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Black Excellence, Brown Pride, and the Pop Culture Gifts People of Color Gave the World in 2017

By Roxana Hadadi | Lists | December 15, 2017 | Comments ()

By Roxana Hadadi | Lists | December 15, 2017 |


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2017 is almost over, and we’ve survived—nearly an entire year of constant attacks, constant fear, and constant anxiety, 12 months of calling our representatives and signing online petitions and marching in the streets. It’s been rough.

But it’s been clear, too, that there is a shift under way, of undeniable changes that are altering power structures in Hollywood, in the media landscape, in politics, and beyond (and hopefully, they’ll stick). We have black women to thank for #MeToo and for the election of Doug Jones in Alabama. We have Muslims like Mahershala Ali and Riz Ahmed to thank for their representation of their religion and their culture at a time when the American president is tweeting Islamophobic crap on the regular. There is an increase in the visibility of Latina women in films like Logan, Cars 3, and Coco. And the trailers for Black Panther, which takes place in the never-colonized African country of Wakanda, have cemented it, without any doubt, as one of the must-see movies of 2018 and quite possibly the most anticipated Marvel movie yet.

There is still so much work to be done, so many walls to be smashed down and power structures to be dismantled for some semblance of equality, but 2017 was defined over and over again by people of color showing their work, as LaineyGossip always says. And that work was pretty fucking great. Below, a list of moments, accomplishments, and projects from people of color that were gleeful, monumental, and essential in 2017. (And feel free to add whatever inspired you in the comments!)

+ Moonlight’s triumph at the 89th Academy Awards, winning not only Best Picture but also Best Adapted Screenplay for director Barry Jenkins and his cowriter Tarell Alvin McCraney and Best Supporting Actor for the phenomenal Mahershala Ali. #OscarsSoWhite isn’t a thing of the past, but there were other wins that night that were notable, too: Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress, the Iranian film The Salesman netting director Asghar Farhadi his second Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, O.J.: Made in America, with its deep analysis of race and class, winning Best Documentary, and the Syrian-focused The White Helmets winning Best Documentary (Short Subject).

+ The work of activist Tarana Burke, creator of the Me Too movement, who sparked countless women’s (and men’s) voices. Time magazine, for whatever reason, denied her a space on their cover as one of their Silence Breakers despite interviewing her inside the magazine, but Burke is indistinguishable from the movement she helped create. The toppling of nearly all these abusive men can be traced to the honesty, bravery, and courage Burke inspired in so many.

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+ Tessa Thompson’s attitude in Thor: Ragnarok—not just as a love interest for Chris Hemsworth’s Norse god, but more importantly as the famed female warrior Valkyrie. Few scenes are more badass this year than watching her sashay down the Bifrost Bridge with her sword and her cape and her general awesomeness. The film should have made it clearer that her character was bisexual, but her instant status as a fan favorite hopefully means we’ll see far more of Valkyrie as the Marvel films continue their march into forever.

+ The opinion pieces by Lupita Nyong’o and Salma Hayek on Harvey Weinstein. The pieces were weeks apart, but both columns in the New York Times were eloquently written and fundamentally terrifying, sharing certain details that made it quite clear the kind of monstrous man Harvey Weinstein was to so many. Lupita wrote, “Let us never shut up about this kind of thing,” and Salma wrote, “Women are talking today because, in this new era, we finally can.” Bravo to them both.

+ Riz Ahmed winning Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role as Naz in HBO’s The Night Of, becoming the first Asian and first Muslim to win in that category ever. Ahmed has been a dedicated advocate for Syrian refugees, raising awareness and money for them through various nonprofit partnerships, and as he continues expanding into public awareness with franchise films like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the new Spider-Man spinoff, Venom, it’s pretty safe to guess that he will continue using those larger platforms to help more and more people.

+ Teen Vogue became a must-read for women of all ages, covering the Trump presidency and its effects on readers from a variety of different social, racial, and religious angles. Under the leadership of Elaine Marie Welteroth, who became the second black woman to hold an editor-in-chief position at Condé Nast ever when she was promoted this year, Teen Vogue has been a resource and a respite.

+ I keep saying this: Logan was one of the most socially inclusive films of the year, and its plot, stated baldly, is phenomenal: Aging white guy helps a group of illegal immigrant children, born to Mexican women of color whose bodies were used by an evil corporation to immorally clone mutants, travel through an unwelcome United States to the freedom and safety of Canada. A MAINSTREAM COMIC BOOK MOVIE DID THAT. As young Laura/X-23, Dafne Keen was flawless, and the scene of her finally breaking her silence to scream at Logan in Spanish, beseeching him to help save her and her friends, was a stunner.

+ That sophomore season glow-up for Issa Rae and Insecure was fantastic—the storytelling was tight, Issa and her friends continued making mistakes that felt simultaneously egregious and familiar, and Rae rightfully earned another Golden Globe nomination this year. Plus, the #LemonPepperKickback party she threw in Atlanta in October made for some amazing social media posts.

+ Rising stars Yara Shahidi and Amandla Stenberg continued their expansion into TV and film: The half-Iranian, half-black Shahidi is getting her own Black-ish spinoff, Grown-ish, an obvious move given her popularity, intelligence, and the respect she’s earned at a young age in this industry, while Stenberg was transcendent in the underrated interracial YA romance Everything, Everything.

+ How can you not be pumped for Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time? This is your reminder that colorblind casting is not the same thing as whitewashed casting, and therefore the diversity on display in DuVernay’s vision is affirming and wonderful: Storm Reid as Mug Murry; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as her mother, Dr. Kate Murry; and Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who are all fist-pump-worthy casting decisions.

+ Remember when Kendrick Lamar opened the MTV Video Music Awards with a performance of “DNA.,” in which he samples Geraldo Rivera talking shit about him? “I don’t like it,” ends that sneering, tone-deaf sample, and Lamar thoroughly rejects that criticism with his stellar performance.

+ Beyoncé and Jay-Z had twins and named them Rumi and Sir: Their daughter after a Persian poet and Sufi mystic whose work has been inspirational for hundreds of years, and their son in such a way so that whomever addresses him at any point in his life will have to provide him with the basic respect that black men were denied for so long. Intentional and admirable choices.

+ Shonda Rhimes secured a major development deal with Netflix, leaving ABC behind and talking openly about feeling underappreciated by the network and its owner, Disney; as she said during a Q+A in October, “Disney has made $2 billion on Grey’s Anatomy … I don’t have $2 billion.” Rhimes’s impact on the TV landscape, with Shondaland’s insistence on women-focused stories and diverse casting, is undeniable, and it will be intriguing to see what she does with even more creative opportunity over at Netflix.

+ Donald Glover continued to be the coolest guy in the room, not only earning four well-deserved Emmy and Golden Globe awards for the first season of his FX show Atlanta but also displaying some superb fashion sense (so many velvet suits!) and a pretty stellar mustache as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming standalone Han Solo film. Honestly, he’ll probably be the best thing about it.

+ What is there to say about Jordan Peele’s Get Out that hasn’t already been said? It is horrifying in most moments and hilarious in others; it is self-assured and multilayered; the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association, of which I am a part, recognized it as Best Film and Best Original Screenplay. If you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t know what you’re waiting for.

+ Could you escape “Despacito” this year? Could anyone? The reggaeton-infused pop song hit more than 4 billion views on YouTube (not the version with Justin Bieber, thank you very much) and has been recognized by various publications as one of the best songs of the year, with its music video filmed in the La Perla neighborhood of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, before the devastation of Hurricane Maria. And it was the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who went hard on Trump after the hurricane, calling him a “hater-in-chief” and rightfully criticizing his terrible response to the humanitarian crisis. Cruz defended her citizens when their own president wouldn’t, and if everyone who jammed out to “Despacito” this year donated to Hurricane Maria relief, that would be great. (Why not make a donation by purchasing the song “Almost Like Praying,” which was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, features the voices of Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and more, and all proceeds of which benefit Puerto Rico? Do that.)

+ Tiffany Haddish telling that story on Jimmy Kimmel’s show about taking Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a swamp tour using a Groupon is hilarious, and her supporting turn in Girls Trip was a star-maker, and her smile is so infectious it’s almost gross. All of the blessings in the world upon Tiffany Haddish.

+ I have written about movies professionally for more than a decade, and I don’t remember a movie more people in my life, from all corners of my life, have praised than The Big Sick. The story of how Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon fell in love is brought to empathetic, deeply felt life in this romantic comedy, one of the genre’s best in recent years. It being shut out of the Golden Globes this year is an unbelievably frustrating snub, but its continued popularity on streaming platforms is a testament to Nanjiani’s raising profile. Idiots on Twitter still may be unable to tell Kumail and Indian-American comedians Hasan Minhaj and Aziz Ansari apart, but they all did fantastic work this year tackling stereotypes about Muslims and immigrants energetically and often.

+ Related: This tweet.

+ Star Wars: The Last Jedi is going to make a bajillion dollars, and it’s going to do it while being unapologetically political. The sexists and racists who were already angry about Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega are going to be even more whiny about new cast members Benicio del Toro and Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran, and they’re probably going to hate a subplot [SPOILERS AND STUFF] that attacks arms dealers and animal cruelty, and they’re definitely not going to like a movie where nearly all the heroes are women. It’s going to be great!

+ Ta-Nehisi Coates continued his must-read work at The Atlantic with a pair of deeply poignant, extensively researched essays, “My President Was Black” and “The First White President,” comparing and contrasting President Barack Obama’s eight years with the already-insane few months of the Trump administration. They are essential companion pieces that, on face value, tell us what we already know—Obama was a once-in-a-lifetime leader, Trump is an embarrassment—but Coates goes deeper into American history and American identity to reveal what we may not want to admit about our country. It’s engrossing, vital writing.

+ If you’re going to make an all-female spinoff of Ocean’s Eleven, you honestly can’t get much better than the cast assembled for Ocean’s Eight: Rihanna, who this year also launched the extremely successful, extremely inclusive Fenty Beauty line; Kaling, who with the wrapping of The Mindy Project has forayed into more films, like this and the aforementioned A Wrinkle in Time, and Asian-American rapper Awkwafina, who has also been cast in the upcoming film adaptation of the bestseller Crazy Rich Asians, alongside Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, and Lisa Lu and under the direction of Chinese-American Jon M. Chu, of Step Up fame. Both Ocean’s Eight and Crazy Rich Asians will be released in 2018, and both will deserve our money.

+ Providing opportunities for people of color behind the camera is just as important as casting them in front of it, which is why the news that Selena Gomez and Gina Rodriguez have both secured production deals is so exciting. Gomez’s Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix sparked a lot of conversations earlier this year, and hopefully the “Latina Empire” she envisioned for Freeform comes to fruition. Rodriguez’s deal is with CBS, and both of her announced projects sound timely as hell: Have Mercy will focus on a Latina doctor unable to practice when she immigrates to Miami, and Illegal will be about a 16-year-old teen who learns he is an undocumented immigrant. Rodriguez isn’t messing around with these concepts, and hopefully we’ll start hearing about pilot orders and premiere dates soon.

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+ Did you know that Mahershala Ali invented the color yellow? He did.

+ Your boyfriend John Cho, for whom we have all wanted as many opportunities as possible, continued to be wonderful in both TV and film this year. He joined the cast of Difficult People as Todd, Billy Eichner’s boyfriend, for a five-episode arc, and was the first choice of Eichner and showrunner Scott King (why wouldn’t he be?). Plus, he starred in Columbus, a movie that premiered at Sundance, was directed by Korean video essayist Kogonada, and stars Cho as a Korean-born, American-raised man that links an appreciation of architecture with an exploration of self. Find it on streaming, watch it immediately.

+ Korean director Bong Joon-ho has an extremely clear point of view in his films: He dissects capitalism, he abhors violence against the helpless, and he prioritizes individual emotion and collective action over bureaucratic command, all themes he’s explored previously in The Host and Snowpiercer and which reach their apex in Okja. There was a lot that was bonkers about this movie (Jake Gyllenhaal’s insane performance, Tilda Swinton’s slightly-less-insane performance), but at its center was Ahn Seo-hyun, giving a gut-wrenching turn as a young girl refusing to let a publicity- and revenue-obsessed company steal away and commodify her best friend. So what if the best friend is a hybrid super pig? Ahn is committed to every single scene of this movie, and the film’s sly awareness of Korean vs. Korean-American identities (contrasted between Ahn and Steven Yeun) is a little jewel for viewers who speak the language. Watch it on Netflix.

+ Also to watch on Netflix: Mudbound, my personal pick as the best film of the year. Director Dee Rees and cast members Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, and Mary J. Blige have created something exquisite here, a movie that belongs alongside Giant, Days of Heaven, and The Grapes of Wrath as an American epic. Rees is 40 years old and has already made four phenomenal films. Colin Trevorrow made four films before being given Jurassic World, Rian Johnson made four films before Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Gareth Edwards made three films before Godzilla and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This is Rees’s time. She better get that fucking studio call.

+ Breitbart is a plague, and Roxane Gay stood behind that truth when she pulled her book from publisher Simon & Schuster after learning they had signed garbage person and Breitbart mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos to a six-figure deal. That’s integrity.

+ Have you wept to Nina Simone’s songs when they are used in Bojack Horseman? Then perhaps you would be pleased to know the legendary jazz singer and civil rights activist has been chosen for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. (Yes, that collective wail you hear is white men complaining that Simone isn’t “rock and roll”; in the words of Ira Madison III, keep it.)

+ As Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression on Saturday Night Live felt less funny over 2017, cast members Leslie Jones and Michael Che stepped up: the former by weaponizing her thirst into a source of reliable levity, like when she switched from being a diehard Yankees fan to salivating over the Houston Astros, and the latter by constantly going hard on Trump in Weekend Update, including the unforgettable, “First of all, you don’t know what cakes I’ve seen” rebuke of Trump’s blathering on about chocolate cake while forgetting what country he had recently attacked by missile strike (it was Syria, by the way). In addition, Kenan Thompson is now SNL’s longest-running cast member—and his performance in the skit “Come Back, Barack” was exquisite.

+ Mexican-American filmmakers delivered astonishing films this year: Screenwriter Adrian Molina was responsible for Pixar’s Coco, while director and writer Guillermo del Toro gave us a grown-up fairy tale with The Shape of Water. Both are exquisitely detailed stories, one about the importance of cultural traditions and the other about the fierce beauty of individuality, and the awards recognition for both are well-deserved.

+ Fox News has made its name disparaging anyone and everyone they consider a threat to their right-wing, white Christians-first agenda, but civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson isn’t taking it anymore: He is suing Fox News for defamation. Couldn’t happen to a worse group of people.

+ While so many were was fawning over Sen. John McCain for casting the final deciding vote against the Obamacare repeal, they overlooked the quiet struggle of Hawaiian Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, who while battling Stage 4 cancer also crusaded against Trumpcare and who never wavered in her opposition. Not once.

+ Actress Chloe Bennett took to Instagram to speak about her Chinese heritage and her struggles getting work while using her Chinese name, sparking conversations about the preference toward American names and the “model minority” stereotype so many Asian Americans face. Bennett wrote that she’s “doing everything I can … to make sure no one has to change their name again, just so they can get work,” and that’s an endeavor that demands all of our respect.

+ Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo and her real-life husband, fellow Iranian actor Houshang Touzie, portrayed a married couple on Marvel’s The Punisher series on Netflix—and in a crazy turn, they didn’t play terrorists! Instead, as parents of the ball-busting, work-obsessed Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani, they help save Frank Castle’s life when Dinah brings the heavily wounded Punisher back to their fancy Manhattan apartment. They talk in Farsi about Frank being a freedom fighter, they care for him because they trust Dinah, and they’re good people.

+ Serena Williams continued to exist. That’s enough.


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