Entertainment has never been simply an outlet of escapism for African-Americans. It serves as a window to our creativity, our ability to use the backdrop of doubt and evil as a way to inspire millions. The year 2015 was one of the most tumultuous periods for Black Americans in quite some time, with multiple unjust shooting deaths and vigorous protesting. However, like always, we find ways to rise within catastrophic circumstances.
Films like Straight Outta Compton and Creed revitalized the underdog story, and television shows like Empire and How to Get Away With Murder showed the nuanced, complex nature of Black characters beyond tired typecasting. Today, EBONY.com celebrates 10 standout moments in entertainment in 2015.
1. John Legend and Common Win Oscars for Best Original Song
The 2014 film Selma was a powerful, poignant glimpse into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s courageous, dangerous feat of gaining a voting rights bill for Black Americans. It was going to take captivating words and equally captivating voices to create a song that epitomized the spirit and hope of that film. John Legend and Common achieved just that with “Glory,” earning them each an Academy Award. The two musicians made the most of their moment, speaking of mass incarceration and the enduring tradition of protest in the country during their acceptance speeches.
2. D’Angelo Returns to TV via Saturday Night Live
After 14 years of false starts, silence and speculation, Grammy-winning R&B superstar D’Angelo released his extremely long awaited third album, Black Messiah, in late December 2014. While he’d been touring for a nearly two years prior to the release, it wasn’t until the singer/songwriter appeared on Saturday Night Live this past March that it became apparent he was back for good. He and his band The Vanguard dutifully used the comedy institution as a platform for social change and love. They performed the political anthem “The Charade” and the album’s standout, “Really Love,” which is up for Record of the Year Grammy this February.
3. Misty Copeland Becomes First Black Principle Dancer in American Ballet Theater
Considered a prodigy, Copeland joined the prestigious American Ballet Theater in 2000. Her grace, dexterity and emotive ability in several productions (including Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake) led to her being named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in April. In June, she became the first Black dancer ever to be named principle dancer for the theater company. Her ascent and story was captured by filmmaker Nelson George for the acclaimed documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale.
4. Floyd Mayweather Finishes Career Undefeated
The embattled Welterweight Champion of the World, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr., capped his illustrious boxing career blemish free: 49-0. His penultimate bout with former champ Manny Pacquaio in May was one of the most anticipated fights in history, with Mayweather taking home the victory as well as over $400 million! After dispatching Andre Berto in September, he hung up his gloves for good, tying Rocky Marciano’s seemingly unattainable record, and cementing his stature as a legend of the sweet science.
5. The Weeknd dominates Billboard
The Canadian singer/songwriter built a large following with ominous tales of sex, drugs and melancholy. This year has been a true breakthrough for the reclusive vocalist. In July, “Can’t Feel My Face,” “The Hills” and “Earned It (50 Shades of Gray)” held the top three spots on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Charts, a first in the chart’s history. Later that summer, he became the first male artist since 2008 to replace himself atop the Hot 100 when “The Hills” bumped “Can’t Feel My Face.” After the August release of his album Beauty Behind the Madness, 12 of the albums 14 tracks reached the R&B/Hip-Hop Chart simultaneously, which is second only to The Beatles and Drake!
6. The Wiz Live Receives High Ratings and Lights Up Twitter
When NBC announced The Wiz as its third live musical telecast, anticipation was high. With a star-studded line-up (including Ne-Yo as the Tin Man, Queen Latifah as the Wiz and Mary J. Blige as Evilene) doing new renditions of Broadway classics “Ease On Down the Road” and “Home,” The Wiz Live didn’t disappoint. The program drew 11.5 million viewers, a coup for the network. Moreover, it was arguably the social media TV event of the year. According to Variety, over 1.6 million people tweeted about The Wiz Live, nearly three times as much as NBC’s 2014 live musical Peter Pan.
7. Viola Davis Wins Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in Drama
Viewers of ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder were instantly smitten by two-time Oscar-nominee Viola Davis’s portrayal of the cunning, manipulative lead, defense attorney Annalise Keating. In September, she became the first Black woman ever to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. During her speech, she poignantly evoked the spirit of Harriet Tubman to address the struggle of progress for Black women on TV: “The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
8. Serena Williams Earns Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year
Ms. Williams seems to be doing the impossible: beating father time! At age 34, when most tennis greats have retired, Serena is better than ever, and everyone. She won three of the four major tournaments and was ranked number one for the second straight year and fifth overall time. Her dominance led her to become the first women to be named solo Sportsperson of the Year in Sports Illustrated since 1983.
9. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly garners 11 Grammy nods
In 2012, the Compton MC’s major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, proved to be an antidote to the trap-inspired hip-hop that dominated the charts. Its follow-up, To Pimp a Butterfly, dropped in March, and was even more challenging, complex and satisfying. Lamar rhymed about depression, religion, politics and more over old school G-funk, jazz and soul. Songs like “i,” “The Blacker the Berry” and especially “Alright” became battle cries for the Black Lives Matter movement. This February, he is up for 11 Grammy nominations (more than any other artist), including Album of the Year.
10. John Boyega and Lupita Nyong’o Star in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The hype for the now billion-dollar behemoth that is Star Wars: The Force Awakens began 13 months ago when the world’s first image of the teaser trailer was of a brown-skinned stormtrooper. That turned out to be British actor John Boyega, who scored the starring role as Finn in the latest installment of the space opera. In addition, Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o was also an integral part of the cast, portraying Maz Kanata via CGI motion capture. Each actor brought humor, heroism and wisdom to the film, helping it make box office history along the way.
Matthew Allen is a Brooklyn-based broadcast professional and music journalist whose work can be found in The Village Voice, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. Follow Allen on Twitter @headphoneaddict, and visit his music blog, The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict.