Black History Happening Now

The following list was compiled by the current editors of the Re/Visionist to provide a glimpse at Black history being made today. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, we hope it will showcase the variety of achievements in Black history’s recent past.

Ava DuVernay: An American filmmaker and film distributor, DuVernay was the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director for Selma (2014). Her 2016 film 13th was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Most recently she created, co-wrote, and directed the critically acclaimed Netflix series When They See Us (2019) which follows the 1989 Central Park five. Lucy Mangan of The Guardian notes that the show “is a dense, fast-moving series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement” [1]

Billy Porter: Porter is the first openly gay Black man to win an Emmy in any lead acting category. He won for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Drama Series for his work on the television series Pose. Acceptance speech. Previously, he originated the role of Lola in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots, winning the Tony for Best Actor.

Indya Moore: Transgender and using non-binary pronouns, Indya is a model and actress who played a role in television series Pose. They are known for trans activism as Time magazine named them in the top 100 most influential people in the world in 2019.

Jeremy O. Harris: At only 30, Harris became the youngest black, queer man to be produced on Broadway with Slave Play in 2019. He recently graduated from Yale’s MFA in Playwriting program. The 17-week run worked actively to make theater more accessible by providing affordable tickets and special programming such as Blackout nights, in which audiences were entirely African-American. Harris and his efforts were recently featured in this Re/Visionist blog post.

Jordan Peele: In 2017, Peele’s horror film Get Out won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and nomination for Best Director. He describes the film as a social thriller, explaining that “one of the best ways to enter the conversation about race is through art. If we can have a shared experience in a movie theatre, it gives us more of a basis for conversation.” [2] Before turning to horror, he was known for co-creating the popular Comedy Central show Key & Peele. His most recent film, Us, was released in 2019.

Jalaiah Harmon: 14-year-old Harmon is responsible for creating the viral Tik Tok “Renegade” dance. Teenage girls’ accomplishments, particularly those of girls of color, are not always highlighted or taken seriously. Thousands of internet users posted their own content using her choreography, including several prominent celebrity renditions. When other teenage creators, particularly white girls, began to get benefits from the dance (notably an invite to perform at an NBA All Stars game) without crediting her, there was a push on various online platforms to give Harmon the credit she deserved. Most recently, she had the opportunity to perform her dance at Chicago’s United Center.

Jocelyn Bioh: A Ghanian-American actor and playwright in New York City, her play School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play was the 2018 winner of several awards: the Lortel Award, a Drama Desk Nomination, Drama League Nomination, and Off Broadway Alliance Nomination to name a few. She is currently a resident playwright at Lincoln Center. Bioh has also been seen on several prominent stages, including Signature Theater, The Public Theater, and with the 2015 Tony Award Winning production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Kenan Thompson: Now in his 17th season on the sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live, Thompson is the longest-tenured cast member in its almost 45 year history. While SNL alums have used the show as a stepping stone to solo endeavors, Thompson says that he isn’t planning on leaving. Looking to the future, Thompson is considering the role of representation in media, noting a lack of black-owned production companies producing comedy. [3] He will both work on and produce his own comedies, a new step in his decades long career. “The Kenan Show,” his newest effort, has been picked up by NBC and will air during the 2020-21 season.

Lena Waithe: A Black, queer woman Lena Waithe is an American screenwriter, producer and actress. Screenwriter and producer of Queen and Slim, released in 2019, the film is breaking ground in “making urgent art about the Black experience.” [4]  Lena Waithe also received an Emmy award in 2017 for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, making her the first Black woman to win the award.

Lil Nas X (Montero Lamar Hill): An openly gay Black musician, Lil Nas X has made history by breaking barriers between music genres of country and rap. His 2019 hit song, “Old Town Road” was remixed with Billy Ray Cyrus and performed at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Lil Nas X’s awards include (but not limited to): BET Awards Best Single of the year (2019), Country Music Association Award for Musical Event of the Year (2019), and Grammy award for Best Pop Duo/ Group Performance (2020).

Lizzo (Melissa Vivian Jefferson): As a Black woman who refuses to be shamed for her body size and weight, Lizzo has been making history as a rap and R&B musician who can play the flute while dancing like nobody else. She won three Grammy awards in 2020 for Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Urban Contemporary Album, and Best Traditional R&B Performance. At the 2019 Video Music Awards she performed “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell,” a piece centering Black women and their empowerment.

Morgan Parker: As a powerful poet, Morgan Parker is a Black woman who won the Pushcart Award in 2017. She centers Black womanhood in her poetry as her 2019 published collection, Magical Negro, “challenges white ideas of Blackness.” [5] She has also published There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce (2017),  Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night (2015), and more.

Saeed Jones: Queer and Black, Saeed Jones is a poet and the author of his memoir, How We Fight For Our Lives (2019). He is breaking ground as a writer who confronts the hardships of growing up and living as a gay Black man in the South.

Virgil Abloh: In 2018 Virgil Abloh made history as the first African American man to be named Louis Vuitton’s Artistic Director. Prior to 2018, Virgil was mostly known in association with the streetwear brand Off-White, which he founded in 2013. Virgil also produced the artwork for Jay-Z and Kanye’s joint album titled “Watch the Throne” which was later nominated for a grammy. 

Endnotes:

[1] Mangan, Lucy. “When They See Us Review – Netflix’s Gut-Wrenching Tale of the Central Park Five.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, May 31, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/may/31/when-they-see-us-review-netflix-ava-duvernay-central-park-five.

[2] Kettler, Sara. “Jordan Peele.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, August 24, 2019. https://www.biography.com/actor/jordan-peele.

[3] Izadi, Elahe. “The Quiet Brilliance of Kenan Thompson, SNL’s Longest-Tenured Cast Member.” The Washington Post. WP Company, August 28, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2019/08/28/quiet-brilliance-kenan-thompson-snls-longest-tenured-cast-member/?arc404=true.

[4] Comedy Central. “Lena Waithe – Making Urgent Art About the Black Experience with ‘Queen & Slim’ – Extended Interview – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Video Clip).” Comedy Central. Accessed February 18, 2020. http://www.cc.com/video-clips/9gyvow/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-lena-waithe—making-urgent-art-about-the-black-experience-with–queen—slim—-extended-interview.

[5] Phillips, Emilia. “In ‘Magical Negro,’ Morgan Parker’s Poems Challenge White Ideas of Blackness.” The New York Times. The New York Times, April 12, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/12/books/review/morgan-parker-magical-negro-poems.html.

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