Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration
The call for representation is nothing new.
For years, media watchdog groups have kept tabs on all manner of entertainment, pushing for strides in inclusion with every annual report they release, tallying the media landscape in terms of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Why? Because to feel seen is essential to feeling like you matter. And there’s no better way to feel seen than to see yourself reflected back at you in the art and media you consume.
Year after year, the general consensus was that Hollywood could do better, must do better, at reflecting the world as it is and not the world as execs deem profitable. And year after year, aside from a few notable strides, Hollywood’s response seemed to be a resounding “Meh.” But not this year.
While there is still much work to be done, as there certainly always will be, there’s no denying that there was a true paradigm shift in 2018, with progress being made in the worlds of film, TV and music at every step. And even more promising than that? The general public proved that there was a hunger for the sort of inclusion that critics had been pushing for all along, with films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, musicians like Troye Sivan and Hayley Kiyoko, and TV shows like Queer Eye and RuPaul’s Drag Race breaking records and making some serious money. This is show business, after all.
From the arrival of Time’s Up to the heaps of history-making Golden Globe nominations—not to mention its equally historic host announcement—2018 has chock full of representation wins. Here’s to all the ways Hollywood has truly changed for the better.
After an eye-opening end to 2017 in which men like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Louis C.K. were exposed for various misdeeds and alleged crimes, 2018 kicked off with over 300 women in the entertainment industry taking a stand against sexual harassment and assault with the New Year’s Day arrival of Time’s Up, a movement with aims to promote equality and safety in the workplace. Meryl Streep, Shinda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston were among the founding donors who announced, via open-letter published in The New York Times, that a legal defense fund had been created to help lower-income women seek justice for harassment and assault in the workplace, along with a push for legislation to punish companies that tolerate persisting harassment and an alignment with 5050by2020, an initiative in which women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community in entertainment fight for fair hiring practices and equal leadership representation. Throughout award season, supporters of the movement made sure it remained a prominent topic of conversation, dressing in all black at the Golden Globes alongside their activist dates, for example. By October, former WNBA president Lisa Borders had been named president and CEO, tasked with the mission of making the organization a proactive force for women’s rights and equality, broadening the scope well beyond Hollywood.
After years and years of hearing that the stories of people of color and other marginalized groups weren’t universal enough to be told with the big budget backing of a major studio. And then along came Black Panther to kick off a revolution of representation at the box office. With Marvel Studios realizing it had built enough goodwill and fan devotion over its first decade in existence to justify such a perceived gamble, the world was gifted a superhero film starring a predominantly black cast, helmed by an African-American director, set in a prosperous African nation, that didn’t focus on the historical global suffering of black people. And you know what? Audiences ate it up. Grossing over $1 billion, it became not only the ninth highest-grossing film of all time, but both the highest-grossing solo superhero film and highest-grossing film by a black director. By December, it would make more history by becoming the first Marvel film to earn a Golden Globes nod in the Best Motion Picture, Drama category. Wakanda forever!
Before T’Challa roared onto the big screen, The CW sparked a bit of revolution of its own with the January arrival of Black Lightning. Based on the DC Comics character of the same name, the series was a representation two-fer, with Cress Williams becoming broadcast TV’s first black superhero in the titular role (Marvel’s Luke Cage arrived on Netflix in 2016) and Nafessa Williams becoming TV’s first black lesbian superhero in the role of Thunder, Black Lightning’s elder daughter. The series was an instant and is already in the midst of its second season, which began in October.
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When Netflix brought Queer Eye back into our lives in February, over a decade after the original broke ground over on Bravo, we thought we’d be getting more of the same. Instead, by taking the new Fab Five—instant stars Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness—into more conservative locales (the Atlanta suburbs for seasons one and two, Kansas City, Missouri for the upcoming third), we watched a masterclass in how to find common ground while not compromising an ounce of your humanity. An exceedingly positive representation for the gay community, the show was an immediate hit, Antoni’s avocados and all.
A Wrinkle in Time
Almost immediately after Black Panther arrived on the scene, the box office’s next test case for representation arrived in the form of A Wrinkle in Time, director Ava DuVernay‘s adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle classic. With an estimated production budget of over $100 million, she became the first woman of color to direct such a tentople film for a major studio. Casting newcomer Storm Reid in the role of Meg, alongside a diverse cast of empowered females including Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey, DuVernay’s mission was to “challenge the idea of who gets to be the hero,” as she told Vulture in 2017. The film opened in the No. 2 spot just behind the Marvel hit, making her the first African-American female director with a film earning more than $100 million domestically. While the worldwide box office was ultimately considered a disappointment for Disney, coming in well below the estimated $250 million spent on production and promotion, the opportunity for young girls of color to see themselves in Meg can’t be discounted.
A Fantastic Woman’s Oscars Night
By the time trans actress Daniela Vega stepped on stage at the 90th Academy Awards, her film A Fantastic Woman, had already made a bit of history by becoming the first Chilean film to take home Best Foreign Language Film while also marking a watershed moment for transgender cinema. But by introducing Sufjan Steven‘s emotional performance of his Best Original Song-nominated track “Mystery of Love,” she became the first openly trans performer to serve as a presenter in the ceremony’s history. And the warm reception the audience at the Dolby Theatre offered her? Icing on the cake.
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Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox
At the box office, the spring of representation marched on to the March release of Love, Simon, with the Greg Berlanti-directed teen rom-com, itself an adaptation of Becky Albertalli‘s novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, became the first film from a major studio to bring a gay teenage romance to life. With Nick Robinson starring as the titular Simon, a closeted high school student juggling family (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel played his parents) and friends while coming to terms with his sexuality. Praised for the way it tenderly handled Simon’s coming out—try and not cry while watching Garner’s big speech after Simon comes out—Love, Simon went on to gross a successful $66 million worldwide on a budget estimated to be somewhere between $10 and $17 million and took home Best Kiss at this year’s MTV Movie & TV Awards for its climactic smooth between Simon and his love interest Bram (played by Keiynan Lonsdale).
Before Ryan Murphy‘s latest creation for FX, the ’80s set Pose, even debuted on the cable network in June, it had already landed itself a place in TV history by casting the largest number of transgender actors for a narrative television series ever. Focusing on the world of African-American and Latino ball culture in New York City, the show made stars out of newcomer trans actors Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hallie Sahar and Angelica Ross, while adding transgender rights activist Janet Mock and trans pianist and singer-songwriter Our Lady J as writers and producers. Taking the lead on episode six, Mock became the first transgender woman of color to write and direct any episode of television. And in a landmark move, prior to the premiere, Murphy announced that he was donating all his profits from the series to non-profit charitable organizations that work with LGBTQ+ people. After quickly being renewed for a second season, the show made further history when it was nominated for Best Television Series—Drama at the 2019 Golden Globes in December.
“I’m so grateful to have lived long enough to see the day when stories about my community are at the front and center. It’s amazing,” star Billy Porter, who was nominated for Best Actor—Television Series Drama as well, told E! News, adding, “It’s a new day.”
Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros.
Every few years, an all-female ensemble film comes along and everyone begins wondering anew whether female-fronted franchises are profitable or if Bridesmaids was some fluke. The latest test case? Warner Bros.’ Ocean’s 8, the continuation of the Ocean’s franchise with Sandra Bullock subbing in for George Clooney, flanked by Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna and Awkwfina. The film opened to $41.6 million in its first weekend—higher than all three “all male” Ocean’s films to come before it, before adjusting for inflation—and went on to gross over $296 million worldwide. It was an unmitigated smash hit, making a sequel seem to be a sure thing and hopefully putting to bed the ceaseless debate over whether female-fronted films “work.”
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Few pop stars had a bigger breakout year in 2018—excuse us, 20GAYTEEN—than openly gay former child actress Hayley Kiyoko. Not only did her debut album Expectations peak at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 chart, earning her the MTV VMA for Push Artist of the Year and the Rising Star Award at this year’s Billboard Women in Music event, but she proved that she’s unwilling to sit by when other artists seemingly co-opt the queer experience (as she did after Rita Ora‘s “Girls” dropped) or industry execs challenge her for making her love life front and center (as she did when she wondered why it was OK for Taylor Swift and not her). Perhaps the biggest stamp of approval came when Swift invited her to perform at a stop on her reputation Stadium Tour in July, where the pair performed Kiyoko’s single “Curious.” Kiyoko would later return the favor, bringing out Swift as a surprise guest at The Ally Coalition Show in December, where they performed the superstar’s “Delicate.”
Crazy Rich Asians
Capping off a transformative year at the box office in terms of representation was Crazy Rich Asians, with the Warner Bros. adaptation of author Kevin Kwan‘s hit novel of the same name becoming the first studio film to feature a majority Asian-American cast in a modern setting in 25 years, since The Joy Luck Club. Grossing over $238 million worldwide, the film became the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade. And in December, the film received two nominations for the 76th Golden Globe Awards, one for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy and one for Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Comedy or Musical for star Constance Wu, making her the first Asian-American woman to earn a nomination in that category since Miyoshi Umeki in 1962. The entire ensemble also earned a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for the 25th Annual SAG Awards. Naturally, a sequel to be based on the second book in Kwan’s trilogy is forthcoming.
Strides in Asian representation weren’t just made on the big screen. With an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series nomination at this year’s Emmy Awards, Killing Eve star Sandra Oh became the first actress of Asian descent to achieve such a thing. (She’d previously been nominated five times for Outstanding Supporting Actress when she was on Grey’s Anatomy.) While she didn’t manage to beat out The Crown‘s Claire Foy, her well-received bit with fellow presenter Andy Samberg earned the duo hosting duties at next year’s 76th Golden Globe Awards, where she’s also nominated for her work on the BBC America thriller, making the Canadian-Asian actress—you guessed it—the first person of color to ever do so.
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Was there a greater comedy find in 2018 that openly gay Australian comic Hannah Gadsby? When her stand-up special Nanette debuted on Netflix in June, she became an international sensation as she cleverly shined a spotlight on her experience as a lesbian and gender non-conforming woman. By deconstructing the nature of comedy, she essentially pushed the art form to places it had never gone before. After her bit at this year’s Emmys, all we can say is that we’re so relieved she took back Nanette’s pronouncement that she was giving up comedy for good.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
As part of Netflix’s Summer of Love, which, alongside Crazy Rich Asians, helped to resurrect the romantic comedy, Susan Johnson‘s adaptation of Jenny Han‘s 2014 novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before had the distinction of putting an Asian woman front-and-center and not shying away from the specifics of Korean culture Han had written into her story—Yakult, anyone?—while making Lana Condor a star. (And, sure, Noah Centineo, too.) That the film came out the same week as CRA was truly an embarrassment of riches. And the fact that it went on to become one of the streaming service’s “most viewed original films ever with strong repeat viewing” is just icing on the cake. Naturally, a sequel is on the way.
Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images
RuPaul’s Drag Race
After earning a promotion in 2017 by moving from Logo to VH1, RuPaul’s Drag Race, that little queer reality show that could, reached even newer heights this year. Not only did it some of its highest ratings ever in season 10, but it managed to make history—er, excuse us, herstory— at the Emmys by snatching the Outstanding Reality-Competition Series crown for the first time ever, unseating recent perennial fave The Voice to become the fourth series to ever win the honor its the categories 15-year existence. And with RuPaul winning his third consecutive award for Outstanding Host, the show became the first reality series to ever win both awards in the same year. Can we get an amen?
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With the release of her third studio album, Dirty Computer, in April, Janelle Monae admitted to—and unapologetically celebrated—her pansexual life, with a collection of tracks that represented her most personal and powerful creations to date. “I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you,” she told Rolling Stone in April. “This album is for you. Be proud.” The album would go on to earn her a Grammy nod for Album of the Year, while her year as a whole landed her the Trailblazer of the Year honor at this year’s Billboard Women in Music event.
Awkwafina on SNL
Starring in record-shattering films like Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8 wasn’t enough for Awkwafina, who went on to cap her 2018 by hosting an October episode of Saturday Night Live, making her the first Asian woman to host the venerable late-night series in 18 years and only the second ever after Lucy Liu.
Netflix; Aaron Epstein / Netflix
Dumplin’ and Sierra Burgess Is a Loser
In a big year for body positivity in Hollywood, Netflix stood out for the one-two punch of Sierra Burgess Is a Loser and Dumplin’, with both original films featuring leading ladies (Shannon Purser and Danielle Macdonald, respectively) amid narratives about learning to love yourself in the skin your in. Of course, they also unleashed the controversial Insatiable on the world, so maybe this one’s a wash?
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Hayley Kiyoko wasn’t wrong when she dubbed this year 20GAYTEEN, as there was more queer representation in music than ever before. Between her and MNEK‘s debut albums, the long-awaited sophomore effort from openly gay Olly Alexander‘s band Years & Years, and a steady stream of bops from breakout trans pop star Kim Petras, it was truly a rainbow revolution. And leading the pack was Troye Sivan. The South African-born Australian singer released his second studio album, the unapologetically queer Bloom, in August (which opened at No. 4 on the US Billboard 200), snagged a guest appearance on Taylor Swift‘s reputation Stadium Tour, dropped duets with Ariana Grande and Charli XCX, performed on SNL, earned a Golden Globe nod for Best Original Song for “Revelation,”his musical contribution to Boy Erased (which he also co-starred in), and embarked on a world tour.
“I feel like I am getting the most exciting opportunities that I’ve ever gotten right now, and I can feel that happening for other LGBTQ artists as well,” he told Wired this summer. “I think we still have a long way to go, but clearly the public is ready for it and excited by it.”
Just when it seemed like there wasn’t anything left for Queen Bey to accomplish in this world, she went delivered an historic performance at Coachella, becoming the first black woman to headline the popular music festival. The nearly two-hour set—a Herculean feat in and of itself that paid tribute to black culture, specifically historically black colleges and universities—became the most-watched live Coachella performance and the most-watched live performance on YouTube of all time. Then she went on to grace the cover of Vogue‘s September issue, her second appearance on the all-important issue’s cover, in a spread photographed by Tyler Mitchell, who became the first African-American to shoot the cover in the 125-year history of the magazine—at her insistence. Who run the world? Beyoncé.
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