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[00:00:15]

Ashley Shannon, we're back, we're back at it. Back at it again, welcome to Lovecraft Country Radio. I'm Ashleigh See Ford podcast host, writer and horror enthusiast. And I'm Shannon Houston, a writer for the HBO series Lovecraft Country and Mother to Three Free Black Children and a turtle, Ayman. We're back we are back for a special bonus episode, Ashleigh and I really wanted to come together and talk about HBO's new film adaptation of Tallahassee Coats's Between the World and Me and its official podcast.

[00:00:58]

The special and podcasts are streaming right now on HBO, Max. But before we get into that, Shannon, I'd love to hear about what this past month has been like for you. Lovecraft country is fully out into the world. Everybody's had the opportunity to see the full arc of the first season. More people are reacting to it. And I know you're seeing those reactions. So how's it going?

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You know, I'm not going to lie, Ashleigh. It's it's hard. It's hard being famous. It's super hard.

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I hear that. I've heard. Oh, my gosh.

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No, I'm kidding. But it's it's amazing. It's so wonderful. I'm so happy it's out. I have a lot of I have friends and family who are like they they cannot conceive of watching a show week to week. So they waited until all the episodes are out. And it's been really gratifying hearing from them. And obviously the other the other big really fun part was Halloween, right? Yes.

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I you know, obviously I wish we lived in a world where I could have seen all those costumes in person. I wish I could have walked down the street and run into Topsy and biopsy.

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But the alternative look how brave I'm getting.

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Aren't you proud of me? I am. But now I'm concerned.

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We have to have some discernment because Topsy see a biopsy are coming for that ass.

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But you saw the artistry, you know, like you saw you saw the the incredible work that people put into the Hippolyta costumes, everything.

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The Blue Atticus and Lady of the Ruby Costumes were incredible. They're just so, so many amazing things that I got to see that really felt great and.

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I think I'm also doing that thing that I always do when I finish working on something or I've been a part of something really cool and I'm grappling, you know, I'm still grappling with what the show is and what it means. I think I think a lot of people are, I think all the biggest fans of the show.

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And as you know, I'm in that category are still like, you know, well, what does this mean and what does this mean? And so I'm still kind of wrestling with how one measures the influence of a show like Lovecraft.

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I think I'm always wrestling with this idea of what art can and can't do, especially art made by black creatives. And I have been reading some really cool pieces about the show and also wanted to shout out this amazing podcast called The American Vandal from the Center for Mark Twain Studies. They did a great episode on Lovecraft and they asked a lot of really interesting questions about the series and Gothic horror and what Lovecraft means politically, what it doesn't mean politically. So I loved digging into all that stuff.

[00:03:47]

And I think this question, too, of what art can and can't do and how it informs the political sphere. I think that's circling around between the world and me too. So I'm excited to talk to you a little bit about that. And what about you? What have you been up to?

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Well, there have been a few changes in my life, one of them being that I moved from Brooklyn back to my home state of Indiana.

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Oh, wow. Yeah, I had to do it. It had just gotten to a point where missing home had become a huge affecting force in my life.

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And so I'm back not just because it's home, but also because I feel like there are a lot of stories here yet to be told. And I think I'm good enough to tell some of those stories, some of those horror stories.

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So, you know, it feels good to be in a place that inspires me again.

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It feels good to be in a place that feels I'm not going to stay safe in America right now.

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But but I am going to say I feel like I know who my people are and I know where they are. And I have quite a few of them around me right now. So that feels good.

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Today, we're going to be talking about a piece of black art that's clearly touched a lot of people, Shannon. So where should we start?

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Well, for those who haven't seen it, the Between the World and Me movie is a stage adaption of a play at the Apollo Theater. And it's essentially a bunch of excerpts from the book read beautifully by this incredible cast of some of our favorite actors and also activists. And there's also the ever so sexy Mahershala Ali. And we're going to discuss later this new thing that I have going on with him.

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But there's a lot to delve into. And I'll just start off with one of the earliest scenes that really made my ears perk up. It's a passage around nine minutes in where Coates writes about the white American fantasy that's been sold to us through film and TV.

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And there are images of The Brady Bunch and Clueless overlayed. The dream seemed to be the pinnacle to grow rich and live in one of those disconnected houses out in the country and one of those small communities, one of those cul de sacs with its gently curving ways where they stage teen movies and built tree houses. And in that last last year before college teenagers made love in cars parked by the lake. For so long, I've wanted to escape into the dream.

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To fold my country over my head like a blanket, that this has never been an option because the dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.

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There's something really terrifying and exciting and interesting about the power of media as which to me is always like just a few notches away from propaganda or it actually is propaganda.

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And there was this interesting clip about The Brady Bunch and Clueless and like Leave It to Beaver, like all of those fun, seemingly innocuous shows that a lot of us grew up with and how they're. I want to say technically a tool of a violent white supremacy, but maybe it's not technical, like I don't think it's technical.

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There's something there's something interesting about the fact that these fun and heartwarming for the whole family type shows and communities don't have black people in them.

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Right. And even as I was watching it and I've been you know, me, I'm always watching Buffy. But after Lovecraft country and after, you know, watching now between the world and me and just thinking more about what all these shows mean, it's like even Buffy is not exempt from the idea that success and happiness is very white and suburban and privilege and like minimal black people are involved in in that.

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And of course, there's the class issue as well. So Golden Girls is not exactly Dawsons not exempt. They're not exempt. I don't care that Joey's dad was in jail.

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They're not exempt. Absolutely.

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There's something happening here where you're where we're we're looking at these things differently. We're examining these things that we that we took for granted or take for granted.

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I mean, you could make the argument that something like Lovecraft's, something like between the world and me, is attempting to to break the cycle in a way. But then there's also this question of like, is that even possible? Can a TV show do that?

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Can a movie do that? So there's there's lots of there's stuff in here.

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There's good stuff in here. And so I'm excited to see what people think about it and of course, to hear what you think about it.

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Of course, I mean, so much of what you just said is just it hit me in the exact same ways as I was watching between the world and me really thinking about what he was saying about those depiction and those views and realizing how even for myself as a young person, how much of my anger came from that gap of understanding, not realizing that the worlds I saw on TV were not actually created for someone who lives, who looks like me to be living in and to be living among that.

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There's no Stars Hollow with a black majority or even like an equal black population, that those things don't exist. You know, I'm a person who my Holy Grail in magazines because I love to collect old magazines that I remember from my childhood because I'm constantly researching myself, whatever that means.

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I'll talk to me about that.

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But, you know, my Holy Grail is this 1998 cover of Seventeen Magazine with Drew Barrymore on the cover and in the costume from the movie ever after. Like I've been looking for that particular issue of that particular magazine for years. And it's really hard to find.

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Sidenote, this is one of my favorite movies of all time. And me too. Me too.

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And I've read back and you think about it, and I know that it's set in a certain time in a certain community, but you got to really think about how many things in this movie are obviously not set in that time, least of all Drew Barrymore's accent. And it's like you couldn't have put just like more black people in it. You couldn't have put, you know, somebody who looks like a girl like me who absolutely was going to fall in love with that movie, thinking about what that did to my psyche.

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I'm thinking about these things all the time. But this also is making me think about love and it's making me think about the way this movie specifically depicts black family love.

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We got celebrities, but it's a love letter, really, just from a father to his son, a parent to any child.

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And it's a pretty dark portrait of a black love letter.

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But it's also one of the best love letters I've ever read in my entire life because it is a parent inviting their child into reality.

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Yes, it is. And it's I think there's a tenderness that you could lose sight of. Even for me. Sometimes the material was so heavy and so heavy. And of course, I'm thinking about my children and what it was like to be a daughter of a black woman who was quite militant and all of the hardness that comes with it. Right.

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And so so it is really complicated. When I was watching it, I was like, damn, Ashleigh and I talked about this so much, the concept of why in black families there is you could call it tough love. You could call it lots of different things. But there's this toughness there. And in the performances and the readings of Coats's book, we're hearing that and we're seeing the actors give us this reminder of that hardness that comes with the love.

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And some of it is just heartbreaking for me. Some of it is gut wrenching because it's that thing that we talk about of like where is the fun? Like, our kids will have to have fun, but it's really complicated. And there was this one line that really stuck out to me. I think we'd rather kill you ourselves than see you killed by the streets that America made. And that's when I was like, oh, my gosh, me and Ashley could talk for 72 hours about this.

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Yes. How did that line hit you? Because I know it hit you.

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You know, it hit me to hear something like that because I hear the truth and the earnestness in it, even as I disagree with it, even as I know that this is not the answer. It's hard when you understand how people get to that answer.

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I understand they have almost herded us into a place of feeling at some point, like asserting your humanity, just saying I am human and you can't have me.

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You don't own me. The fact that you have to think about that as something you have to assert the ferocity you have to put behind a feeling like that.

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No wonder you look at this beautiful, pure, innocent thing that you've brought into the world through sacrifice of your body and spirit and time and resources. Isn't everything, everything, and you look at them and you think my only job in the world really is to protect and nurture this person and the world will always be trying to take them from me.

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And now I am in a constant adversarial relationship with the whole world just because I love my child.

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And so much fear. That's what I was talking about. That's that part of what the letter is expressing is like like literally we cannot love without fear in this country. And as much as we would like to, once you know the truth and the truth and once they keep slapping you in the face every year and every election, you're like, it's terrifying.

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So so it's it's big. It's a there are a lot of big feelings that came up when I was listening to some of these things. But I think ultimately, you know, you could also make the argument that the movie really presents a narrative of beauty alongside the struggle, just even visually. It is a beautiful thing to look at all of these beautiful black people and a lot of beautiful art. You know, the art got me like all of that stuff alongside some of these really heavy ideas that are being presented.

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And it also made me think of this passage that the movie opens with that says, this is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and that you must find some way to live within the all of it. Yes. And. I'm like. How yet? Right, right, right, and you have to answer that for yourself in order to then as a parent have to answer it for your children, knowing that your children are going to have, especially as a black mom, knowing your boys are going to have those questions, are already have those questions years before a white child and a lot of cases even ever has to consider them if they if they end up in the kind of life where they ever have to at all, which is not guaranteed.

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Right. You know, and my question isn't just how, but it's also the anger. The angry part of me is like why it's such a fucking conundrum.

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Why should we have to do all of that work? And so I have a resistance toward that. If you remember, I started reading pleasure activism this summer. Yes. So I am like heavy on the pleasure aspect of things right now. Like more pleasure than anything else, please, especially in a year like this. So, yes, I am I am heavy on the pleasure aspect of things right now. What about you, Ashley? How are you coping with things?

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Do you have any special tips or things that have been helpful for you during this very chaotic time?

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I don't know that I have any special tips. I do know that I am doing a much better job of asking myself what I want and being honest with myself about the answer.

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So I'm definitely doing a much better job of stopping when somebody says, hey, can you do this for me or even, hey, do you want to go do this?

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Like, instead of answering the way I think they want me to or the way that I think will keep the most peace or any of that stuff, even if I think it's ultimately inconsequential, which I'm starting to understand that knowing what you want is never inconsequential.

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I still stop and I give myself enough time to decide what I want and I communicate what I want.

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And if I need more time to decide and just centering myself in my own life that way has really, really helped me have a little more clarity in what would usually feel like overwhelming darkness.

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I love this. I love that. I was like, do you have any tips? And you were like, No, not really. But I'm just doing this thing that's amazing and incredible.

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Empowering. Are you kidding me? I'm writing this in my journal, and as we get off verbatim, I love it.

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Well, thank you. There's there's so much here. But I'm but I'm excited and I'm excited to see what people make of it.

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I'm excited to see what people make of it to like I loved it as a love letter. I love it as a story. But when we go beyond that, where does all of this take us? Like, what's next?

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Yes, and before I answer that question, because because I do have an answer to where does it take us and what's next in speaking to the love letter thing, I just have to put this in here again. There is an incredible moment where Mahershala Ali is doing this reading and it's this beautiful passage from the book.

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And I just want to say mahershala like we can make this work.

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I think he's married.

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I just want to because I'm telling you, he was speaking directly to me, even though the words weren't his and the words were about multiple different women and Coats's life. I just want to say again, I felt it through the screen. It was beautiful. So, you know, do with that information.

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Well, I'll tell you, I heard Sheila's story very quick. I saw him at a place called Sherrills Global Soul in Brooklyn.

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It's a little brunch restaurant.

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And I was sitting out on the back patio. This was like within months of me moving to New York in 2014.

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I think it was that summer of 2000, OK? And I saw him. I kept thinking, how do I know this guy? I know that I know this guy. And I kept sneaking peeks like, how do I know him? And then at the final time, I sneaked a peak to try to figure out who he was.

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He looked up at me, smiled, and God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

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And then I knew who he was. And my body has not forgotten him since. Not even for a moment.

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I'm going to just what is the word appropriate. I'm going to appropriate that memory, take it for myself and do what I need to do with it.

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But in answer to your question, where do we go beyond this love letter? Where does it take us? I think from what I understand, you know, it sounds like between the world and means. Executive producer Susan Collette, you Watson has some ideas about where to take these conversations. So she's hosting HBO's Between the World and the podcast, the official podcast, unpacking the themes of the special. The podcast will feature her diving into new reflections and new love letters with creatives who worked on the movie.

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And we actually have the trailer right here. All right, let's hear it.

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No. Dear son, I'm telling you, this is your 15th year, dear brothers, do you see Kerney daughter, son, Tzion nephew?

[00:21:39]

I'm telling you this and your 15 year. Dear listener, my name is Susan Keleti Watson, and I'm an executive producer and cast member on HBO's Between the World and Me, based on the 2015 book by Tallahasse Coates and the twenty eighteen stage adaptation conceived and directed by Kamilah Forbes over the course of four episodes. Join me as we unpack the special events with black thought leaders and artists from the project, people like actor and performer Daryl Jerome, poet and transformational leader Sonia Renai Taylor, and writer and pleasure activist Adrianne Marie Brown.

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These words are more than words. These words are life.

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We're going to be over here on some sophisticated black politics as we have been and as we will continue to be.

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We know that we are not original in our struggle, but that we are a strong community. It's not just about Black Lives Matter, but all Black Lives Matter. This podcast is a space to dig deeper, a space for folks who have seen the film to come and process their feelings of joy, pride, pain and even rage was like kind of like a call for action in a way. And that's what black people have always had to do. We had to make art because the world hadn't quite recognized how free we should be.

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We continue to defy whatever construct it is that is given to us between the world and me is available to stream now on Biomax.

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Episodes of this podcast will be released quickly starting Monday, November 23.

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Subscribe on Apple podcast Spotify or wherever you listen to podcast, including Biomax, to be a part of the conversation. I'll see you there. Well, that sounds dope, and I love the music in the background, it reminds me of, you know, hip hop, real hip hop.

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Yes. And while we're on the topic of carrying these ideas forward, we also just want to point out that all of these projects are only as impactful on the world as all of you make them.

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You know, so we don't just mean, like listening to, promote or help boost the viewership.

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I think I think I hope I feel that in this time and in this particular year, we would all come to the understanding that it takes all of us.

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Right. All of us have to find our place. All of us have to contribute to some sort of liberating conversation from wherever we are in life.

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You know what I mean? Yes, I do. Yes, I do. We don't have to get intimidated or even impressed by the number of projects that come about in our lives or topics that we care about. It's just ideas. It's just options. It's just things for us to react to and disagree with and create something new. And I think that's most of what it's about, trying to create something new. Yes.

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And I am all for that, Ashleigh. Shannon Travis, I feel like I'm going to miss you again.

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I feel so safe whenever we come together. I'm like, oh, I'm with Ashley. We're here. I agree. I think. Thank you so much. It was so great. And we'll see you soon. See you soon.

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Thanks so much for listening. The show is hosted by me, Shannon Houston, and my co-host Ashlee C for this podcast was produced by HBO in conjunction with Pineapple Street Studios.

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Our executive producers are Genoways Ferman, Max Linsky and Barry Finkel. I got a national Shagari as our managing producer this episode.

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The lead producer is Taylor Husking, original music by composer Amanda Jones. If you like the show and you have a minute, you can review and rate this podcast via Apple podcast Spotify or anywhere else you might get your podcast.

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It really helps people find the show. You can also stream the podcast on HBO and HBO, Max.