Follow Friday

Franklin Leonard (The Black List)

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If you want to know what's going to win an Oscar in a couple years, you should talk to film and TV producer Franklin Leonard. Since 2005, he and his team at The Black List have circulated an annual list of the best screenplays floating around Hollywood that haven't yet been made into movies. But films that make it to the Black List — such as Argo, The King's Speech, and Promising Young Woman — often find later success.

When he's not making movies or helping screenwriters win trophies, however, Franklin is a soccer obsessive, a student of history, and a leader trying to educate himself about good allyship. On today's Follow Friday, he talks about an exceptionally generous young soccer star; two activists breaking barriers for disabled people everywhere; a powerful publishing executive who's spilling his industry's secrets on Instagram; and two writers who are starting important conversations about race and American history.

Follow us:
- Franklin is @franklinleonard on Twitter and @franklinjleonard on Instagram
- This show is @followfridaypod on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok
- Eric is @heyheyesj on Twitter

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Theme song written by Eric Johnson, and performed by Yona Marie. Show art by Dodi Hermawan. Additional music by Purple Planet Music.
Full transcript of this episode
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ERIC JOHNSON: Today on Follow Friday we're gonna talk about Oscar-winning movies, a soccer star who's better than most politicians, Ted Lasso, how to be a good ally, The Met Gala, how to sell a book, TWEETING IN ALL CAPS, the battle over American history, and so much more. That's in a minute, with Franklin Leonard from The Black List.

But first: I told you last week that I'd be making a big announcement in my newsletter, but in case you missed it: My podcast consulting company has rebranded and is now called LightningPod. If you want to start a podcast or you want to improve a podcast you've already launched, you should check us out at And if you want to be on that newsletter for future announcements, you can find it now at OK, enough of that. Here's the show.

[theme song]

: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, a podcast about who you should follow online. Every week, I talk to writers, podcasters, comedians, and other creators about who they follow. They will be our guides to the best people on the internet, who we should be following too.

Today on the show is Franklin Leonard. He's a film and TV producer and the founder of The Black List, which is an online community for screenwriters and other Hollywood professionals. Every year, Franklin and his team circulate a list of the best screenplays that haven't yet been made into movies, as voted on by film executives.

If you want to know what's going to win an Oscar in a few years, the Black List is a great place to start. You can find Franklin on Twitter @franklinleonard and on Instagram @franklinjleonard, and you can check out The Black List at That's Black List without the vowels. Franklin, welcome to Follow Friday.

FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me. That was maybe the best intro of me I've ever heard. I'm just going to clip that and just use that in the future.

ERIC: Feel free. Anytime you want.

FRANKLIN: That was the most succinct introduction of The Black List and what we do and how we think about our work as I've ever heard. Thank you for that.

ERIC: I had a bit of practice because you were on my old boss, Kara Swisher's podcast back in the day, on Recode Decode. So, this is my second pass. I got to write an intro of you twice.

FRANKLIN: I've had a lot more passes than that, and I haven't gotten it right yet, so bravo.

ERIC: Well, you're a very busy person. When I first emailed you, you were finishing production on a movie in, I think you said Dublin. Is that right?

FRANKLIN: That is right. Yeah, I was finishing production on a movie that I was producing. Then separate from that, my wife was directing a feature, also in Dublin at the same time.

ERIC: Oh, my gosh.

FRANKLIN: So it was a busy time, for sure.

ERIC: Yeah. Well, I appreciate you making the time for this. Before we get into your follows, I was wondering ... when you are making movies and TV shows yourself, are you using The Black List? Are you using your own website, your own community, to find writers and other talent?

FRANKLIN: Yes. I think the dynamic is a little bit different. When I was working at other production companies, you'd be either looking for a certain kind of script and then trying to get that made, or we had projects that we were making and we were looking for a specific kind of writer to service that script.

The Black List came out of trying to more efficiently and effectively find great writers from non-traditional sources, in order to fill those needs.

The producing that I and my team do as The Black List now is less about, "We want to make a certain kind of movie. Let's find a writer to realize our vision." It's about finding great screenplays that for whatever reason are not getting the support they probably deserve based on their merit, within the marketplace. Giving those films the kind of support they can get to be realized, and making sure that the writer is protected, and a participant in the process, through production, post and release.

So it's really, we're trying to be in service of their vision more than we're trying to hire writers in service of our vision. In the process of making a movie, obviously there's friction there, but that's how we're oriented around it.

ERIC: Totally. I think your most recent big, well-known success story coming out of The Black List was Promising Young Woman, which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.


ERIC: But there's a whole bunch of movies. Argo, The King's Speech, tons and tons of movies that you've definitely heard of that were on The Black List.

FRANKLIN: It's completely wild. I mean, literally just under half of the screenwriting Oscars that have been awarded over the last 15 years were scripts that were on The Black List before they got made, and not things that were obvious. Promising Young Woman, Jojo Rabbit, Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech, nothing about those scripts conforms with Hollywood's conventional wisdom about what works, but it turns out that what works is really good storytelling.

ERIC: Who'da thunk?

FRANKLIN: If you start there, you have the best chance. And by the way, that can come in the form of massive, big $200 million movies. It can come in the form of $200,000 movies. It really is just about a good story, well-told. And if you start there, you got the best chance of success.

ERIC: Absolutely. All right. Well, let's find out who Franklin Leonard follows. You can follow along with us today. Every person he recommends will be linked in the show notes and in the transcript at

So Franklin, before the show, I gave you a list of categories and I asked you to tell me four people you follow, who fit in those categories. We're going to start by talking about someone you don't know, but you want to be his friend.

And that's Marcus Rashford, who is on Twitter and Instagram @marcusrashford. He plays football for Manchester United and the England national team. I know from following you on Twitter, that you are a big football/soccer fan.


ERIC: Talk about why you specifically chose Marcus here. Why do you want to be his friend?

FRANKLIN: So, this is a bit of a cheat. This is just a blatant attempt to try to become his friend. I'm going to send up those flares as long as humanly possible. Look, I am ... "fan" probably understates it. Anybody who follows me on social media knows, and especially over the next month with the Euros, that it's going to be all football/soccer all the time.

There are two players that I wish I could follow on social media. I follow the other one on Instagram because I think he's only there. And that's N'Golo Kanté. Google him. Probably the best player on Earth right now, and also an unusually humble human being to be the best footballer on the globe.

Marcus Rashford is interesting to me though, because he's young. He's 22 years old. Last year, I was living in London before we went to Dublin to produce this movie. I'm just on Twitter one day and I see all of a sudden, all these people ... He had tweeted about kids basically who didn't have food during the pandemic, what food they were being offered at school and how it was unacceptable.

Then I think maybe days later, hours later, he starts tweeting the location of food banks all around England, where if you need to get food, this is where you can get it. This is a, I think at the time, 21-year-old soccer player saying, "I see this problem. I have this platform. I'm going to solve it." Since then, he really sort of changed the direction of UK policy as it applies to food-insecure people. He's launched a literacy campaign and really driven kids towards reading specifically.

Then his personal story is just remarkable. This is a kid who, in part of the reason why he started playing Manchester United is because he himself was food-insecure as a kid. His mom basically went to the team and said, "I know he's young, but I think he's good enough. And we need a place for him to go during the day."

Now he was just named captain of the England squad for the most recent match. And I can't think of a more worthy person than someone who is standing up for the entire country, while also putting in phenomenal goals from the wings. So, I just could not be a bigger fan of who he seems to be, and the people he seems to have around him. I just think he's a force for good in the world and using Twitter as a good thing. We can't have enough of those people, given the reality of what Twitter often is.

ERIC: Totally agree. It's so easy to just fall into petty bickering or self-promotion. There's all sorts of pitfalls or vices that you can fall into with Twitter, and especially as you mentioned, he's 21 years old. For an athlete who's so young who could easily, and I think reasonably, you could rationalize someone of that age who's a star player for a big football team, just kind of thinking, "Me, me, me," not really thinking about the larger community. So the fact that he's doing those things is amazing.

FRANKLIN: I'd say there are a lot of probably 22-year-old footballers who have done really good things, especially during the pandemic. I think that in many ways, it brought out the best in all of us.

I think the thing that's remarkable to me about Rashford is that there was no model for this. It wasn't, "I gave money to a foundation," or, "I'm taking food." It was literally, "Let me hop on Twitter and retweet the locations of all the places where people can get food."

The wisdom to do that, the ability to navigate the inherent criticism and the focus that comes with that, while simultaneously to be performing at the level that he is as an athlete, it's really just remarkable and I'm just excited to see what the kid does next.

Because certainly, the sky seems to be the limit. I've made a few jokes about him being prime minister someday.

ERIC: Maybe so.

FRANKLIN: Look, it's a joke, but I wouldn't bet against him. If he decided that was what he wanted to do at some point, look, if he can lead England to a trophy, and continue to do the policy stuff that he's doing, it's not the worst idea.

ERIC: A national football trophy looks pretty good on the political résumé there. Yeah.

FRANKLIN: Especially in England, considering how long it's been since they won one.

ERIC: Yeah. So, okay, you mentioned the level that he's playing at. I have to confess that the extent of my football/soccer knowledge comes from watching my former roommate play FIFA. Then I got really into Ted Lasso last year, as a lot of people did.

FRANKLIN: So, I will say that one of the people I was going to mention was the @tedlasso account.

ERIC: Oh, really?

FRANKLIN: Yeah. Look, I'll be honest. I went into that show expecting to hate it and looking for things, "That's not accurate," or whatever. Within minutes I was like, this is bringing something very different than anything else it's bringing, and it's an absolute joy in the best possible way.

I think that further to this, and this will be a theme, people that are injecting into the Twitter ether, and not even relentless positivity, but it's sort of a self-aware positivity.

ERIC: Yeah.

FRANKLIN: The Ted Lasso account falls in the category of definitely self-aware but very earnest and positive. But frankly, I think we all need a little bit more of that in our lives right now, and so again, it's another... If you haven't seen Ted Lasso, see Ted Lasso.

ERIC: Absolutely.

FRANKLIN: If someone hasn't told you already, I don't know what rock you've been living under. If I'm the first to deliver the news, let me be the first to say, you'll want to say, "You're welcome."

ERIC: Absolutely. Okay. So you mentioned that this was a shameless ploy to get Marcus's attention.

FRANKLIN: Yeah. Like I said, a degenerate football fan. I will take every opportunity to head along that direction.

ERIC: If you were friends with Marcus, what would you want to ask him about? What would you want to talk about? What would you want to do with him?

FRANKLIN: I would definitely want to go kick a football around, number one. But honestly, I'd be just interested in hearing how he thinks about what it is that he's doing. I think it's in part, frankly, to learn from it.

I think that when you have a platform and a visibility that big, and you're engaging at a level that he's engaging in, it takes a certain composure, which I don't know that I necessarily have. I'm not sure that many people do. I'm just curious, at 22 years old, like how do you go about your day? What is it that structures ...

I just want to mix it up about that. But mainly, let's play some soccer. I'd also love to hear your thoughts on what do you think of the Manchester derby? It would inevitably end up being mainly soccer, but I'm also very interested in what he's doing and what else he wants to do, and if there was anything I could help.

ERIC: You can start planting the seeds of like, "Hey, you should run for office someday. Hint, hint."

FRANKLIN: Look, I will never encourage anyone to run for office. I feel like that is something that one has to be drawn to on your own. I would never want to be responsible for convincing somebody to do that, despite their better judgment. At the same time, though, I think it's more for me like what else do you want to do? And how can somebody like me help?

ERIC: Definitely. Well, that was Marcus Rashford, who's on Twitter and Instagram @marcusrashford.

Let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for someone who makes you think, and you said two people: Alice Wong, who's on Twitter at @sfdirewolf, and Sinéad Burke who's on Twitter and Instagram @thesineadburke. Both of them are disability activists. Alice is the editor of a book called Disability Visibility, while Sinéad is the director of a consulting firm called Tilting the Lens.

Let's start with Alice. I'm going to quote something she said a few years ago, when she won an award from The American Association of People with Disabilities. She said, "Disability history and culture isn't recognized or documented in our society, and yet we're everywhere." Talk about how you started following Alice and how she has inspired you.

FRANKLIN: I'm not sure when I started following Alice, is the God's honest truth, but thank God that I have.

As a Black man in America, I've been acutely aware of issues of representation and access and equity for most of my life. I think it's hard to avoid. I grew up in the Deep South. I've always felt like I've been a pretty good ally to other communities that have a history of oppression, of lack of visibility or being misrepresented in the world.

At some point, maybe in the last decade, I realized that one area that I just hadn't thought about was the disability community. The more I learned, it was just staggering to me the extent to which no one thinks about it, or far too few people think about it.

I remember at one point going and saying, "Okay, who should I maybe following? Because I think that's a good place to learn. Who are the people that are doing the work?" And I probably stumbled upon Alice. It's funny because I have learned more from her Twitter feed in the last couple of years than I could ever encapsulate, and it's not just about disability by the way.

I also just think she's cool as hell. That's the really amazing thing about my Twitter experience. There's so many people that I've sought out in very specific subject matter areas. They're like, "Okay, this person's a subject matter expert. By having them in the sort of endless scroll of information that I receive, my life will be better." Then you discover that these people are just people that you want to hang out with, separate from that. You're just like, "Yeah. You seem like a good vibe," and that's always been my sense of her.

Also, we weirdly have the same taste in tacky tracksuits. We bought this tiger tracksuit at the beginning of the pandemic independently, and it was just like, "Okay, yeah. You're my people. Or at least I hope that I deserve to be your people, and we'll take it from there." So yeah, just a huge fan of her as a human being. I can't recommend the follow enough.

There are certain people where I follow and I'm like, "How is everybody not following you?" She definitely falls in that category.

ERIC: Yeah, the representation thing is an interesting one, because ... this had been a slow-moving train over a long period of time. But for a while, there was this whole idea of just token representation where it's just a person who looks different, but then they don't actually embody another life, the whole history of what makes a person's life different.

So, I guess as a non-disabled person who is powerful in Hollywood, you're a Hollywood executive, what do you see as your role vis-a-vis working with/empowering disabled people, beyond obviously putting disabled people in positions where they can be seen in media? How do you see your role as helping the disabled community there?

FRANKLIN: The first thing I have to do is learn, because I think there's two parts of it. One is to learn, because it's presumptuous of me to think that I'm like, "Oh, okay. I kind of got this vibe." I know that it's again, if somebody showed up and was like, "Well, I'm not Black, but let me tell you how to solve these problems," I'd be like, "Slow down."

ERIC: Yeah.

FRANKLIN: So first, I have to learn. The second thing is frankly is not so much what I should be doing, as where I should be directing focus and who I should be making sure is in the room.

For me, this is an iterative process and I will fail on this front and many others. But one thing The Black List does do is we publish alongside the Writers Guild West committee for writers with disabilities and annual disability lists. So, we try to raise the visibility of scripts that are written by people with disabilities or about people with disabilities that have the additional co-sign of the communities with disabilities.

Then the other thing is just to make sure that there are people in the room and that when we talk about disability, it's not done without, you know, nothing about us without us. Right?

ERIC: Right.

FRANKLIN: Then on top of that, nothing without us. Right? There's no reason why you shouldn't have that point of view in a room, even if the lead character isn't that. I think a quarter of the country has a disability of some sort. That's a lot of people, and we should be trying to get it right.

So, I think those are the two biggest things. But again, I think the biggest priority for all of us should be to try to learn, and to not lend ourselves to the evils that we condemn. And when we do unintentionally, make redress and try to make it right.

ERIC: Definitely.

FRANKLIN: I think that following both Alice and Sinéad has been a phenomenal education that I can't recommend it highly enough.

ERIC: Yeah, let's talk about Sinéad. Sinéad Burke from Tilting the Lens, she's a writer, a podcaster. She's a little person living with a condition called achondroplasia. Last year she published a children's book called Break the Mold, which is about believing in yourself and how to find comfort in your own skin.

Do you remember how you first heard about Sinéad, and her activism?

FRANKLIN: Again, don't remember when, but it feels like I've known her forever. I was lucky enough. She was in LA for a couple of days and we were able to have dinner, and the dinner lasted like three and a half, four hours.

The thing that's not immediately evident from her Twitter bio is that she's also a bit of a fashion icon.

ERIC: Yeah!

FRANKLIN: I don't know this for sure, but this is I think when I became aware of her work was, she was talking about the realities of fashion and disability and we talked about that. There's some amazing fashion photos of Sinéad Burke. Go check it out.

ERIC: I think she was the first little person to ever attend the Met Gala.


ERIC: Then she's posed on magazine covers and all this stuff. Yeah.

FRANKLIN: Yeah. And I want to be clear. It's not like, oh, a little person was invited to the Met Gala. It was like Sinéad showed out at the Met Gala. The fashion and the style is incredibly on point, and she's just awesome. It's just those people where you're like, "I'm so glad I know you. I'm so glad you exist and the world is better for it." Yeah, I just couldn't be a bigger fan of hers.

ERIC: Yeah. Based on the little bit of research I did about her before this is that she started out when she was a teenager, I think, blogging about fashion. About the fact that designers just were not thinking about little people at all. Just completely ignoring them.

FRANKLIN: I think that's right.

ERIC: As a people. Now she's been working with designers and she's been really pushing the envelope in terms of making sure that little people are represented, are included when designers are making new types of fashion.

How applicable do you think that is across industries? For example, do you think screenwriters should be following her example? Can they learn from how she approached the lack of representation that she saw in her world?

FRANKLIN: Absolutely. Look, I think that anybody can learn from Sinéad about how to approach life. Honestly, Lord knows I have. I think the screenwriters in particular, I think the part of the job is to try to experience as much of life in the human condition as possible so that you can then write about it.

I think that one of the beauties of social media, it cuts both ways. One of the beauties and the dangers of social media is it gives us a view into people's lives, but it's also the edited version. It's not the real version.

ERIC: Right.

FRANKLIN: But to the extent that you can connect with people who are way outside of your experience, and I think connect with them on things that don't have to do with the thing that you're interested in, but you may gain some insight into that, I think it can be valuable. But also that begins to feel transactional.

For me, probably the thing that I love most about social media, and Twitter in particular is I can be connected with people that are not a part of my immediate social world and a lot of amazing people that are outside of my immediate social world. Sometimes, we become friends. We develop a relationship over social media.

I'm a person, I think, who finds it difficult to reckon with the reality of how difficult the world is oftentimes.

ERIC: Yeah.

FRANKLIN: Knowing that these people exist makes it a little bit easier for me.

ERIC: Yeah. Since you mentioned you had a long dinner with Sinéad once, have you had a chance to meet Alice in person?

FRANKLIN: I have not had a chance to meet Alice in person, but I'm very much looking forward to it. The second it's on offer and possible for both of us, hopefully she'll take me up on it, but I'm definitely down.

ERIC: Cool. Well, that was Alice Wong and Sinéad Burke. They're @sfdirewolf and @thesineadburke on Twitter, and Sinéad is also on Instagram @thesineadburke. We're going to take a quick break now, but we'll be back in a minute with Franklin Leonard.

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ERIC: Welcome back to Follow Friday. Franklin, I asked you to tell me about someone that you've just started following, and you said Yahdon Israel, who's on Instagram @yahdon and on Twitter @yahdonisrael. He's a senior editor at Simon & Schuster and the founder of the LiterarySwag book club.

So, talk about how you started following Yahdon. You recently did an Instagram Live thing with him. Is that right?

FRANKLIN: No, I didn't do the Instagram Live thing. He did the Instagram Live thing.

ERIC: You were just watching.

FRANKLIN: I was just watching. So Yahdon, we have friends in common. It's weird to me that we've never crossed paths on social media before. Basically, he's a newly installed senior editor at Simon & Schuster. Amazing job in the system. You can find a manuscript and make somebody an author, and it's not dissimilar from the position that I find myself in the industry. I can find a screenplay and put it in the right hands.

What was extraordinary about what Yahdon did, and again, this comes back to how we use these platforms, is he gets on Instagram Live and does an hour-long talk basically about, "This is my new job. This is the kind of stuff that I'm looking for. These are the expectations that I have for writers that are working with me. This is the sort of commitment. This is how I'll support you."

It was just like a direct demystification of a process that has been intentionally opaque. Publishing and how you get your book published. Here's this young guy who hops on Instagram Live and says, "Look, this is how it's going to work for me."

ERIC: "Here's all the secrets."

FRANKLIN: "Here's all the secrets." He's gotten on since and done, "Hey, I've heard a lot of people talking in the comments and online, and there's a lot of misconceptions about how these things work. So, let me hop on again and lay it all out for you, in layman's terms." Again, senior editor at Simon & Schuster. I've never seen anything like that before in any of these positions.

ERIC: Right.

FRANKLIN: Just separately, the man has great taste in books and style and a lot of other things, so I'm just like, "This is the person that I like to follow." I believe he is a new father too, which is always adorable.

ERIC: His Instagram is very cute, by the way. Look at his Instagram.

FRANKLIN: It's very, very cute. But it's one of those things where I'm just like, "Yeah. This is what these platforms are for."

It's amazing to see somebody who could reasonably be expected to close ranks and say, "Okay, I got this purchase in this place. Let me keep it tight. I'm going to reach back out and make sure that I'm doing the right thing." But instead he blows the whole thing up and says, "No, no, no. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it the right way. Here's the deal. Let's figure this out."

I just really admire that approach. I try to do it in my own way, but never that directly, and I think never that effectively. I would love to see more people follow his lead, particularly in the cultural industries where there are a lot of talented people out there and access is more the issue than talent.

ERIC: I've never tried to write a book, so I think there's a lot about publishing that I don't know that I don't know. One of those things. Do you remember from the Instagram thing that you watched, or what's an example of something that he has said that it seemed like it was breaking a taboo, that it was unlocking some secret about publishing? Do you remember any of his guidance?

FRANKLIN: There was a lot there, particularly about the stuff that writers would say, "Oh, the system is stacked against us that I think it was unraveling for people." The thing though that I actually thought was maybe the most valuable was something that I think is probably ... like, writers might have been sensitive to it, because a lot of people are like, "Look, the hard part is selling the book and getting it written."

What I'm trying to communicate, and again, I'm not going to be able to do this justice, so I highly recommend just going over and watching the full thing, which I believe is in his feed, was like, "Look. I'm looking for writers who are ready to sell their book as well. The economics of publishing are not great, and you need to have a hit and I get X number of shots a year. And so, I need somebody who's not only going to write an amazing book, but who's going to be able to get out there and get on the road or get on Zooms and be able to communicate, 'This is what this is. This is why this matters,' and want to engage." Right?

Books are not just books. Books are sort of movements in one way, and that's what he wants to be driving. And that was a thing, I think, everybody needs to hear, frankly. It's the thing that people need to hear because it is how you can make the thing that you want to do, successful. You need to understand the 360 degrees of at all, not just the fairytale that people try to sell people.

ERIC: Definitely. You write the perfect book and then you send it out into the world and then your work is done. That's not really how it works at all.

FRANKLIN: In many ways, it's a disrespect to the effort that you put in to write the book and then everybody else put in to get the thing published. In an ideal world, certainly, a writer can focus only on the writing and then put the book out and then the rest takes care of itself.

We do not live in an ideal world, and so we have to make adjustments that will allow the things that we want to see in the world to actually happen.

ERIC: Absolutely. Well, I also want to talk about the book club which Yahdon started before he was a Simon & Schuster editor, LiterarySwag. Based on what I read, it looks like they used to meet in person in Brooklyn. Now they're on Zoom, for obvious reasons. Have you checked out on this book club?

FRANKLIN: I haven't.

ERIC: Have you read anything from it?

FRANKLIN: This is the thing. I'm so new to following him, I wasn't even aware. Again, this is embarrassing for me, but I wasn't even aware of it. When I discovered it, I was like, "Well, this is another person I'm just super glad exists. Like, who's doing the work in really interesting ways." Then literally, right after I followed him, I think on the announcement of his new job, he was like, "Let me hop on Instagram Live and break this down for everybody," and I was just like, "Yeah, I'm an idiot for having not followed him prior to this."

ERIC: What's the best book that you've read recently?

FRANKLIN: Last summer, I read David Blight's Frederick Douglass biography. I've been thinking a lot about Douglass in the context of his obsession with photographs and representation and imagery. So I was like, "Let me read the big book." It's really an amazing read. I read it and I listened to the audio book shortly thereafter.

Douglass' story is an extraordinary one. It's an absolutely extraordinary one. Even though he's one of the few Black American historical figures that most of us are taught in our history books, we are not taught the full Frederick Douglass history. There are a lot of reasons for that. That can take up more time than we have on this podcast.

But I highly recommend learning as much about Frederick Douglass' story as humanly possible, and the David Blight biography is a great place to start.

ERIC: Wonderful. That was Yahdon Israel, who's on Instagram @yahdon and on Twitter @yahdonisrael.

We're going to wrap up today talking about another pair of people you should follow. Franklin, I asked you for someone super-talented but still under the radar, and you said two folks. The first is Clint Smith who's a senior writer for the Atlantic. He's on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @clintsmithiii. The second person is the activist and podcaster Brittany Packnett Cunningham, who is on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @mspackyetti.

But let's start with Clint Smith. So, how did you start following his work? Talk a little bit about why you love it, why it's so meaningful to you.

FRANKLIN: So, I think I started following Clint when he was in graduate school at Harvard, I want to say getting a PhD in education. He was also a poet. I did a little bit of slam poetry shortly after college. I wasn't very good. Clint is very good at poetry. He was a college soccer player also. So, weirdly connected to a bunch of my interests. I'm not sure which individual interest is what led me to him.

In the years since, he has consistently been, along with Brittany, one of the voices where it's like, "Thank God I didn't have to sit down and think about this thought that I was having and try to translate it into words, because you've just taken my internal monologue and translated it into language that is far better than I would ever be able to deliver."

I'm so glad that that's there, and not like once or twice. Consistently, where I'm like, "Okay, I don't have to think about trying to communicate that idea anymore. I can just either point people this direction, or make sure that they know this."

ERIC: "He said it so I don't have to." One of those things.

FRANKLIN: Literally all the time. Look, and that's about race. It's about politics. It's about economic inequality. It's about the prison industrial complex. It's about all these things that I care deeply about. Again, just so glad that he exists.

Then on top of that, like me, crazy soccer fan. Long-suffering Arsenal fan. Has a tendency to tweet only in caps during major international footballing tournaments. I don't know how that started, but it's very much his thing. Just a delightful human being, an absolutely positive force in the world.

I also feel like I cheated a little bit on this one because Clint and Brittany both have substantial followings. I think they both have well over 200,000. Brittany might be over 400,000. But relative to their talent, they are still sorely unappreciated. I think I can say comfortably, the world would be better if more people were listening to both of them. I can say that about a lot of people, but I know it's true about them.

Then separate from that, I just like them as human beings and they tweet. They're also very funny, and then there's the Clint soccer thing. Clint has a new book called How the Word is Passed, about reckoning with the history of slavery in America. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I'm not the only one who has done so. I highly recommend reading this book.

ERIC: Yeah. People love this book. Yeah, it just came out.

FRANKLIN: The reviews are unsurprising, if you know Clint and have been following him, but they are extraordinary. I've had a chance to read some of the book. I haven't finished it yet, but I cannot recommend this highly enough. It's the sort of thing that makes you say, "Why would I even try to write a book? Because this is what people should be writing, and I cannot do that."

ERIC: Before we move on to talking about Brittany, the reckoning that you're talking about there, or that he's talking about in his book, where do you think we are with that reckoning?

It feels like there's this tug of war, where one day the Wall Street Journal is finally doing a big thing about the centennial of the Tulsa race massacre. It's like, "Oh, finally, there's like some public discussion about this." Then the other day, Nikole Hannah-Jones is denied tenure, and it's just like these old institutions are rearing their head and really setting back the people who are speaking the truth right now.

I don't know. How are you feeling right now about that reckoning, about that conversation?

FRANKLIN: It's a great question. The honest answer is that I'm not sure I have one.

ERIC: Yeah. That's fine.

FRANKLIN: I think what it is, is that, like you said, it feels like we're drinking from a fire hose in terms of just the information about the state of play at all times. You'll see the acknowledgement of the centennial of Tulsa, and that has to feel like there's progress being made, like you said.

Then there's the Nikole Hannah-Jones situation at UNC Chapel Hill, which is like literally you have essentially an arm of the state government engaging with closing off intellectual inquiry about the history of the country, while simultaneously rejecting the claims that this extraordinary MacArthur-winning, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and educator has made. I feel like there are versions of that, good news, bad news situation happening on all fronts.

So, I would say that I am hopeful. But I'm hopeful as a practice, not based on evidence.

ERIC: Yeah.

FRANKLIN: There may well be evidence to make the argument for hope, but I know that hope is our only option. Well, hope and the work. So hopefully, I can manage both.

ERIC: Yeah.

FRANKLIN: It depends on the day.

ERIC: Let's talk about Brittany Packnett Cunningham. She hosts a podcast called Undistracted. She is a contributor to an NBC and MSNBC. She's a fellow at Harvard. What was your entryway into her work?

FRANKLIN: I suspect that my introduction to Brittany was during Ferguson. I believe she was on the ground there as an activist. She's from St. Louis. Again, it's one of those things where you follow somebody because of a moment or because they just pop into your radar, and then you end up realizing you're just like, "I want to be their friend."

Just that simple. Like Clint, absolutely brilliant. Can synthesize these ideas that I can't wrestle with. She's wrestling with these ideas that I'm struggling with and perfectly encapsulating where I inevitably would have come to the conclusion. Just a brilliant public speaker. Not surprising, her parents come from the church. But, absolutely brilliant public speaker. Her relationship with her husband, Reggie, is like another joy to behold.

ERIC: Why is that?

FRANKLIN: You're like, "Yeah, man. That's love." I think they've got like a gospel Sunday thing happening on their Instagram. They're just, again, fun people.

I'm thinking back. I can't even remember what I learned this, but one thing that people used to say about hiring. When you're interviewing somebody, one thing to think about is like, is this person going to be the kind of person you want to see every Monday morning? Are they going to be a positive energy in the office?

Reggie and Brittany, it's like, yeah, these are people who bring joy to the world just by being themselves. You put them together and it triples it. It doesn't just double it. I don't know. I sound like a total cheese ball. These are people that I, again, am just very glad exist.

When I'm focusing on the practice of hopefulness, I can look to them and say they're on the front lines. They're doing the work, which is cause for hope. No matter who the opposition is, I want them on my team.

ERIC: Definitely. You mentioned this already, but they both have a platform. They have a lot of followers between the two of them. But yeah, I think to your point earlier, it does feel like sometimes the conversation, if we're talking about activism and talking about social justice, sometimes it feels like that's still in the background in this country. It's not as everyday as it should be.

Do you have a sense of what needs to change to get that to the foreground, to get people to take this more seriously? I think in my mind, including the people who don't want to talk about it, right?


ERIC: That's the danger with a lot of this stuff is like, you can get a lot of people who are agreeing on something, but you also need to get involved with people who are just adamantly opposed to having the conversation.

FRANKLIN: I wish I had a solution to it. I don't know that I do yet. But I think that Clint and Brittany, again, this is what it comes down to. It's like, I don't know that I have a solution, but I bet they might.

Separate from that, one of the things that I really admire about them is they can go into these pitched debates where people I think, oftentimes, are not focused necessarily on a solution or grounding the conversation in history or morals, or a moral theory or a moral view of the world.

What I really admire about both of them is they bring a thoughtfulness and a seriousness and a contemplativeness, and a sort of consideration of all sides. But a sort of unfailing, moral clarity around what is necessary and the level of respect that we have to bring to these conversations. There are a lot of people, again, who I think live up to that standard, but I think they in particular do. Then again, the rest of their feed just is joyous. Again, if I had to choose a sort of dream team of people that I'd want solving the problem, those are early draft picks. Probably trading up to get them.

ERIC: All right. Well, that was Clint Smith and Brittany Packnett Cunningham. They're on all the socials @clintsmithiii and @mspackyetti.

Franklin, thank you for sharing these fellows with us today. Before we go, I want to make sure listeners know how to find you online. Where do you want them to follow you?

FRANKLIN: Yeah, so I'm @franklinleonard at Twitter and @franklinjleonard, just the letter J, on Instagram. And that's pretty much it.

ERIC: Anything else you want to plug?

FRANKLIN: No. I mean, look, if you're a screenwriter or a film and television industry professional literally anywhere in the world, check out The Black List. It's blacklist with no vowels, I don't want to use it as an advertising opportunity. It's what we do. If you are one of those two communities, I will probably be able to do something that'll make your life a little bit better.

ERIC: Awesome. Well, follow me on Twitter @HeyHeyESJ and the show on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok @FollowFridayPod. And please follow or subscribe to Follow Friday in your podcast app, to get new interviews like this one every week.

Follow Friday's theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie. Our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan. Additional music by Purple Planet Music.

And don't forget, go to to sign up for my free email newsletter about podcasting.

That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson reminding you to talk about people behind their backs, and when you do, say something nice.

See you next Friday!

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