Representation Renaissance

Nora Miller, Entertainment Columnist

As we are now in the midst of Black History Month, the impact black artists have made on the entertainment industry is apparent, most notably in the past year. In 2018, black performers have pushed the envelope that has traditionally contained a single, stereotypical narrative of what it means to be black in America. Artists have shared an assorted collection of courageous stories through the performing arts.

If we look back to a time when it was taboo to say that black culture had the slightest impact on American culture, we can begin to conceptualize why having a wide scope of influential black artists, musicians, entertainers and performers is so prominent today. Take for example that in 1956 it was unheard of when Nat King Cole hosted a national television show because of his race, and now, Alicia Keys will be one of many black Americans to host the Grammy Awards. It is evident the industry has made progress to represent, destigmatize and include black artists. To delve more into the performing arts as a whole, we must zoom into music, film and television separately. Focusing on these sections clearly presents the strides made to break the mold of a binary stereotype and has transferred the individuality every single black artist brings to the table – one that has been historically overlooked.

To begin, consider the flurry of noise in the past year made by black musicians like Cardi B, Halsey and Travis Scott – all on the top of Billboard’s Top 100. Acknowledge rapper Kendrick Lamar receiving the Pulitzer Prize for his album DAMN in April of 2018. Take note of actor, director and musician Donald Glover, with the stage name Childish Gambino, questioning society with “This is America.” Listen to rapper Buddy sharing his tale growing up in Los Angeles in his album Harlan & Alondra.

Furthermore, artists such as Janelle Monee, Kehlani, Noname and Jhene Aiko have also intersected their identities of race and gender to create a variety of music to empower black women in America.

These are all rich exemplars of content that has not censored to please but is created with unapologetic candor. Ultimately, there is a greater acceptance of the sharing of neglected stories has grown in the music industry.

In the film industry, steps toward representation in entertainment have been made from original trailblazers such as Sidney Poitier’s Oscar win in 1964, the first black person to win at the awards.

Although the discourse in Hollywood is often a topic of discussion, the breakthrough of black directors, writers and actors gaining recognition are more than inspiring. It was only in 1992 when the first African-American, John Singleton, was recognized for Boyz N the Hood, and even more recently in 2009 when Precious, the first film by now renowned black filmmaker Lee Daniels, won the best picture award against The Blind Side and Django Unchained.

For the upcoming award season, films such as If Beale Street Could Talk, Green Book, Black Panther, Blackklansman, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse all illustrate and celebrate black actors, writers and performers.

Personally, the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was extremely notable because it was the first time a superhero has been explicitly Afro-Latina, which is an identity I carry, and one of the numerous underrepresented identities in the media today.

Lastly, Americans have welcomed entertainment created by and representing black Americans on a weekly basis through television. Looking back at shows like “The Cosby Show”, “Family Matters”, and “The Jeffersons”, all comedy shows about black American families, the pattern of an idealistic black family has been broken by current television creators. Take shows like Issa Rae’s show “Insecure” or Donald Glover’s masterpiece of a show, “Atlanta”, which centers on relationships rather than a conventional family. Even shows which do center a family, like the show “Blackish”, to create a more nuanced story about family.

Speaking from my experience, there is weight when I can see myself as a character I can relate to, instead of the character power has decided to portray my identities as. Although the month of February is designated as the month to celebrate black history, we should be celebrating black artists and performers every day and should be recognizing the great strides in representation.