This year will see the release of Dune II. (Photograph Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures.)

Our Cultural Watchlist for 2023

From Dune II to Kelela’s Raven, the next 12 months promise exciting new releases across all areas of culture. Here are some that stand out.

For the most part, there’s no way of knowing what 2023 holds in store.


As the last three years have shown us, the world can turn upside down from one day to the next. That’s not entirely true, however, for entertainment, which—I’m happy to say—tends to adhere to a rigid, preplanned schedule. And the film, book, and music releases expected to drop over the next 12 months are already looking promising. The Little Mermaid and Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty, both of which are likely to touch on themes of social and environmental justice, are among the films set to premiere in 2023, while new albums are expected from Atmos cover star Grimes, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s virtual band Gorillaz, as well as everyone’s all-time favorite climate queen, Rihanna. This year also promises debut book releases from various Atmos contributors, like Mikaela Loach, Tori Tsui, and Munroe Bergdorf.


And so, at Atmos, we thought we’d help you plan for the year ahead by bringing together just some of the releases we’re most looking forward to this year.


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After months of think pieces, op-eds, and social media discussions, this year will finally see the release of Disney’s much-anticipated live action remake of The Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey as Ariel. The film, set to come out in May, is already breaking new ground for casting a Black lead, causing hashtags like #RepresentationMatters to go viral on TikTok and Twitter as parents capture young Black girls’ heartwarming reactions to the trailer. But the film, which is about the breaking down of imagined binaries between the human world and the underwater world, also has the potential to teach children about the diversity of marine life and, in so doing, champion the importance of ocean conservation. That’s a point not lost on fellow cast members. “You have to take advantage of this amazing, beautiful story written by [Hans Christian] Andersen and bring the pollution of the oceans into it,” Javier Bardem, who plays King Triton, told AFP in Toronto. “You can reach millions and millions of younger generations… that is something movies like this could and should do.”


This year will also see the return of Dune II, which will follow the story of Paul Atreides who joins forces with Chani and the Fremen on his quest for revenge from those who destroyed his family. The first film offered crucial lessons on the violence of extractivism and colonialism by illustrating just how transformative Indigenous knowledge can be. And the sequel is likely to further examine such issues. Meanwhile, a musical adaptation of The Color Purple is also set to grace our screens this year. The film, which is directed by Blitz Bazawule and stars Fantasia as Celie Harris Johnson, is based on the book by Alice Walker, which is largely understood to draw on ecofeminist thought for its damning representation of greed and profit as the source of environmental degradation.


Other releases we are looking forward to include CJ Obasi’s Mami Wata, which focuses on the struggle of two sisters as they attempt to restore the glory of a mermaid goddess to save their village and its people from outside elements. Twice Colonized, which follows the journey of renowned Inuit lawyer Aaju Peter to reclaim her language and culture after a lifetime of forced assimilation, is set to premiere at Sundance this year alongside Sarvnik Kaur’s Against The Tide, a story set in Mumbai about a friendship between two fishermen that is put to the test as climate change and overfishing threaten their livelihoods. And finally, Wes Anderson fans will be happy to hear of the 2023 release of his upcoming film Asteroid City, set in a fictional American desert town in circa 1955 just as “world-changing events spectacularly disrupt” the itinerary of a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention.


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2023 promises the revival of Kelela. Six years after her debut album Take Me Apart, the musician is back with Raven: a celebration of self-renewal and resilience that draws on the literary history of ravens as psychopomps, spiritual guides that travel between two worlds. As with much of Kelela’s work, Raven—which blends R&B verses with drum and bass beats—is rooted in collective empowerment. “I started this process from the feeling of isolation and alienation I’ve always had as a black femme in dance music, despite its black origins,” Kelela said in a statement. “Raven is my first breath taken in the dark, an affirmation of black femme perspective in the midst of systemic erasure and the sound of our vulnerability turned to power.”


Gorillaz are also back this year with their upcoming album, Cracker Island, which features collaborations with Bad Bunny, Tame Impala, and Bootie Brown. The virtual band has a history of environmental advocacy. Their 2010 album Plastic Beach, for instance, was a meditation on the desperate state of the oceans through the reimagining of an Atlantis-like island made entirely of plastic. Ryuichi Sakamoto—whose work has historically been heavily influenced by nature soundscapes and climate change—has also announced the release of his forthcoming album, 12, which he described as “musical sketches” from the composer’s two-and-a-half year battle with cancer. Meanwhile, Senegalese musician Baaba Maal is releasing his new album Being, which draws on a variety of genres—from blues to electronic music—to explore the effects of generational debt and conflict. There are also rumors that both Grimes and Rihanna will drop new music this year, but details are yet to be confirmed.


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There are a number of exciting non-fiction releases planned for 2023, not least Munroe Bergdorf’s debut book and memoir, Transitional. In the book, Bergdorf, who spoke with Alok Vaid-Menon  for Atmos Volume 07: Prism about the dangers of dictating what is considered “natural” and the power of trans imagination, draws on her own experiences and speaks with activists and experts to break down just how essential transitioning is to the human experience. The aim of the book, which will be available from late February, is described as bringing about a “shared consciousness” to heal social wounds and foster community. “Transitioning, in whatever form it comes in, is difficult and it certainly isn’t linear,” Bergdorf writes in British Vogue about their experience working on Transitional. “There comes a point when we realize in order to grow as individuals, in order to be able to generate joy and happiness rather than search for it, our foundational core needs to reflect that individuality. We cannot sustainably build upon or maintain what is not meant for us.”


Other non-fiction books set to drop in 2023 include activist and writer Mikaela Loach’s It’s Not That Radical, which unpacks the exploitative systems responsible for environmental and social injustice, and breaks down her transformative vision for what it will take to mobilize the masses to take action. Meanwhile, mental health advocate Tori Tsui, whose work dismantles the euro-centricity and ableism of phenomena like “eco-anxiety,” is also working on their debut book, It’s Not Just You, about the mental health crisis facing the climate movement—and why it is the product of racism, sexism, ableism, and capitalism. Also, Jonathan Kennedy’s Pathogenesis is set to come out later this year, bringing to light all the ways in which infectious diseases have shaped the course of world history.


Fiction titles to look out for this year include Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson, whose 2021 debut novel Open Water has won him numerous awards and nominations. Set between London and Ghana, Small Worlds is sure to be a moving exploration of the role of intergenerational relationships in our search for meaning. Another name to look out for is Martin MacInnes, whose forthcoming book In Ascension follows a marine biologist enchanted by the underwater world on her journey to uncover our planet’s beginnings. And finally, Jonathan Escoffery is bringing out his debut book If I Survive You about two brothers grappling with racism, financial crisis, and Hurricane Andrew—and the effects of such crises on their family.

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