The Black Cultural Forces Who Are Making Their Mark in 2020

There is no denying that Blackness influences culture on a global scale, whether it’s through the worlds of beauty, style, and even social media. And in recent years especially, it’s become customary for Black artists—from the realms of fashion, music, and beyond—to take their most intimate and formative life experiences and turn them into socially stimulating art. This common process is how select artists have shaped themselves not just as creators, but also as bona fide international influencers.

As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s imperative to understand that Black art and excellence should be celebrated far before the start of February and way beyond its conclusion. The Black artists who are flourishing today are a current collection of talent set to inspire for years to come.

Below are the designers, musicians, and creators who should absolutely be on your radar through 2020 and beyond.

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— Film

Melina Matsoukas

 

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Lagos.

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If anyone has helped define the aesthetic that’s surrounded the cultural reinventions of today’s most boundary-pushing artists, that credit goes to Melina Matsoukas. The Grammy Award–winning director has helped visualize iconic music videos such as Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Solange’s “Losing You,” and—her most riveting work to date—Beyoncé’s “Formation.” And she just celebrated her feature film directorial debut with 2019’s Queen & Slim. Queen Bey honored her friend and frequent collaborator at the American Film Institute’s gala last year, crediting the director’s determination in highlighting the voices and work of creators of color as an essential component to her vision and success. “Her drive, vision, taste level, and storytelling is boldly unapologetic,” Beyoncé said, adding that Matsoukas creates visual stories that are “thought-provoking, dramatic, funny, and real.”

Dee Rees

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After an awards season that all but snubbed women directors and directors of color, paying tribute to these filmmakers feels long overdue. Dee Rees’s name is absolutely worth mentioning, considering her meaningful releases like 2011’s Pariah, a coming-of-age story about a young Black lesbian woman, and 2017’s Oscar-nominated Mudbound, a drama unfolding around two families in Mississippi after World War II. This year, she delivered The Last Thing He Wanted (now streaming on Netflix), a mystery that stars Hollywood heavyweights Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, and Willem Dafoe.

Chinonye Chukwu

Chinonye Chukwu made history last year as the first Black woman to take home the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Her winning work was Clemency, a psychological drama centered on death row executions, which she wrote and directed. Of making the protagonist a Black woman (portrayed by Alfre Woodard), Chukwu told NPR, “I did not think twice about it. I tend to write in my likeness, and I just was, like, why not? It just seemed to make all the sense in the world.” This year, she’s directing the first two episodes of HBO Max’s upcoming series adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, which was written and run by Danai Gurira and stars Lupita Nyong’o.

Janicza Bravo

Festival favorite Janicza Bravo made waves at this year’s Sundance with Zola. A dark comedy based on a 2015 viral Twitter thread about one woman’s wild, Floridian entanglement with exotic dancers and hustlers, it’s a stripper epic for the Internet age. Bravo adapted the tweets with Slave Play playwright Jeremy O. Harris, and tapped Taylour Paige and Riley Keough to star. Also an actor and costume designer, Bravo’s credits include the 2017 film Lemon, the 2019 horror flick Greener Grass, and an episode of the Apple TV+ series Little America.

Jodie Turner-Smith

 

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Black Margot Tenenbaum. ?by the legend @EliasTahan #EliasTahan

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Jodie Turner-Smith is slowly but surely making herself a household name in Hollywood. Her beginnings, like most, were humble: She had a four-episode run on HBO’s True Blood, played a major character on the last two seasons of TNT’s sci-fi series The Last Ship, and starred in Nightflyers, a lesser-known show based on a George R. R. Martin novella. Finally, her claim to fame came in the form of the Lena Waithe–scribed thriller Queen & Slim, with Turner-Smith playing the titular Queen opposite Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya’s Slim. The role earned her immediate acclaim. “I’m interested in telling stories about the vulnerability of black women, because often we’re portrayed as just sexual objects,” she told CR Fashion Book last November. “I always want to be able to tell a fuller story of what does this person hope for, what does this person fear, what drives this person to grow into someone different?”

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