Relatable for who? Marlon James says art should be uncomfortable

Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James argues that pandering to a presumed white audience undermines empathy and art.

Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James cautions audiences against blurring lines between artists and activists, calling on them to speak to "15 million issues" in just the right way. Citing Beyonce's politically-charged Formation as an example, he says "a lot of black people think it's not black enough. A lot of non-black people think it's too black. Which means she's just right."

The author joins Shad in studio q for a wide-ranging conversation about uncomfortable art and the politics of pandering — from the lack of diversity in the publishing industry to his year-long struggle with Kendrick Lamar's latest album. Art should make us uncomfortable, he argues, even if it comes from people we largely agree with. 

"Relatability has nothing to do with empathy. With relatability you're asking the piece of art to do the work. With empathy you do the work," says James. 

WEB EXTRA | Late last year, we featured Marlon James in our ongoing q playlist series. He joined Shad to share the songs that mean most to him as a man and artist. Hear that playlist here

Who gets to decide who's black enough? And what acceptable blackness looks like? Marlon James joins Shad to reflect. (Ben Shannon/CBC)


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