Photo Credit: Laura Alston for Okayplayer
2017: Year of the Black Woman
Photo Credit: Laura Alston for Okayplayer
2017 continued to be the Year of the Black Woman, as creatives such as Dee Rees, Cardi B and more changed the rules and forced the world to see them true.
Yeah, we said it: 2017 was the Year of the Black Woman. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that this would be the case, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we should’ve seen it coming from the moment Rep. Maxine Waters told the world her mission was the impeachment of Dotard Donald Trump—on the week of his inauguration.
Black women have been wielding their political, creative and societal power all year long, changing the rules and redirecting the national conversation on everything from body image to Buckingham Palace. Some reclaimed their time, using the ballot box to make their point, as recently as last week in the Alabama senate race. Others took back their very lives from toxic relationships. And still there were those who made headlines with their engagements and pregnancies, forcing the world to see them as the beauties they truly are.
Black women would not be denied.
2017 was the year where black women stared down erasure, assault, denigration and clapped back by saying, “No more.” So, here we go, y’all, in alphabetical order we salute the black women who made this year fierce, fun, and oh-so-fly—because there is no ranking all this phenomenal womanhood!
Cardi B: That Uncut Raw
When Oprah instructed us to live our best lives, she meant everybody. Cardi B is that ‘round-the-way-girl that bounces back when everyone else counts her out. The kind of girl whose success gets judged because they can’t figure it out. Here’s the open secret: Cardi B sets goals and works at them. Her stint on Love & Hip-Hop New York was a stone on her path to becoming a recording star.
She wouldn’t take no for an answer, so she dropped two mixtapes. Her newfound fame was another stone, leading her to a sizeable contract with Atlantic Records. Within months after the release of “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves),” it was the first solo single to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 from a woman hip-hop artist since Lauryn Hill did the same thing in 1998 with “Doo Wop (That Thing)”.
GRAMMY nominated and newly engaged to Offset of Migos fame, and still paying her mama’s bills — there is no time to chill for the belleza of the Bronx, Cardi B.
Photo Credit: Julie Cunnah
Dee Rees & Tamar-kali: Soul Sisters
This writer-director and musician-composer tandem make a wonderful filmmaking team who, together, have created masterpieces on a shoestring budget (Pariah) and on a multi-million dollar Netflix budget (Mudbound). With the latter project up for two Golden Globes, including “Best Original Song,” Dee Rees and Tamar-kali are pushing the culture forward with each new project.
Elaine Welteroth: Fearless Leader
At only 29-years-old, this Bay Area badass was named the youngest African American editor-in-chief in the history of Condé Nast. She has turned the page on what a young women’s magazine such as Teen Vogue can teach its readers. She took a huge risk publishing an informative article about anal sex for her core readership of 18-24-year-olds. And, of course, there was an outcry—but somebody had to do it, because guess what? Some girls are out there doing it and what better way to help them be safe than by educating them properly?
Source: Girls Trip
Girls Trip: Blockbuster Comedy
One of the breakout hits of this year was undoubtedly the buddy picture no one expected. Girls Trip featured four black women turning up at the Essence Music Festival, ground zero, for three days on non-stop #BlackGirlMagic. This hilariously adult and emotionally pitch perfect film gave us an unfiltered look at the genius that is showstopper Tiffany Haddish, and screenwriter Tracy Oliver a $100M+ smash hit. We know there’s a sequel coming up… we just want to know if we can be extras in it!
Photo Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET
H.E.R.: An Enigmatic New Star
Hailing from Vallejo, California, H.E.R. is a talented singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist who gave audiophiles a tutorial in reinvention this year. She cast off her given name (she is the ‘Artist Formerly Known As Gabi Wilson’) for an alluring acronym and culled her mixtapes into one smooth, simmering opus.
She then proceeded to sell out a national club tour sans major radio play or a splashy big budget video. Now, she’s signed to RCA Records, and H.E.R. is the funky, earthy artist that social and digital media propelled to stardom, without us even knowing what’s beneath the stunna shades and expansive hair.
And therein lies the point… the sound of H.E.R. is what matters most.
Photo Credit: Farrenton Grigsby
Janet Jackson: Music Royalty
After four decades, Janet “Ms. Jackson If Ya’ Nasty” Jackson came back to the game to show and prove who was still very much in “control” of her life at 51-gorgeous-years-young. She understood the world would wait while she had her son and untethered herself from her now ex-husband, pausing and revamping the tour that initially supported Unbreakable. Fast forward to 2017, and the State of the World Tour, a clinic of show-womanship, wall-to-wall hits and Janet the Icon snatched for the gawds in top voice, slaying her classic choreography with the kids. If you haven’t seen her show, cop tickets and do so before it is too late!
Joy-Ann Reid: A Purveyor of Real News
In 2017, few cable news anchors had more takedowns that Joy-Ann Reid. Her courageous and thorough reporting, coupled with her “not here for it” interviews on MSNBC’s AM Joy made her the stuff of legend. She somehow finds the time to co-host Reid This, Reid That, her topical podcast with play cousin and fellow black woman anchor, Jacque Reid, while keeping us smartly informed about the goings on in the White House and the world abroad.
Lupita Nyong’o: A Starring Role Model
Upstanding and outstanding. These are just mere descriptors of a woman who speaks out against such perversion as Harvey Weinstein even when she had much to lose and the chorus of voices were already robust. Lupita Nyong’o showed us why black women deserve to be believed—and how our credibility is continually challenged. Amid dozens of white accusers, he singled her out by responding to her searing New York Times op-ed, but his cowardice was no match for her truth.
Mary J. Blige: Phoenix Rising
The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has spent the last three decades getting us through our shit. This year, she’s given that gift to herself as she literally cleaned house: divorcing a spouse who won $30K a month in marital support, then had the nerve to try to dig for more gold. Thankfully, he failed and Mary continued onward to the path of acclaim and successes.
After spending much of the year on the road with Lalah Hathaway and Maxwell in support of Strength of a Woman, arguably her most revealing album in years, MJB flipped the script.
Wowing audiences and critics in Dee Rees’ Mudbound, Mary received her first Golden Globe nomination for “Best Supporting Actress”. She murked every magazine cover she graced this year, too. She said she would glow up, and it is good to see her shine brightly on her own terms.
Meghan Markle: Royal In Waiting
Black America has themselves another first: their first member of the Royal Family in the modern era. When Markle marries Prince Harry next spring, she will most likely be named Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Sussex. The actor makes this list on that strength, and for coming straight outta Compton right into #KnuckIfYouBuckinghamPalace. Be clear: Markle is very black. There wouldn’t be all this polarizing global chatter if she weren’t.
Source: Stylist Magazine
Michaela Coel: Quintuple Threat
When two-time BAFTA winner and Chewing Gum creator Michaela Coel crossed the pond, America won. This woman’s picture should be next to the word “powerhouse” in the dictionary. She is a musician, a playwright, a working thespian, a screenwriter and has the gall to be a poet to boot. She’s back aboard the USS Callister for another run on Netflix’s cult smash, Black Mirror. Lastly, she’ll play Simone in the upcoming Che Walker musical about unrequited love, Been So Long, which comes out in 2018. We can’t wait to see what she blesses the U.S. with next.
Radha Blank & Eisa Davis: Mic Droppaz
Both these women are so heavily accomplished in theater. You may remember Radha’s side-splitting, acerbic viral video for “Hoteps Hoteppin’,” or recall Eisa slaying on camera in The Wire or House of Cards, but theater heads know them as award-winning, festival selected playwrights with innumerable credits in a creative space chronically dominated by white men. This year, the masses got to know their serious pen game intimately as writers on Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It Netflix series—a series as controversial as its cinematic namesake. Don’t take your eyes off of these two talented forces.
Photo Credit: Ginny Suss for Okayplayer
Rapsody: Conscious Cool
While some rappers vacillate between not giving a fuck about a goddamn Grammy and being mad they aren’t up for any, Rapsody just rolled up and won for being part of an ensemble cast of Kendrick Lamar’s “Best Rap Album” winner, To Pimp A Butterfly. This year, though, she’s stepped out into her own as she’s nominated for the same award for her own project, Laila’s Wisdom.
Filled with her own stellar blend of searing lyricism and emotive musicality, Rapsody has put in work after four mixtapes, three EPs and another full studio album. She absolutely deserves to compete with Migos, Jay-Z, Tyler, The Creator and her potna Kung-Fu Kenny for the Golden Gramophone. Rapsody is just more proof that women MCs don’t rhyme well “for a girl”.
Photo Credit: Paul Sancya for AP
Rep. Maxine Waters: The Voice of Reason
Now affectionately called “Muva” and “Auntie” Maxine, Representative Waters has been calling it like she sees it since she got to Congress in 1991. A leader of the resistance to America’s 45th president, she started the year off with a bang, unequivocally declaring her mission to impeach him. With singular focus, she has stayed the course—and become a pop culture celebrity along the way for her facial expressions, her fashion sense and the phrase that has become a mantra for black women everywhere thanks to the viral gospel remix by Mykal Kilgore: “Reclaiming my time.”
Robin Thede: The New Face of Late Night
Personally, we’ve been waiting for a late night host to body roll in each episode—we just had no idea we’d get it in 2017. Enter Robin Thede: a former TV comedy writer turned frontwoman of The Rundown with Robin Thede. BET gave her a show where she can speak truth to power with razor sharp wit, wicked smoky side-eye and sketches about dating, colorism and reparations that only a sista can pull off.
Roxane Gay: Truth Teller
This was the year a New York Times writer made headlines in the same paper where her byline resides. It was a repeat performance (her book Bad Feminist also made the New York Times best sellers list), but this time, it was for her deeply resonant memoir, Hunger. Called “luminous” and “profound,” Hunger tells her story of abuse, obesity, and her relationship to one’s own body. The book is as courageous as it is excellent. Oh, and alongside poet Yona Harvey, Gay makes the first time a pair of black women ever authored a series for Marvel Comics.
Samantha Bailey: Live & Direct
Samantha Bailey, better known as Sam Bailey, is a powerful and dynamic guerilla filmmaker who bent the web to her will with her dream of representing women of color, who were queer, and best friends on screen—without a budget. The result is Brown Girls, a digital smash hit series that depicts LGBT women in ways that are relatable and authentic, with emotional complexity and raw humor at the center of the show.HBO took notice and gave her a development deal. Cut to: a move from Chicago to Hollywood for her next exciting chapter.
Serena Williams: New Mother of All Athletes
While we know Serena Williams stopped giving energy to her legion of haters many, many Grand Slams ago (she’s up to 23). She leads by example as someone who, despite whatever pain it used to cause her, remains unphased by being denigrated just for being a black woman who is the best in the world at tennis.
This year, she stoked more ire just for serving up more greatness. Williams won the Australian Open, handily, while pregnant with the world’s first in-utero tennis champion, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr.. Then, she slayed in the wedding of the year, marrying the co-founder of Reddit, an internet mega-mogul, in a ceremony attend by ‘Yoncé!
She ain’t perform though… as New Edition was her musical guests of honor. Talk about living every “Candy Girl’s” dream!
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer
SZA: The Soulful Spark
Ctrl by SZA is to 2017 what Control by Janet Jackson was to 1986. This month, the Chicago Sun-Times capped off an incredible year of acclaim by calling SZA’s debut studio release its “Album of the Year”. Topping a list of ten that includes Jay-Z, Sam Smith, Taylor Swift, Miguel, and her TDE labelmate, Kendrick Lamar. Given all the hits therein on Ctrl, we have every reason to believe she’s just warming up.
Taraji P. Henson: Badass Sistafriend
Taraji P. Henson is unstoppable. The three-time Oscar nominated actress and best-selling author of Around The Way Girl: A Memoir (with biographer Denene Millner, another fierce black woman) sustained her trademark hotness all year long. It started in January with the wide release of Hidden Figures, where a rain-soaked, teary-eyed Katherine G. Johnson told a roomful of white male number crunching engineers off for underestimating her genius.
By summer’s end, Taraji was hosting Black Girls Rock! on BET, rocking a sick natural fade that turned her cheekbones, doe eyes and MAC Viva Glam endorsing lips into weapons of mass destruction on covers and red carpets. The woman who made Empire’s Cookie Lyon a household name closes out 2017 promoting her assassin-action-flick, Proud Mary. More Taraji is always a good thing.
Tamika D. Mallory: The Liberator
Activist and founder of Mallory Consulting, Tamika D. Mallory is a woman on a mission. Her clarion calls for freedom from gun violence through policy change and intersectional justice via the Women’s March—which she co-chaired—confirms Mallory as a beacon of vigilance in the unapologetic tradition of foremothers Fannie Lou Hamer and Dr. Betty Shabazz.
Tarana Burke: The Healer
2017 is, in fact, the #YearOfTheBlackWoman, and you know that because when a black woman is named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” it’s a wonderful time to be alive. Tarana Burkeis that woman. She’s been in the trenches and the front lines fighting for survivors of sexual violence for over a decade. She created #MeToo in 2006 and the movement became a social media moment—not the other way around. Now that the #MeToo movement has global awareness, expect to hear more from Tarana on how we can mobilize to dismantle the systems that enable sexual harassment and assault.
Taura Stinson: Lyrics To Go
Now, you might not have heard of Taura Stinson, but between the songs she’s written for Destiny’s Child, Deborah Cox and Raphael Saadiq, trust and believe you’ve heard her words and voice more times than you can count. She’s also the film lyricist behind numerous songs for projects including Men In Black, Beyond The Lights, Rio 2 and Black Nativity.
In 2017, all her labor in the studio earned her some serious hardware. She wrote the lyrics to Cynthia Erivo’s “Jump” from the documentary, Step: A Real Life Story, which chronicles a Baltimore girls step team. “Jump” is also in contention for an Oscar nod.
Meanwhile, Stinson’s composition, “Might River,” performed by Mary J. Blige, has already garnered a Golden Globe nomination for “Best Original Song”. Taura Stinson doesn’t just pen songs, she writes books too—as she self-published a must-have resource guide for girls like the ones in Step called 100 Things Every Black Girl Should Know.
The Voting Black Women of Alabama: The 97%
Last year, black women who voted during the 2016 presidential elections did everything in their power to stop the raging trash fire that is the Donald J. Trump Administration. While they were unsuccessful in electing Secretary Hillary Clinton, the most qualified and experienced candidate in the presidential election, the sistas residing in Alabama were not discouraged when it came time to elect their senator.
Led by activists including Latosha Brown, an organizer for #BlackVotersMatter, and Faya Rose Toure, who mobilizes through Vote or Die, 97% of all black women voters in Alabama condemned accused serial pedophile Roy Moore. Despite 52% of white women with college degrees and 73% of non-college educated white women voting for Moore, black women saved the collective "Becky" from themselves, yet again, and kept Moore from adding to Trump's swamp in Washington.
The efforts of black women organizers in Alabama staved off handing the GOP another win and helped the Democrats to earn a crucial victory ahead of the 2018 midterms. Doug Jones better remember what side his bread is buttered on.
Hint: It's the toasted side.
Yvonne Orji: Funny & Fine AF
You know Yvonne Orji as Molly, Issa Rae’s hot mess of a bestie on Insecure—the wingwoman who alternates as her conscience and her co-conspirator. What’s emerging is that Orji is much more than a talented actor: she’s a standup comic with the chops to open on Chris Rock’s Total Blackout tour and a red carpet slaying fashion influencer who rocks finery from the continents of Africa and Europe with ease. Getting here took a decade, and she had two degrees when she started her journey to kill it in Hollywood, but she used the major key of perseverance to kick open the door. Message!
Thembisa S. Mshaka is a business author. Chuck D of Public Enemy calls her book, Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your Entertainment Business, “the definitive industry bible.”