After the whirlwind that was 2015—where racial justice and pop culture intersected in a way that forced people to pay attention—this year promises to follow up even more on promises of exceptional music, television, films, literature and more that champion creators or characters of color with nuance and depth.
Colorlines will report on creators and works worth checking out throughout the year, from the underground and festival circuits, to the bastions of pop stardom and beyond. But for now, here is a list of the most-prominent things we’re checking out in 2016:
Kanye West, “Swish”
Although sudden album releases are more and more in vogue, Yeezy appears to actually have a February release date for his upcoming album, “Swish.” Love him or hate him, Kanye West has certified his position as an always-confrontational artist who centers aspects of Black celebrity and structural issues in his works. And after the ecstatic reception behind 2013’s “Yeezus,” we can’t wait to see what comes next.
Rihanna’s been a lot quieter than her frequent collaborator about exactly when “Anti” will be released, but the Barbadian singer’s 2015 tracks “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “American Oxygen” both deal with interpersonal narratives and social justice. We’ll continue to wait for this album with bated breath.
Philadelphia-based rapper and composer Lushlife has been hustling on the fringes of indie and hip-hop for years, and “Ritualize” (which comes out on February 19) just might be his breakthrough. Lushlife, who is South Asian American, teams up with established rap royalty like Freeway and Killer Mike (who appears on the dark “The Ecstatic Cult,” which you can listen to above) and employs ethereal instrumentals under Gatling gun rhymes—all of which establish him as one of hip hop’s most exciting and singular voices.
“The Get Down”
Will Baz Luhrmann’s new Netflix show treat the origins of hip-hop with endless romanticism? Or will it actually get to the heart of social ills plaguing late-1970s New York City, creating the environment in which this incendiary culture would take over the world? Believe that whenever “The Get Down” debuts, we’ll be excited to see some knockout musical performances from the likes of Jaden Smith and “Dope” star Shameik Moore.
Although it’s technically not a new show, ABC’s “American Crime” returned with a second season and new storyline that examines race, class and gender at the intersection of a singular, horrific crime (in this instance, the alleged rape of a White male basketball player at an Indiana private school). If nothing else comes out of what promises to be another exceptional season, how about the return of one Andre Benjamin (a.k.a. Outkast’s Andre 3000) to the silver screen?
We have to admit: we love a good music documentary. Fortunately for us, HBO acquired “Mavis!” and is premiering it on February 29. The film focuses on Mavis Staples, one of soul music’s most politically-active stars (alongside her family members in The Staples Singers), and her 60-year career at the forefront of civil rights and the music that champions empowerment.
“Captain America: Civil War”
While the world will have to wait an agonizing two years until Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” Marvel’s giving us the first peek into the world behind its first Black superhero with this summer’s “Captain America: Civil War.” Here’s hoping that they give star Chadwick Boseman at least as much screen time as the rest of the Avengers.
Sure, the folks behind Jesse Owens biopic “Race” are being pretty heavy-handed with this film about the historic Black runner who challenged Nazi racial superiority at the 1936 Summer Olympics. Even then, this film’s triumphant trailer makes us wonder if it can offer something new in the tired exceptional-Black-athelete-fighting-racism genre.
“The Birth of a Nation”
No, don’t worry, it’s not that ”The Birth of a Nation.” Rather, this is Nate Parker’s Sundance-ready biopic about Nat Turner (played by Parker, who also directed the film) and the slave rebellion that carries his name. While nobody’s sure about this film’s post-Sundance premiere plans for distribution, we’re confident that a film about an event this impactful (not to mention a star cast including Gabrielle Union and Jackie Earle Haley) will be in theaters sooner than we realize.
Speaking of Black Panther, what’s going to happen when one of America’s most visible critics of systemic racism helms a series reboot for Marvel’s first Black superhero? We can’t wait to see what Ta-Nehisi Coates does with this one.
“How To Make White People Laugh”
Stand-up comic Negin Farsad’s upcoming book (to be released in May) investigates America’s lack of nuance around race, exploring her own Iranian-American and Muslim identity in comically blunt fashion and offering a unique voice that the contemporary racial justice climate desperately needs.
“Policing The Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter”
When this series of essays addressing contemporary activism’s biggest movement hits stands in May, we’ll be ready. A variety of contributors, including anti-police brutality and militarization activists from around the country and world, promise to make “Policing the Planet” a definitive work for anybody confused about exactly what structural law enforcement powers lead to our current racial justice climate.
What are you excited for this year? Let us know in the comments!