11 in 11 (Watchlist for 2012)

2011 was a banner year for black women in art, culture, entertainment, and politics. Here are a few highlights I noted from the year + “colored girls” to watch in 2012:

Photograph: Joan Marcus Newyork.timeout.com

1. My first shout-out is a two-fer. The beautiful and talented Sanaa Lathan returned to Broadway to star in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage‘s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark. At once sad and funny, Vera Stark offered a sharp critique of Hollywood’s racial “shuffles” without being overly dogmatic about it. 

2. Speaking of maids and the paucity of diverse roles for black women in Hollywood, Viola Davis captivates audiences and breathes life into every role she plays. I didn’t like The Help and I’ve made no secret of that, but I do like Viola Davis. I hope the Oscar nod and potential award she’ll secure for that film will open up more and even better roles for her.

Dee Rees’ Pariah

3. The success of Dee Rees‘ directorial debut Pariah may be at the pulse of a new wave of black filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of representations of “blackness.” Even if the critical success of Pariah doesn’t herald a revolution in black filmmaking, it has definitely put Dee Rees on the map of filmmakers to watch in the coming years.

4. On the small screen, we’ll soon be able to watch political analyst Melissa Harris-Perry host her own show on MSNBC. The Tulane professor and blogger for The Nation has made frequent appearances on MSNBC and has filled in for Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. Claiming her own time-slot seems a natural progression for the savvy political pundit.

5. Political powerhouses President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace activist Leymah Gbowee of Liberia were among 2011’s Nobel Peace Prize winners. No women had taken the prize since 2004 when Professor Wangari Maathai–whose passing the world mourned last year–received the award.

6. Taking National Book Awards for fiction and poetry respectively, Jesmyn Ward and Nikky Finney use the written word as witness. Veteran Finney and newcomer Ward keep company with a cadre of contemporary black women writers who use their imaginations in the service of cultural memory.

7. In a complementary way, Kara Walker‘s large-scale drawings conjure a past that has not yet passed (to borrow from Faulkner). Widely recognized for her cut paper silhouettes of plantation scenes that amplify the nation’s racial subconscious, Walker’s summer 2011 exhibition “Dust Jackets for the Niggerati–and Supporting Dissertations, Drawings submitted ruefully by Dr. Kara E. Walker” showcase a new direction for the artist: up from the horrors of slavery and lynching into the “promised land’s” dark unknown.

8. Supersonic diva Jomama Jones“Radiate” evoked black women’s movements and migrations on a transatlantic scale. Back from her self-imposed exile in Switzerland, Jomama (chaneled by the inimitable Daniel Alexander Jones) dazzled audiences with nostalgic tales of love and adventure set to grooves that–aided by the vocal stylings of the Sweet Peaches (Helga Davis and Sonya Perryman)–transported us to a space and time that was both familiar and futuristic.

9. Martina Correia proved an untiring fighter for justice even as she battled her own fight against–and later succumed to–breast cancer. While Correira’s leadership in an international campaign to save her brother Troy Davis from the death penalty did not spare his life, her courage helped reenergize death penalty abolitionists to eradicate state-sanctioned murder in the United States.

10. Twenty years after the infamous Senate hearings and eventual confirmation of Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court judge, Brandeis University Anita Hill returned to DC to join the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll (lawyers for the women employees who filed a class action suit against Wal-mart). The firm will no doubt benefit from Hill’s keen ability to seam matters of race, gender, and history, as her new book Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home shows. Further capping off Hill’s achievements in 2011 was a conference held in her honor at Hunter College, “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later.”  

11. LMAO: If you didn’t tune-in the first Thursdays of 2011 for Issa Rae‘s The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, you must have been sitting under a rock. For many quirky black girls, Issa Rae’s character ‘J’ is the black female lead that has been missing in network comedy: witty, cute, ridiculously funny and a little socially awkward. Maya Rudolph also kept audiences in stitches last year with a hit film and a new t.v. show.

What were some of your hits for 2011? Who should we check for in 2012?