
Back home in North Carolina, while Governor Roy Cooper defeated anti-LGBTQ Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, a bona fide science-denier, it was a disappointing election for Old North State Dems overall. Cal Cunningham, after raising more money than god in his bid to unseat U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, threw it all away at the eleventh hour after the news broke that he was cheating on his wife. In the state legislature, Democrats aspired not just to break the GOP majority in the legislature, but take it and finally implement long-needed goals like Medicaid expansion. Unfortunately, Democrats gained just a single seat, which won’t move the needle on any crucial votes this term. We’re also stuck with another conspiracy theorist as lieutenant governor in Mark Robinson, who defeated Yvonne Lewis Holley. Plus, Biden lost the state. Thanks, split-ticket voters. —LT INDYweek.com
December 23, 2020
Amid Closures, A Deeper Restaurant Reckoning The restaurant industry has always been a slippery creature. Margins are wire-thin, the work is often grueling and thankless, staff dynamics often play fast and loose, and HR departments largely don’t exist. When the economy began to cautiously reopen this year, employees were (and continue to be) put under impossible strains. Cracks began to surface. In June, high-profile Raleigh sister restaurants Brewery Bhavana and Bida Manda—both of which enjoyed a progressive reputation—became lightning rods when employees went public with allegations of a cult-like atmosphere and sexual misconduct, among other things. The fallout from these tensions was immense, both for these two restaurants (the owners stepped down, and beverage director Jordan Hester was arrested for allegations that surfaced around the same time) and for the industry at large. Around the Triangle, whispers of bad workplaces cast a wide net: In Raleigh, former Neomonde co-owner Samir “Sam” Saleh faced very serious allegations of sexual misconduct, while in Durham, employees of East Durham Bake Shop spoke out against the bakery’s owners for fostering a toxic work environment. It was a year of reckoning for the hospitality industry, though there was too much going on in the world for anyone to really get a handle on how restaurants would reimagine employee safety or reckon with these long-standing issues going forward. Perhaps 2021 will bring real change. —Sarah Edwards
Raleigh Kills Advisory Councils Raleigh’s Citizen Advisory Councils were a dinosaur. Enacted in the 1970s, when the population of the Raleigh metro area was a tenth of what it is now, the volunteer-driven boards had become NIMBY cesspools, dead set on opposing development at every turn. The problem: Raleigh is rapidly becoming a big city, and litigating every new development like a stringent home owner’s association was doing nothing to solve the city’s burgeoning affordable housing crisis. The CACs also just weren’t engaging a whole lot of people, and they became highly politicized platforms for a vocal minority. When the “Council of No” was unseated by a new, much more pro-development Raleigh City Council, we figured some reforms were probably on the way 12
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cal faction began an online campaign that vehemently opposed it, claiming the bond was simply a hand-out to developers. Luckily, voters called bullshit. The $80 million bond that passed won’t solve the city’s affordable housing crisis, but it will help people and expand the city’s housing stock over time. The bond contains funding that will help provide financial relief to existing homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods and downpayment assistance to lower-income prospective buyers. Some funds will be used to buy land that can later be developed into mixed-income developments along transit corridors. In the long term, these are things that will make Raleigh more equitable. It won’t be enough to curve the crisis—not by a long shot—but it’s a start. —LT
5 Franklin Street devoid of students on a weekend in November
for CACs. But no one could have predicted that the new council would whip votes in secret and dismantle CACs without warning. There was no agenda item, there was little discussion—and rightfully, absolute outrage from the volunteers who had spent countless hours engaging their neighborhoods. The council promised to revamp citizen engagement. But then a pandemic happened, and by the year’s end, we have little more than an expensive study to show for it. The CACs probably needed to die, but the council should’ve done it the right way—transparently. Instead, they chose a backhanded approach that undermined public trust. It could hurt them come Election Day 2021. —LT
First Semester Flops at UNC The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has faced some pretty bad publicity in the last few years, from the NCAA academic scandal to the never-ending Silent Sam saga. My alma mater’s reputation took yet another hit this May when administrators announced that they would be sending students back to classrooms amid a pandemic, then refused to back down as case counts continued to climb over the summer. The handful of days students were actually on campus was a mess. Several fraternities were written up by Chap-
PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
el Hill police for throwing parties—and sorority girls flouted the rules, too. UNC’s quarantine and isolation dorms quickly filled up, and students were shipped to local hotels. Four COVID-19 clusters were announced in three days, prompting The Daily Tar Heel to say the “F-word” in an editorial headline. Classes began Monday, August 10. By August 17, the school announced it was going remote for the rest of the semester. Several other universities followed UNC’s lead. North Carolina State University announced three days later that it’d be moving classes online, too; East Carolina University followed shortly behind. Now, as a new semester looms and case counts reach new highs every day, students, faculty, and staff are understandably questioning the decision to invite students back to campus in the spring. —Sara Pequeño
Raleigh’s Affordable Housing Bond Saying “the rent is too damn high” is an understatement. Studies show that without serious government intervention, Wake County will face a shortage of 150,000 affordable units by 2035. In 2019, Durham passed a $95 million bond to address housing inequality, more than Raleigh had issued in two decades. Backing the bond should have been a no-brainer for liberals, but a small politi-
Crisis at McDougald Terrace Before COVID-19, the biggest public health crisis of the year in the Triangle was the discovery of dangerously elevated carbon monoxide levels in hundreds of apartments at McDougald Terrace. In early January, the Durham Housing Authority began relocating more than 300 households to area hotels after inspectors found the deadly gas. Two months before, the INDY reported that Mac residents were literally sick of the shit pouring out of a sanitary manhole and countless other deplorable, longstanding conditions. The conditions described didn’t vibe with a prosperous Southern city that prides itself on being progressive. The residents also shared their suspicions about three infants who had died between November and January. Although the causes for their death have not been made public, the state medical examiner ruled out carbon monoxide poisoning. Heroes emerged—particularly Ashley Canady, president of the public housing complex’s resident council. Canady coordinated food and supply distribution to her fellow displaced residents. She spoke passionately on their behalf and demanded accountability from officials during numerous meetings. In late March, as the world fixated on the pandemic, Mac residents quietly returned to the community following wholesale repairs and renovations to their homes. Afi Byrd was one of the residents who had been staying at a hotel for a month or longer. She asked: “Can you imagine the PTSD that’s going to come from this?” —Thomasi McDonald
8 McDougald Terrace residents meet with DHA officials in January
Saige Martin Exposed, and Stormie Forte Ascends Saige Martin was one of the more exciting new members of the Raleigh City Council. The most radical and outspoken of the bunch, the District D representative was queer, young, bold, and fun. He doggedly called for police reform and pushed a progressive agenda. We put him on the cover after the election, his model-good looks an easy page pusher. Martin was the council member who secretly whipped the votes needed to kill Citizen Advisory Councils and quickly made his fair share of enemies. He made moves, and big ones. But, as the media loves to say about men in positions of power, his promising political career swiftly came crashing down. In June, The News & Observer dropped a bombshell investigation alleging that Martin had engaged in sexual assault or misconduct with four men—one of them underage at the time—during his time at N.C. State. The story delved into graphic detail about nonconsensual sex that rarely gets air in hetero-abuse stories. The backlash was instant. Within hours of the story’s publication, Martin resigned and disappeared from public sight. The only silver lining to this story is that the council voted to replace him with the promising Stormie Forte, a black LGTBQ attorney who has taken a measured approach to governance. —LT
PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death With the possible exception of Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown, no judge in a generation or more has enjoyed the level of celebrity and recognition as the Notorious RBG. The liberal icon, famous for her dissent, seemed to cling to life with ferocity, and she nearly held on until Joe Biden’s inauguration. Despite sharing a surname with the justice, more people ask if I’m related to Allen the Beat poet than Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the answer to both is no), which always reminds me how few people are truly familiar with the Supreme Court. Yet public awareness and public significance often don’t correlate, and Ginsburg’s unexpected death in September quickly redefined the nation’s political landscape for years to come. In a feat of merciless hypocrisy, Republicans rammed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett even though countless Americans had already cast their ballot in an election that would unseat an incumbent president for the first time since 1992. It marked Trump’s third lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court—fully a third of the entire body. Biden has been evasive about whether he’ll try to expand the size of the court, but given his insistence on making overtures to Republicans who can’t be bothered to acknowledge his electoral victory, that doesn’t seem imminent. That, paired with the Trump administration’s single-minded packing of the federal bench, means we’ll probably be stuck with a conservative judiciary system for the foreseeable future. —EG W
BILL BURTON ATTORNEY AT LAW Un c o n t e s t e d Di vo rc e Bu s i n e s s L a w UNCONTESTED In c o r p o r a t i o n / L LC / DIVORCE Pa r t n e r s h i p MUSIC BUSINESS LAW Wi l l s INCORPORATION/LLC WILLS C o l l e c t i o n s SEPARATION AGREEMENTS Mu s i c
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The 21 T h i n g s We’re Watching for 2021 BY LEIGH TAUSS, ERIC GINSBURG, THOMASI MCDONALD, SARA PEQUEÑO, AND SARAH EDWARDS firstname.lastname@example.org
fter an unimaginable, upside-down year, we’re well aware that we can’t predict the future. But there are still several issues we’re keeping our eye on that we expect will be significant in 2021. While we can’t say how it will all shake out, here are 21 of the people and things (listed here in no particular order) we expect to define 2021—or at least show up in our news coverage this year.
Downtown South Advances The Raleigh City Council’s last move of 2020 was one of its most controversial: pushing through an ambitious rezoning request from developer John Kane to create a new mixed-use hub in a barren pocket south of downtown. The plans call for a soccer stadium, highrise apartments, and retail. The NIMBYs absolutely hated it. The planning commission unanimously voted against it. Yet the council granted the rezoning request seven to one, with only David Cox dissenting. It will be interesting to see how plans for the project materialize this year, and what tax benefits the city will offer Kane in exchange for an affordable component to the project. Contrary to popular opinion, a rezoning is typically the first step in a project, not the last, and Kane has a long way to go before shovels hit the ground. —Leigh Tauss
A Return to the Classroom The majority of school in 2020 took place on the internet. While online learning has its obvious pros—limiting exposure to COVID-19, being able to see your classmates’ pets—lawmakers seem hell-bent on sending everyone from elementary to grad school back to 14
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classrooms. Some have already taken a stance: In December, Wake County’s school board voted unanimously to start the spring semester online. Teachers in Orange County have expressed their frustration with being forced back into classrooms, although only a few students are there in-person. And the University of North Carolina System, after a disastrous start in the fall, administrators seem intent on trying in-person learning again. With the vaccine in sight, COVID numbers still booming, and diagnoses skewing younger, we’ll be watching and reporting how it all goes down. —Sara Pequeño
Raleigh’s Municipal Election We backed Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin in 2019, hoping she’d be the bold leader to pull off a progressive agenda. While she has succeeded in pushing through many common-sense reforms during her tenure, she’s also gained the scorn of many progressives for her mishandling of this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Her re-election isn’t a given by any means. On Tueday, Baldwin told the INDY she would seek a second term. It will be interesting to see who the NIMBY camp prop up to oppose her. With the GOP all but extinct in Raleigh, the political fault line has been pro-development Democrat versus anti-development Democrat (with the exception of the independent-in-name-only Nancy McFarlane). Running two-time loser attorney Charles Francis again would easily hand Baldwin another two years in the castle. If the NIMBYs are smart, they’ll pick a younger person of color to challenge Baldwin on police reform—her obvious
1 Rendering of Downtown South stadium PHOTO COURTESY OF VISITDOWNTOWNSOUTH.COM
weak spot. No matter how the ballot shakes out, we’ll be watching closely to see if Baldwin and the rest of her voting bloc are able to maintain power. —LT
Changes on Chapel Hill’s Town Council The Chapel Hill Town Council has had an empty seat since January 2020, when member Rachel Schaevitz moved to New Zealand before the end of her term. Although the town followed procedure and accepted applications for a replacement, they never selected a new member. The seat would have been up for election in 2021. In October, the council provided an update on why that seat was still empty: The nine-person council is considering reducing its numbers to seven, meaning the seat in question would disappear this election cycle. It will be interesting to see the final decision and how it’ll affect the competition, considering that someone won their seat in 2019 by just 24 votes. —SP
Hope for Venues, And the Arts Some good news came this week for small venue owners: Congress
(finally) reached a deal to pass the $900 billion stimulus bill, with the Save Our Stages Act bundled into the relief package. This means a much-needed $15 billion for independent music venues and movie theaters and is very good news for many Triangle small businesses, which have essentially been hung out to dry since March. It’s not time to pop champagne, though—even if some venues are able to hang on until vaccines are widely distributed, it’s unclear what the longterm effects of 2020 will be on the local arts ecosystem. —Sarah Edwards
Finally, a Vaccine It’s actually happening: People across North Carolina are starting to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. With healthcare workers getting vaccinated and the Moderna vaccine expected to roll out shortly, there’s finally hope for the end of this pandemic. It can’t come soon enough, with coronavirus cases mounting rapidly. What remains to be seen is how efficiently the majority of us will be able to line up and receive one of the vaccines. A pecking order based on exposure and risk is already emerging, but the hope is that by late spring, younger and healthier adults who aren’t essential workers will be able to get vaccinated en masse as well.
New City Managers in Raleigh and Durham Ruffin Hall and Tom Bonfield weren’t exactly household names, but as Raleigh and Durham’s top bureaucrats respectively, they were an invisible hand guiding city hall—and immensely powerful. While Ruffin prioritized padding Raleigh’s coffers and securing its credit rating, Bonfield gained respect as a stabilizing force through a period of immense change for Durham. Raleigh has chosen former assistant city manager Marchell Adams-David as Ruffin’s replacement, while Wanda Page is serving as Durham’s interim city manager until a new manager is selected. It’s too early to tell what Adams-David’s management style will be, but we’ll be watching both of these positions closely given their tremendous potential impact. —LT
There’s serious concern about whether the historic abuse of Black patients (forced sterilization, for example) and growing conservative conspiracies will hamper a vaccine rollout. Plus, will mask use, expanded remote work, and other precautions persist in some form? We’ll see. —Eric Ginsburg
A Booming Housing Market The Triangle was already facing an affordable housing crisis, with rents and housing prices increasing yearover-year as the region gained a reputation as a nascent tech hub. The pandemic lit the haystack on fire, so to speak, spurring an exodus from major metros to midsized cities. This year, the Triangle surpassed the Charlotte metro area as the most populous in the state, and growth is only expected to continue. Adding to that, interest rates are historically low and the supply of modest homes is limited. If you are on the market, expect to go high or get outbid several times on a coveted three-bedroom under $300,000. Prices are skyrocketing for renters, too— this fall, we reported that rent in Durham went up more during the pandemic than anywhere else in the country. Yikes. —LT
A More Conservative State Supreme Court If you even casually consume the news (including reading our 2020 roundup in this issue), you know that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing rocked the federal legal system. But for many North Carolinians, the North Carolina Supreme Court is merely a down-ballot afterthought, driven by the “R” or “D” next to a candidate’s name more than their record. That’s arguably why Republicans swept the state Supreme Court this year, riding Trump’s coattails to capture all three open seats (and all statewide judicial races, too). That includes Paul Newby defeating incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley by just 401 votes, which is a pretty narrow victory considering that Trump beat Biden by almost 75,000 votes in North Carolina. Democrats still hold the majority on the state’s highest court, but we’ll be watching closely to see what their slimmed four-to-three margin means for our state’s future. —EG
Republican Redistricting When the Tea Party swept Republicans to power in our state legislature 10 years ago, it spelled disaster for redistricting. The GOP carved
11 Counterprotester at No Place for Hate protest in Raleigh PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
up North Carolina in its favor, effectively rigging elections for the North Carolina General Assembly and Congress and disenfranchising millions of voters in the process. Despite a relatively even split among voters, Republicans wield outsized political power in this state, and that’s largely thanks to redistricting. This election, Democrats had a rare chance for a reset, as this process unfolds once a decade. And they totally whiffed. Not only did Republicans retain control of the state House and state Senate—they actually netted several seats this year. That puts them in the driver’s seat once again when it comes to drawing their own state districts and putting their hand on the scales for upcoming Congressional races. There’s a good chance their maps will be thrown out in court (again and again), but we’re still not filled with hope. Don’t you just love democracy? —EG
Efland Station Efland, to some, is no more than an exit on I-40/85. To about 700 people, the unincorporated community is home. Its main attractions are its silence and its scenery, but that could change in January; that’s when the Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold a vote on rezoning about 100 acres of land off the interstate so that Buc-ee’s, a Texas gas station, can move in. Orange County residents mostly dislike
the idea. It could be noisy. There could be light pollution. Traffic could be permanently terrible. But the biggest cause for concern is the development’s placement, which could end up overlapping with part of the Eno River’s protected watershed. Still, the idea has some support, and the commissioners will have the final say early next year. —SP
White Supremacy on the March Remember the dude who walked into a Subway in Raleigh with a rocket launcher? This year, we’ve witnessed a grab-bag of fundamentalists and white supremacists on the move in North Carolina, from epithet-spewing thugs in Durham and Alamance County to members of the street gang known as the Proud Boys in Raleigh. Chapel Hill is no stranger to neo-Confederates, and even with Trump out of power next year, we’re bound to see more than a few anti-mask conspiracy theorists, Boogaloo provocateurs, avowed fascists, and other reactionaries inciting confrontations and possibly violence across the Triangle and state. After all, Trump may have emboldened far-right extremists in America, but he didn’t create this country’s white supremacy problem. —EG
Will Sports Come Back? I have a beloved family member who usually has something nice to say about everyone except for Donald Trump and Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. College basketball is like a religion for some in the Triangle, and in many ways, its cancelation back in March signaled the beginning of the pandemic and social distancing in earnest. With an eye toward public health, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s Board of Directors recently canceled the men’s and women’s basketball season, along with the conference’s big-ticket, nationally recognized tournament. Meanwhile, Coach K recently made national news when he announced that his team would be canceling their remaining non-conference games, partly because of rising infection rates. Good for the CIAA, and good for Duke. It’s hard to imagine empty stands during the ACC and NCAA tournaments. If 2020 was a basketball, someone ought to kick it out of the gym forever. Will basketball and other sports return in earnest sometime in 2021? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. —Thomasi McDonald
Marijuana’s Legal Hurdles Will 2021 be the year North Carolina finally legalizes marijuana? Considering that municipalities across the state are hurting for revenue thanks to the disastrous federal response to the pandemic, the prospects may be brighter than before. In this fall’s election, Arizona, South Dakota, New INDYweek.com
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Jersey, and Montana legalized recreational weed, and even Deep South states like Mississippi and Louisiana allow for medical marijuana. (So do other historically red states, like Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, West Virginia, Florida, Utah, and Ohio.) As the CBD industry grows here, keeping cannabis illegal seems increasingly untenable. Then again, proponents of legalization like commissioner of agriculture candidate Jenna Wadsworth lost their races this year, so it’s not exactly on the state’s front burner. —EG
since it probably won’t be happening at the state level. —SP
Alamance County Sheriff’s Department We freely admit that Alamance County isn’t part of our normal coverage area. As a small team with limited resources, we need to pick our stories carefully so that we don’t stretch ourselves too thin. But what’s unfolded in Alamance this year—largely, but not exclusively, thanks to the notorious and authoritarian Sheriff Terry Johnson—is so egregious that it would be journalistic malpractice to look away. As we said in a recent editorial, law enforcement in Alamance County seems intent on trampling on the First Amendment, instead opting to cuddle up with Graham, N.C.’s Confederate statue and the good old boys (read: white supremacists) intent on defending it. The coming year promises continued flare-ups in Alamance, and we’ll be watching. —EG
Return of the NIMBYs Will 2021 be the year the NIMBYs strike back? After a devastating defeat that completely shifted the balance of power on the Raleigh City Council in 2019, the anti-development Dems have been mounting a rebuttal with a series of vague online platforms with monikers like “Livable Raleigh” and “The Wake County Housing Justice Coalition.” Their meme-making abilities aside, it’s not hard to see why some buy into their spiel in the age of disinformation. Instead of framing themselves as neighborhood protectionists in their fight against change, they are now claiming the progressive mantle of social justice warriors fighting gentrification (because opposing the affordable housing bond was so woke). It will be interesting to see if their movement is able to gain momentum this year outside of the blog-o-sphere. —LT
Changes to the ABC System and Alcohol Laws The state legislature hotly debated privatizing our archaic ABC system this year, with lawmakers ultimately 16
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19 2019 Pride in Durham PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
opting to make reforms to the Prohibition-era system instead of scraping it. It was a good year for distillers, who, in one of several common-sense wins, are finally allowed to sell mixed beverages on site. However, we’ll be closely watching what comes of the ABC’s request for proposals seeking a new warehouse manager, after a 2018 audit revealed that millions of public funds were being wasted through mismanagement. Any major change in that distribution system is likely to have trickle-down effects statewide, and we’ll be paying close attention. Meaningful change may seem unlikely on this front to some, but given the governor’s 11th-hour order to allow to-go cocktails right before the end of this year, maybe reform is in the air after all. —LT
Criminal Justice Reform in Durham Long before the alarming spread of COVID-19 among people behind bars, Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry had deployed a series of measures that had reduced the county’s jail population by 12 percent during her first six months in office. Those initiatives included a pre-trial release policy that looked askance at keeping people locked up before their trials, clearing an increased percentage of homicide cases, largely refusing to accept court
referrals for school-based incidents, and ending the practice of threatening criminal charges against parents of students who miss school. And last month, Deberry’s office announced that thousands of county residents may be eligible for getting their driving privileges restored. In the new year, Durham residents should expect the reform-minded district attorney to make good on her campaign promise to fundamentally change the way the county’s justice system operates by continuing to address mass incarceration, jail overcrowding, and racial disparities. —TM
Municipalities can enact LGBTQ protections HB2 seems like lifetimes ago. The bill, passed in 2016 and signed by Republican Pat McCrory during his final year as governor, was enacted before Trump made it to the White House. You remember what happened next: the outrage, the embarrassment, the droves of musicians canceling tour stops in the state. Although a newly elected Governor Roy Cooper “repealed” it at the end of March 2017, it came at a price: No municipalities were allowed to pass LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws until December 1, 2020. Now that the gag rule is lifted, we’ll be waiting to see which towns and cities are first to put those protections in place—especially
Durham’s All-Women County Board of Commissioners Durham voters made history this year when they elected the first all-female board of county commissioners in the commission’s 139-year-old history. Voters also made history by electing Nida Allam, who is the first Muslim woman to hold elected office in North Carolina. It will be interesting to see how the new body works together, but that observation has little to do with gender. Early last year, the board was rocked when County Manager Wendell Davis’ accused Commissioner Heidi Carter of being racially biased against him and other people of color. Carter denied the allegations. Commissioner (and now Chair) Brenda Howerton’s support of Davis often left her at odds with then-chair Wendy Jacobs and Carter—the new board’s two white members—during meetings. This summer, officials with the International City/County Management Association determined that Davis did not violate the organization’s code of conduct in making his accusations. Howerton and Jacobs appeared to extend olive branches this month, offering conciliatory remarks. We’ll see if it lasts. —TM
North Carolina’s New Extremists Madison Cawthorn, a 25-year-old GOP darling, is taking over the western North Carolina seat vacated by Mark Meadows (who quit Congress to be Trump’s chief of staff). Allegations of sexual misconduct and his use of racist and antisemitic language didn’t derail his campaign, and we expect a whole lot more extremism from him going forward, including the dog whistles we’ve seen in his post-election attacks on Senate candidate Raphael Warnock. But Mark Robinson, our incoming lieutenant governor, doesn’t bother to thinly veil his vitriol. His Facebook page is a cesspool of some of the most homophobic, xenophobic, and conspiracy-driven beliefs out there. Robinson managed to grab the number-two job in our state without scrubbing any of his explicitly anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant, and antitrans diatribes from his social media. He makes outgoing Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest look rational, and as with Cawthorn, we’re really not looking forward to what he’s going to say or do in 2021. —EG W
Our Staf f ’s Silver Linings of 2020 email@example.com
e don’t need to tell you how devastating and traumatic this year has been— too many of you have experienced that firsthand. Instead, we asked our colleagues to reflect on some of their personal high points of 2020. We hope that our experiences will resonate with you, our readers—or remind you of your own silver linings. Sarah Edwards, Arts & Culture Editor It’s not very original to fall in love with a dog during a pandemic, but that’s my story. When I met Penny this August, she was sleeping in a dirt corner while all the other dogs roughhoused. “What a cute chiller,” I thought, innocently, as we drove home from the rescue. It soon became clear that, while she is very cute—she has white socks, a slouchy beanbag pit face, breath like old Wheaties, and the delicate trot of a Disney deer—what I’d mistaken for natural serenity was lethargy and a bad case of kennel cough. Now recovered, the dog that I’ve come to know is a total punk and anything but chill. (Edit: As I wrote this, she sprinted past with two baked potatoes stolen from the counter.) She’s scared of skateboards, addicted to squirrels, and sucks at fetch. She’s also perfect and has brought me immeasurable joy during a solitary time. Walking her for miles every day has become my key to the world—one brimming with new neighbors and routes and discarded chicken wings. Penny’s belief that she belongs in the world, and will be loved by everyone in it, is unfettered. She makes me want to belong more fully to the world, too. Jon Fuller, Graphic Designer The phrase I heard the most at the beginning of 2020 was, “This is going to be our year.” Unfortunately, many of our goals and dreams were redirected by a pandemic. Even with COVID-19, civil unrest, and the uncertainty of the world, we still pushed on. We looked at our situation, planned how we could keep rolling safely, and supported each other to strive to keep going. There is always more work to be done, but the way the community has shown up for each other, I feel we’ve all seen we don’t have to go at it alone. My/our silverlining is unity and resilience. Eric Ginsburg, Interim News Editor Like all of you, I’ve had a challenging 2020, but this year hasn’t been without its glimmers of hope. After a dozen years in Greensboro and a short stint in New York, I moved to Durham this spring. At 33, I’m ready to put down roots in the Triangle, a process I started in earnest when I joined the scrappy INDY Week team on an interim basis this fall (another silver lining!). More than anything though, I’ll fondly remember eloping with the love of my life this August, exchanging vows in a tiny, distanced ceremony in our friends’ backyard in Raleigh.
Susan Harper, Publisher My favorite thing over the past nine months has been connecting in new ways with friends and family. My mom and stepdad live in central Florida, and we haven’t felt comfortable traveling that far. She and I set up a plan where she texts me by 8 a.m., letting me know she’s OK, so I don’t bug her every day. The fun part has been the crazy GIFs she finds to send to me daily. I’ve also enjoyed Zoom calls with friends from North Carolina School of Science & Math, some of whom I haven’t seen in person for years. Annie Maynard, Creative Director Rounding out the tail-end of a sardonic and at times grueling year, my silver lining came to me in the form of a 3.5-pound, golden-eyed ball of grey and white fluff. There seemed like no better time to realize a lifelong dream of cat ownership, and on December 6, Laszlo made me a “cat mom.” I now spend my days curled up on the couch for snuggles, or watching him drag every spring toy, stuffed sloth, and bird wand we own back and forth between his cat cave and carrier. While I’m still approaching the new year with moderate apprehension, one thing’s for sure: My days in 2021 will be full of more joy because he is here. Thomasi McDonald, Staff Writer The best thing about this year is the return of something like old Durham, before all these damn people showed up. I appreciate everyone having to sit their collective asses down. I like to think that now that we have briefly returned to old Durham, people are talking to each other a little more often. Intimate, meaningful conversations. Thinking more clearly without the noise. Shoot, man, now you can get from one side of town to the other in 10 minutes or less—just like in old Durham. Before, I’d get home after waiting in all that lousy traffic and trudge out of the car to my front door. My only consolation was, “It could be worse, yo. I could live in Raleigh.” Because when things get back to normal, that’s what the new Durham will feel like again: the Raleigh of the West. So appreciate the hundred-year pandemic in your life, because this, too, shall pass. Sara Pequeño, Staff Writer What a way to spend your first calendar year out of school. I don’t feel like any description of the college-to-“real-world”-transition does it justice, even in normal times. You take your eye off the telescope, only to realize that losing focus on the moon means you have to confront the endless night sky. It is liberating. It is suffocating. While I’m overwhelmed by the vastness of the rest of my life, I’m content with right now: moving to Durham, being at the INDY, buying a car with working headlights, finally starting ADHD medicine, and learning to give myself some grace after years of self-deprecation. I’m overwhelmed, but I’m doing okay. Even if I don’t feel like an adult quite yet. Leigh Tauss, Interim Editor-in-Chief While not exactly something I’m grateful for: I no longer fetishize the idea of watching TV for days in my pajamas while mainlining ice cream out of the container. Probably filled my life-quota on that one—tenfold—this year. Jade Wilson, Staff Photographer For the entire month of May, I lived with my best friend, and it was the most enjoyable experience I had during the pandemic and the best roommate situation I could ask for. We shared many meals and laughs while our dogs struggled to get along. We also worked extensively on our labor of love film, Brainchild. I have a deeper love for her as a result and will always remember that as the most blissful month I’ve had this year. W INDYweek.com
December 23, 2020
FOOD & DR I NK
Fare Thee Well The Triangle restaurants we loved and lost this year BY INDY STAFF firstname.lastname@example.org
t did not have to be this way. In early April, it became apparent that restaurants—reliant on foot traffic, mingling, and all the intimate, commnal elements of public life that we’ve had to give up this year—were going to suffer during the pandemic. We bought gift cards and T-shirts. We pledged to get takeout. But without federal and municipal relief, it was always going to be impossible for restaurants to continue to pay overhead costs and make payroll. And so we’ve watched our cities get rewritten in real time. Months later, as the year draws to a close, we want to recognize some of the establishments we’ve loved and lost— restaurants that will not be around in the new year. Some of these were places we worked at, and some of them were ones we went to after work—sliding into dark, cool bar seats to hug one another. Some were iconic, family-owned spots that had been around for decades, while others were promising restaurants just getting their start. We will miss and mourn them. But losing restaurants—and the livelihoods and legacies that come with them—is not an unalterable outcome. As we move into 2021, we hope that rent relief and federal help are just around the corner, and that it will not be too late to save the remaining places we love. —Sarah Edwards OAKWOOD CAFE A staple of downtown Raleigh, the cozy, family-owned Oakwood Cafe closed its doors in May, after 21 years in business. The restaurant served popular Cuban and Argentine cuisine—catfish with rice and beans, picadillo and ropa vieja, yucca, pork sandwiches—and was known as a 18
December 23, 2020
dimly lit, intimate lunchtime hideaway with the best hot sauce in the capital city. Its closure was directly tied to the pandemic: Business had been fine prior to the virus, owner Norberto Meccia told the INDY in May, but sales had dropped by 80 percent. “Downtown is dead,” Meccia said. —Sarah Edwards K&W CAFETERIAS ACROSS THE TRIANGLE This summer, numerous K&Ws shuttered, leaving only one left in Raleigh. It is no surprise that a regional restaurant chain that relies on an ardent retiree fan base and an especially communal type of dining would be hard-hit by a pandemic. But when I began to report out a story on the closures in September, it became clear that the loyalty people feel is about more than just cafeteria-style dining and plates of jello. My inbox brimmed with stories about after-church lunches with grandparents and solitary late-night dinners, as readers considered not only childhood memories but the loss of a taste of home. “I really worry about all the folks that worked there and all the folks for whom it was one of the few affordable places in town to eat,” University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill librarian Aaron Smithers told me. “It was a place for folks to come together for comfort food and comfort in each other.” —SE HIGH HORSE To aspire to elevate Raleigh’s already notoriously robust restaurant scene is a dangerous game, especially when you give yourself a name like High Horse. But celebrity chef, Katsuji Tanabe, who has appeared on Top Chef and Chopped, didn’t want to
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANNIE MAYNARD
add another bourgeois option to the city’s menu. Instead, High Horse, to me, felt like a food lover’s home. Sitting at the bar, as I usually do, watching the cooks halve chickens and prepare Grandma’s Cornbread, I’d sip blissfully on a glass of Cabernet. The cuisine was hearty and wholesome. I recall a marrow dish, served on the bone and a pate that spread like butter on rustic bread slices. But High Horse also never took itself too seriously: A bar favorite was a shot served in iceglass for patrons to hurl at a metal bell outside. —Leigh Tauss CARRBORO ELMO’S Elmo’s was one of the few places in Carrboro (and Chapel Hill, by proxy) where townies and college students could fraternize. A table of hungover 21-year-olds would be positioned next to a young family, whose baby would stare wide-eyed at the elderly couple the next booth over. There was something about the
never-ending menu, the chalkboard signs stuffed with the day’s specials, the coloring pages of a duck decorating the hostess station, and the servers in Elmo’s signature brightly-colored t-shirts. It was surprising and heartbreaking to see it close its doors after 29 years of cobblers and pancakes. Yes, there’s still an Elmo’s in Durham; but our Elmo’s—the one whose booths were a rare moment of coexistence—is irreplaceable. —Sara Pequeño HALGO EUROPEAN DELI & GROCERIES Some closures this year were not precipitated by the pandemic, though it made them easier to slip away before we got a chance to say goodbye. Take Halgo European Deli & Groceries, a Polish market tucked away at the corner of Highway 54 and South Alston in Durham. It was an inconspicuous spot, but for those who knew about it—many, the owners say, who were of Eastern European descent and came in seeking a taste of
home—it was one of a kind. Owner Zbigniew “Ziggy” Gorzkowski and his wife, co-owner Halina, emigrated from Poland to New Jersey in 1983, where Zgbiniew worked as a limousine driver and Halina worked part-time in restaurants. Opening the market—where the shelves were crammed with sausages, pierogi, Polish sweets, and twice-smoked kielbasa—was a dream. In June, they retired after 12 years. It’ll be hard to find a ham sandwich that holds a candle to Halgo’s signature cut. —SE LINUS & PEPPERS Lunch options in downtown Raleigh have never been particularly chic. Sure, you can get your foot-long fix at Subway, or spend way too much on a sushi platter at Sono, but that key middle ground of crave-worthy cuisine that won’t bust your budget is a rare find. Linus & Pepper thread that needle with its rustic homemade potato chips, an Italian cauliflower-based slaw to die for, and a french sandwich dip savory to the last drip. It was downtown’s unparalleled king of the daytime fast-casual, at least for this humble sandwich aficionado. I only wish I’d taken the time to dine-in more often. —LT BAR BRUNELLO Bar Brunello was a lot of things to me. It was a place for celebration and clinking glasses; in the same breath, too, it was a place for comfort. A refuge with INDY
coworkers after a long day at the office. A place of solace. Something about it felt fancy—and it was!—but it was unpretentious and full of genuine warmth. It felt like a secret. When you walked through the doors of this dimly lit gem, you were greeted by the unmatched enthusiasm of Esteban Brunello or Sergio Ramos, who felt like old friends after an hour of bar-top chat and savvy wine recommendations. Brunello brought wines from all over the world to this tiny Durham spot, transforming a night out into something magic and personal. —Annie Maynard YE OLDE WAFFLE SHOPPE It’s hard to imagine Franklin Street without Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe. The diner— its name spelled out in medieval, cobwebby type, looking like it was plucked from a 1970s yearbook—saw generations of UNC students spill through its doors and sit down to plates piled high with breakfast staples and hangover tonics. Opened by Linda and Jimmy Chris in 1972, Ye Olde always felt special because of its timelessness; since Jimmy passed in 2012, the eatery had been run by Linda and her daughter Melissa Peng. The closure, Peng told the INDY, was a very difficult decision—but the business wasn’t built for takeout, or a town without college students. “Like my mom said, it’s bittersweet,” Peng said. “But I’m also very proud of what they built and how many people we reached. We really never changed much.” —SE W INDYweek.com
December 23, 2020
M U SIC
Music to Our Year The local songs and albums that got us through 2020 BY INDY CONTRIBUTORS email@example.com
t was a hard year; music helped. This made the task of choosing just ten of the local albums that helped us navigate it also a very hard one. Thankfully, former Arts & Culture Editor Brian Howe helped expand the process with a bonus list of ten powerhouse local singles. Here are the releases, compiled by INDY contributors and staff, that took our hands this year, guiding us on a journey through a Carrboro video game simulation, along a riverbank, and finally (spiritually, at least) into a mosh pit. Head online to find ways to listen. —Sarah Edwards SKYLAR GUDASZ: CINEMA [Suah Sounds; Apr. 17] Skylar Gudasz’s long-in-the-works 2016 debut, Oleander, was a testament to how persistence and refinement can shape a record. We’d have to wait four more years for Cinema, but the full-length follow-up may be remembered as Gudasz’s breakthrough moment. Largely self-produced and featuring an all-star cast of local collaborators—including co-producer Brad Cook, bassist Casey Toll, and violinist Libby Rodenbough—the album is a showcase of Gudasz’s subtle yet unmistakable songwriting, all presented with a rich, widescreen sheen that befits its title. Songs like “Actress” and “Animal” are exacting and evocative in their sensory detail, yet they resist easy resolution, content to remain in the ambiguous space of performance. —Will Atkinson H.C. MCENTIRE: ENO AXIS [Merge Records; Aug. 21] “Early rise / Start the fire / Till the rows / Pass the tithes,” H.C. McEntire croons on album opener “Hands for the Harvest.” This meditative chore list sets the tenor for a warm, poetic album that’s all about getting up and getting by. Eno Axis was recorded shortly after McEntire, slowing down from touring with Angel Olsen, moved to a hundredyear-old farmhouse near the banks of the Eno and the reverberations of the river are deeply felt on these tracks, which are shimmering and rootsy, psychedelic and twangy, all at once. Want to know what a Farmer’s Almanac would sound like set to music? I think you’ll find the answer in these ten songs. Also not to miss: In December, McEntire dropped a husky, dusky cover of Tammy Wynette’s “‘Til I Get It Right.” A song about trying and loving harder, it’s 20
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the perfect way to close out the year. —SE BODY GAMES: SUPER BODY GAMES RPG [Self-released; Aug. 27] Before Super Body Games, my video-game experience was pretty much limited to Wii Sports and the occasional last-place finish in Mario Kart. Fortunately, the years-in-the-making “video galbum” from electro-pop trio Body Games—the first music release I’ve encountered that comes with a user’s manual—was made exactly for someone like me. This delightfully weird and surprisingly wholesome single-player adventure, inspired by Super Nintendo classics like King’s Quest, is just the right amount of challenging, rendering Carrboro’s downtown in 16-bit and unlocking the band’s new tracks as the game progresses. In a year when so much of the Triangle’s music scene was closed, Super Body Games was a satisfying virtual alternative—and Body Games paid it forward, collecting donations to the businesses featured in the game. —WA OC FROM NC AND D.R.UG. BEATS: CROWN ROYAL [Self-released; Sep. 4] For the past five years, OC From NC has put out a consistently high-quality body of music—offering dope traditional hip-hop beats and attention-grabbing lyrics filled with wordplay and precision. On Crown Royal, he linked with Grammy-nominated producer D.R.U.G.S. Beats; together, the two hip-hop purists create pure hip-hop. Sonically, the drums and samples hit as if it were the mid-’90s. OC’s cadence and distinctive voice are also reminiscent of legendary ’90s rappers, but relevant enough to make hip-hop heads bop in 2020. Crown Royal features guest verses from the best of the best in North Carolina, and each artist is able to hold their own, showcasing the wide range of talent that exists across the state. Besides the skillful beats, the serious rapping, and the long-overdue collaboration, Crown Royal’s detailed narratives and storytelling solidify its replay value. —Kyesha Jennings PROFESSOR X: IN TUNE WITH THE SOUL [941755 Records DK; Sep. 5] With the extra pressure of landing a placement, it’s not too often that emerging producers in the Triangle area release beat tapes. But beat tapes are one of the
best ways for producers to showcase their range, hone in on their niche, and generate fans who are primarily interested in production. Professor X took his time to craft his 2020 release, In Tune With the Soul, and the wait was worth it. The intentionality leaves us with jazzy, soulful, sample-filled beats that offer nostalgia. The Raleigh producer really shines each time he blends spoken-word poetry, classic movie skits, or flips of your favorite hip-hop and R&B verses from the likes of Kanye or Dreamville newcomer Ari Lennox. The track titles add yet another layer to the listener’s experience. The skill and creativity of In Tune With the Soul bring it close to being a perfect beat tape from this year. —KJ LYDIA LOVELESS: DAUGHTER [Honey, You’re Gonna Be Late Records; Sep. 25] “If I gave you a daughter/would that be enough?” asks Lydia Loveless on “Daughter,” the title track on her fifth album. It’s an unforgettable question, and the stripped-down, searching song—which considers what it means to hold value outside a patriarchal framework—is equally unforgettable. This album, which Loveless says is her most vulnerable yet, is one of the most underrated of this year. Loveless’s fingerprints are all over its ten songs—each one gnarly, candid, a little wry—but the artist, now on the other side of a divorce and a decade of industry intensity, emits a quiet, complicated strength. Her flamethrower voice is massive and searing; the embers stay long after the flame dies down. —SE SYLVAN ESSO: FREE LOVE [Loma Vista Recordings; Sep. 25] What didn’t Sylvan Esso do this year? They released a concert album, WITH, which saw the electro-pop duo upscaling to a slinky multi-instrumental dectet for several auditorium shows. They called back the big band for a surprise EP, WITH LOVE, this month. They made a music video in Animal Crossing. They released a podcast, Shaking Out the Numb. They performed in a moving pickup truck on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. At the center of it all was Free Love, the grail of a three-album quest for the biggest tiny sound a singer and an electronic producer could make by themselves. It captures a fascinating, perhaps pivotal moment for a famously self-sufficient duo, one clearly feeling the tug of a new kind of shapeshifting collaboration. —Brian Howe JOOSELORD: MOSHPIT MESSIAH [Self-released; Oct. 28] Although we have made it through 2020 without attending any in-person music festivals or concerts, Jooselord’s Moshpit Messiah lives up to its name. The 19-track album, produced entirely by Chill Woods, offers a number of modern-day protest anthems that
The Songs that Got Us Through 2020 BY BRIAN HOWE
Pat Junior: “Rest!” (Apr. 15)
Before his year peaked with a production credit on Nas’s “King’s Disease,” Raleigh hip-hop doyen Pat Junior developed his personal vision—which contrasts vulnerable themes of mental health with rugged, moody music— in this coldly fiery riposte in defense of work-life balance.
Libby Rodenbough: “Tell Me How” (May 1)
In this single from her fine solo debut on Sleepy Cat Records, the Mipso fiddler gives an indelible high-lonesome folk song a supple, dreamlike finish, seeming to freeze time under a full moon.
XOXOK: “Right On” (May 22)
Carrboro’s Keenan Jenkins mined the ambiguous power of the tritone, the “devil’s interval,” for this shattering indie-soul meditation on lurking police violence. His follow-up single, “I’ll Be Fine,” verified him as the leading local artist to watch.
Jaki Shelton Green: “Oh My Brother” (Jun. 3)
The deep-welled wisdom of North Carolina’s poet laureate flowed into a new form on her debut album, The River Speaks of Thirst. In this memorial for murdered Black men, her healing voice and acute vision arrived when we needed them most.
M8alla: “Mek Mi Anxious” (July 3)
The felicitous pairing of the Raleigh-based R&B singer and the Durham DJ Treee City resulted in this delectable summer jam for a detestable summer. But when the miasma clears, we’ll be dancing to this at Arcana for years to come.
Various artists: “Black AF Cypher” (July 27)
help listeners navigate the wide range of emotions sparked by the highly visible social and racial injustices we saw this year. With Moshpit Messiah, Jooselord positions himself as the “voice of the people.” His raps are blunt, unfiltered, and filled with honest narratives that reflect his personal experiences as a Black man in America. Creativity is sprinkled throughout. Whether he’s sampling nursery rhymes or dropping innovative and subtle (and somewhat abstract) adlibs, this album demonstrates Jooselord’s commitment to creating something unique and authentic. —KJ MAISON FAUNA: FIELD GUIDE I [Maison Fauna; Nov. 13] The first in a series of vinyl compilations from the emerging Durham electronic-music brand Maison Fauna, Field Guide I is too curated to be called a snapshot of the local scene. It’s more like a sculpture, elegant and abstractly floral, with the Triangle’s minimal house and UK garage producers as a stem, and branches that reach far out of town. Those two genres—the one smoothly propulsive, the other jaggedly—blend with nearly infinite possibilities. Here, they encompass a vocal-loop threnody by Portland’s Blur-
some; a surprising, exhilarating turn from hip-hop to deep house by Durham’s Treee City; a molten Europop palate-cleanser by Raund Haus regular FootRocket; a colorful garage mirage by Fauna cofounder Kir; and other rare stratospheres for basement dancefloors, if we ever get to do that again. —BH
Local hip-hop influencer Miriam “Mir.I.Am” Tolbert assembled Lena Jackson, Joose, TAGEM, and 2FLY KNG on her Carolina Waves platform to cast four candid, furious, nuanced Black Lives Matter essays in the form of glowinghot bars.
AL RIGGS & LAUREN FRANCIS: BILE AND BONE [Horse Complex Records; Sep. 18] Romantic and droll, cryptic and serene—in short, Durham’s answer to The Magnetic Fields—al Riggs is known for abundance. Already, four new releases are pushing September’s Bile and Bone down their Bandcamp. But it’s one of the weightier LPs and stands like a stone amid the relentless flow. Working with guitarist/producer Lauren Francis to blend indie folk and soft rock into dreamy, creamy washes of sepia and pastel, Riggs refracts queer allegories through a phantasmagorical imagination, as if peering at the ordinary world through a cracked prism. The sense of solitude that distinguishes Riggs’s songs is intact; in typical counterintuitive form, it took a collaboration for them to perfect the art of being alone. —BH W
Nathan Oliver: “Everybody’s Swimming” (Sep. 23)
Wye Oak: “AEIOU” (July 31)
The Durham duo worked with the widely sought Brooklyn Youth Chorus to infuse bouncing, hovering dream-pop with celestial silver. Never have chanted vowels sounded so heavenly. In a place with plenty of old-fashioned indie rock, Nathan Oliver stood out with this waterfall-jumping hook-fest, a wearily ecstatic ode to letting go from the album Thank You for Your Generosity.
Gappa Mighty: “Moment of Clarity” (Nov. 6)
The Raund Haus cofounder tapped the icy Durham MC Kamus Leonardo and the analog-synth wiz Ultrabillions to craft this conscious warped-hop chiller to perfect wavy-lined proportions.
G Yamazawa: “North Cack Remix” (Dec. 6)
Apparently, G Yamazawa starved nine rappers for weeks—including “Raise Up” legend Petey Pablo, Jozeemo, Jooselord, and Lord Fess—and then gave them nothing to eat but a thunderous drumline reduction of his Bullthrowing 2017 single, “North Cack.” A Durham classic gets a fresh coat of barbecue sauce as two generations of N.C. hip-hop anthems collide.
Bonus Tracks: Archers of Loaf: “Raleigh Days” | Matt Douglas: “Harlequin” | The Mountain Goats: “As Many Candles as Possible” | OC from NC and D.R.U.G.S. Beats: “up for discussion” | Kane Smego: “Collard Green Music” INDYweek.com
December 23, 2020
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Tom Hanks in News of the World PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES
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Hanks on the Range In the sprawling Western fable News of the World, Tom Hanks embodies our better national angels BY GLENN MCDONALD firstname.lastname@example.org
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December 23, 2020
oing to the movies will never be the same again. That much is clear now. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically upended every component of the Hollywood movie-making machine, from production through exhibition. That this can be considered a minor side effect of the pandemic is testament to the relentless trauma we’re enduring. It’s still a tragedy though, and now we have a sad Exhibit A to illustrate the loss. News of the World, the new film from Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass, is the kind of old-school Hollywood prestige picture that is designed to be shown on big silver screens to packed cinema audiences. It’s a throwback kind of movie—a huge, honking Western drama with sprawling, painterly vistas of big-sky, pioneer America. You can technically still see it in theaters in North Carolina—at least, as of
press time—but they won’t be packed. Although it’s a Christmas film, most people who see it will wait until it cycles to a streaming service in a few months. (Netflix, according to trade reports.) News of the World will become yet another television experience, experienced individually instead of collectively. That’s a shame. Set in Texas five years after the Civil War, the film stars Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a lonesome ex-soldier who travels from town to town with a collection of newspapers, reading aloud to gathered crowds. Captain Kidd is the latest incarnation of an ancient mythic type: the storyteller, bringing instruction and hope to the people. One fateful day, on a trail between towns, Captain Kidd encounters Johanna, a ten-year-old German immigrant who has been raised by the native Kiowa people since her parents were killed six years
earlier. Now her Kiowa family is dead, too. “She’s an orphan twice-over,” someone says. It falls to Captain Kidd to protect Johanna and escort her to relatives: an uncle and aunt on a San Antonio farm. What follows is a thrilling and emotionally intense Western fable, with the reluctant Kidd learning to care for his wild-child ward as she helps him open his heart again. This movie is built to move you. Children-in-peril stories snag me every time—and of course, no one is better than Hanks at projecting decency, resolve, and nuclear-grade poignancy. Greengrass stages several individual set pieces that play like short stories in themselves: an outlaw company town run by a proto-corporate baron; an absolutely haunting encounter with the Kiowa people, moving like specters through the dust. (I had several dreams about that one.) As a visual stylist, Greengrass is an underappreciated savant. Each shot is precisely calibrated to lead your eye where Greengrass wants it to go. He can tell whole stories just by moving his camera. A former journalist, Greengrass is also known for stitching contemporary issues into the fabric of his films. He does so again here, layering in subtextual commentary about immigration, cultural otherness, “fake news,” and the cancerous nature of American political partisanship. We’ve been using the Western genre to talk to ourselves for decades. With News of the World, Greengrass and his collaborators are participating in a proud old Hollywood tradition. None of this works without Hanks, who has evolved into our best and most beloved old-fashioned movie star. He performs a kind of artistic service here, I think—embodying the better angels of our national character once again. News of the World is one of the year’s best films, and it sucks that most people won’t see it on the big screen. If you choose not to, I don’t blame you. But keep it in your pocket for later. W
SC R E E N Still from Lovers Rock
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including a hearty troupe of sex workers, a notorious killer vying for redemption through true love (and also more killing), and a heroic, gender-fluid desperado whose ability to enact righteous violence is unequaled. A glorious combination of Harmony Korine, Quentin Tarantino, and Brazil’s homegrown Cinema Novo movement, Bacurau is a triumph of political filmmaking, wearing its radicalism on its blood-soaked sleeve. —Drew Millard
Reel Gems Movies you may have missed this year BY INDY CONTRIBUTORS firstname.lastname@example.org
n early March, Durham’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, an event that draws thousands of cinema lovers from across the world every year, was called off. It was one of the first mass local events to be canceled; the news hit like a gut punch. Nine months later, the subsequent whirl of cancellations has broken down Hollywood’s movie-making machine—as Glenn McDonald details on page 22—as well as the way we consume movies: alone, not together; via the small-screen, not big-screen. In the glaze of streaming, it’d be easy to miss the gems, as they slipped into an increasingly virtual year defined by Zooms, TikToks, and miniseries. Still, there have been cinematic signs of life. In this sampling of films that INDY writers and editors loved this year, some are cerebral and some are escapist; all are moving. —Sarah Edwards DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD Kirsten Johnson introduces her charming father (His name is Dick Johnson) and her fear of his mortality. The documentary stands out for the younger Johnson’s multi-textured approach: She watches Dick,
speaks with Dick, monologues about Dick, and...kills Dick. As in, there are staged, graphic scenes wherein her dad acts out his own possible deaths. Dick also stars in a recurring slo-mo “heaven” sequence, feasting with dead luminaries, the air hazy and full of fat confetti. These fantasies, in both their intensity and their levity, artfully disrupt the story of Dick’s real decline, marked by milestones like his retirement and, later, moving out of his home and into Kirsten’s. Here’s the raw beauty and sorrow of people who are, for now, alive together. —Anna Cassell BACURAU Colonialism? Bad. Unequal distribution of economic and technological resources? Also bad. Rich foreigners coming in, erasing your small Brazilian village from Google Maps, then proceeding to spy on you with UFO-shaped drones so that they can start killing you in an act of live-streamed bloodsport? Definitely, definitely, extremely bad. These are the fundamental messages of Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau, one of the most thrilling, inventive, and downright fun films of this or any year. Standing up in the face of these threats is a small revolutionary vanguard of villagers,
GOOD TROUBLE This excellent documentary on statesman, activist, and tireless American hero John Lewis was released just a few weeks before he died—another gut punch in the rolling tragedy that was 2020. But this film is, above all, a message of hope, and a desperately needed one. Lewis was known as the conscience of the U.S. Congress, and he carried the light of the Civil Rights Movement for decades—for progress, for us. The film takes its title from his famous exhortation, “Speak up, speak out, and get in what I call good trouble. Necessary trouble.” —Glenn McDonald LOVERS ROCK It’s apt that one of this isolating year’s most exhilarating films celebrates the closeness of bodies. Named for the romantic reggae subgenre, Lovers Rock—the second installment of Small Axe, Steve McQueen’s landmark five-film series about Black West Indian life in London from the 1960s to the 1980s—takes place before, during, and after a house party. Couples come together sweetly and violently; at dawn, they sneak back to wallpapered family homes, settling into twin beds beneath crucifixes. Janet Kay’s “Silly Games,” the film’s animating anthem, keeps everyone on the dance floor, ecstatically singing long after Kay’s higher-planing falsetto fades out. Kinetically filmed by Shabier Kirchner, Lovers Rock is a timely affirmation that the act of coming together is always sacred—and always political. —Michaela Dwyer ON THE ROCKS The year’s most surprising switcheroo, director Sofia Coppolla’s On the Rocks is a light and old-fashioned New York City
comedy starring Rashida Jones as Laura, an unhappy writer, and Bill Murray as Felix, her aging playboy dad. When Laura suspects her husband of cheating, dad tries to catch him in the act, kicking off a low-key and ritzy Manhattan caper comedy. The big switch comes when you realize Jones and Murray aren’t the real stars here; Coppola is. As a visual storyteller, she has an easy elegance and a lovely throwback style, gifting us a portrait of New York City just before the virus changed everything. —GM TIME When filming the short Alone, artist and filmmaker Garrett Bradley was literally handed a story: Sibil “Fox Rich” Richardson, a woman featured in Alone, handed Bradley a box containing decades of video diaries that she’d recorded for her husband, Robert Richardson, who was serving a 60-year sentence without parole for an armed robbery. An intimate collaboration between the pair followed, with Bradley poetically interspersing the videos—intimate scenes of family life recorded on a mini-DV camera—with current-day footage of Fox Rich tirelessly advocating for her husband’s release. Bradley is the ultimate show-not-tell documentarian and doesn’t spend much time on expositions of the carceral system. Instead, time itself—the liquid past and present—unspools between shots, telling a difficult story of love and systemic inequality with tender conviction. Watch it. Everyone should. —SE NOMADLAND Director Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is the stealth bomb of 2020, a quiet little projectile that lands with devastating force. Frances McDormand plays 50-something Fern, a Nevada widow knocked into homelessness by the Great Recession. Living out of her van, she joins a roving community of discarded Americans who eke out a living wherever they can. Nomandland is a withering indictment of terminal-stage capitalism, as well as a gorgeous character study by McDormand. Zhao populates her film with real-life American nomads, and much of the movie is essentially documentary, with the filmmaking crew embedded in this new American tribe. —GMW INDYweek.com
December 23, 2020
Our Year in Speculative Fiction The low-down on the best fantasty, sci-fi, and genre books to come out of the Triangle this year BY SAMUEL MONTGOMERY-BLINN email@example.com
YOUR WEEK. EVERY WEDNESDAY. FOOD • NEWS • ARTS • MUSIC
very year is a banner year for local speculative fiction, and 2020 was no exception. From Arthurian fantasies to dystopias, dinosaurs to space operas, horror to time travel, here are eight ways to escape our reality and reflect on another—from authors all around the Triangle. TRACY DEONN: LEGENDBORN [Margaret K. McElderry Books; Sept. 15] UNC-Chapel Hill grad Tracy Deonn sets her YA urban fantasy breakout, Legendborn, at her alma mater, where 16-year-old Bree Matthews enrolls in an early college program following her mother’s passing. At an off-campus party before classes begin, Bree stumbles into a secret world of demons, magic, Arthurian bloodlines, and the discovery that her memory of her mother’s death has been altered. NATANIA BARRON: QUEEN OF NONE [Vernacular Books; Dec. 1] If your preferred Arthurian flavor tends more to the medieval, Barron’s Queen of None is a Circe-meets-Excalibur journey through a reimagined Camelot. Natania Barron reinvents the familiar through a voice that has been missing from so many retellings—that of Arthur’s forgotten youngest sister, Anna Pendragon. In Queen of None, Anna returns to her brother’s court 20 years after being married off and is confronted with the schemes and machinations of men—and her older sisters.
December 23, 2020
T. KINGFISHER: THE HOLLOW PLACES [Gallery/Saga Press; Oct. 6] The Hollow Places arrived just a year after Kingfisher’s acclaimed The Twisted Ones. If you were a fan of the latter, this new horror release carries some similarities over: a rural North Carolina setting, an
affection for dogs, friendly baristas, and an endearingly nicknamed first-person protagonist. But this time, Kingfisher ramps up the otherworldly scares. In The Hollow Places, “Carrot” (aka Kara) has inherited her Uncle Earl’s taxidermy-heavy museum, replete with a hidden bunker that serves as a portal to infinite alternate realities— most of which are, of course, haunted by terrifying creatures. JAY POSEY: EVERY SKY A GRAVE [Skybound Books; July 7] Jay Posey’s Every Sky a Grave is the Durham author and video game designer’s first novel since 2017. Thousands of years in the future, humanity has established a utopian society, from galaxy’s edge to galaxy’s edge, under the control of a powerful organization known as the Ascendance. The Ascendance uses the “Deep Language” of the cosmos to re-write and direct reality, keeping this knowledge secret through a monastic order of interplanetary assassins. When one of these agents is sent to a backwater planet to investigate a forbidden strain of this knowledge, she questions everything she thought she knew about the universe. WHITNEY HILL: ELEMENTAL [Benu Media; April 2] Durham author Whitney Hill’s debut, Elemental, kicks off an urban fantasy series called Shadows of Otherside, which has already seen a second installment, Eldritch Sparks, released in November. The series follows private investigator Arden Finch through an alternate Raleigh-Durham of startups populated by elves, djinn, werewolves, and vampires—collectively known as “Otherside,” living beyond humanity’s notice.
LISA SHEARIN: THE ENTITY GAME [Murwood Media; May 12] After a prolific 2018 that included publishing multiple books in her SPI Files and Raine Benares series, Shearin debuted a new protagonist and series this year with psychometric detective Aurora Donati, who can glean information simply from touching an object or person. When she’s called to investigate the suspicious death of a U.S. Senator, she becomes entangled in an international web of spies and conspiracies—one in which she’s suddenly not the only one with supernatural abilities. ROBIN KIRK: THE HIVE QUEEN [Blue Crow Books; Aug. 31] Kirk continues her YA dystopian series, The Bond Trilogy, with a direct sequel that shifts the point of view from Dinitra—the genetically engineered teenager through whose eyes we witnessed the fall of matriarchal society the Weave—to Fir, a rebel warrior who embarks on an Aeneid-like journey to save himself and his brothers. The Hive Queen is an astounding feat of worldbuilding. CHRISTOPHER RUOCCHIO: DEMON IN WHITE [DAW; July 28] The third and penultimate installment in Raleigh author Christopher Ruocchio’s epic space opera, the Sun Eater series, Demon in White sees Hadrian Marlowe receive a hero’s welcome at the Imperial court, with worshipful whispers of “Half-Mortal!” raising eyebrows. Marlowe, however, simply wants to return to the front, light-years away. For readers not wanting to wait for the next book to get more House Marlowe, Ruocchio also self-published a novella, The Lesser Devil, in April, focusing on Hadrian’s brother, Crispin. W
December 23, 2020
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