From Angolan supermodel Maria Borges to the student leaders of South Africa's #FeesMustFall protests, these phenomenal women rocked in 2015.
Aina More's "Girls Killing It" music video.
We’re not sure exactly when the #BlackGirlMagic hashtag emerged this year. But, between TV star and playwright Danai Gurira making major moves to Broadway and Ethiopian runner Genzebe Dibaba breaking worldwide records on the track, the hashtag couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Take, for instance, Victoria Secret Angel Maria Borges who threw Western standards of beauty to the wind, the students who led the charge in South Africa's #FeesMustFall protests and the other equally phenomenal women of the African Diaspora who’ve made significant strides in their respective fields.
Whether you’re gathering clips for next year’s vision board or simply brainstorming potential resolutions for 2016, these moments of #BlackGirlMagic will undoubtedly motivate you to reach your goals.
Maria Borges Goes Natural
When Angolan supermodel Maria Borges stepped on the the catwalk at this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, she made history and major headlines by wearing a style no other Angel had debuted on the stage before: a cropped Afro. “AFRICA, this one is for you! I LOVE YOU,” she wrote in an Instagram caption, alongside the hashtags #MBmakinghistory and #afrohair.
According to Essence, Borges told her agent she “wanted to walk in the Victoria’s Secret show with [her] natural hair.” A gutsy move, considering she’d be showcasing a hairstyle and texture that challenges the predominant standards of Western beauty. And, while it wasn’t an easy decision to make, the 23-year-old believes it was the right one. “I was nervous, but I had to do it,” she said. “When they said ‘Yes’ I didn’t expect it, but I was so happy!”
#IWillNotApologizeForBeingDarkSkin Hashtag Sparks Self-Love Campaign
What better way to mobilize a social media movement than via hashtag? That’s exactly what college student Alicia Danielladid this year. While tweeting about her experiences of being bullied and hated for her complexion, the 23-year-old started the hashtag #IWillNotApologizeForBeingDarkSkin to encourage others to embrace their appearance.
“The truth is, dark skin men and women are beautiful,” Daniella told Okayafrica. “We owe no one an explanation as to why we are the way God made us and we definitely aren’t going to apologize because our dark skin makes you feel a type of way.” When we first published this story back in November, the bold declaration had already garnered more than 16,000 mentions on Twitter and sparked an outpouring of validating photos and messages. A quick search on the social media platform today confirms that many people are still feeling the melanin love.
Eclipsed Represents For African Women In Theater
Photo credit: Joan Marcus. Courtesy of The Public Theater.
Next month, The Walking Dead star and Zimbabwean playwright Danai Gurira will see her play Eclipsedmake its Broadway debut. The show previously held a limited engagement at the Public Theater in New York City. As noted by The New York Times theater writer Michael Paulson, Eclipsed will be the rare play written by a woman to get a Broadway production.
Helmed by Obie Award-winning South African director Liesl Tommy, the breakout play stars Lupita Nyong’o along with Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah and Saycon Sengbloh. Each actress plays an integral role in the critically-acclaimed production, which follows a group of women detained and raped by a rebel officer during the end of the Liberian civil war in 2003.
"I pick up a lot of scripts where the African women on the page were underexplored and deeply underwritten. For some reason that was acceptable. And it was unacceptable to me,” Gurira told AP. "I simply find African women amazing and interesting and complex and fascinating and multidimensional. And I find the world doesn't seem to see that at all."
The Year Of Lupita Nyong’o
Speaking of Lupita Nyong'o, 2015 has proven to be quite the year for the Kenyan actress. Not only did she cement her status as resident cover girl for a bunch of publications (see: Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar UK, Elle UK, Essence, Lucky) but the 32-year-old star also reaffirmed her acting chops in two highly-anticipated roles: as the Girl in the stage production of Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed and as Maz Kanata in the box-office sensation Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Thanks to the many interviews the actress conducted, fans were also able to gain some much-desired insight into Nyong’o’s upbringing and professional success. For one, we learned that she’s no stranger to grappling with self-identification: “It took coming to America to make me realise the ways in which I was not American,” she toldThe Guardian. "It made me realise how much of myself and where I’m from I had neglected. That’s one of the reasons I took African studies while I was an undergraduate, because I realised I wanted to know a little more about who I was, aside from all that other stuff I had absorbed – not only from America, but from Britain. I grew up in a former British colony. So, coming to America, I realised it was the African influence I needed to familiarise myself with.”
The Sky’s The Limit For Women In The Airline Industry
Photo via Ethiopian Airlines Facebook
Aiming to advocate women’s involvement in the airline business, Air Zimbabwe and Ethiopian Airlines both recently launched historic all-women cabin crew flights. Ethiopian Airlines took it a step further by using an all-women ground staff. “Above all, this is an ample opportunity to inspire young African female students to believe in their dreams and embark to fill the skill gap for Aviation professionals,” Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement. Check out some more pictures of the inspirational pioneers at Quartz.
Digital Creators Of Cool Make Moves
Photo via Tony Gum on Instagram
Meet Tony Gum, Cecile Emeke and Siyanda Mohutsiwa. This year, these dynamic young women emerged as leaders of the new school, preoccupied with introducing innovative, disruptive online content to the masses.
As an influential South African stylista and tastemaker, Tony Gum has racked up thousands of followers by posting a series of thoughtful photography projects and providing viewers with a peek into her pastel-colored world of art and whimsy.
Jamaican-British filmmaker Cecile Emeke, on the other hand, looks to the web series format to amplify the stories and voices of young people throughout the African Diaspora. Watch her Strolling interview series and her short film-turned-scripted web series Ackee & Saltfish to get a taste of her growing body of work.
As for Siyanda Mohutsiwa, she’s the young mastermind behind the hugely viral hashtag #IfAfricaWasABar. The 22-year-old Botswana-based writer and creator recently spoke at TEDxAmsterdam about a concept she describes as “Social Pan-Africanism.” "After my speech, I went backstage and something truly moving happened,” Mohutsiwa wrote for Okayafrica. "I was met by every African person who had attended the TEDx conference that day. They hugged me tightly and told me how proud of me they were."
Issa Rae And Yvonne Orji Make Ground-Breaking Leap To HBO
Issa Rae (left) and Yvonne Orji (right)
Since we’re on the topic of online media mavens, let’s talk about another phenomenal woman who has made the rare transition from Internet star to cable show star (and creator.) Issa Rae gradually rose to prominence after creating her hit web series Awkward Black Girl in 2011. Cut to 2015, when HBO green lights Rae's pilot for Insecure, a show following the awkward experiences and racy tribulations of a modern day Black woman. Rae, who plays the protagonist Issa Dee, has also tapped Nigerian-American funnywoman Yvonne Orji to play Issa’s best friend Molly. Like Rae, Orji is no stranger to creating online content. The actress created a sitcom pilot for her web series First Gen earlier this year.
Sweden Gives Ultimate Co-Sign To Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Feminist Manifesto
Last year, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s feminist manifesto We Should All Be Feminists received a huge co-sign from Beyoncé, when the international superstar sampled some of the author’s TedxEuston talk on her track “Flawless.” This year, the speech, which was written and published as an essay, received yet another weighty endorsement. The Swedish Women's Lobby successfully spearheaded a campaign to get every 16-year-old student in the European country a copy of We Should All Be Feminists. "This is the book that I wish all of my male classmates would have read when I was 16," Clara Berglund, president of the Swedish Women's Lobby, toldThe Guardian. "It feels so important to contribute to this project. It is a gift to all second-grade high-school students, but it is also a gift to ourselves and future generations."
All Ankara Everything
Jessica Chibueze at the All Things Ankara Ball. Photo credit: Panorama Photography.
All Things Ankara, a website completely dedicated to everything fashioned with Ankara print, was launched earlier this year by Nikki Billie Jean. In addition to documenting international movements led by Ankara-loving creatives, Jean also organized the inaugural All Things Ankara Ball to celebrate Nigeria’s 55th year of independence. Some of the evening’s festivities included recording artist Jidenna and Nigerian-American model Jessica Chibueze's receiving the night's Nigerian Renaissance Ambassador Humanitarian Award and the Nigerian Renaissance Ambassador Music Award, respectively. The University of Maryland dance group Afrochique and upcoming singer and songwriter OWO also performed for attendees. If you weren’t able to attend, we’ve got the next best thing: a recap video and event photographs for your perusal.
Women Killing It In Music
If you’re like us, then you’ve spent a considerable amount of time this year watching music videos on YouTube. However, two particular tracks stood out from the pack recently. UK-based Nigerian rapper Aina More’s "Girls Killing It” featured an all-out unapologetic party celebrating Black women, while Kenyan Afro-pop singer Dela’s viral Swahili cover of Adele’s “Hello” came with an acoustic guitar, powerful vocals and gorgeous cover art. If these women’s works are indicative of the music we can expect in 2016, we’re ready.
Black Girls Run…Ridiculously Fast
World record! World record! 24-year-old Ethiopian runner Genzebe Dibaba set a 1,500m world record Friday in Monaco! pic.twitter.com/Wvjdj48eo3
— Okayafrica (@okayafrica) July 18, 2015
This past July, Ethiopian runner Genzebe Dibaba broke the 1,500 meter world record in Monaco. Then, a month later, she won gold in the 1,500m and bronze in the 5,000m at the World Championships in Beijing. So, it’s no surprise the 24-year-old was named the Female Athlete of the Year by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF.)
“I am humbled and honored to receive this award from the IAAF,” said the 24-year-old. “It feels so good to be the World Athlete of the Year. After being a finalist and narrowly missing out on this award one year ago, I am very proud to be recognized by the fans and experts of our sport.”
Uzo Aduba FTW!
Uzo Aduba receives the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series at the 2015 Emmys.
Always one to deliver a spectacular acceptance speech, Orange Is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba had the opportunity to flex her skills yet again this year after winning an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. The win also made the 34-year-old the first actress to win an Emmy in the comedy and drama categories for the same role. Watch the tearjerker video below.
“When Women Unite, the Whole World Trembles”
South Africa's #NationalShutDown on Wednesday, October 21, in Cape Town (Photo: Imraan Christian)
Shaeera Kalla, Nompendulo Mkatshwa, Pamela Dhlamini and Alex Hotz are just a few of the many young women who were at the forefront of the groundbreaking #FeesMustFall student protests in South Africa this year, Marie Clairereports.
President Jacob Zuma ultimately struck down the fee increase for 2016 following an ongoing nationwide shutdown led by students. "The education revolution in South Africa has been largely led by strong black women, many of whom are black non-binary and black LGBTQI+ leaders, who have been left entirely out of the campaign narrative by the media,” wrote University of Cape Town PhD student Zela Martin in an online essay. "Women of colour have been central in participating in, conceptualising and executing the student protests. When women unite, the whole world trembles."
Wangechi Mutu Launches Africa's Out!
Wangechi Mutu at Fade To Black III at Art Basel Miami (Photo: Asha Efia for Okayafrica)
Earlier this summer, acclaimed Kenyan visual artist and activist Wangechi MutulaunchedAfrica’s Out!, a new platform aiming to spark innovative methods of engagement and empowerment among Africans. The kickoff event centered on LGBTQI rights throughout Africa and honored Mutu’s close friend and fellow Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina, whose public coming out in 2014 inspired Mutu to found the organization. Solange performed along with several dynamic music artists, while an art auction was held to raise funds for UHAI EASHRI (the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative.)
“I want people to understand where gay rights are in East Africa and do something that actually makes an impact,” she says. “And makes this issue visible, makes it beautiful, makes it interesting, makes it relevant for American minds and American people, and also brings together the African community that includes the Diaspora, the African American, Caribbean folks, and all those people who actually care about human rights, gay rights and people’s lives, and people’s expression and their fullness."