We’re well into 2016, but let’s hit pause for a second and take a look at the year that was. At the end of 2015, everyone was ready to kick the year in the pants and prepare for hopefully a better, happier, brighter future in 2016. And in truth, 2015 was chock full of sadness, death, destruction, justice deferred, and Donald Trump. But 2015 also had its share of great things, including a lot of programming that showcased diversity. Let’s take a look at five of the biggest moments from 2015.
Biggest diverse movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: J.J. Abrams had the magic touch when it came to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and not only did he make a fantastic Star Wars sequel/reboot, he finally introduced diversity to the galaxy far, far away. Of course, saying “finally introduced” sounds like I’m stealing George Lucas’ contributions of a “diverse” Star Wars and transferring them to Abrams, but having Lando Calrissian and that one Asian X-Wing pilot wasn’t enough then and it’s definitely not enough now. Abrams diversified Star Wars in two ways.
First, we’ve got the main three, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron(Oscar Isaac). A young woman, a black man, and a Latino man helming the leading roles of a sci-fi movie. When was the last time you heard of this in a genre film (or any film in recent memory)? Second, you have populations that actually do reflect everyday life (aside from extraterrestrials). Take for instance the Resistance base. You have Law and Order: UK’s Harriet Walter as Dr. Kalonia, patching up Chewbacca. You have Lost’s Ken Leung playing Admiral Statura, who strategizes directly with General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). You have people of all races and backgrounds working together to take down Starkiller Base. Let’s also not forget the band of Asian ne’er-do-wells who had a score to settle with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) before we even get to the Resistance base and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who looked cool and intimidating in her chrome stormtrooper armor. Also, even though we don’t see their real faces on screen, the fact that Lupita Nyong’o and Andy Serkis (who is a person of color) were a part of the main cast rounds out what has truly been one of the most diverse sci-fi films ever (at least to me).
I was definitely heartened as I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater. Knowing that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story also has a racially diverse cast and a focus on gender equality, as well as the rumors that Gina Rodriguez, Tatiana Maslany and Gugu Mbatha-Raw have been screen-testing for Episode 8, make me extremely excited for Star Wars’ future.
Biggest Fandom Couple: Stormpilot: Who would have guessed that the most popular pairing from Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t Finn and Rey, but Finn and Poe, otherwise known as “Stormpilot”? Everyone has been writing about this fandom pairing, from E! Online, Buzzfeed, Vanity Fair, Hypable, and many, many others, and there are many reasons as to why fans have latched onto the pairing, to the point of believing it has to be true in order for their lives to have meaning. First, there’s the fact that it would be a gay love story. Tumblr has its many, many flaws, one of which being fetishizing gay men in particular, but one point Tumblr does have is that there hasn’t been LGBT representation in sci-fi films, much less big blockbuster films in general. Second, it’d be an non-white interracial relationship, something that also hasn’t been showcased in films, whether it’s between two men, two women, or a woman and a man.
The amount of press the pairing has received has made me, at least, wonder if Disney and Rian Johnson (who seems pretty alternative, judging from his Tumblr and Twitter) won’t try some something, for better or worse, with those two characters (at best, it would be a history-making love story in the world’s biggest franchise, and at worst, it’d be what’s called “queer-baiting,” i.e. misleading folks towards a certain LGBT conclusion without any intention of actually making good on that promise).
In any event, Disney has two things it needs to chew on. First, the ball is squarely in their court to bring some representation to the table in the form of a gay character. Most people who reading the tea leaves of the past rightly assume Disney’s not going to rewrite the trajectories of these characters just to make them in love. Because of that, most are banking on the next best thing — having Poe revealed to be an out gay character. Second, Disney can’t say Stormpilot’s all in the fandom’s heads: In an upcoming interview with Short List, interviewer Chris Mandle asked John Boyega about Stormpilot, to which he replied that while Stormpilot was never the plan for the film, “Oscar [Isaac] wishes it was, though, it’s all in his head.” It would seem that Isaac would be right at home with the fandom and probably wouldn’t mind bringing the representation people are clamoring for. Let’s bookmark this conversation and see what happens in 2017, when Episode 8 hits theaters.
Biggest breakout stars: Rami Malek, Priyanka Chopra, Yasmine Al Massri, Daniel Wu, John Boyega: 2015 was the year of the POC TV star. Of course, there were still standout shows like Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, Sleepy Hollow and Scandal, but a leaf was put in the table for television newcomers Rami Malek, Priyanka Chopra, Yasmine Al Massri and Daniel Wu.
The actors, who headline Mr. Robot, Quantico, and Into the Badlands respectively, have created some of the most buzz-worthy moments of television while killing the notion that people of color don’t bring audiences in droves (all shows, especially Mr. Robot, which recently scored big at the Golden Globes, have excelled in the ratings.) All of them made history in their own rights, too. Rami Malek, of Egyptian heritage, defies Hollywood’s expectations of an Arab-American actor by playing a character like Elliot, who is nuanced anti-hero fraught with psychological distress and characterized independent of race (in fact, Elliot’s race and culture is a mystery, since they are never brought up in the series). Daniel Wu’s leading role in Into the Badlands proves that an Asian man can headline a drama (or, to accurately describe Into the Badlands, a genre action-drama) and not just be the hero, but be a sexy leading man as well. Priyanka Chopra became the first South Asian woman to helm an American drama and Al Massri, whose character Nimah (and her twin) wears a hijab, provides a very needed figure in American pop culture, what with the amount of Islamophobia that needs to be countered in this country.
On the film side of things, there were several big movies featuring people of color, such as Creed, Chi-raq, Jurassic World, and others, but out of all of the films, possibly the biggest breakout star was John Boyega as Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Boyega’s turn as the courageous ex-stormtrooper added more cracks to the glass ceiling that has held people of color in sci-fi and fantasy films back, while shattering expectations for black leading men in genre films, which usually includes some level of exoticizing, fetishizing, racializing, and the occasional line full of unrealistic “black” slang. Finn is just “some dude,” and being just “some dude” is revolutionary.
Biggest Meta Move: Black Hermione: A racebent Hermione Granger has been one of the biggest topics of Tumblr in the past year, and finally, that wish to see a POC Hermione came true when Noma Dumezweni was cast as an adult Hermione in the official Harry Potter sequel, stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The importance of a non-white Hermione resides in the description of Hermione herself, which is simply that she’s a girl with bushy hair (and huge teeth). The fact that any girl could have bushy hair means that any girl or woman could play Hermione, and calls into question the reasons (existent or not) as to why Hermione (and nearly all of the characters, to be honest) weren’t cast more multiculturally. Also important: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, Emma Watson (the original Hermione) and Matthew Lewis (aka Neville Longbottom) gave their unwavering support while addressing how the description of Hermione doesn’t denote race at all.
Biggest TV Events: Tut and The Wiz: Tut and The Wiz were great moments in TV special history. Both showcased actors of color in a profound way. First, with Tut, there was actually a non-white actor (Twisted’s Avan Jogia) playing a non-white historical figure. Why is such a mundane fact revolutionary? Because Jogia was portraying Tutankhamun, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, and, as you’ve seen throughout film history and recent films like Exodus: Gods and Kings, ancient Egyptians are usually whitewashed. The fact that ancient Egyptians were at least brown in this miniseries is a win, if not a potentially shallow one, since they aren’t actually Egyptian. But progress it remains.
The Wiz was just spectacular. So much talent on one stage was mind blowing; when else can we have the likes of Ne-Yo, David Alan Grier, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Elijah Kelley, Amber Riley, Stephanie Mills, Uzo Aduba, Common, newcomer Shanice Williams, Cirque du Soleil performers and a myriad of amazing dancers all in one place? So many black actors showcasing their skills was an affirming experience. Also amazing? That fantastic Emerald City ballroom scene. It was probably the first time the ballroom scene had been showcased in such a public way on mainstream television, and seeing dancers like Dashaun Wesley, Danielle Polanco and Carlos Irizarry get their shine made me very proud. The LGBT representation continued with Queen Latifah’s Wiz, which was, for all intents and purposes, a drag king. Overall, The Wiz Live! was a representation extravaganza. And who knew Grier could sing?
Biggest Marvel Moment: The introduction of the MCU Black Panther: The BGN readers know how long it’s taken to get a Black Panther film promised to us by Marvel. It’s taking even longer to get a Black Widow film promised. But despite the fight for a Black Widow film still being waged, fans were finally appeased on the Black Panther front when the trailer for Captain America: Civil War gave us our first glimpse of Chadwick Boseman as the Wakandan royal hero. In short, Black Panther looks amazing.
The glimpse of Black Panther is only a tease for his upcoming Ryan Coogler-directed film, which will put Wakanda front-and-center and have a mostly-black cast. The film won’t be out until 2018, but I’m sure people are already getting their money ready to see the film at least three times.
What were your favorite moments from 2015? Sound off below!
Monique Jones is an entertainment blogger/journalist. She’s written for Entertainment Weekly, Black Girl Nerds, Racialicious, and many others. She runs JUST ADD COLOR (originally called COLOR) and has introduced a new online magazine, COLOR BLOCK Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @moniqueblognet and the official Twitter for JUST ADD COLOR and COLORBLOCK Magazine,@COLORwebmag.