10. Celebrity breakups
Nick Young and Iggy Azalea. T.I. and Tiny. Mary J. Blige and Kendu Isaacs. Peter Thomas and Cynthia Bailey. Kenya Moore and Matt Jordan. Keshia Knight-Pulliam and Ed Hartwell. 2016 was a rough year for a lot of things and celebrity marriages were one of those things. All of the couples listed flamed out in 2016 despite years of marriage, promising relationships, or at the very least, reality show fame. Some of these couples were obvious fails (Cynthia and Peter anyone?) marriages that were long rumored to be on the rocks (Tiny and T.I.) or ones that seemed to have just run their course (Mary J. and Kendu). Still, it was hard to believe in Black celebrity love when these couples split. Thank God for Will and Jada. They do know they can’t ever divorce, right?
9. Celebrity pregnancy
On a much more positive note, several celebrities announced pregnancies this year and for one favorite, it was better late than never. Janet Jackson, at age 50, decided it was time to add another member of the already ginormous Jackson clan, although of course, her son or daughter will bear the surname of her husband, Wissam Al Mana.
That Jackson could come up with some good news in a year full of bad news was a nice moment, as was the one photo showcasing her baby bump she shared with People. We haven’t heard much since (although she gave a brief update in November saying she was ‘doing alright’) nor has she been seen publicly. Knowing Janet she’s probably already had the baby and will tell us about it in 2017 sometime. While Kerry Washington is also pretty private, she did announce that she and hubby Nnamdi Asomugha welcomed son Caleb, their second child together, in October.
Newlywed Ciara wasted no time – she married NFL star Russell Wilson in the summer and by fall, they’d announced the baby news. Another Black quarterback, Cam Newton, is expecting Baby #2 with girlfriend Kia Proctor, almost a year to the day after their firstborn, Chosen, got here. Rev. Run’s daughter, Angela Simmons, had a son, her firstborn, in October. And of course, Angela Kardashian, I mean, Black Chyna and Rob Kardashian welcomed baby Dream. And then broke up. At least until Season 2 of their reality series returns.
7. Celebrity activism
Celebs stepped up on the issues in 2016, with several vocally protesting the raft of continuing police shooting and other injustices perpetuated against Black people. The WNBA led the way in the sports world by protesting (and then being fined) by wearing ‘Black Lives Matters’ t-shirts before a game, and then Jesse Williams, already outspoken via his Twitter account, picked up his BET Humanitarian Award with an instantly viral, impassioned speech about racial inequality and those who sought to normalize police aggression.
NBA players Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade created a united front in a speech about race at the ESPY’s, and John Legend, Zendaya Coleman and others lent their Twitter voices or celebrity platforms to various causes. Beyoncè and Jay Z once again stepped out in support for the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, as they had previously done for President Barack Obama, but this time in a losing effort. Beyoncè dropped Lemonade and threw in a performance of her openly political song “Formation” during Coldplay’s Super Bowl performance.
But more than almost anyone else, San Francisco 49’ers Super Bowl quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who was the QB on the losing side in Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, which was won by the Baltimore Ravens, exemplified the courage of Black celebrities who felt that they could literally no longer stand for the BS. Kaepernick, already struggling to find his 2013 heyday, decided to risk it all and begin sitting, then kneeling, during the playing of the National Anthem.
He was excoriated by fans, the media, and some of his colleagues although many supported him as well. (Denver Bronco Brandon Marshall, who joined the anthem protest, showed a letter threatening him for not being a “good n—a” on Instagram.) Kaepernick patiently and eloquently explained his stance. Although he is biracial and was adopted and raised by a white family, he said that until changes were made and justice prevailed for Blacks and other people of color he could not in good conscience stand for the anthem.
Ironically, NFL players standing for the anthem is not mandatory (it is in the NBA) but has been “encouraged” since the Department of Defense and the National Guard started paying the NFL millions to ‘encourage’ it. Seems like Kaepernick, who is unlikely to play in the NFL again, not only took a stand for justice, but for hypocrisy.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs was elected as the first Black president of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2013. By 2016, a problem emerged – the Oscar nominations were once again, as white as a KKK rally. Jada Pinkett Smith made a viral video lamenting the lack of representation and said she’d be boycotting the Oscars. (Yes, a few folks, including Chris Rock, noted that she wasn’t invited in the first place).
The #Oscarssowhite hashtag, already in place from the year before, made a resurgence and Boone Isaacs, along with the Academy board, made some comprehensive changes. The former movie publicist implemented a five-year plan to diversify Academy membership and voting that included 10 year renewals for voting rights members and moving those who hadn’t been significantly involved in the film industry in more than ten years to emeritus status, which does not include voting rights.
5. Katt Williams arrests
Katt Williams truly belongs on a concert stage but this year, the diminutive comedian instead found himself a highlight on the police blotter in several states. In 2016, Williams even managed to get into a dustup with a high schooler. Sigh. Katt recently was given three years probation on one of his charges, an assault charge after he allegedly punched a woman for ‘disrespecting’ him.
Well, at least he didn’t hook up with a Kardashian or his downfall might be complete. This is also the year where reality star Hazel E., Katt’s short-term girlfriend, said she had to leave him alone after guns were pointed at her head during a raid on Katt’s home in March. Katt’s response?
“What ya’ll saw is one of my players put themselves on the bench, and they’re allowed to do that at any point,” he said during a radio interview that month.
“If any player on my team gets an injury or thinks that they should for whatever reason call a timeout and go sit on the bench that’s fine. They might not have been starting anyway, for all you know.”
Umm, denial much, Mr. Williams? Whatever his issues are, we hope 2017 sees Williams dealing with them, so that he can return to a comedy stage again soon.
4. Black TV Shows
This year, TV experienced a cultural renaissance. Although shows like Scandal, Orange Is The New Black, How To Get Away With Murder and even Quantico featured diverse casts, people of color in lead roles and advanced the normalization of diversity, they were still part of ensembles and not necessarily shows that made whites as peripheral to the main narrative as Blacks/Latinos, etc. had been forced to be for so long. In 2016, that all changed.
The year ushered in a new era of unapologetically Black storytelling from a point of view that was as unique as the show creators, yet definitely untouched by any “We have to add a token white person in so people will watch” guidance. Shows like Power and Being Mary Jane, pioneers in this movement, were joined by Greenleaf and Queen Sugar on OWN, Atlanta on FX, Luke Cage on Netflix and Insecure on HBO. Even Fox’s baseball drama, Pitch, which is more of an ensemble, is still one that centers the show firmly around a Black woman.
Insecure has the distinction of being one of the only shows written, conceived, developed and starring two Black women. Creator and star Issa Rae did not even start out in the TV industry – she moved an acclaimed web series to mainstream TV. And Atlanta star and creator Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover, best known to mainstream America as Troy Barnes on Community, didn’t just win on TV. He has a “side hustle” as a rapper. He dropped Awaken, My Love! this year, a throwback to the 70’s sound stylings of folks like Isaac Hayes. Oh, and he and his girlfriend welcomed a baby in 2016, though no one knew about it until October.
3. Kanye West’s Breakdown
We knew all these rants and bizarre behaviors we’d seen from Kanye West might be symptoms of a greater problem. And let’s face it, the Kardashian women are becoming known as women to avoid if stability, sanity, gender certainty and overcoming substance abuse are your goal, not to mention maintaining your career legacy.
But in November, after ranting about Jay Z and Beyoncè onstage in California, West abruptly stopped the show. A few days later, he was admitted to UCLA medical center after his behavior at trainer Harley Pasternak’s house led people there to believe he was a danger to himself and others.
While West received treatment and was discharged almost two weeks later, his fans hoped for the best. But in one of his first public appearances after what was described as a “psychotic break” West flew cross country to New York to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. Maybe he was released too soon?
Prince with 3rd Eye Girl and the NPG Horns in Montreaux in 2013, playing a song he’d told Arsenio Hall was one of his favorites (from Art Official Age)
Sadly, it does sometimes snow in April. Although Prince wrote those words many years ago as a metaphor about loss, they proved to be the coda for his own life. On April 20, 2016, a fatality was announced at Paisley Park. The world held its breath until the confirmation that it was indeed the world’s most beloved Prince. Although 2016 was a year of loss for many bold-faced names, Prince’s death at age 57, was the #2 most searched topic on Google in 2016 – only behind Powerball, which held two of the largest jackpot drawings in history. So it’s fair to say that Prince’s death was mourned by friends, family, fans and the entire universe.
Although initial reports that world monuments lit up purple on his behalf (the Eiffel Tower and Niagara Falls were lit purple for Queen Elizabeth’s birthday celebration later in the week) communities around the world did light buildings in his signature color. People partied to his music outside First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis and outside the Apollo in NYC. Both Los Angeles and Brooklyn, New York, held large public gatherings in his honor.
Six memorials, including one put together by his two ex-wives, were held. BET devoted more than a half-hour to numerous musical tributes. A tribute concert featuring Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Prince’s 80’s band The Revolution, collaborator Judith Hill, and more, was held near Minneapolis. Yet none of it truly heals the loss of one of the world’s greatest musicians ever. We love and miss you, our dear Prince.
Days after Prince’s untimely death, Beyoncè dropped Lemonade on an unsuspecting public. Although already warmed up by “Formation,” one of the most overtly political songs Beyoncè has ever recorded, people may not have been ready for the aural and visual brilliance of Lemonade.
The video version of the album hit HBO, and Beyonce’s ode to Black women’s strength and sisterhood in the face of infidelity and betrayal became the inspiration for 2439 think pieces, set up Beyoncè’s sold-out everywhere “Formation” tour, continued to establish her as the baddest bitch on the musical planet, became the soundtrack for millions of betrayed women and cemented her legend status.
Oh, and it earned her nine Grammy nominations including Album of the Year. Yeah, Rihanna did pretty well this year with Anti and we give her all her deserved props. And you may have heard of Adele, who had a pretty big year also, and goes up against Beyoncè in some major categories at the Grammys. But our odds are on the Queen B, who still reigns supreme.
There are host of people for whom 2016 was a great year. Actor Mahershala Ali, toiled for years under the radar before starring in both Moonlight, an Oscar favorite, and on Luke Cage. He is also expecting a baby with his wife. Ava DuVernay continued her successful run with a triumph on TV with Queen Sugar and in the movies, as she started production of A Wrinkle In Time, becoming the first Black woman to direct a feature film with a $100 million dollar budget. Gayle King signed a three-year $5.5 million dollar annual deal to remain anchor at CBS This Morning. And she’s still Oprah’s BFF.
But this year was a difficult year in celebrity deaths. Aside from Prince, Vanity, Black radio legend Doug Banks, David Bowie, Afeni Shakur, Malik “Phife Dog“ Taylor from ATCQ, Muhammad Ali, Thomas Ford of Martin fame, Shawty Lo, comedian Ricky Harris, longtime NBA correspondent Craig Sager, TV star and Robin Thicke’s father, Alan Thicke, and then the horrific 1-2 punch of both actress Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame and her mother, Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds, dying within a day of each other made 2016 just too, too much. Of course, we remember them as celebrities but people lost mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters and more this year and it in that spirit, that we wish they all are resting in peace.