A Best of 2017 List by Malcolm Demaro Lomax
Highlights of the year in culture, film, media, and music that raised spirits, destroyed conventions, and fed the intersectional being, preparing us to own 2018.
I. Jordan Peele’s Get Out
I didn’t bet that Jordan Peele’s directorial debut would become the box office smash that it did. After leaving his Comedy Central Show, Key and Peele, he crafted his first film – a fantastic contribution to the horror genre that is a deeply gripping socio-political perspective arriving at the perfect moment. The film was released after the November election where race relations were heightened and optimism was low and it functions as a satire navigating the very real dread that occurs in familial acceptance of an interracial couple’s union. Get Out also presents the liberal ( Rose and her family) as an agent in white supremacy and depicts how this devaluation of black bodies can be generationally passed down.
On the initial viewing I found the film to be uninteresting, because it felt like an extended Key and Peele skit. But on subsequent viewings the horror begins to supersede the comedic aspects of the film and one notices the sensitivity to: the reveal, the aggression, and the allusions – displaying the unnerving insidious nature in which privilege can destroy lives.
The first film I saw as a child with an African American protagonist was George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, who survives a majority of the film but falls victim to the mob of people arriving to rid the area of zombies. Likewise, (*spoiler here) Chris in Get Out endures a hellish psychological ordeal and, through the final assist by his friend Rod, is able to leave the grounds of Rose’s family estate. The film destroys the convention of the black character in horror films falling victim to a point of fatality. Even more, it is certain that the events in the movie will still leave residual trauma – even though in narrative convention we believe in happily ever after. It is great to see not only Chris’s survival, but to note his process of realization over the course of the film.
II. Moonlight BEST PICTURE Announcement
Moonlight, the Oscar-winning best picture of 2017, directed by Barry Jenkins depicts a gay man (Chiron) coming of age in Miami while confronting his sexuality. It’s primary contender was the Oscar darling LaLa Land, a musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
During the Oscar awards ceremony, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway came out to announce the winner for best picture and I was nervous in a way I hadn’t been before. I knew the degree it mattered to my intersectional being. Yet, upon opening the envelope it was announced that LaLa Land was the winner. In my bedroom, I recoiled and screamed at my television, “They’re just gonna let Bonnie and Clyde commit a crime like this?” I am upset. The supposed winners take the stage and somehow I find myself quickly falling into accepting something that makes no sense to me – saying things like, “It’s fine, I didn’t even see it.”
In the shuffle of the LaLa Land ensemble taking the stage, it is discovered by one of the producers that Moonlight has actually won best picture. In viewing this, it is assumed to be a faux gracious vanity offering of the award to the cast of Moonlight, but it is not. It is REAL. This was the earliest moment in 2017 of cultural (collective) joy after a newly inaugurated Trump.
Migos have become icons of the hip hop scene through treating adlib as a device all its own: layered, rhythmic, and foregrounded, with a style that is Destiny’s Child-esque in that they are a trio adhering to a unified presentation while riffing off each other’s look. They embody a down south spin on opulence and accessibility. Their floral glamour moment at the BET awards, chains stacked high, and the motocross jumpsuits featuring their stage names are just some of the sartorial highlights they have presented this year. Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff in all the confusion that seems to surround them know it’s about the work – but let’s be clear – it’s also about the lifestyle.
Motorsports, the lead single to their upcoming album Culture II, and its accompanying video includes features by on-track legend Nicki Minaj and rising star Cardi B. Although the video wasn’t able to show Cardi and Nicki in the same frame their back-to-back verses abated insatiable appetites of fan bases that wanted to see a glimmer of harmony.
The video is a fully saturated neon future showcasing the tropes of the hip hop visual lexicon: video vixens, elaborate staging, cars, and the rapper in his fresh. The video seems to have a budget from yesteryear in the days when Hype Williams, Francis Lawrence, and Little X were the go-to directors. Quavo takes a co-directorial credit while Takeoff shines in a way that makes his classic clapback “Do I look like I was left off Bad and Boujee?” even more emphatic – and the answer is NO! They will own 2018.
IV. JAY Z’s 4:44
Jay Z’s 4:44 is both an atonement and grappling with the complicated intricacies of commitment and faltering. As a hypothetical double album when paired with Lemonade – it is a glimpse into a marriage. Jay Z takes on self reflection and cultural observation to carve out where he stands as of now – taking himself to task. Like Lemonade, 4:44 was also a media experience – featuring the teaser Adnis, the enigmatic poster campaign, the in camera conversations with prominent African American men, the Rap Radar lead interviews, and a series of videos: The Story of OJ, Moonlight, Bam, and 4:44, etc. A key moment on the album is the song Smile featuring Gloria Carter, Jay Z’s mother coming forward in what seems to be a moment of cathartic truth telling to provide a lesson in what living one’s truth looks like and how it can affect one’s family unit.
Living two lives, happy, but not free. You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or the person you love. The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free.
This moment of parental tutelage to some degree harkens back to Beyonce’s Daddy Lessons:
He said, take care of your mother
Watch out for your sister
And that’s when daddy looked at me…
We see in both a need for the preservation of family, the need to negotiate how these things affect the self, and the need to find and maintain love amidst challenges.
V. Arthur Jafa Showstudio Interview
Arthur Jafa admits to his start as a student of architecture, but is still figuring out his stance on being an artist in the 52 minutes and 14 second black and white interview he does for Showstudio. He has increasingly risen in prominence since the release of his video work Love is the Message, The Message is Death which has been shown at Gavin Brown Enterprises and LA MOCA.
The video depicts blackness in the vastness of image culture and somehow highlights the black body through all of time. The work stitches all otherness into a tapestry with a percussive score while the image is cut to sound – sometimes formally linking and other times thematically. In his Showstudio interview, he addresses the subject’s position in cinema and the ability to allow the audience into someone else’s skin, acting as a device that embodies the definition of empathy.
The interview takes a fantastic turn when he mentions considering Earth as a preserve. “We are quarantined as a species until we have the collective capacity to process the other.” This lit a flicker to my brain, a perfect speculative fabulation to consider.
VI. Donald Glover Wins Everything!
Donald Glover’s Atlanta is the story of Earn who takes up the task of spinning an acquaintance’s rap career into a source of profit while trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his girlfriend. In this narrative, Atlanta becomes surreal, heightened, but somehow also grounded through the mundane sense of work, family, and friendship. The show was released in 2016 and quickly became one of the more interesting comedy series that year.
Donald’s track record includes writing for 30 Rock, starring in Community, some stand-up specials, and then he took a hiatus, placing all of his focus on his own series Atlanta. This shift towards centralizing his talents payed off immensely – winning awards from the Critic’s Choice, the Golden Globes, and the Emmys. During his speeches we got to see him draw attention to the Migos, speak about magic, his family, and show a brazen sense of independence – while rocking 70’s inspired suits and bowties with the occasional neutral turtleneck. It’s great to see someone’s work mature and continue to gain reach and impact without losing the freedom and energy so often associated with youth.
VII. The Men of The Grapevine
The Grapevine is a Youtube series hosted by Ashley Akunna featuring a panel of millenial African Americans discussing topics as that pertain to race. Akunna as a host has an openness and diplomacy which helps when navigating serious matters. She navigates and directs these conversations, allowing them to reach sophisticated levels of discourse.
The conversations typically use news and pop cultural issues as prompts for deeper discussions of an intersectional nature. The panel’s makeup is diverse in perspective and its usual panelists, Donovan, Bolarin, Mouse, Karl, Jameer, Doug, and Jeff, provide a male perspective. This allows them to approach gender, class, education, race and through doing this we witness a heterogenous sense of the black male identity that pushes stereotypes off the cliff. The discussions reach their apex when we see the panelists seeing each other; they begin to understand a topic that at once seemed unclear through various voices of reason and they all seem to leave more informed.
VIII. THE ANTICIPATION of Black Panther
With Ryan Coogler at the helm, Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman in the titular role, with his presence in Civil War created a buzz for the movie to come. Black Panther hits theatres on February 16, 2018 and adds to the Marvel universe by showcasing a black ensemble cast who live in a wealthy, technologically advanced society. The storm that is Black Twitter has claimed its new place of residence, Wakanda.
The movie depicts the aftermath of Marvel’s Civil War events in which T’challa steps into the role of the Black Panther. The details of the film have been hush, but the anticipation has had potential movie-goers planning their outing to theatres. With two Comic-con appearances, two trailers, a poster that was rather controversial due to its allusions to the famous Huey P. Newton photograph – the hype is high – but knowing the talents involved it’s certain the film will deliver.
IX. Helmut Lang: Seen by Shayne Oliver
Shayne Oliver took a hiatus from HoodbyAir to take on the American minimalist brand Helmut Lang. There is a double-edged sword when taking up a brand with a rich heritage such as Helmut Lang – one can explore the DNA directly or indirectly and still be met with backlash. Oliver seems to find himself striving for the 90’s minimalism and still maintaining his identity as an independent designer.
The move is a positive one. He pulls back on the logos, adds small and sometimes awkward deviations to basics, and presents a restraint that translates the sex-positive collection into elegance. The collection features accessories that pull from the HoodbyAir wheelhouse – bags that can double as bras, clear briefcases, codpiece fanny packs, and file folder purses- while some of the shoes turn into floppy self-aware drama-infused must-haves. Oliver doesn’t miss the mark. He maintains classic aspects of Helmut Lang, while making sure the culture of fashion he has so heavily influenced sees that he’s capable of doing something else.
X. Adam Pendleton at the BMA
The BMA’s Front Room in the Contemporary Wing housed a project by Adam Pendleton which opened in March of 2017. The artist is known for coining the term Black Dada, a set of practices that uses abstraction as a way to be both radical and challenging in envisioning blackness. In the work, a kind of anachronism happens and to paraphrase Pendleton, “It brings past and future to the present moment.”
In his BMA show, Pendleton tackled civil rights and social justice movements as they seem to converge with images from the art historical context. He presented phrases associated with the Black Lives Matter movement mixing visual language with text in a way that reminds us that both can function in various levels of instability and still articulate our reality.
Author Malcolm Lomax is an artist (Wickerham & Lomax) who currently runs the events and programming at New America. He has exhibited works at Artists Space, Frieze, The Hessel Museum, Brown University, The Baltimore Museum of Art, and a First Look project with the New Museum. He is working on a poetry EP called XXIV Humans to be released in 2018 as well as a solo exhibition at American Medium (Fall 2018). As a human, he reigns supreme.