For the first time ever there is an inkling of the rise of millennial black women in media. It’s our time ladies! We strike at dawn.
Black women in leading roles steadily increase in the realm of television and film; though these roles tend to go to actresses in there late thirties and early forties. 2016 has brought a refreshing presentation of younger actresses in significant roles.
80’s babies and 90’s kids really are vocal about their coming of age. These individuals are now writing and producing content that centers them and their childhoods. Recently, I was working on an article about popular middle names of Black women in my age group. Therein, I wanted to highlight each name with a celebrity example. The whole project made me realize that there were so few millennial black actresses who achieved mainstream success and I was deeply saddened. Where are the girls who used to write B2k fanfiction in their school notebooks before they knew what fanfiction was? Or the girls who used to make mix CDs with Amanda Perez and Chingy songs on them? Women who remember twerking at gym dances huddled in a corner because it was forbidden and not yet mainstream, where are you?
Television's offerings this year seem to bring the revival of black television after years of slim pickings. I know we’re not suppose to say things like "black movies" or "black television" but Black best expresses the non-stereotypical roles and the fluidity of the black experience in this case. Leading the way are: Atlanta, Insecure, The Get Down, Pitch, Queen Sugar and Underground.
Some how, some way, Baz Lurman brought his 1970's period drama The Get Down to Netflix. New York's music scene is the star and setting of the show. Newcomer Herizen Gaurdiola stars as female lead to Justice Smith's Ezkiel. As Mylene, Guardiola illuminates the screen with grace and palatable energy. In reality, Herizen is natural hair goals and as zen a her name. Her father derived her name from the words Her and Zen.
|Herizen Guardiola as Mylene in Baz Lurman's The Get Down|
Donald Glover is the quintessential multi-hyphenate. The actor-rapper-comedian-screenwriter has added showrunner to his impressive resume. In his first starring role on television, he introduces us to Zazie Beetz, a New Yorker and professional actress.Up until now Beetz has lent her talents to indie films and theater. Now she plays the co-lead of Vanessa in a comedy with some very dramatic moments. Vanessa's character isn't fully fleshed out currently. But from her natural hair, zany style and exchanges with Earn, the viewer can get a sense of her soulful free-spirit as well as her no-nonsense attitude. Though her development is vague, I presume she might be a teacher but WE GET IT, the show is about the millennial male experience. That doesn't stop me from admiring a character that mirrors me in personality and style.Watching Zazie Beetz act evokes the feelings you have when hear the likes of Alice Smith or Solange sing. More leading roles for Zazie, please.
|Zazie Beetz at the New York screening of FX's Atlanta.|
|Issa Rae in a still of her forthcoming HBO series "Insecure".|
|Kylie Bunbury in an promotion for her new series Pitch.|
Smollet-Bell's current role of an escaped slave break all molds of what roles millennial black women traditionally endure. She stars on WGN's Underground. Rosalee is a dreamer who breaks free of bondage and finds true herself along the way. Romance is a key theme in the record-setting drama but the love between Aldis Hodge's Noah and Rosalee is not one-sided or male-centered. They are very much co-leads in this series. Jurnee's journey to a satisfying role is a win for every girl who came of age in the 90's, those of us who grew up with her being some of the only characters that resembled us. Waiting for the right roles has paid off for her and I know her star will only rise higher.
Jurnee Smollet-Bell as Underground's heroine Rosalee
H.R Belser is a freelance writer and quirk aficionado. Narratives about love and comedy are her favorites but she longs to see racial diversity in all media. If you are looking for her, she is currently working on her first web series or tweeting a zinger. Follow her on twitter @unicorinkk.