These Black women were saving graces of the 2010s by sharing their culturally-impactful art, gifts, and passions with us.
The 2010s were a long and strenuous decade. Longer than most of us wanted it to be. And it was a decade particularly marred by economic turmoil, stark changes in political parties, ideologies, and consciousness; the deaths of many of our cultural icons; leaps and bounds where [entertainment] technology is concerned, and much-needed reminders that racism and bigotry in America never “die,” but simply evolve. Truly, on the surface, the 2010s look like one giant L. However, one of the saving graces of the 2010s have been the cultural gifts and changes shared with us by some of the brightest minds, specifically from women, and even more specifically from Black women. And since, outlets like Billboard and The New Yorker would have you believe that apparently, Black women did not exist in the 2010s and seemingly had nothing to contribute to the decade, Wear Your Voice decided bring you our own list:
1. Shonda Rhimes
Writing and producing phenom Shonda Rhimes already showed before the turn of the 2010s that effortless diversity was possible with Grey’s Anatomy (2005). But Rhimes took the industry to task with the creation of Scandal (2012), casting Kerry Washington as the lead. At that time, it made Washington the first Black woman to lead a TV show on prime-time television since 1974, spawned all sorts of copycats after its success, and even helped Rhimes score her own “night” of programming. In addition to this, many would argue that Scandal and its loyal fan-base pioneered the social media sensation known as “live-tweeting”—which brought the whole base together and skyrocketed Scandal into the highest stratosphere where TV is concerned. Later, Rhimes would go on to cast Viola Davis as the lead of How to Get Away With Murder (2014), making yet another Black woman lead (one of the few dark-skinned leads at that) and making the show one of the few to present a multifaceted Black bisexual character. There’s so much more to say about Rhimes, but let us just say that her efforts to give us dramatic, yet inclusive television changed the entire medium and how we consume it.
2. The Mothers of the Movement
Sybrina Fulton. Lezley McSpadden. Lucy McBath. Geneva Reed-Veal. These are only some women of the group we call “The Mothers of the Movement.” But they are the most visible and who I think about when I think about how social consciousness morphed in the 2010s. When we lost Trayvon to murderer George Zimmerman in 2012, and the latter was acquitted for it 2013, there was something that started to boil underneath this country, particularly where Black youth were concerned. And when the same thing happened with Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, that thing exploded and suddenly many of us couldn’t check out from the inequities of this country anymore. Places like Baltimore and Ferguson became battlegrounds for modern civil rights. Black Lives Matter was born. Social media giant Twitter accelerated and boosted these movements. And suddenly, mothers like Fulton and McSpadden reluctantly found themselves at the forefront of such movements, telling us there would be no peace without justice. They and many others, deserve the world.
Beyoncé is hard to sum up. Talk less in a simple paragraph. But what I can say about her, particularly in the 2010s, is that she toppled all sorts of conventions and expectations where Black female musicians were concerned. Rewinding back to 2013, the legendary songstress surprise-dropped her self-titled album—like a thief in the middle of the night—and had music pundits, journalists, and even fans in a tizzy for months after that. Her surprise drop completely changed how artists and labels prepped and advertised for their upcoming albums and her commitment to making a music video for nearly every song had other musicians sweating for the better part of the decade. In addition to this Beyoncé’s political awakening seemed to mirror many of our own when “Formation” was released in February 2016, was quickly followed by an iconic Superbowl performance where I bet she was fined for saying “negro nose” on prime-time television twice, and cemented by the release of visual and musical masterpiece Lemonade in April—otherwise the album where white people realized she was very Black. Beyoncé has accomplished much since 2016—including that unreal Coachella performance in 2018—and we as a culture are all the better for it.
4. Tarana Burke (CW: sexual violence)
One of the distinguishing traits of the 2010s was the fact that many marginalized groups were openly sick and tired of the bullshit. And one of those groups in particular were women. This became highly obvious when industry giants like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were fully exposed for being predators by not only brave journalists, but the brave women that came forward to corroborate their stories. This would lead to the emergent awareness of the #MeToo movement, but we cannot talk about that movement without talking about activist Tarana Burke. Burke coined the phrase and founded the movement back in 2006, though it did not become viral until 2017 after women began using it to tweet about their own experiences with sexual harassment, abuse, and assault amid revelations about Weinstein’s crimes. Burke has continued to remain visible and vocal about the pervasiveness of sexual abuse here in the states and around the world, and she has especially committed to making sure that Black girls and Black women are not erased in that conversation (re: Cosby and R. Kelly). We owe Burke more than we can say.
After a turbulent year in 2009, Rihanna returned in a might way in 2010 with the release of album Loud and kicked off her own personal tradition of releasing annual albums—which gave us Loud, Talk That Talk, Unapologetic, and my favorite, Anti. Her success was also bolstered by her becoming a streaming numbers giant and has remained as such, especially among fellow musicians like Ed Sheeran, Selena Gomez, and Drake. But the best part of Rihanna’s dominance this decade is that she felt it appropriate to dominate in other cultural arenas, particularly beauty and fashion. The early 2010s saw her being a fashion mainstay with her amazing Met Gala appearances and her successful collaboration with Puma. But later, the Bajan entrepreneur saw fit to strike out on her own with the founding of her cosmetics line Fenty Beauty (2017) and her lingerie line Savage x Fenty (2018) under luxury fashion group LVMH. Both lines completely turned the beauty and fashion industries on their heads and let the world know that both dark-skinned Black women and plus-sized women have money and deserve to be catered to. And with the introduction of her Savage X Fenty fashion show, it’s clear that Madam Fenty is just getting started.
6. Laverne Cox
Cox rose to prominence in 2013 when she was cast in the recurring role of Sophia on Orange is the New Black. Cox had been on television years before, but the Netflix program provided Cox with the opportunity of portraying one of the few, multifaceted Black trans women on television and providing representation for that oft-overlooked group. Cox took this responsibility with her and cemented herself as such a figure with her iconic, 2014 interview with Katie Couric where she called out the gross fascination with trans people and sex reassignment surgery. From there, Cox would become the first openly trans person to appear on the cover of Time and the first openly trans person to be nominated for an Emmy that year. She would also continue her activism in this arena by campaigning against laws that targeted sex workers and trans women of color and producing an hour-long documentary known as Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word to further expound on these issues. Cox shows no plans of stopping and continues to be a ground-breaker, not only in the trans community, but in our culture and the larger LGBTQIA+ community as well.
7. Nicki Minaj
Minaj released her first album, Pink Friday, in 2010 and announced herself as a cultural force to be taken seriously, particularly where rap was concerned. Dubbed the “Queen of Rap”, Minaj worked incredibly hard during the 2010s to rightfully hold that title. After the triple-platinum success of Pink Friday, she would later release albums Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012), The Pinkprint (2014), and Queen (2018) to similar success, engage in several successful collaborations and features (particularly with fellow queen Beyonce) and also body Kanye West, Jay Z, and Rick Ross with her iconic verse on “Monster”. This set her apart as an emcee who was not to be fucked with—with the added bonus of her being a Black woman. She would continue to make her mark on the decade as the 2010s progressed (re: Anaconda and “Miley, what’s good?”), cementing herself as one of the world’s best-selling music artists (and highly problematic) and helping to reignite a hunger for female rappers and emcees.
8. Ava DuVernay
DuVernay started the decade as PR extraordinaire turned narrative film director with a healthy appetite for stories that usually did not make it to screen. Early efforts included I Will Follow (2011) and Middle of Nowhere (2011), with the latter scoring her the [dramatic] U.S. Directing Award at Sundance—and made her the first Black woman to do so. Later, DuVernay directed Selma (2014), a film about MLK Jr., and documentary 13th , which focuses on the onset of mass incarceration and how the racist criminal justice system in America made these extensions of slavery possible. Both films garnered critical acclaim, but the latter scored a Peabody award and made DuVernay the first Black woman to be nominated for an Oscar as a director in a feature category. DuVernay, similarly to Rhimes, has also taken calls for improved inclusivity seriously by pioneering all-women directing productions with her show Queen Sugar (2016) and wrapped up the decade with the release of her miniseries When They See Us (2019), inspired by The Exonerated Five, to much critical acclaim and functional change as well. DuVernay remains a visionary trailblazer that continues to tell out-of-the-box stories.
9. Janelle Monáe
Monáe made quite the impressive splash on the music industry and the 2010s with the release of her concept album, The ArchAndroid (2011) and the alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, that it inspired. And bolstered by stamps of approval from legends like Prince and OutKast, Monae would continue being a weird, bold, and Black self well into the decade, and racking up several awards and nominations while doing it. She would also go on to release The Electric Lady (2013), further her focus on cyborg concepts and her preoccupation with using them for stand-ins for the marginalized. She was a welcome sound too, not being afraid to play with funk, jazz, pop-punk, gospel, soul, hip hop, and alternative. And her impact does not end with music. Monáe would also veer into acting and activism, with standout performances in films like Moonlight (2016) and developing a close, supportive relationship with Sandra Bland’s family. And even then, we still were not prepared for her album and sci-fi film Dirty Computer (2018) or the conversations about pansexuality that she helped to bolster. We know she is not done yet.
10. Janet Mock
Mock began the 2010s as a staff editor at People Magazine. She shook things up in 2011 by publicly coming out as a trans woman in 2011 via Marie Claire. It was a pivotal time as well, considering this was two years before Laverne Cox would gain prominence and also two years before DOMA would finally be struck down for good. The article was not perfect and Mock herself took issue with certain parts, but it marked a very important turning point in larger pop culture, especially where Black trans visibility and Black trans representation were concerned. Mock would go on to become a contributing editor for Marie and release her bestselling memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More (2014). She also built upon these accomplishments by stepping into activism (she famously campaigned against a 2014 Phoenix law that targeted sex workers and trans women of color) and stepping into entertainment media. The latter was marked by her involvement with FX’s Pose as a writer, producer, and director, making her the first Black trans woman to be hired as a writer for a TV series, and the first Black trans woman to write and direct a television episode (re: “Love Is The Message”). And somehow? Mock continues to give us more.