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The 19 Most Incredible Moments For Black Hollywood In 2016

Our picks for the best in black entertainment this year.

No matter how you slice it, the best moments from this year were created by black people. In the midst of the craziness that was 2016 were great albums, shows, movies, books, and plays that carried us through — further proving the notion that we always win, even when we're hurting. Here, Cocoa Butter takes a look back at some of our favorites:

1. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

Chancelor Bennett

We all should honestly write Lil Chano From 79th thank-you letters for shining a rainbow on the bleak, gray year that was 2016. From turn-up tracks featuring Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, and Lil Yachty ("No Problems," "Mixtape"), to soulful musings about growing up black in Chicago ("Summer Friends," "Same Drugs"), to celebrating family and God ("Blessings," "How Great"), Coloring Book quickly became the soundtrack to our joy.

The only thing that made Chance's success sweeter was the fact that he attained it without compromising himself, his commitment to being an independent artist, or his faith. Also, the magnificent series of live performances he gave fans all year at music festivals, concert venues, and on TV — stepping into the light each and every time with the city of Chicago on his back and the spirit of God shining through every track, so much so you couldn't help but praise with him no matter your beliefs. —Sylvia Obell

2. Moonlight


Moonlight, based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, is without a doubt the year’s best film. Directed by Barry Jenkins, it tells the story of a gay black boy in three parts, each corresponding with the name he is called at that stage in his life: Little, Chiron, and Black. Alex Hibbert is awe-inspiring as Little, Ashton Sanders is heartbreaking as Chiron, and Trevante Rhodes devastating as Black. Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae are each warm and supportive as Juan and Teresa. The cast is remarkable, but the film’s cinematography both soothes and discomforts: Its shades of blue wash over you as gently as Chiron’s story. Moonlight is a movie worth watching as many times as one possibly can, and thankfully critics and audiences alike have taken note. —Hannah Giorgis

3. Lemonade by Beyoncé

Parkwood / Columbia

So much digital ink has been spilled on Lemonade in 2016 that it almost feels redundant to try to drive the point home again. But here we are: We thought Beyoncé rebooted her own career to Beyoncé 2.0 in 2013 with her self-titled album, but she did it again in 2016 bigger and better. Maybe it’s Beyoncé 3.0 — or maybe it’s Beyoncé graduating from the scale all together and taking us along for the ride.

Lemonade was all sorts of things: fully realized, breathtakingly gorgeous, baldly political, emotionally complex, and her most mature work to date. To underestimate Beyoncé proved a foolish proposition in 2016, and that manifested most potently with Lemonade. With her second visual album, Beyoncé reminded us that she no longer has peers; at this point she’s only competing with and besting herself, climbing a ladder she’s building as she goes. No one can come close to catching her, and no one knows how far she’ll climb. —Alanna Bennett

4. O.J.: Made in America


Movie, TV miniseries, documentary — ultimately the categorizations don’t matter because O.J.: Made in America, the sprawling, comprehensive nonfiction account of O.J. Simpson’s spectacular rise and homicidal fall transcends all those genres. Over the course of seven hours (carve out a weekend), director Ezra Edelman paints a vivid portrait of America and its systemic, pervasive failings. Context, as we seem to be unlearning, is everything — and Edelman, with the archival clips, interviews with childhood friends, and explanations of events that happened before O.J. was even born, brings that all to bear here. This was simply the best thing I saw on any screen this year. —Tomi Obaro

5. Donald Glover's Atlanta


I am nowhere near the first to say that Atlanta is the best new show of the year. It did not just change black TV — it changed TV all together. Even though it is on a network owned by Rupert Murdoch, it still has an indie, DIY sensibility to it in that it is a project where Donald Glover gathered a few of his friends and decided to create a sitcom together. All these friends happened to be black, which has likely never happened on television before, but it will hopefully inspire more networks to invest in black art. Glover said he wanted to make Twin Peaks with rappers and then captured that vibe. Viewers never knew what they were going to get next — from a black Justin Bieber to a fake cereal commercial depicting police brutality to a whole episode from the point of view of Glover’s character’s ex. It is a surreal show (again, invisible cars, students in whiteface, etc.) that still feels like the most authentic depiction of young black men and women currently on television. —Marcus Jones

6. A Seat at the Table by Solange


We can debate back and forth all day long about who won 2016, but like, c'mon, guys. It was OBVIOUSLY Solange. The singer-songwriter released her third studio album, A Seat at the Table, which soared to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. This kind of commercial success ordinarily means very little, as the politics that go into the promotion and sale of music is no real secret. But Solange, never one to play games, didn't follow the often rigid formula required for Billboard success. She made a body of work for US, faintly singing, sometimes inaudibly at first hear, over minimal production and instrumentation. "All my niggas in the whole wide world," she beautifully sings on “F.U.B.U.,” "made this song to make it all y'all's turn." Solange didn’t dilute her words to make them more palatable for white listeners. Every word sung — whether “Don’t touch my hair” or “Now I don’t want to bite the hand that’ll show me the other side, but I didn’t want to build the land that has fed you your whole life” — was intentional. ASATT will forever be a healing balm as we push through each day in our blackness; as we still have to show up for work and perform, pretending like the video of Philando Castile, and those of others, aren't replaying in our minds and shaking our bodies to the very core. —Essence Gant

7. Issa Rae's Insecure


I used to watch HBO's Girls, even tough I couldn't relate, because I craved a sitcom about twentysomething women that badly. Now, thanks to Issa Rae breathing new life to her Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl YouTube series on a shiny new platform in the form of Insecure, I am full. This fall, every Sunday, for eight weeks, the Insecure writers room gave black millennials hilariously relatable depictions of our lives, flaws and all, with a dope-ass soundtrack. We saw so much of ourselves in Issa, Lawrence, and Molly that they became our friends. We rooted for them (Hey #TeamIssa and #TeamLawrence), yelled at them (Molly girl, we need you to get it together), laughed with them (#BrokenPussy), and even lusted after them (#HeyDaniel), as we watched them try to navigate the same micro-aggressions at work, shady friendships, and thirst traps that we do every day. The experience permeated black Twitter in a way I haven't seen a scripted show do in a very long time. Give Issa all the Golden Globes, thanks. —S.O.

8. Cynthia Erivo as Celie in The Color Purple


Yes, technically this revival opened in December of last year. But most of us lucky enough to see this production saw it in 2016, which means it’s fair game! (And the Tonys agree!) The Shug Averys came and went, and Danielle Brooks was no slouch as Sofia, but this revival wholly belonged to Nigerian-English talent Cynthia Erivo, who broke hearts every night with that powerful, but (crucially) controlled voice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this cast performance of the title song (starts at 1:35). It’s just pure magic. —T.O.

9. "Needed Me" by Rihanna

Roc Nation / Westbury Road

Rihanna is redefining elegance. She is a master of casual yet radiating power, and with “Needed Me” — a single off her eighth studio album, Anti — she harnessed that. There was no better song this year to listen to while walking down the street with steely eye, feeling fly AF with an air of abandon. If Anti secured Rihanna even further as the badass icon of the carefree black girl, “Needed Me” was its crown jewel.

Just look at the music video: Rihanna leaning against windows in a floor-length translucent blue robe, pearls around her neck, holding a gun. And whether you interpret the lyrics as a fuckgirl’s anthem or a message of anticolonialism — or, hey, why not both? — it’s clear we need Rih more than she needs any of us. After all, didn’t she tell us that she was a savage? —A.B.

10. Fences

Paramount Pictures / Via

August Wilson would not sign off on a film adaptation of any of his plays unless a black director was attached. Wilson unfortunately passed before he was able to see that come to fruition, but we finally have a Fences adaptation that doubles as an awards vehicle for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Washington directs the film with profound respect for Wilson’s original text, even bringing along mostly the stage actors who worked with him on the recent Broadway revival. The movie completely revolves around Washington’s character, who basks in attention, but it is Davis and her snot-cry moment that truly bring on the waterworks. —M.J.

11. Awaken, My Love! by Childish Gambino

Glassnote Records

Awaken, My Love! is exactly what I didn’t know I needed to close out 2016. It gave me a great soundtrack to put on and zone out to, which I will need to do a lot in the coming years. The album is truly the perfect love letter to funk, an homage to all the amazing music that came out of the '70s, like Sly and the Family Stone, P-Funk, and Bootsy Collins. It also gave me confusing feels, because after listening to "Terrified" I'm now actively lusting for Donald Glover, which I did not see coming. —Tracy Clayton

12. Queen Sugar


Queen Sugar, which airs on Oprah’s OWN network and is produced by Ava DuVernay, follows the Bordelon family first introduced in Natalie Baszile’s novel of the same name. The three bereaved children convene in New Orleans to make sense of their new lives and land left to them by their late father.

With depictions of Black Lives Matter protests and campaign-strategizing hewn throughout, Queen Sugar both condemns the effects of the criminal justice system and makes evident the only glimmers of hope to be found in fighting its harm: The people most affected by it are the ones best poised to dismantle it, and their support networks are invaluable. Countless shows have tried to tackle the criminal justice system, but Queen Sugar reminds us we are all we got. DuVernay may be handing the second season off to showrunner Monica Macer, but the arcs she’s established have built the foundation of a powerful show. From a roster filled with female directors to character development that intimately explores impersonal systems, she’s created a blueprint for television that can transform the world it reflects. —H.G.

13. National Museum of African American History and Culture

Doug Remley / Smithsonian

This museum has become the Hamilton of DC — in that the demand for tickets has been so high that they are sold out months in advance and have a timestamp on them noting the exact time visitors are allowed to enter. The NMAAHC is a Smithsonian, though, so tickets are free and it is worth the wait. The bottom three floors take visitors through the entire African-American history starting in the 1400s. The museum is so far underground because the actual plot of land the museum lies on is less than half the size of the National Air and Space Museum, but the symbolism of the slavery floor being at the bottom does not go unnoticed. The next of the history floors focus on the Civil War to civil rights and then Black Power to the Obama administration (a happier note to end on). There is a reflection room at the history section’s exit that is much needed after seeing just how many thousands upon thousands of us died just to achieve the small amount of progress we have reached today. The sports, culture, and interactive floors are also a lovely bonus (the Parliament-Funkadelic spaceship being a personal highlight), and the restaurant inside the museum has really good potato salad. —M.J.

14. Blackish's “Nothing but Nepotism” episode

@elainewelteroth / Via

When Elaine Welteroth was appointed Teen Vogue's editor-in-chief, she made history as the youngest EIC of a major publication. The fact that she’s also a black woman just made the feat all the more magical! Now she can add actress to her receipts after an appearance playing herself (because she’s a boss and shit) on the best sitcom on TV, Blackish. In Episode 9, “Nothing but Nepotism,” high school senior Zooey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) gets an internship at Teen Vogue, thanks to the connects of her big-shot dad, Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson). Her boss, THE Ms. Welteroth, impressed with her work ethic and a killer idea to re-create Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover, calls her “a star” and quickly promotes her. This episode was especially litty because 1) duh, it’s always magic when black girls link up, 2) there’s a hair moment in which Zooey rocks the HELL out of a jumbo braid adorned with actual safety pins, and 3) black girls are portrayed as real authorities in beauty and fashion, not tokens rolling a clothing rack in the background. Not “fiery” friends with one or two sharp-tongued lines. Real authorities, calling the shots in an industry that historically, and currently, makes it quite difficult for women of color to enter and thrive. For every little black girl who saw this episode and aspires to one day spearhead an editorial campaign, or simply fall in love with their melanin and be fierce AF, the representation in this episode made their dreams all the more real. —E.G.

15. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Knopf/Michael Lionstar

Yaa Gyasi's debut novel, Homegoing, is the kind of book that stays with you long after you finish it. The story starts in Africa and masterfully follows the bloodline of one family, split in half when one sister gets kidnapped into slavery while the other manages to stay in Africa. Each chapter chronicles a new generation of the family from both sides, following our history all the way to modern times, eloquently stripping away what divides those of us here with those of us there, while also exposing what has been stolen from us all — our history, our legacies, and our families. The characters may be fiction, but they are also you and me. —S.O.

16. Mastry by Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall

Look closely at this Chicago painter’s more recent portraits and you can see two gray bursts on each side of the foreheads of Marshall’s elegant, charcoal-black renderings of black folk. They look like tiny suns, connected by a ribbon, and they’re not present in Marshall’s earlier works. That’s part of the thrill of his retrospective, Mastry, which debuted in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art in April before moving to the Met Breuer in New York in October. You get to see how his work has evolved over time. In the course of a 20-year career, Marshall has depicted black life with great care and love — from the beauty shop and public housing projects to an eerie portrait of a young Fred Hampton sleeping in his bed with his girlfriend, before the Chicago police would assassinate him. So much black history is there, joyful, painful, resonant, and banal. —T.O.

17. The emergence of black art on social media


It’s been a big year in the world of black art. Impressive works by talented black artists captured the attention of celebrities like Issa Rae and Solange Knowles. Contributions by this growing group of artists could be seen on TV shows, featured in magazines, and projected on the big screen.

Black art flourished on social media, allowing artists like Kashmir Thompson, Krissi Scribbles, and Ravey Rai to reach a mass audience in a fresh new way. They’ve used their platforms to showcase sketches, drawings, and paintings, as well as connect with art lovers worldwide.

On HBO’s Insecure, Issa Rae wore one of Kashmir’s acrylic-paint T-shirts. Artist Krissi Scribbles gained a whole new audience when viral sensation Joanne the Scammer shared Krissi’s colorful illustrations with her 1.8 million followers. Ravey Rai counts Solange Knowles among her admirers. Rai featured the singer in a whimsical drawing which she tweeted to her 2.6 million followers.

With greater opportunities to connect to the public, artists can create opportunities for themselves. They can craft their masterpieces free from restrictions, telling their stories unapologetically. Inspired by their fellow artists, we expect a new crop of talented artists to emerge in 2017. —Chantal Follins

18. Shuffle Along

Julieta Cervantes

This year, a Broadway musical about one of the most important pieces of black theater with an almost entirely black cast and a black writer-director got rave reviews, sold out audiences, and yet still just kind of came and went. There were plans to replace the lead, Audra McDonald, while she went on maternity leave, but producer Scott Rudin pulled the plug, saying she was irreplaceable and that the show could not make money without her (likely untrue — the stellar tap dancing alone should be enough of a sell). This is somewhat of a travesty that reflects the story of the show and how Shuffle Along has disappeared from Broadway history even though it launched the careers of people like Josephine Baker and Florence Mills. Please seek out whatever information available about both the original and musical versions of Shuffle Along, because their impact as a part of Broadway history deserves way more recognition than they got. —M.J.

19. Brandy’s Lady of Soul Award and performance

Leon Bennett / BET / Getty

To be a Brandy fan is like belonging to an exclusive club. Membership requires what choir directors in black church call a “good ear,” as the details of her raspy but pure voice are incredibly intricate: effortless and precise riffs, and layers in even the stillest of notes. In less than a minute, Brandy Norwood can do more with her voice than many of her peers can do in a full song. Hell, a full album. It’s this gift — because it’s much deeper than a talent — that, in the words of super producer Rodney Jerkins, “revolutionized the sound of R&B” and anointed her The Vocal Bible by loyal fans and fellow artists. So when BET awarded her Soul Train Lady of Soul Award, the honor was long overdue.

Before accepting her award, Brandy performed a medley of hits from her fire-ass catalog. Every note pitch-perfect, every run fluid and effortless. At one point during “Baby,” her eyes welled up as she tried to keep from crying, which she’d later do in her acceptance speech. This 20-plus-year journey has been a long one for Brandy. She successfully navigated into film, TV, and music, had her own Barbie, and landed a CoverGirl campaign in the '90s, representing an often overlooked face of black-girl beauty for girls with melanin-rich skin and braids. She also publicly endured many setbacks (a fake marriage and a fatal car crash) that would affect her picture-perfect image and ultimately her career. Brandy’s lived out her highs and lows before the world, and still selflessly gave us records that would be a soundtrack to our own lives and influence so many other artists, like Ariana Grande, Sam Smith, and Rihanna. This performance and award was so special because too often we wait until the greats are no longer here before we honor them. With Brandy, though, we got it right and gave her her flowers while she’s still around to smell them! —E.G.

Didn't see your favorite on the list? Let us know your picks in the comments!