Film and television are rapidly changing mediums. Where race, and specifically black womanhood, is concerned, there is a growing consciousness of how we converse about and portray it in these mediums. Enter a new cadre of rising black female stars who are everywhere in film and television. Each of these women is absolutely amazing, but what’s even better? They’re vocal about their blackness, loving of their blackness and are in Trump’s America.
Shahidi is an unstoppable force in television. As Zoey on Black-ish, Shahidi has carved out a niche on primetime television for young black women to gather around. With talk of a Black-ish spinoff that would focus on Zoey’s collegiate experiences in Trump’s America, Shahidi has a unique opportunity to transcend, being more than just a pretty face or typecast actor and really home in on the various issues directly affecting young black women today.
Rae is definitely a major force for change when it comes to empowering, reshaping and better understanding what it means to be a black woman in television and in the real world. Insecure has put Rae on the map as as a multi-hyphenate powerhouse. The show has returned a voice and identity to black women that we rarely get to see on TV. The Insecure Issa is a woman who pushes back against definitions thrust upon her by white peers and is often caught in a range of moral and ethical issues that transcend the limits of stereotypes. Rae will not only continue to do great things, but she’ll continue to do great things for black women on TV.
Stenberg caught our eye in The Hunger Games, but she is no one-hit wonder. Stenberg has been vocal about her politics, not only chatting about feminism with Gloria Steinem, but continuing to speak out against President Trump on her Instagram. Additionally, Stenberg is in full support of the black female community, regularly supporting the Art Hoe Collective, an artistic community dedicated to lifting up the work of women of color, free from stereotypes or specific labels.
Even better, Stenberg chooses her roles wisely these days — she doesn’t let race guide her hand but rather lets it act as the doorway to finding roles that change the conversation around black womanhood. Case in point: She will soon be seen in Where Hands Touch, which tells the story of a mixed-race German Jewish woman caught up in the Holocaust while falling in love with a young Nazi.
I mean, how can you not love Monáe. 2016 was all about Monáe moving from music into film, and let me tell you, the transition was seamless. Monáe chose her film roles well and ended the year being in two of the most critically praised and well-received films of 2016, Hidden Figures and Moonlight. Not that she had to prove anything, but Monáe certainly made audiences sit up and take notice. Her quiet determination, her resilience and her incredible intellect — all of which are readily apparent in her musical career — flowed seamlessly out of her soul into Hidden Figures and Moonlight. Monáe has yet to announce her next project, but there’s no doubt that whatever she chooses, she’ll yet again change the game regarding how we watch black women in film.
Beetz had a somewhat thankless role on FX’s breakout hit Atlanta. That’s not to say that Atlanta is not an amazing show, nor is it to say that Beetz is the worst part about the show. No, instead, as the only lead woman on a show by, about and arguably for black men, Beetz was holding her own and breaking through some big stereotypes about black women on TV. As Van, Earn Marks’ ex-girlfriend and mother to a baby girl with Earn, Beetz had to shoulder the weight of not being reduced to a shrill, nagging baby mama or the stereotypical gold-digging lady in the life of a man in the music industry. Van was never reduced and Beetz never let Van stay down. Beetz will continue to bash down barriers on Atlanta, and Van will, hopefully, continue to shine a character who is so not interested in playing out some tired tropes.
Lane stunned us with her quiet, poetic power in American Honey. The indie film that went all the way to Cannes left an indelible mark on audiences, serving as an ode to the blue-collar zeitgeist happening in Middle America. Lane, discovered by chance and promptly thrust into the spotlight, has renegotiated how we perceive mixed-raced women. In an attempt to dispel definitions of how she should look as a mixed-race woman, Lane gave an ode to her locs for Teen Vogue. She seeks to make her racial background a fact rather than a curiosity, which can only be a benefit when it comes to choosing roles and steering her way through Hollywood.
On Insecure, Issa’s BFF Molly was a bit of a mess. She was a career woman dead set on finding true love, but often ended up sabotaging her potential relationships with her overzealousness. Molly’s truth was brought to the small screen thanks to the passionate skill of Orji. Orji is a true fresh face in the world of film and television (Insecure is her second credit on IMDb) but there is no doubt that her nuanced work on Insecure, which details the inherently fraught nature of being a black woman on the dating scene, will catapult her to amazing roles.
Kravitz has been in our consciousness for some time (being the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet will do that), but her star has risen exponentially over the last few years. After catching our eye in the Divergent film franchise, Kravitz is tackling TV with the limited HBO series Big Little Lies. While Kravitz has taken roles that include conversations around blackness or black life in America — think Dope — Kravitz told i-D magazine in 2016 that she doesn’t actively take roles revolving around her race. In doing so, Kravitz could make blackness as universal as whiteness has been portrayed on TV, further making room for more black women on screen.
Lindsay is not an actor, but she will soon be a dominant and famous face in the cultural zeitgeist. As the first black Bachelorette, Lindsay will be breaking down barriers on one of the most popular reality TV shows in America by simply starring in it. Furthermore, she’ll be reshaping America’s possible misconceptions about the kind of love black women can receive and the kind of love they deserve returning some agency to black women when it comes to choosing their own life partners. Go, girl!
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