BHM 2016, A Look Back: Entertainment

As if destined to be a gust of second-wind in the sails of America’s Black Lives Matter Movement, the month of February 2016 has overflown with extraordinary moments and achievements for members of our community. From entertainers giving voice to radical and affirmative causes to the celebration of exemplary work and dedication, this past Black History Month has been nothing short of invigorating. No matter the industry or particular circumstances, each feature highlighted has fostered an arena for excellence and social impact. In many instances, the bar has been set higher and farther than ever dreamt of.

Here are a few bits of Black history we’ve been fortunate enough to witness—after all, 2016 is a leap year!

Beyoncé’s Formation

On the day after Trayvon Martin’s birthday and a day before Sandra Bland’s, Beyoncé took 1035x1035-image003-640x640over the web again with the video release of her newest single “Formation” – a personal yet relative black power + self-love anthem. The video and song are both audaciously political and skirt the line of conveying just the right amounts of varying elements. References to Messy Mya and New Orleans along with the Southern bounce and culture of the track give a direct sense of identity to its audience. Throw in the issues of police brutality and capitalism and a lot of people began to take notice.

And then, in the 50th year since the inception of the Black Panther Party, Super Bowl 50 gets SLAYed by Beyonce [and the brilliant, Bruno Mars].

During the biggest half-time show of America’s favorite pastime, Beyonce rallied the BeyHive to “get in formation.” The BPP-inspired stylings and her overall performance demanded people wake up and pay attention to the things happening today--especially women, who are strong and capable of empowering ourselves and each other from within. With the lyrics and video fresh on our minds, her all women-of-color dance troupe effectively drove the message of Black love and power into 111.9 million homes and stole the show.

Queen Bey (re)embraced her blackness and reminded anyone that might have forgotten where she comes from that she never has and never will. She celebrated her history and her baby’s afro—and America erupted.

Kendrick Takes the Grammy’s

Kendrick Lamar is known for the conceptually powerful content he creates as a means to present all too common ugly realities of Black communities to mainstream audiences; lyrically, and by way of various cultural and historical mash-ups, he tends to leave us in awe every chance he gets. This year at the Grammy’s was no exception.

Kendrick LamarDespite taking home five of eleven nominations, his political and aesthetically wowing performance is what everyone was left marveling over. He, for the second year in a row, managed to display the internal struggles caused by societal issues and injustices. Kendrick touched on the need for prison reform, police brutality, and overall Black pride.

Every wardrobe and set detail spoke to a certain aspect of African American culture as well as different African rituals and design accents. Male dancers dressed as members of a “chain gang” and band members played in prison cells during his rendition of “Blacker the Berry”. He cleverly paid homage to slave rebellion leader, Nat Turner, by incorporating the dates of his revolt as the inmates’ prison numbers. An on-stage bonfire was set ablaze while women in beautiful tribal paint and ceremonious dances accompanied Lamar’s performance of “Alright”—the Grammy-winning song about hope and peacefully becoming better as a people.

Kendrick closed with the debut of a brand new song that made mention of Trayvon Martin and “Hiiipower”. If the lyrics didn’t relay the message of unity and Black pride, then surely the closing image of the continent of Africa donning the word “COMPTON” spoke volumes.

Spotify Salutes Black History

The influence Black artistry and vocalization has had on entertainment industries across the globe runs as deep and wide as the many layers of history and culture that are embedded in the works of countless greats. For the month of February, Spotify paid respects to Black artists and figures that have impacted the world through their crafts and, by their passions, changed the world.

Spotify’s effort to highlight the influence of artists of color to the world was two fold:

In one project, Black History Salute, major industry and world contributors were featured each day. From musical legends like Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, and Nina Simone to more contemporary artists like Kendrick Lamar, J. Dilla, and Nas a wide range of genres and generations were represented. Some days also focused on socially impactful groups of individuals such as Black poets and writers and orators, Jazz musicians, and Black comedians. Every day was a quick reminder of the magnificence which our people derive from.

A second initiative presented four music icons—Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross, and James Brown—and their influence on our favorite bands and musicians in the industry today. Based on content research and past interviews, an app was developed to display the paths of influence and inspiration the featured artists had on any artist you selected. Unique playlists and navigable lists were also generated in order to help users connect the dots.

Race: A Tribute to Jesse Owens

The second feature film biopic about James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens, debuted in theaters nation-wide just a couple of weeks ago. Directed by Jamaica-born Stephen Hopkins, Race focuses on Owen’s journey as an African-American collegiate track runner to the 1936 Olympic games hosted by Berlin, Germany.

Owens saw running as a means to receive an education and work towards something that benefit his family. While attending Ohio State University, he broke three world records and tied in another in a 45-minute stretch that changed the sport forever. From there it was on to the world stage and more records.

Owens publically overcame great adversity on a global scale by taking part of the Berlin games and securing four gold medals. He became an international representative for all persecuted minorities (Black, Jewish and otherwise). He single handedly dispelled Hitler’s assertion of Aryan racial supremacy and proved the elite athletes of Germany to be inferior. Hitler’s hopes to promote Nazi strength and dominance were allegedly so threatened by Jesse’s performance that he refused to greet any winners after the first day of the track and field championship races.

Owens endured segregation throughout his life and career. Sleeping and eating in separate hotels and restaurants than his college teammates was the norm and, remarkably enough, didn’t change when he returned home from the Berlin games as the winningest competitor in Olympic history. Not only was he made to use the freight elevator when he arrived at his own celebratory ceremony but President Franklin D. Roosevelt never invited him to the White House to acknowledge his achievements.

Another notable fact about Jesse Owens and the 1936 Berlin games is that he became the first male African American athlete to be sponsored by a shoe company; Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas, persuaded Owens to compete in his newest athletic shoe.

And so we can add the beginning of shoe endorsements to our list of Thank You’s owed to the late, great pioneer in sports.

Through writing, New York native, Bri.L, has produced a creative voice that speaks for the sake of her mind and heart. Her poetry is a raw reflection of the world’s culture - telling stories that embody life, consciousness, acceptance and more – from unpredictable perspectives. At an early age, putting pen to paper became a way for her to heal, to evoke, to love and she’s been left to write ever since. For more on how she tells it, visit | IG: @Bri_Bossy