James McNamara reviews 'The Sellout' by Paul Beatty

James McNamara reviews 'The Sellout' by Paul Beatty

The Sellout

by Paul Beatty

Bloomsbury $26.99 pb, 304 pp, 9781786070173

The morning after the US election, Los Angeles was still. Usually a roar of noise, my city was stunned silent. As I spoke with distraught friends and colleagues, the fact that our West Hollywood polling place had been in a funeral home now seemed prescient: it felt like a wake. Donald Trump, who ran a vile campaign that – amongst innumerable barbarisms – suborned sexual assault, abused minorities, made racist claims, and was cheered by the KKK, had been elected president. As evening fell across America, protests began.

After Barack Obama’s election, I, like many progressives, hoped we had moved into a post-racial world, that Dr King’s dream had been realised and people were no longer judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. How wrong we were. How naïve. As the day went on, election demographics were released: Trump’s votes came not from the dispossessed poor but the angry white. As commentator Van Jones said: ‘This was a whitelash against a changing country ... a whitelash against a black president.’ In the following days, reports came in like long-delayed telegrams from another age: a black woman shoved from a path; a gay man beaten until he bled; Muslim women’s hijabs ripped from their heads; swastikas sprayed on walls. Racism and intolerance are alive and well, and Donald Trump has restored their ugly public voice.

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Published in December 2016, no. 387
James McNamara

James McNamara

James McNamara is an Australian television writer based in Los Angeles. His television work includes comedy and drama writers rooms for the Academy Award-winning See-Saw Films, Matchbox Pictures/NBC Universal, Foxtel, ABC, Porchlight Films, and Endemol Shine, and developing shows for Goalpost Pictures and Playmaker Media/Sony Pictures. McNamara received ABR’s third Ian Potter Foundation Fellowship for his long-form essay, ‘The Golden Age of Television?’ (ABR, April 2015), praised by Clive James as ‘a global contribution to cultural analysis’. McNamara’s essays and criticism have also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Times Literary Supplement, and The Spectator.

Born in Western Australia in 1982, McNamara received degrees in English and Law from the University of Western Australia, graduated in screenwriting from AFTRS, and holds a doctorate in English from Oxford, where he was a Clarendon Scholar. Before becoming a writer, McNamara was a litigator specialising in international disputes at a top-tier US law firm. He was recently named a BAFTA LA Newcomer. 

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