Black artists, actors and storytellers are often overlooked in our discussions of pop culture. A study published in September found that two in three Black Americans don't see themselves represented in film and television. Meanwhile, executives in the music industry are overwhelmingly white — yet profit largely off of the work of Black artists.
In honor of Black History Month, here are some of the Editorial Board’s favorite Black creators in TV, music and film.
Aditi Kharod, Editorial Board member: Lakeith Stanfield
Recently I found out that LaKeith Stanfield is only 29 YEARS OLD, which is amazing considering the immense body of the work he’s already done! My favorite performance of his is in the knockout "Sorry to Bother You," but I also loved his supporting performances in "Get Out" and "Knives Out." Catch him in "Judas and the Black Messiah" on HBO Max until March 15.
Rajee Ganesan, assistant opinion editor: Jorja Smith
R&B is definitely a genre that has developed immensely over the last several years, especially with women like H.E.R. and SZA leading the way. Jorja Smith is a fantastic songwriter and vocalist that joins this group and is proudly featured on many of my playlists.
Not only does she release top-tier collaborations with other artists, her solo work — including her debut album, "Lost & Found" — deserves immense credit for shaping the music genre today.
Caitlyn Yaede, Editorial Board member: Samira Wiley
Best known for her roles in "Orange is the New Black" and "The Handmaid’s Tale," Samira Wiley is an amazingly talented actress. Beyond the screen, she advocates on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community and campaigns alongside GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign. Her work with the Theatre of War projects is also notable, as these plays provide commentary on prevalent social issues, like racial injustice and police brutality.
From her work on television to her advocacy, Samira Wiley is an inspiration.
Layla Peykamian, Editorial Board member: Zendaya
Zendaya has undeniably been an icon since her youth. Since her breakout role in Disney’s "Shake It Up," I’ve been committed to her work and have been excited to see her career flourish.
Most recently, the world seems to have taken note of her phenomenal job starring in the show "Euphoria," which has been rightfully acclaimed by critics and consumers alike. Watching the show I was reminded of the depth and range of Zendaya’s acting abilities in particular.
Being able to phenomenally execute the roles of lighthearted characters such as MJ in "Spider-Man: Homecoming," tackling the physical athleticism and vocal requirements of her role in "The Greatest Showman" and evoking the raw emotion required of playing her character Rue on "Euphoria" is no small feat. Furthermore, her bold fashion sense fully inspires my Instagram content and my closet. The Met Gala wouldn’t be complete without her.
Ultimately, she’s a triple threat I can’t help but be inspired by.
Ben Rappaport, Editorial Board member: Lizzo
In an institution that is a breeding ground for imposter syndrome, Lizzo has reminded me of the power that I hold within myself. And, more importantly, to love myself. Lizzo’s constant challenge of the status quo as a proudly Black woman reminds me that it’s sexy to be confident in who you are.
Also, the woman just exudes radiance. Seriously, watch her Tiny Desk Concert and tell me you aren’t impressed with the breath control. The jazz flute. It’s raw talent. Her self-made journey to the top makes her an iconic figure in the current pop culture scene. She came from poverty and lived out of her car, but that never held back her powerful voice.
Lizzo represents not only Black women, but curvy women. Her promotion of body positivity through her public lifestyle and lyricism is important in today’s conversation because people of color often get left out of the body positivity movement. Lizzo is a role model and a reminder that we could all use a little more self-love.
Callie Xu, Editorial Board member: Chloe x Halle
From their early start in music to their prominent acting roles in Freeform’s "grown-ish," Chloe x Halle have been making waves in the entertainment industry. Beyoncé herself recognized their talent and signed them to her entertainment label upon seeing their cover of "Pretty Hurts."
These two sisters intimately understand each other on a mental and emotional leveI, and it really shows in the music they produce. They are not afraid to expose the vulnerabilities and insecurities they feel through their music, which reminds us to accept ourselves despite our flaws. I implore you to give their most recent studio album "Ungodly Hour" a listen! My personal favorite is undoubtedly "Wonder What She Thinks of Me."
Paige Masten, opinion editor: Janelle Monáe
Is there anything Janelle Monáe can’t do? From the masterpiece that was “Dirty Computer” to stunning performances in “Antebellum” and “Moonlight,” Monáe contains multitudes.
Monáe is an example of someone who uses their platform for good, whether it’s spearheading voter mobilization efforts or challenging the gender binary as a Black queer feminist. Monáe shows me what it’s like to live life authentically and unapologetically — “Dirty Computer” is, fundamentally, an ode to self-love and sexual liberation, to being “different” and owning it.
Janelle Monáe deserves all our attention. I love her. I love her so much.
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