Spread. The. Word.
It's here! Welcome to the inaugural issue of the Spread, where we serve up the best women's media in a post-newsstand world. Hope you're hungry...
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This week: Bright-blue politicians, kinky grandparents, alleged fashion victims, Mormon scammers, and celebrities behaving like…celebrities. If you’re wondering what is this thing that just landed in my inbox, or you just want to get pumped up before diving in, immerse yourself in our launch letter here. And to all you hardworking writers and editors out there: Thank you for providing such a rich, ahem, spread from which to choose.
Rachel & Maggie
Give me realness. But make it fashion!
“Her voice is deep and sweet, with the musical swagger of the Black Midwest, a Joshua’s trumpet of an instrument that, when you’re listening to her wield it, feels as if it could cause walls to tumble down.” Lines like these elevate Kaitlyn Greenidge’s profile of the freshman Congresswoman from Missouri (“The Might of Cori Bush,” Harper’s Bazaar) above the banal lady-profile that our former boss used to call the “nifty gal story.” An accomplished novelist and critic, Greenidge now also wears the hat of Bazaar features director—a coup for editor in chief Samira Nasr and executive editor Leah Chernikoff1. It’s also a coup for readers, who have reason to hope for more of this kind of profile in Nasr’s revamped 153-year-old glossy.—Rachel
Parental advisory: What to do when the ’rents and (and the gramps) talk dirty
This exceedingly personal essay by my new favorite writer Elizabeth Barber (“Hot or Not,” The Point) has one hell of a lead: “Last summer, my grandfather mailed me a copy of the erotic novel he had written in his basement…” You had me at hello, Ms. Barber! But I had no idea that a few graphs later I’d be sobbing—and that I’d keep tearing up well after I had finished reading. Yes, this piece is about a weird grandfather, but it’s really about parenting, beauty, bodies, the preoccupations and pain we inherit and pass down again, and what it means to love well and be well loved. For me—the stepmom of an 11-year-old girl and the mother to a one-year-old girl—it was a gut punch of the best kind.—Rachel
Dear Rachel, Now that you’ve made us bawl our eyes out, and speaking of relatives who write porn—I mean, what are the chances?—season one of the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno, in which a trio of Brits reads aloud one toe-curlingly awful adult novel, is the comedic cure we all need. If you’re rolling your eyes right now: Ok, fine! It’s old news! If, like me, you are often late to the party: I binged MDWP this summer…mostly on outdoor speakers…and found it deeply restorative. Also the neighbors haven’t looked me in the eye since.—Maggie
“In order to leave poverty, Dasani must also leave her family.”
If you read one thing this week, let it be this. “When Dasani Left Home” is a jaw-dropping feat of reporting and empathy from New York Times investigative journalist Andrea Elliott. When Elliott first introduced us to Dasani with this indelible five-part series in 2013, her subject was an 11-year-old Brooklynite who, along with her parents and seven siblings, was in and out of homelessness. The series made the child something of a cause celébre: At a news conference, Bill de Blasio proclaimed, “we can’t let children of this city like Dasani down.” This follow-up is proof of how empty such promises can be. The story is an excerpt from Elliott’s upcoming book about children and poverty—the result of nearly 10 years of reporting, throughout which she sustained a stunning intimacy with Dasani and her family. It follows a remarkable attempt to redirect the course of Dasani’s life, as she leaves her family for the first time to enroll in a boarding school in rural Pennsylvania, where the mission is rescuing children from poverty. Your heart will be in your throat as you follow Dasani as she tries to adapt to an utterly foreign way of life—even as, back home, her family continues to crumble. These stakes are real, and the suspense is powerful. Will this work? Is this child going to make it out?—Maggie
Two ’grammers, two world-famous fashion designers, and a lawsuit for the ages
Since 2014, Diet Prada has worn the thorny crown of "most feared Instagram account in fashion." At first, it called out fashion copycats. Soon it was exposing industry foibles large and small, including “fat phobia, toxic workplaces, #MeToo allegations, racism in retail, influencer ethics,” writes Maureen O’Connor. In Vanity Fair’s “Roast the Runway” she dissects the absurd (and seemingly inevitable) lawsuit wending its way through a Covid-clogged Italian court: After Diet Prada called racism on a video by Dolce & Gabbana in which an Asian model tried to eat Italian cannoli with chopsticks (gah!) the brand saw the collapse of a major show (literally: when the video went viral, models ran from their makeup chairs, never to return) and a storm of negative press. Now D&G wants to extract $665 million-plus in damages from, more or less, a pair of bloggers.
But as O’Connor points out, this isn’t just a simple case of David vs. Goliath. With 2.9 million followers—more than most fashion magazines—Diet Prada packs a real punch. Whatever conclusion you draw from this story, props to Radhika Jones’s Vanity Fair for an unvarnished look at the bad judgment of a brand that for decades has been a major Condé Nast advertiser. In glossy mags—and at a time when the struggle for every ad dollar is real—that’s not business as usual.—Maggie
It’s a solid Q&A but can we talk about the backstory??
As we all know by now, Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star in HBO’s new adaptation of Scenes from a Marriage, the mid-’70s Swedish miniseries that originally starred Liv Ullmann (and Erland Josephson), written and directed by Ullman’s longtime partner Ingmar Bergman. The original Scenes was a big deal: The miniseries made monogamy look so bad, it was credited with a sizable uptick in Sweden’s national divorce rate. I’m only one episode into the new one, but it seems safe to say this version will not be fomenting a marital revolution. Nevertheless, Ullmann and Chastain are a fascinating pair (Ullmann directed Chastain in the period film Miss Julie in 2014), and this Vulture tête-à-tête between the two—orchestrated by writer Rachel Handler—delivers. For starters, Chastain is a dead ringer for the young Ullmann, who was considered the first lady of ’60s and ’70s art-house cinema, so I’m into this for its nostalgia and/or narcissism value alone. But really I can’t stop thinking about the backstory of Scenes—to which the Vulture Q&A makes only a glancing reference.
So. When Bergman and Ullmann met, she was 26. He was 46, and on his fourth wife. He became so possessive of her, he built a house surrounded by a stone wall on a remote island in which to keep her; during their productions, she was only permitted to go into town once a week. This was their actual life, not some nouvelle vague screenplay! Each day, Bergman graded the quality of their relationship, writing either a heart or a slash on their door (happiness being a pass/fail kind of class, after all). When, after five years, she packed up their young daughter and fled, her girlfriends greeted her at the airport with signs bearing messages of liberation. BUT. Though he was no longer her captor, Bergman remained her collaborator: Ullmann returned to that house many times to work. Scenes itself was shot there, years after the end of their relationship, when Bergman was onto wife number five, and Ullmann was staying in a little trailer off to the side.
In the Vulture interview, Ullmann says Scenes was not based on their relationship—while in the same breath recalling the time, during filming, when she started reading her lines and realized Bergman had lifted the words from her own diary2. In the back-and-forth with Chastain, what really gets me is how romantic, even a little traditional, Ullmann comes off at 82. Chastain, hardly a dark heart, reads as almost cynical in comparison.—Maggie
Wow, Maggie! I had no idea you were such the student of Swedish cinema/marriages, but I am here for it. My initial takeaway from Liv and Jessica’s chat was significantly lighter: I was struck by how Chastain seemed to really need us to know that she, Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain, was Oscar Issac3’s first choice as costar—not the originally cast Michelle Williams, who dropped the project due to scheduling! Driving home this essential truth seems to be Chastain’s raison d’être on the Scenes promotional tour. We hear ya, Jess: We too like to be first choice!—Rachel
The athleisure-soaked (or soaked-athleisure?) scammer doc that makes the Fyre Festival look like child’s play
We’ve seen a handful of solid magazine stories and podcasts about MLMs—multilevel marketing schemes that prey on women who are either underemployed or craving work-life balance4. But the edge-of-your-seats docuseries LuLaRich about scandal-ridden, Mormon-run juggernaut LuLaRoe, directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason and now streaming on Amazon Prime, shines like a pair of the brand’s cheapo synthetic leggings. The characters are colorful in both style and personality, the twists shocking (don’t miss the company trip to Tijuana for weight-loss surgery), and the storytelling fast-paced and economical. Here’s a taste: “It works if you work it—and I guess you weren’t working hard enough!”—Rachel
This woman is what’s going on in feminism right now
Maybe you’ve noticed that philosopher Amia Srinivasan is everywhere (podcasts, reviews, excerpts, more podcasts) boosting her new book, The Right to Sex. Here’s the gist—and boy did it resonate at Spread HQ: The way women have been told to think about sex for the past 25 years, to be cool with the porn and the casual hook ups and dogmatic about the new rules of consent? To wear the badge of “sex positivity,” whatever that means? It’s kinda garbage! Michelle Goldberg summed it up nicely in the New York Times.—Rachel
The Short Stack, aka, wait…there’s more!
A cheer mom got a girl thrown off the squad by creating a deepfake video of her vaping. Or did she?!? (Cosmopolitan) // On the circuit for her new memoir, Anita Hill talks to Rebecca Traister about Biden’s “apology”—and offers an unexpected aside about the Tulsa Massacre that will gut you. (The Cut.) // A fiction writer gets hooked on submitting fake letters to the Dear Prudence advice column. (Gawker) // “We’ve always stanned Stanny”: Cofounders of a SATC fanstagram account pay tribute to the wardrobe of late actor Willie Garson’s inimitable Stanford Blatch. (Elle.com) // Perimenopause is officially out of the closet. And it’s a growth market, y’all. (InStyle) // Many have been beating the “intuitive eating” drum for years. Actor Allison Tolman’s honest account of her own experience with the lifestyle switch bests them all. (Instagram)
Well, that’s it for us this week! See you here soon—same time, same place!
What stories do you want to read that don’t exist yet? What stories are lighting up your group texts? Comment here or reply to this email!
Both, we’re proud to say, are former Elle compatriots.
What, you thought I was done talking about this? As if. Aside from all the Bergman/Ullmann mishegoss, I also fell deep into this New Yorker essay/critique of Scenes, in which Agnes Callard puts her finger on the difficulty of marriage—even a “good” marriage—with the kind of verbal accuracy that can really sink a knife into a lady’s chest. She writes that the beauty of Bergman’s Scenes (lost in the new adaptation) was his sensitivity to the pain of being alone, together: The resentment that breeds when two people, maybe inevitably, lose their ability to connect.—Maggie
Somebody say Oscar Issac? In addition to Scenes, Issac currently stars in Paul Schrader’s new film The Card Counter…opposite Spread favorite Tiffany Haddish. This interview with Haddish in the New York Times Magazine by David Marchese was the perfect amuse bouche for a real, live date night at the movies last week. (Worth the price of babysitting!) Here she serves on Issac, money, and, um, the Covid vax. You likely won’t agree with all of it (I don’t!) but you’ll get an idea of how Haddish’s mind works while LOLing along the way.—Rachel