Are you proud to be black yet?
After the February we’ve had this year, you sure as hell should be.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past 29 days, let me just catch you up on how unapologetically black it was:
First and foremost, Beyoncé dropped the “Formation” video without any warning.
She said it herself: “You know you that bitch when you cause all ‘dis conversation.” And we all know she did. Popular culture has shaped Bey into a musical icon devoid of race for most of her career, meaning that she is Beyoncé, not Beyoncé-the-black-R&B-singer-who’s-really-good. Her talent and her performance ethic has transcended her to a new level of pop culture and a new level of celebrity; we receive Beyoncé differently than any other star of our generation. She has even transcended race.
Then she drops “Formation” and throws all of our preconceived notions of her out the window.
Bey more than accepts her blackness, declaring this in the song for those who doubted her pride, and uses powerful visuals in the music video such as the police car wading in the New Orleans water, Blue Ivy in all of her melanin innocence, and the fan fave: the little boy in the black hoodie dancing in front of a line of white police officers who surrender to him.
“Formation” slayed everyone and made people like me, a person who was keen to simply tolerate Beyoncé, gain legitimate respect for her as a creative force and converted me to true fan status.
Then she performed the song at the Super Bowl the next day…
…and served BLACK PANTHER REALNESS. She and her crew of dancers – all black women – wore black berets and leather jackets to honor the 50 year anniversary of the Black Panther Party. Raised fists and choreography involving an X-formation outraged many (white) people across the nation. “Beyoncé shouldn’t be allowed to spew her pro-black messages on national television!!!” As if pro-black means anti-white.
*cue eye roll*
Y’all can stay mad. In only two days, Bey created a surge of identity affirmation among the black community, with people across all media outlets (especially social) embracing their blackness.
A week and a day later, Kendrick Lamar performs at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Before we even dive into his performance, I must mention that Lamar was the most nominated artist with 11 Grammy noms under his belt. He ended up winning 5/11, and became the rapper with the most nominations in a single night ever. He was definitely the big Grammy winner, and should’ve won Album of the Year. (Shade intended.)
Lamar performed two songs that night, the first being “The Blacker the Berry.” He came out in a prison uniform and shackles, leading a line of black men chained together. The stage was set up as a prison, with his musicians performing behind bars, also in prison uniforms.
Then he performed “Alright,” with tribal dancers and a extremely large bonfire burning in the background. Near the tail end of his performance, violent strobe lights flashed on him sporadically, creating a vision of chaos. It was meant to unsettle. It was meant to provoke thought. It was meant to be raw. Lamar made an extremely powerful statement that night about mass incarceration and the black experience, two concepts the majority of America doesn’t think enough about, and he did this by unapologetically shoving it into the face of the music industry’s elite. His performance ended with this powerful image:
Yup. It happened. At the Oscars, 20 people are nominated by the Academy in four major acting categories; 20 men and women who kicked ass on the silver screen. Of all the outstanding actors and actresses in the outstanding movies we’ve had the privilege of viewing this past year, the Academy believed that not one thespian of color deserved to be nominated. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time racist Hollywood has reared its ugly head (this happened last year, too) and POC are used to not being recognized for their talent. They’re used to it, but that does not mean that it should continue.
And in 2016, the year following one of the most racially tense years America has ever seen (2015, you bastard, I’m talking about you), the subject of race is pushing through and becoming much more prevalent in everyday, societal conversation.
That’s why, when the nominations were released, the hashtag #Oscars SoWhite flooded social media. Black celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee spoke out against the controversy and called for an Oscars boycott (and if you’re wondering, your girl Splendidly, Kait did not watch. Anything worth me seeing will be on YouTube soon enough, just saying).
#OscarsSoWhite faced a lot of backlash, but like Kendrick’s performance, it forced America to think about race, even when they don’t want to. Representation is extremely important, and #OscarsSoWhite, as a movement, speaks to this in itself. Russell Simmons spearheaded the All Def Movie Awards, which aired on Fusion the same night as the Oscars, specifically to honor marginalized members of Hollywood. And get this: it was hosted by Tony Rock, brother of Chris Rock… the host of the Oscars.
Moving on: Birth of a Nation gets a release date.
The Sundance Film Festival was basically the complete opposite of the Oscars, being inclusive and diversity-friendly (in terms of race, gender, and sexuality). The breakout star of this year’s festival was jack-of-all-trades Nate Parker’s film, Birth of a Nation. I promise, it is completely different from the racist 1913 film of the same name, as Parker’s film tells the story of slave rebellion leader Nat Turner. Nate Parker directed it, wrote it, produced it, and starred in it, alongside a very promising ensemble of black actors. Talk about black excellence. Birth of a Nation won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for drama at Sundance, which are the telltale signs of a bonafide blockbuster.
Fox Searchlight bid against Netflix for the rights to the film, and won the auction, buying BOAN for 17.5 MILLION DOLLARS. This is the most any company has ever paid to purchase a film in Sundance history. Fox Searchlight announced in late February that the film will be released on October 7th, 2016. Take that, white Hollywood, we’ll see you at the Oscars next year.
Fellow American Girls, say hi to Melody!
Deep into February, American Girl announced that they would be releasing a new BeForever historical doll in August. Her name is Melody Ellison, and she is a young black girl growing up in Detroit in the 1960s. She aspires to be a Motown singer and embraces all the ideas of social change that are presented by the powerful black voices of the Civil Rights Era. American Girl encourages girls to become educated about these racial issues alongside Melody, and grow with her as she follows her dreams and raises her voice against inequality. I think this is one of the coolest BeForever dolls American Girl has created in terms of character dimension and purpose.
Addy is no longer the only black BeForever doll and Melody is now the fourth WOC in the BeForever doll collection. Again, I must stress, representation is so important! Melody is so important! Addy’s story of escaping slavery is of great significance, but there is more to the black narrative than just slavery. Melody is arriving at the perfect time in our world and I applaud American Girl for this decision.
Finally, the Obamas met an 106-year-old woman named Virginia.
If this doesn’t bring tears to your eyes or a smile to your face, I don’t know what will. She is so honored to be in their presence, the first black president and his black wife, and as Obama’s second term begins to wind down, we all must take a second to truly appreciate the fact that we have witnessed pure history. In our lifetime, we saw the first black President of the United States get elected not once, but TWICE! Virginia McLaurin did not know if she would see it in her lifetime. We need to continue to fight, to push, and to break entire glass buildings, not just their ceilings, so people like Virginia don’t lose hope in the progression of equality. Push so we don’t lose hope in the progression of equality.
Now that you’re caught up:
Don’t you agree? February 2016 was absolutely monumental for the black community. We’ve started 2016 really well as a people and we will continue to thrive. I know it. I feel it.
Black History Month 2016 has catalyzed what I believe is the second wave of the Black is Beautiful Movement that was teased by the Naturalista Movement in the early 2010s.
Mark my words.
Happy Black History Month, y’all. I hope your 29 days have been full of melanin magic.