top 5 moments of 2016 – staff picks

December 21, 2016

2016 has been a debilitating year in so many ways but as I struggle to find comfort and guidance, what has given me hope, has been the GREAT year of art and culture across the board that I have been able to witness. From seeing the Nova Twins, Skinny Girl Diet and Big Joanie carry the punk rock torch at AFROPUNK London, to a fuller range of images, characters and storytelling on screens big and small. With the debut of Issa Raye’s – Insecure, W Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America, Moonlight, 13th, and Atlanta, to the release of A Seat at the Table and Donald Glover’s/Childish Gambino’s transformation into a funk demi-God as my friend Nelson George describes him, ALL of this amazing art challenged the landscape for me.

I am lucky enough to have been born and raised in New York and in the center of what was once the theater capital of the word. I’ve had the privilege of meeting brilliant creative women from Lorain Hansberry to Ntozake Shange when I was a little girl. I know the power of the word and a song, and I fell in love with musicals early in my life. This year was a GREAT year for diversity both on and off broadway, and these are my top 5:

Jocelyn Cooper, Partner – AFROPUNK
‘Eclipsed’ A play about women fighting to survive during the Libyan civil war. This play is the first Broadway production to have an all female cast, director, producer and playwright of color. I celebrate Director (Liesl Tommy), producer (Alia Jones-Harvey) and the cast featuring Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah and Saycon Sengbloh for telling our stories.

Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From the Field
Investigates our justice system. A system that pushes people of color from poor communities out of the classroom and into incarceration is one the most powerful works I have ever seen on a stage. Drawn from interviews with more than 250 people living and working within a challenged system.

Street Children
A saucy play about transgender youth living on the streets of New York in the 1980s by Pia Scala-Zankel.

Can I Get a Witness
A multidisciplinary work inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time conceived by Meshell Ndegeocello, Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite, featuring Toshi Reagon, Paul J. Thompson, Staceyann Chin and Justin Hicks with an installation by Abigail DeVille.

Party People
A musical about the complicated legacies of the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords. Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy.

Although we have a way to go, the voices outside of “HIT” musicals that feature people of color like The Color Purple, The Lion King, Kinky Boots and of course Hamilton cut through. I wish more of our community valued and supported this art form.

Manushka Magloire, AFROPUNK Director of Community Affairs
Doling out much needed directives to the oblivious, entitled white folk among us to refrain from touching our damn hair and proud affirmations that our shit is precisely just for us…the niggaz in the whole wide world! Take several seats, madame…sir… #blackgirlmagicgameproperandstrong

The dull, sickening ache in the deepest recesses of my soul shan’t go away for at minimum – 1,460 days…the sentence the world must suffer at the hands of Satan incarnate’s presidency. Likely longer, given the Axis of Terror he’s building with Cabinet & advisor appointments. The reverberations and disgusting stain that this man’s presidency will leave on the legacy of the world – shamefully terrifying.

Donald Glover quietly sauntered in and blessed us all with some potent a$$ magical fairy dust gems of sheer, unparalleled brilliance. If his FX offering by way of the perfectly timed gargantuan comic genius that is ATLANTA doesn’t garner and win ALLLL of the awards…the system is rigged, the media is rigged, the televisions…the plugs…the damn electricity….ALLLLL RIGGED I TELL YOU! And DO NOT get me started on this Awaken, My Love!. If you’re going to borrow, channel, pay homage and what not to the funky ass gawds of lore, then do it superbly, exponentially so just to make people question….well E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G (Errrmm…Bruno, ya might want to take note…and several seats while you’re at it) The VR video footage for “Me & Your Mama” that just dropped….KILLING THE GAME. Thank you for your contributions to humankind and attempting to salvage the trash year that was 2016! #iGAG #iDie #justtocomebackagain

NO DAMN DAPL – #allpowertothepeople #theend **footnote: sincerely praying that the continued drilling will actually cease and THE MAN won’t continue it’s disgusting disregard for human life and the rights of the people of this “great” land. While we’re here, like can the fines go up to 100x more? Make it less of a shoulder shrug for evil, capitalist entities to proceed with biz as usual? Also, I’m still over here making all sorts of ceremonial offerings to Yemanja (ALL the Orishas tbh) in hopes that Trump will keel over before entering the WH and all talks of him reversing decisions will die #bigpun #ijs

Piotr Orlov, AFROPUNK Contributor
The Deaths of David Bowie, Phife Dawg, Prince and David Mancuso
Yes, people passing away is a natural part of life, but something about how celebrity death came at us in 2016 felt extraordinary; there were so many of them, and more than a few of the individuals who died were truly historic figures. David Bowie released a wonderful album on a Friday, and passed on a Monday, like a final performance in a life lived as a work of art. Everyone knew Phife Dawg was sick, but he still seemed to go suddenly and too soon, taking the last innocent part of hip-hop’s childhood with him. Prince, the genius, was opening himself up as never before (writing an autobiography, performing intimate “piano and microphone” shows); and despite being famous for a drug-/alcohol-free life, died of an overdose. That was shocking (and still reverberates)! And David Mancuso, the original creator of dance-party safe spaces, succumbed to the great disco in the sky just when his commitment to freedom and diversity was most called-for in America. It will be hard not to think of 2016 as the year one kind of hope was extinguished.

Beyonce’s “Formation” weekend
The Saturday “Formation” dropped, I watched the video and listened to the song over a dozen times, picking up and out the details and lyrics while also reveling in how Beyonce was basking in her own cultural power, ready to utilize the platform of the following day’s Super Bowl performance to make a political statement. That early Sunday evening, her artistic greatness, the breadth of the message, the pregnancy and expectation of the moment—these all came together. When Bey and her dancers took to the field at halftime, my five year-old daughter who’d been excited to hear “Uptown Funk,” stopped and said “WHOAH,” unable to take her eyes off the screen for the remainder of the performance. It was total impact.

The Week of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille and Dallas
My family and I were deep out of our Brooklyn element—in the Florida panhandle, on a big family reunion—when the videos started pouring in. It speaks of the unseemly regularity with which unfiltered images of murdered black men in America have been released since 2014 that the scene of Alton Sterling’s execution in Baton Rouge had a horrible inevitability. Yet the following day’s murder of Philando Castille outside St. Paul, and the streaming of its immediate aftermath on Facebook Live by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, felt like the opening of another chapter in both the police’s disdain of black America and the media archivism of this contempt, where seeing, knowing and feeling were no longer united. The following night we were in a car, returning from a restaurant when my wife started reading reports of shootings taking place at an activist protest in Dallas, and another kind of numbness set in.

The closing of Fabric in London
With the September closing of the iconic Central London dance-club, the global war on nightlife felt like it escalated into another dimension. The given reason for the revocation of the club’s operating license was safety (two 18 year-olds had OD’d there over the summer); yet Fabric had been crepeatedly deemed one of the safest nightlife establishments in the world, its self-policing strategy praised by law enforcement, and leading to over 80 arrests of on-premise drug-dealers over the year (which, in turn, led to only a single prosecution by the Metropolitan Police). No, this felt like another gentrification battle in the global real-estate war that has only one winner; and if a fiscally successful cultural institution can’t stay fight back, what chance do the rest of us have? (In late November, a miracle occurred: the club’s operating license was restored, under strict conditions.)

It is an inversion that, for those of us who lived through 9/11, marks the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. The whole election was an interminable, soul-sucking process; that it ended with the worst result imaginable, opens each of us individually, the entire country and the whole planet to possibilities that we could never have imagined before. So, count your blessings, hold on to your values, arm yourself with ideas, and start imagining then aspiring towards a better future. But know that it won’t happen overnight. Climate change and all, this winter is going to be a long one.