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The 10 Most Incredible Moments For Black Hollywood In 2015

There was so much to celebrate this year. "Can you feel a brand new day?"

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1. Straight Outta Compton's box office victory

Universal

Perhaps no one said it better than O'Shea Jackson Jr. when accepting an award on behalf of the cast earlier this month at the VH1 Big in 2015 With Entertainment Weekly event.

"We are part of a movie that has the potential to be nominated for an Academy Award," he said after his father, legendary rapper and actor Ice Cube, presented the honor to him. "The most beautiful part about that to me, at least, is we didn't have to have shackles on our feet. Those films are great, those films are powerful, those films need to be seen, but they're not the only ones that need recognition. Straight Outta Compton speaks to triumph."

And triumph they did. The film, which told the origin story of hip-hop icons N.W.A., debuted at No. 1 when it was released in August, earning $60.2 million its opening weekend and making it the fifth-biggest August opening in history and the biggest August debut ever for an R-rated film. It stayed the No. 1 film for two weeks after its release, and so far it has earned more than $200 million. Not bad for a budget just shy of $28 million. —Kelley L. Carter

2. The Apple Music commercial

Apple, a brand that knows it doesn’t need much advertising, tends to keep it simple when it drops a commercial. So when they decided to tap Ava DuVernay to direct an Apple Music commercial starring Taraji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige, and Kerry Washington, we were pleasantly surprised in more ways than one, because there were levels to this greatness.

Three black women who are each killing the game dancing around a living room to their favorite music felt so good to watch that we found ourselves hoping it was something they really do! (No, but really, if Olivia Pope and Cookie Lyon really hang out doing the wop and drinking wine after work, please let us know when and where so we can be there!)

Overall the commercial was simple, it was relatable, it was overflowing with black girl magic, and it was the perfect ad to watch amid all the amazing diverse shows that were on TV this fall. But then again, what else would it be, because Ava. Thanks for knowing who to call, Apple. You got it so damn right. #SQUADGOALS —Sylvia Obell

3. The suicide episode of Being Mary Jane

BET

Mara Brock Akil makes mirrors. If Hollywood is an industry that prefers its black women silent — or better yet, nonexistent — then Akil’s shows are an even-pitched voice of reason. The writer and producer’s portraits of black women onscreen, from Girlfriends to Being Mary Jane, whisper “I see you” to her audiences. On the Oct. 28 episode of Being Mary Jane, harrowingly titled “Sparrow,” viewers see the titular character lose her close friend Lisa to suicide.

Mary Jane Paul, played by Gabrielle Union, delivers a eulogy for her friend and touches on the ways in which she ignored Lisa’s pain. The moment is both jarring and poignant, the second suicide depicted in the show’s three-season run. Lisa, chronically depressed and under-supported, isn’t pathologized or posthumously shamed. Instead, she is mourned and understood in all of her complexities.

In a world where black women’s mental illnesses are brushed under the convenient, dangerous rug of the Strong Black Woman trope, this episode delivered a necessary corrective. —Hannah Giorgis

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4. The Wiz

NBC

It’s safe to say not everyone had heard of the The Wiz, a Tony Award–winning musical based on L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But by the end of NBC’s Dec. 3 broadcast, The Wiz Live! was all anyone could talk about. There had been controversy before the show, people saying that The Wiz Live! was racist since it didn’t include any white cast members (they obviously did not understand the history of the show — or of Hollywood in general). But when we opened on that scene of a Kansas farm and a newcomer named Shanice Williams burst onto the stage, the hate quieted. Here were our stars: Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, Uzo Aduba, Amber Riley — and they were positively slaying it.

For three hours, the racial problems that have been plaguing the U.S. seemed to disappear. For three hours, Twitter seemed captivated by the dynamic performances — the high notes that were always matched, the dance moves that were always on point, and the acting that went above and beyond. For three hours, we were entranced with the presence of so many black men and women onstage at one time. There we were, up on that screen, working together to create a piece of art that a young kid at home could look at and say, “I can do that. I can.” —Sheridan Watson

5. John Boyega and The Force Awakens

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for all of 2015, you’re aware that a new Star Wars movie came out this year. One of the greatest movie franchises ever has been reborn with a mix of familiar characters we’ve all grown to love teaming up with fresh new faces. One of the newest faces, John Boyega, has caused a bit of controversy among Star Wars fans. The Nigerian-born actor was cast as the character Finn. He first appeared in a teaser trailer as literally the first character we saw, stranded on a desert planet wearing a Stormtrooper uniform. Apparently this image caused a chain reaction of butthurt across the racist depths of the Star Wars nation, as no one could understand how a Stormtrooper could possibly be a black man. How could a fictional character, in a fictional galaxy, that takes place in a fictional timeline, be black?

Boyega got the last laugh: Not only has his performance in the film been universally praised, but he also provided Star Wars fans with the perfect clapback in October when the full trailer was released. He filmed himself with his Nigerian father watching the trailer, and the world got to watch him go completely crazy, jumping up and down in excitement and at one point literally throwing himself over the couch. Sorry, haters, he's here to stay. —Adam Butler

6. Jamal Lyon and Empire

FOX

It’s hard to remember that it was just this year that Cookie, Lucious, and the rest of Empire's cast of diverse characters entered our living rooms and hearts. The hit Fox show burst onto the scene earlier this year about as fiercely as Cookie burst out of jail, and network TV hasn’t been the same since. Whether we’re marveling at how fine the Lyon brothers are, gasping at Cookie’s outfits, shaking our heads at Lucious’s evil schemes, or jamming along to all of the show’s original music (the Season 1 soundtrack debuted at No. 1 on Billboard), Lee Daniels continues to keep us entertained.

While a lot of Empire's storylines may be a bit soap opera–esque, one that proved to be compelling was Jamal’s quest for acceptance as a gay man from both the music industry and his homophobic father. While outlandish at moments (who will ever forget that trash can scene?!), at its core the relationship between Jamal and Lucious shined a lens on a struggle a lot of black families have to go through in a way never before seen on network TV. So when Season 2 revealed a new female love interest for Jamal, it was the kiss heard around the world (or at least Twitter) because huh? But when you think about it, maybe the kiss wasn’t so random — maybe Daniels is on a journey to show primetime audiences just how fluid sexuality can be. —S.O.

7. Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood

VH1

So much about reality TV is not real at all. Yet we still consume it and play along like we're actually seeing something authentic as we tweet about it and engage with one another IRL about what happened on TV the night before. But VH1 and the Love & Hip Hop producers gave us something real — finally. In the second season of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood, they went to a place rarely visited before: homophobia in hip-hop. We saw the love story (in all its pain and glory) of Miles Brock and Milan Christopher play out, as Miles prepared to come out to his female high school sweetheart, family, and fellow rappers. It was a chance to finally have a keep-it-real conversation about the genre's struggles to produce a mainstream out rapper, and whether or not such a person could achieve the level of success on par with music's biggest stars.

The jury is still out on whether or not that will happen, but to see two black men give definition to what black-on-black love can look like in the gay community was inspiring. And — deep sighs of relief — real. —K.L.C.

8. Viola Davis and the Emmys

Getty

She was handed her award, but before she spoke, a loud breath was emitted. In that moment, Viola Davis realized exactly what she had done. Another breath, and another. Then she opened her mouth.

“In my mind, I see a line, and over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there nohow. I can’t seem to get over that line.” It’s a quote by Harriet Tubman, and Davis knew that those words would still ring true today. She was, after all, the first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for the ABC hit How to Get Away With Murder. This wasn’t just an acceptance speech; it was a call to arms, a rallying cry for all black women fighting to see an image of themselves in the thousands of projects Hollywood develops each year. There was a shot of Kerry Washington crying and shaking her head with a smile while Taraji P. Henson clapped wildly in religious approval. They knew what this meant — we all knew what it meant. It was Davis defending the black woman’s right to exist. —S.W.

9. The Babyface tribute at the Soul Train Awards

Getty

Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds has written everything but the Bible, so it was no surprise to anyone when the Soul Train Awards decided to honor the icon with the Legend Soul Train Award for 2015. But what we didn’t see coming was the performance he had in store for us to celebrate the occasion. The experience was like an R&B amusement park; each performer took us on a musical ride better than the last.

From old favorites like Tevin Campbell and Boyz II Men reminding us why the '90s were the golden age of R&B, to Brandy and Fantasia singing hits from the greatest soundtrack ever made (Waiting to Exhale), to the writer-producer himself singing some of his own greatest hits, the whole thing let black folks all across America (and Twitter) collectively get their entire lives. —S.O.

10. Papa Pope's epic speech on Scandal

ABC

Whenever Papa Pope steps back into Olivia’s delicately framed picture on Scandal, there’s never any telling what kind of dangerous hijinks will ensue. But in Episode 8 (“Rasputin”) of a somewhat lackluster season, Eli returns to do the unthinkable: admit he is afraid. He confesses to Olivia that he fears his life is truly under threat — the first admission of its kind for the otherwise stalwart senior Pope. As he ends his monologue, his voice softens to calm the perplexed Olivia with a gut-wrenching sentence: “I take tremendous pride in who you have become.”

Their relationship has never been simple or free of antagonism, but this moment called into sharp focus the quiet reality that even the most sociopathic, terroristic of wolves can feel fear. To see Papa Pope, the show’s murderous czar, share this side of himself with his daughter was monumental. It was in many ways the first showing of Eli’s vulnerability, a side of his character — and indeed, his blackness — that viewers had never witnessed. —H.G.

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