In case you missed it, last month was February. And, once again, the year delivered a February filled with the longing for critters on Groundhog’s Day, relationship goals on Valentine’s Day, and spiritual commitments on Ash Wednesday. But lying underneath the blanket of these – and so many other – eventful holidays, one particular celebration cast a shadow over the entire month: Black History Month. Throughout the years, Black History Month has proven to be an event not solely for the 46 million of Blacks dwelling in the nation, but one that can be recognized and appreciated by many. And this year, with several highs and lows, Black History Month came under heavy criticism with the encouragement of relevant discussions on race issues still prevalent today – and even talks of suggesting that we get rid of the holiday all together (a thoughtful suggestion given by Fox commentator and “Clueless” star, Stacey Dash). This year, we saw that most thoughts, emotions and experiences typically confined within the Black community were spread out, permeating mainstream America in remarkable ways. And, while understandably, no event last month compares to the groundbreaking March on Washington or the Voting Rights Act, people are sure to be talking about Beyonce’s Superbowl performance and #MelaninMonroe for years to come. #GetWoke with some of these highlights:
While controversy over Hollywood’s lack of diversity erupted in January, talk of the Academy Awards selective nominations stretched well into Black History Month. Feeling as though not enough people of color were recognized by the Oscars, notable actors, artists and performers such as Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee came forth, pledging to boycott the awards and urging Hollywood to open more opportunities to people of color onscreen and behind the scenes. The nomination scandal opened up conversations that not only pointed the finger at Hollywood bigwigs, but at the Black entertainment industry itself. For instance, Janet Hubert (the first Aunt Viv from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”) disagreed with her fellow Black thespians, arguing that instead of caring about the Oscars and who they decide to nominate, more Blacks should appreciate and support minority-driven accolades such as the NAACP Image Awards – an event that unfortunately has seen a large decrease in Black participation over the years.
All of the uproar led the Academy to agree that a revamping is in order, planning to double the number of women and minority members by 2020.
And on the night of the extravaganza, all eyes were on Chris Rock, who relentlessly – yet comedically – addressed the uncomfortable racist elephant in room of White starlets throughout the night.
Queen Bey gets into “Formation” and King Kendrick wins Grammy night
From telling the world that she likes her “negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils,” to admitting to carrying hot sauce in her bag, Beyonce reminded everyone that she is no one trick pony or simply an entertainer, but she just so happens to be a proud member of the Black community. But who knew that Beyonce stating the obvious (or rather, not obvious to some) would cause such an uproar?! Considering the references to police brutality, Hurricane Katrina and Black financial power in her “Formation” music video, it is said that Beyonce’s latest is also her most politically charged work to date. And naturally, the White community (not all) took offense to this new conspiracy that Beyonce produced a song that is not relatable to ALL of mankind. But, controversy was overshadowed by praise for the way she captured the essence of the Black experience, culture and life. And this praise for Queen Bey continued when she took to the field during Superbowl’s halftime show with dancers in afros and berets – an apparent nod to the Black Panther Movement from the 60s.
Formation has proven to be a hit musically, but has also hit home on several issues that swarm the Black community and capitalized on racial tensions in America today. Whether you find the lyrics to be offensive, or thought it inappropriate for Beyonce to bring the issue of race to a national stage such as the Superbowl, there is truly nothing wrong in unapologetically showcasing Black pride during a month when Black people should be most prideful of their background.
Less than a week after Beyonce’s “racial coming out,” Kendrick Lamar also reminded the world that he too was Black (wasn’t that obvious?) – or rather reminded the world of the Black experience here in America. Staging a theatrical performance at the 58th Grammy Awards, Kendrick lit up the nationally televised event with an intense performance that evoked the chains of slavery and incarceration and condemned American injustice.
While Kendrick may have lost the biggest award of the night (Album of the Year), he did something far more important and significant by bringing forth his familiar brand of politically-based performance to one of the music industry’s most important celebrations. Kendrick’s performance made a statement, mirroring Black culture. For his fans – particularly the Black community – that is something that will stay with them forever. With artists such as Beyonce and Kendrick unapologetically displaying awareness and pride for their culture – their Blackness – they have exposed injustices, sparked responses to current events and encouraged a new sense of pride in the Black community. Who knew Black entertainers could do so much more than simply entertain?
Jesse Owens and Nat turner biopic
Chronicling the life of Olympic gold medalist track and field star, Jesse Owens, the biopic “Race” hit theaters during Black history month. The film tells of how Owens faced racism at home, in the United States, and when abroad during his monumental career.
While many were eager to support a film on one of the world’s most greatest and historic athletes, lukewarm reviews noted that there is a certain difficulty in portraying the Black American experience of the pre-WWII era, and, because of this, the film fell short.
In similar cases, the story of the Nat Turner rebellion was also put on the big screen. “The Birth of a Nation” proved to be huge hit at the Sundance Film Festival, sparking a bidding war that ended with Fox Searchlight studio paying $17.5 million for rights to the film. It is also important to note that the film is directed, produced and written by Black actor Nate Parker. And Parker just so happens to be playing Mr. Turner himself in the film.
With films such as these, it is a sign that Hollywood is casting a wider net, and more films about Black people will offer a broader view of American history. But the real test will come when the next season of nominations are announced. Will the Oscars be so White again?
By now, anyone logged into some form of social media should have seen the trends #blackgirlmagic, #beingablackgirlislit or #melaninonfleek. These hashtags are often accompanied with a range of photos from Black women (even celebrities) rocking natural hair, smiling Black families or simply a photo of a small child basking in the sunlight. But these trends have become more than just a hashtag on social media or captions for Instagram during Black History Month. Showing cultural appropriation who’s boss, these trends allow Blacks to pridefully deem dope, inspiring or mind-blowing about themselves. More importantly, these trends have illustrated the universal awesomeness of Black women and Black culture all together. In a time where Black women – or Black people in general – are seen as inferior in terms of beauty, intelligence or power, taking part in the hashtag movement proves that Black culture can and has reason to be celebrated.