At this point, we can all agree that 2016 was absolutely horrible. From hashtags to news articles, everyone everywhere decided that this year was a gigantic dumpster fire never to be spoken of again. And while that very well may be true, despite the magnificent horribleness of this trashcan year, Black people proved to be the shining light in an otherwise dark 2016. Between political and economic turmoil, our music, movies, television, art, and overall goodness was the tape and glue holding us all together, and it’s important to give us our props for being so amazing in an otherwise difficult and terrible time. So without further adieu, let’s look at some of the greatness we exuded these past 365 days.
First up, deservingly, is music. The soundtrack to this year was absolutely stunning, with music for everyone. 2016 saw the release of Beyoncé’s LEMONADE, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, Solange’s A Seat at the Table, Corinne Bailey Rae’s The Heart Speaks in Whispers, Drake’s Views, Rihanna’s Anti, Frank Ocean’s much awaited second studio album Blonde, and so much more.
Beyoncé had an amazing year, from selling out her Formation World Tour before even dropping an album to stealing the halftime show of the Superbowl and literally defying gravity. Her visual album garnered Grammy nominations in Rock and Pop categories, and her performance at the Country Music Awards with the Dixie Chicks brought the house down, not to mention her waterbending show at the BET awards with Kendrick Lamar. Beyoncé got her music all the way in formation this year, tapping into multiple genres and styles of music and performing all across the world.
Not to be outdone by her big sister, Solange proved the Knowles sisters are a force to be reckoned with. A Seat at the Table became an instant anthem for carefree Black girls everywhere, with “Don’t Touch My Hair” relaying an all-too-familiar experience many of us have. Solange’s sultry vocals, deep lyrics, and mellow instrumentals put us all at ease and helped us endure 2016.
Chance the Rapper had an amazing year as well, releasing his third mixtape Coloring Book that spoke to the 90s kid in all of us. The Magnificent Coloring Day music festival honored his hometown of Chicago and Chance made history by being the first person in Grammy history to receive a nomination for a streaming-only album.
Professional musicians weren’t the only ones to drop a track this year either; our First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up with SNL’s Jay Pharaoh to make a hilarious and informative video encouraging teenagers to go to college. And while President Obama didn’t drop rhymes like FLOTUS did, he did help Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on a Rose Garden freestyle. The White House will never be this fresh again.
2016 was undoubtedly a great year for Black musical artistry, but it also left us with a large empty hole with the death of Prince. In honor of his life, we were treated to many a tribute that paid homage to his music. The BET Awards’ ongoing tribute featuring artists like Bilal, The Roots, Janelle Monae and Jennifer Hudson brought the house down. The October Prince Tribute Concert saw the likes of Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan honoring their friend. Beyoncé even included Purple Rain in her concert. Prince’s death reverberated throughout the musical community and brought so many different artists together to pay their respects to him and his legendary music, giving us all a chance to grieve and remember together.
TV and Film
Music wasn’t the only form of entertainment to break barriers and introduce us to new and exciting material. Both the silver and living room screens offered us such a beautiful variety of content that boasted a diverse look at blackness, never painting us all with the same brush but instead taking care to show the many nuances and differences that come with being Black.
There were a number of documentaries released this year that really offered a compelling look at many important topics. Ava DuVernay’s 13th discussed in-depth how broken the U.S. justice system really is, shining a light on the mass incarceration of Black people and how it extends from the 13th amendments abolishing of slavery, except for punishment for a crime. It was haunting and infuriating, but an extremely necessary film that chronicled racism in America and where we go from here. Earlier in the year we saw PBS’s doc The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution by filmmaker Stanley Nelson. This film deeply examines the movement in the 1960s from tales by former Black Panthers themselves, reinforcing how powerful and culturally important the movement was and the groundwork it laid for social justice movements today. From discussions on its vilification by the government to hairstyles and clothing worn by the Panthers, the film slices the movement thin enough to inspect every aspect from first person perspectives. PBS also produced A Ballerina’s Tale, a documentary on ballerina Misty Copeland, documenting her rise to fame and becoming the first Black principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. The film takes a look at Misty’s career and the history of ballerinas of color as well as their lack of representation inside of ballet companies.
2016 was also a phenomenal year for Black people on television. I can’t stress enough how amazing it was to see such a vibrant and multifaceted display of blackness every night on primetime tv, with us as principal characters. We got to be the heroes and the villains, in comedies and dramas, in front of the camera and behind it.
black-ish pulled off one of the best episodes of the spring season in “Hope,” where Andre and Rainbow have The Talk with their children about police brutality. Through humor and heartbreak, the show nailed it, perfectly balancing a difficult topic inside the parameters of a sitcom. Empire also delved into a police brutality narrative, acutely displaying what police violence looks like and how we combat it. The show is known for taking its stories from headlines and was praised for addressing real problems and authentic experiences that far too many of us are familiar with.
One of the greatest additions to television this year was the sheer amount of high-quality shows we got featuring layered Black characters. While staples like Shondaland’s Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder kept us on the edge of our seats with their typical melodrama in storylines like a tumultuous election season and…yet another murder, their were so many new shows that exploded onto the scene in fantastic ways. Issa Rae’s Insecure and Donald Glover’s Atlanta were the two freshest comedies to debut this year, both bringing wildly different looks at life in young Black America to the small screen. Queen Sugar was another star of 2016, a beautifully shot drama by Ava DuVernay about estranged siblings in the south coming together after their father’s death. Other than being enticingly addicting, the nuances behind the scenes are commendable, like the perfect lighting on different shades of black skin and having each episode directed by women. Pitch gave us feels from its pilot episode, featuring Kylie Bunbury as Ginny Baker, the first female pitcher in Major League Baseball, and showing her journey from childhood to achieve her dreams. One of the best things about Pitch, similar to Insecure, is its precise display of Black female friendship, showing a deep, unique love and support, especially in such a grandiose situation. Other much anticipated tv shows came not on cable or satellite, but streamed on Netflix. Luke Cage and The Get Down were two breakout hits that featured largely Black casts and hit it out of the park. Luke Cage was every comic book nerd’s dream come true; steeped in hip hop culture and Luke’s occasional corny lines, the show is as indestructible as the titular character himself. The Get Down remixed the birth of hip hop in 1970s New York, to some viewers dismay, but ultimately gives us great performances from a multitude of young actors and also some great afros.
We saw ourselves in Kelly Rowland’s Chasing Destiny, Nicole Byer’s Loosely Exactly Nicole, Oprah’s Greenleaf, cop shows like Lethal Weapon and Secrets and Lies. Black Girls Rock! gave us so many powerful moments, from Tracee Ellis Ross slaying like her mama to Gladys Knight’s Living Legend award speech and Rihanna’s tearful speech of her own, it spanned generations of celebrating Black girlhood. Shondaland’s own Kerry Washington and Viola Davis both started their own independent production companies, which we will surely see amazing things from in the coming years, and Denzel Washington directed the harrowing midseason premiere of Grey’s Anatomy that left the audience speechless as only a Shonda production could.
Television was vibrant and bright this season, and was matched perfectly by its counterpart in film. Moonlight has been the talk of the town for the past few months, and for good reason. The movie is supremely vital and brilliant in so many ways. It’s breathtaking, dreamy, dizzying, and absolutely remarkable; there’s a reason everybody has been talking about it. This year gave us so many other movies about the adventures of Black youth, like Kicks, which chronicles a young boy’s journey to get back the sneakers that were stolen from him, and The Fits, about a mysterious girl who loves boxing and how her transition into adolescent girlhood plays into her passion. We saw Queen of Katwe, based on a true story of 10-year-old Phiona and her rise to chess champion in Uganda, with incredible performances by Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and newcomer Madina Nalwanga. Barbershop: The Next Cut brought back a host of old characters from a decade past and introduced the series to a new generation through new players and its discussion of real world issues, like gang violence and racism. 2016 saw HBO’s powerful masterpiece Confirmation which tells the story of sexual assault case brought against Clarence Thomas by Anita Hill during his Supreme Court hearings, with roles fulfilled phenomenally by both Kerry Washington and Wendell Pierce that gave a unique and formidable insight into the 1991 court proceedings. There were great performances by Black actors like Leslie Jones in Ghostbusters, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War and so much more. Ending the year were the powerhouse performances by Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in Fences. The much awaited film was remarkable in every way, delving into the racial tensions of 1950s Pittsburgh and generating serious Oscar buzz. And a limited release in some theaters is the much awaited Hidden Figures with Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, to be released in all theaters on January 6 next year.
The 2016 sports world was full of greatness. The Olympics were as explosive as ever and the Cubs broke their 108-year-old curse and won the World Series. Many of these amazing accomplishments in sports this year were clinched by athletes becoming the first to achieve such a triumph in their field, which makes those victories even sweeter.
Game 7 in the NBA playoffs of the Warriors vs. Cavaliers gave us that awe-inspiring moment of Lebron James’s epic game-saving Block now said to be one of the greatest in history. This year also saw Kobe Bryant’s bittersweet final NBA game with the Lakers, scoring an epic 60 points against the Utah Jazz and LA Sparks’s Candace Parker won her first championship title, honoring her late college coach Pat Summitt in her win. Golden State Warriors Steph Curry was awarded MVP for the second year in a row, the first time a player won the title unanimously. Carolina Panthers’s Cam Newton was mercilessly mocked for his eccentric wardrobe and also named NFL’s most valuable player after leading his team to a 15-1 record for the season. Arizona Cardinals’s David Johnson literally leapt over another human being as if he were playing leap frog and not football.
America’s gymnastics team personified Black girl magic and crushed it in the Rio Summer Olympics. We had wins from Simone Manuel being the first Black woman to win individual in swimming in the Olympics, Michelle Davis winning shot put gold, Ash Johnson, the first Black USA water polo player to win, Canadian diver Jennifer Abel finishing fourth in solo and synchronized springboard events, fencer Ibthihaj Muhammad’s bronze, and Allyson Felix becoming the most decorated USA track and field woman with her silver in the 400m bringing her to a total of seven medals. Usain Bolt lived up to his name yet again as he literally jogged to victory in the 200m while his competitors struggled to keep up.
There were so many fantastic displays of blackness this year that it’s nearly impossible to quantify. We have Harriet Tubman replacing noted racist Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. President Obama hosted SXSL a White House festival modeled after SXSW where, for the first time in United States history, Black people swag surfed on the White House lawn. Malia Obama clapped back and wore a “smoking kills” t-shirt after being criticized for smoking at Lollapalooza. Larry Wilmore terrified white America at the White House Correspondence Dinner when he said “Yo Barry, you did it my nigga.” Serena Williams’s cover on Sports Illustrated let everyone know she runs things. Zendaya became the face of Dolce and Gabanna, proving that she may quite literally be taking over the world. Amandla Sternberg came out as bisexual on Teen Vogue’s snapchat and gave such a powerful voice to queer Black youth everywhere. “Hamilton”’s Leslie Odom, Jr., Daveed Diggs, Renee Goldsberry, and “The Color Purple”’s Cynthia Erivo swept lead and featuring actor categories at the Tony Awards. Jesse Williams validated our magic and our personhood for all to see. Roxane Gay wrote Black Panther: World of Wakanda #1. The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened and gave us a national stage to celebrate ourselves in the past, present, and future. Da’Vonne from Big Brother 18 gave us a gif to remember.
This year has been a staunch representation of how resilient Black people are. We are tough and resolute and when things get hard, we help each other through and come out stronger. This year taught us to be vulnerable and explore our true selves. In music, movies, poetry, television, and so much more, we saw a cohesive interweaving of emotion within entertainment and the results were insurmountable. We saw triumph and powerful achievement in athletics. And in so many other ways, we saw ourselves win. Our strengths reverberated in every way possible, from overarching success in sports to award winning achievement in entertainment; we painted America in a Blackness so insurmountable and influential and important.
This year sucked, yeah. But the multitude of greatness that peaked through the cracks is an indication that we gon be alright.