6 Powerful Onscreen Moments Featuring People of Color That Made Me Proud This Year
Just like any other year, 2018 has had its ups and downs. Although, what qualifies as "down" has become progressively more frightening, and it's not an understatement to say our country is in a serious state of unrest.
As a black woman, it's not easy waking up to devastating headlines about hate crimes that target people who look like me or horrific acts of violence against other marginalized groups. I can't help but think, "That could have been me." Sadly, this has now become the reality that I, along with millions of other people, must face every day. That's why whenever I get to see my identity as a person of color being represented positively on screen, it feels more than refreshing — it feels as if society might actually be slowly shifting under my feet. Despite all of the gut-wrenching tragedies that are plaguing the world, there's still hope for positive change. All you have to do is look at some of the amazing, diverse results from this year's midterm election to see the proof.
Thankfully, 2018 has also had some highlights in terms of seeing representation in the media. The level of excitement I had while standing in line at the premiere of Black Panther was surpassed only by my level of joy after watching the film. And when I saw the predominately Asian cast in Crazy Rich Asians take over the rom-com scene in theaters, my heart felt full. Those are the moments I held onto throughout the year. Those are the moments that gave me hope for a better, more inclusive world. But there's more where that came from, so read on to see which films and shows from this year made me especially proud to be a person of color.
This film set the bar unbelievably high early on this year when it came to onscreen representation. Because of my intersectional identity as a woman of color, I had two responses to seeing this cinematic masterpiece in theaters. The first was to witnessing the beauty of black culture. The movie came right around the time a certain someone made offhanded remarks about African countries that perpetuated a notion of black inferiority. But Black Panther completely flips the script by depicting Wakanda, an African country I would absolutely love to live in, as a beautiful and technologically advanced land that has preserved its richness and balance by remaining hidden in plain sight. Huh, an African nation is secretly far more superior in resources and intellect than the rest of the world because it's untouched by colonial influence — see the irony? The Wakandans living and thriving in their own land, and throwing a bit of shade toward the "primitive" ways of the rest of the world, gave me a sense of pride in my culture that I honestly had never really felt while watching a movie before.
My second reaction was pure admiration for all the amazing women in the film. You have Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), the dedicated activist who won't set aside her own goals and aspirations just to appease her love (and king), T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman). There's Okoye (Danai Gurira), the fearless leader of Wakanda's all-female Dora Milaje special forces, who almost drives a spear right through the love of her life just to protect the kingdom (I mean, COME ON). And then there's my personal favorite, Shuri (Letitia Wright), whose intellect is unmatched in the MCU — not even Bruce Banner and Tony Stark can compare — and who is totally prepared to hit the battlefield when necessary. There's a whole spectrum of black womanhood that's delineated, and there's a part of me that connected with each and every one of those women. Never have I felt so happy to be a black woman than the moment Okoye snatches off her wig during the fight in South Korea, throws it at her attacker, and uses her vibranium spear to throw him over a balcony in one swift movement. Iconic.
Crazy Rich Asians
Unsurprisingly, this year's biggest tear-jerking rom-com, Crazy Rich Asians, pulled at my heartstrings in more ways than one. I'm not the biggest romantic-comedy fan, but somehow the film turned me into a giant puddle of tears not only because of the love story but also because of its nuanced depiction of Asian men and women. The film challenges the stale — and perfunctory — Hollywood portrayal of Asians as geeks, perpetual foreigners, and other stereotypes.
What made me the happiest was seeing the responses of those who have a direct connection with the characters, as I did with those featured in Black Panther, because I know how much it means to see yourself represented on the big screen. For instance, reading things like Chrissy Teigen's account of her young daughter, Luna, getting excited about watching a woman who looks like her grandmother on screen. Or Mindy Kaling expressing how beautiful it is to see a love story unfold in a non-European setting, in gorgeous Singapore. Movies like this matter because it broadens the scope of what romance looks like, which makes room for more narratives and voices that are more reflective of the world. And that empowers people to embrace who they are, something I can definitely get behind.
Any time I watch an episode of Insecure, I laugh myself to tears while thinking, "Someone gets me." Season three is no exception. It marks a major turning point for Issa (Issa Rae) when she decides to take a step back from those around her and work on figuring herself out. As a young black woman in the early stages of my career and coming into my own, I understand the worries and fears Issa is facing in her endeavors to develop her profession while striving to maintain self-confidence and self-love.
Of course, those are issues that everyone deals with. But when you see someone with whom you can identify navigating their way through such problems, it's much easier to put yourself in their shoes and convince yourself that you can overcome anything, just like them. Issa and Molly (Yvonne Orji) have been through some serious mess. But at the end of the day, they carry on like the strong black women they are, and that's what they've inspired me to do.
Nappily Ever After
The process of loving your natural hair is a journey that almost every black girl goes through. I remember hating my natural hair in middle school because I'd get funny stares, and people would tug at my curls and laugh. So when I watched Netflix's film Nappily Ever After, I felt an instant connection to the main character, Violet Jones (Sanaa Lathan). She's constantly chasing after this image of perfection, and unfortunately, she believes her natural curls ruin that image. Instead, she sticks to extensions, weaves, and nightmarish hair relaxers to get a straightened, Euro-centric look that follows society's typical standard of beauty.
But it's not until she begins to embrace her natural self that she finds true happiness and learns self-love. For me, that didn't come until the latter part of my college career, and it's still something I have to work on. There's nothing more restrictive and exhausting than constantly feeling like you have to hide a part of who you naturally are. It's absurd that so many women of color feel as if they'll never be seen as beautiful simply because of their hair texture. But Nappily Ever After reminded me that it doesn't matter what other people have to say. Confidence is beauty, and if that means wearing a wig, braids, or your natural hair, then, honey, rock whatever style you want, as long as it's for your own happiness and self-gratification.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before
I was pretty shocked at how much I loved this movie, considering I'm not really into rom-coms (as I previously mentioned). But I gave it a shot because I wanted to support a movie that starred an Asian-American actress. As you probably know from all the hype and reception, To All the Boys I've Loved Before was a win for Netflix. But more than that, it was a win for the move toward diversifying certain roles, particularly leads in rom-coms. Lana Condor did her thing and showed other young women of color that they, too, are worthy of romance and can snag the Peter Kavinksys of the world if they so choose. And I'm all about that.
Now excuse me while I look for the Peter to my Lara Jean.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
As soon as I saw the preview for this new show on Netflix, I knew that I had to watch it. I'm quick to tell others how important it is for them to try to understand politics through the lens of black women, but I also recognize that I must do the same for other underrepresented groups. That's why I appreciate Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj for providing me with a significant perspective that I otherwise wouldn't be able to process.
At a time when anti-Muslim, hateful rhetoric is so strong and prominent, it's important to give people like Hasan Minhaj, who is an Indian Muslim, a platform to share their narrative and take back control of their identity. It takes strength and guts to do that, so it makes me proud to watch Minhaj educate viewers on American issues through the optics of an Indian Muslim. It's what this country needs.