In Appreciation: The BEST of 2019

Let’s keep it real: 2019 feels like it’s lasted at least two years. So much scandal, so much trash that what was really good, what was really great could get lost in all the mess. I’m hoping it doesn’t, and since I have this platform, I’m doing my part to make sure it’s celebrated. Making sure the Black art that was made during the past 365 days, the performances that carried us through and made us stand up and cheer, gets its just due. What you think, we can’t have a post that appreciates the great talent that graced us in 2019? We can. And this is it. The #Bestof2019. Let’s GO!


YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II

We saw him command the screen every time he graced it during both seasons of Netflix’s The Get Down. This year, Abdul-Mateen took his talents to new heights, scoring a pivotal supporting role in Jordan Peele’s US and baring his soul (literally) in HBO’s critically acclaimed Watchmen. Applaud this man as he continues his glow up.


ALANA ARENAS

I’m ashamed to admit that after looking up her IMDB page I wasn’t familiar with Arenas’ work before her star turn on OWN’s freshman series David Makes Man. Now however, she’s won me over and has quickly become one of my favorite TV moms (in fact, surpassing my former fave Beth). Can’t wait to see what she does during the series’ second season.


ASTRONOMY CLUB

2019 will be remembered as a time when the Black sketch show made its mark on America. Like most troupes, Astronomy Club has been around for years but thanks to Netflix, they made a resounding debut with several spot-on takes on pop and Black culture. Cheers to the group that calls themselves Astronomy Club because they consider themselves stars. They are. They really are.


SIMONE BILES

Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time. We need to get used to saying and hearing that, especially after this year solidified her ranking with her record-breaking double-double flip and not-to-be-tried-at-home triple-double dismount. All of this, and she’s only 22. The sky’s the limit, for sure.


ASANTE BLACKK

He broke our hearts with his soul-piercing performance in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix opus When They See Us. And then graduated to a recurring role on NBC’s ratings hit This Is Us. Oh, and just recently he was able to show off his skills in front of a live audience, playing Michael Evans on ABC’s episode of Good Times. His range is admirable. His future seems limitless. Onward, young star.


SHAMON BROWN, JR.

It’s really a treat when you’re able to see a young actor own their performance and grow in presence in real time. That’s the case with Brown, who commands every scene he’s in on Lena Waithe’s Showtime series The Chi. What could’ve been a bit part has turned into a reason a lot of people even tune in every week. Here’s to an even greater Season Three and a great future for the young actor.


STERLING K. BROWN

There are many reasons to love Brown, and we’ve been front row over the years watching him become a star. Hollywood can’t get enough of the St. Louis native, casting him in everything they can as he stars in NBC’s This Is Us. This year the actor nabbed roles in two critically acclaimed projects: the award-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and the motion picture Waves. We’re sure to see even more of Brown in the coming years. And we can’t wait.


MATTHEW A. CHERRY

Listen, 2019 owes Cherry nothing. The Ohio native brought one of his projects to life in a big way this year, transforming his children’s book Hair Love into a major motion picture short while executive producing the runaway hit film US. Also, after paying his dues over the years, he became an in-demand television director, helming series like The Last O.G.The Redline, and most recently black-ish.  Rumble, young man. Rumble.


AVA DUVERNAY

There have been so many reasons to stan for DuVernay over the past decade. She’s made history with her films, and the fact she’s a major employer in Hollywood. This year was a landmark year for the Compton native, however. In addition to her duties as creator of OWN’s Queen Sugar, she created and directed the seminal masterpiece that was Netlfix’s When They See Us, which placed a spotlight on the corrupt New York City legal system as well as a way for the Exonerated Five to tell their truth. A phenomenal job. A phenomenal year.


PRIAH FERGUSON

I’m really not sure I would’ve made it through the latest season of Netflix’s Stranger Things if it wasn’t for the performance of Ferguson as Erica Sinclair. She was a breath of fresh air in a role that could’ve easily gone stale quick. It was a good year for the young star. May she negotiate all the ice cream she can handle going forward.


BRETT GRAY

Another Netflix series with a breakout star was On My Block and the character Jamal. His slapstick approach to life gave us life as we watched the rest of the cast meander through an uneven second campaign. His interaction with Abuelita left us in stitches. Can’t wait to see what Jamal gets into during the show’s upcoming final season.


DREAM HAMPTON

I mean, we already agreed that 2019 seems like it’s lasted 43749723 days, right? RIGHT?! Well, even with all of that, please never forget how the year started, with the Lifetime series that placed a target on the back of one of the nation’s biggest pedophiles. It sparked action and finally got him off of the streets and into a court to face his accusers. We applaud that action.


ALDIS HODGE

Hodge has been grinding in Hollywood for years, but this year he’s been doing the damn thing, holding his own with stalwarts like Kevin Bacon on Showtime’s City on A Hill, Taraji P. Henson in the film What Men Want, and Alfre Woodard in the critically acclaimed motion picture Clemency. That man has been working-working.


BRITTANY HOWARD

Howard took a break from her day job with award-winning band Alabama Shakes to release her opus Jaime, named after her sister. The very personal project provided us a chance to see beyond the singer’s veil, and cemented her as one of this generation’s most important voices.


JHARREL JEROME

He was remarkable in the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, but this year, in a luminous role in Netflix’s When They See Us, Jerome left it all on the screen portraying Korey Wise of the Exonerated Five. I think we all agree that we couldn’t take our eyes away from his performance, and it earned him a well-deserved Emmy award. He then showed his live improv skills while acting alongside Viola Davis and John Amos on ABC’s live episode of Good Times. There’s so much more in store for the young actor and how great is it that we get a front row seat to see what comes next. 


REGINA KING

We’ve literally watched King grow up, with several projects over the years allowing us to see the award-winning actress mature before our eyes. This year saw her tackle one of her most challenging roles to-date, starring as a storied comic book hero in HBO’s Watchmen that allowed the actress to show an unprecedented range. She continues to grow with each role. We’re here for all of it.


MARSAI MARTIN

With the film Little, Martin became the youngest executive producer in the history of Hollywood. With an increased and more nuanced storyline on ABC’s black-ish, Martin has been allowed to show us more of her acting chops. And with another producer credit in the works for 2020, Martin is poised to take over the industry. We love to see it.


AKILI MCDOWELL

Most times, when a young actor is given the keys and asked to drive a series, they fall short. In the case of McDowell, he not only skillfully put the OWN series David Makes Man on his shoulder and ran with it, he also made everyone around him better. That’s the sign of an actor that will have longevity. That deserves our applause.


KATLYN NICHOL

It feels like Nichol has been around for longer than she has. It must be her voice, which emits an old soul that was on full display each week on the BET freshman series American Soul. She became the reason to tune in every week, and an excuse to continue watching what has thus far been an uneven series next season. It’s a pleasure watching her star turn in real time.


TOBE NWIGWE

Yes, the Houston artist has been around for a while now, but 2019 saw him go to the next level. It will always be memorable for his NPR Tiny Desk concert, his expanded world tour, and the birth of his daughter.  What a time to be alive!


LUPITA NYONG’O

Nyong’o had already won major awards before this year. She’s shown us what she’s capable of, for sure. However, this year she took her talents to new heights, turning in a masterful performance in Jordan Peele’s US, and releasing her first children’s book Sulwe. There’s no ceiling to what she can do, and it feels like it’s only the beginning of her journey.


WENDELL PIERCE

He’s the actor your favorite actor admires. He’s owned every screen he’s appeared on over the years, and this year, with recurring roles on USA’s Suits and Amazon’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and an award-worthy turn as a clergyman in the film Burning Cane, Pierce continues to put in that good work.


BILLY PORTER

You can’t help but notice Porter. His presence is felt in every room he enters, and every role he takes gives us a chance to watch his brilliance. From his head-turning entrances on red carpets to impromptu karaoke at the Tony’s to, of course, his award-winning role on FX’s POSE, 2019 has been year he, and we, will never forget.


RAPSODY

She’s not a female MC. She’s just an MC, and her 2019 project EVE is everything the rap game needed. Her presence will hopefully inspire a new generation to place an importance on lyrics, to take pride in what they’re communicating to the masses. It’s definitely been a stellar year for the Snow Hill native.


PHYLICIA RASHAD

While we’ll never run out of superlatives to express how we feel about Rashad, it feels like every role she takes is a love letter to all of us. 2019 gave us some peak moments for the multi-faceted actress, with an award-worthy performance on NBC’s This Is Us, and a gripping supporting role on OWN’s David Makes Man.


LYRIC ROSS

It’s hard to describe just what makes Ross so good. It could be her temperament, or her ability to hold her own with any and everyone with whom she shares a scene. Whatever it is, at a young age she’s already a pro, and mesmerizing in her role as Deja on NBC’s This Is Us. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for the young star.


SIDDIQ SAUNDERSON

It’s one thing to be cast as a young member of rap royalty Wu-Tang Clan. It’s completely another thing to be cast as Ghostface Killah, and be faced with having to own a range of emotions during the Wu-Tang: An American Saga limited series, being tasked with being a credible rapper, a big brother to two siblings with disabilities, and have to carry a love story. Saunderson has proven to be adept at all of the above, and it’s been dope watching him navigate it all. Can’t wait to see what he shows us during the series’ sophomore season.


SHERMAN’S SHOWCASE

While the Black sketch show made its mark on television this year, the combination of that AND parody is even more daunting. As a send-up on the popular series Soul Train, Sherman’s Showcase masterfully kept the subject matter fun and funny. Here’s to hoping it gets a second season. It definitely deserves it, as well as all of our support.


TANK AND THE BANGAS

2019 ended on a very dope note for the New Orleans collective, with a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. But the entire year, which included the release of their latest project, Green Balloon, has felt like a just reward for all of the work they’ve put in over the years. They deserve all of the praise. NOLA, stand UP!


KENAN THOMPSON

This is the year that Thompson became the most tenured member of Saturday Night Live, started production of his new sitcom and debuted a new variety show, all on NBC. He should be appreciated for that, and then applauded even ore for all of the classic sketches he’s helmed including What’s Up With That and all of the Family Feud/Steve Harvey bits. Recently, he not only stood in a lineup with a legendary lineup on the Saturday Night Live stage, he’s proved throughout the years that he definitely belonged there. Raise a glass.


BOKEEM WOODBINE

He’s become one of those actors that shows up everywhere, always working, and always delivering a performance you’re sure to remember. From Wu-Tang: An American Saga to Queen & Slim, after all these years, Bokeem is still doing good work.


ZENDAYA

It’s always amazing to see an actor do something that’s unexpected. Something that would cause you to question if it’s possible, or if’ll be believable. I’m not sure anyone thought it was possible for Zendaya to completely body her role on HBO’s Euphoria. And yet, there she was playing a high school student fresh out of rehab, dealing with her demons and attempting to stay clean. Her performance made the hairs on my arm stand up. Gave me goosebumps. Cemented her star status. What a year.


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