The Year in Black Culture/Entertainment 2020: The revolution was painful, powerful and poignant

If 2020 was supposed to be your year, then you were in for a rude awakening once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.  While the toll it took on families remains the most heartbreaking thing to watch, the pandemic also affected the economy and every major industry. In Hollywood, studios and productions were shut down and films and TV shows were delayed.

2020 also served as a painful reminder on the progress we still needed to make as a country when it came to equality and ending systemic racism. 

Here’s a roundup of a notable things that happened in Black culture and entertainment in 2020:

On May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, George Floyd died in police custody during his arrest for allegedly attempting to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby grocery store. Floyd was handcuffed and lay face-down on the street, while former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes even as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe.  

Chauvin and three other officers involved were fired the day after Floyd’s death. Chauvin was ultimately charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. The three other former officers who were at the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

Floyd’s death sparked global outrage and protests around the world. However, his passing wasn’t the only death that led to protests and a national reckoning. 

People protested for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT worker who was shot at least six times in her bed and killed when Louisville, Kentucky police officers fired multiple rounds into her apartment, and Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who shot seven times times in the back by police in front of Blake’s family, including his three children. 

Blake’s shooting in August prompted the Milwaukee Bucks to call off their playoff game against the Orlando Magic. Other NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS teams quickly joined the action in solidarity.

While social justice, addressing systemic racism, and police reform were at the top of many 2020 lists, this year the Black community was dealt some tough blows when it came to celebrity deaths.

On January 26, NBA icon and Oscar-winner Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles. He was 41. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died alongside her father and seven other victims.

On July 17, Representative John Robert Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon, died at 80 years old. Lewis passed seven months after a routine medical visit revealed that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

On August 28th, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer at age 43. His death came as a shock to the world, and even to many of his friends and colleagues, because he’d kept his illness private for years while he received treatment.

With the film industry shut down due to COVI9-19, many theaters also closed. Although films like the John David Washington-led Tenet and Micheal Ealy‘s Fatale made a push for the big screen, many movies went strait to streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime or opted to go digital with VOD.  Still others saw their premieres indefinitely delayed into 2021.

Here are some of the films that went digital and/or streamed after the pandemic hit:

The Lovebirds, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, follows a young couple who are pulled into a bizarre, and hilarious, murder mystery. Originally scheduled to hit theaters on April 3, the film was sold to Netflix, which released the film digitally on May 22.

Da 5 Bloods, directed by Spike Lee, stars Delroy LindoJonathan Majors and Chadwick Boseman. It follows a group of four aging Vietnam War veterans who return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader, as well as the treasure they buried. It premiered on Netflix on June 12.

Antebellum stars Janelle MonáeKiersey Clemons and Gabourey Sidibe, and follows a modern-day African-American woman who finds herself in a Southern slave plantation and must escape. Originally set to debut in theaters, it was released in the US. via VOD on September 18.

Bad Hair, directed and produced by Justin Simien, stars Elle LorraineJay PharoahLena Waithe and Kelly Rowland. It follows a young woman who gets a hair weave that has a mind of its own. The film went into limited release on October 16, followed by a release though Hulu on October 23.

Spell, starring Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine, follows a man seemingly saved by a kind elderly couple, until he learns their sinister intentions. It was released in the U.S. via VOD on October 30.

Small Axe, directed by Steve McQueen, is an anthology series consisting of five films that tell distinct stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s. Starring Letitia Wright and John Boyega, the films began launching in November.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, centers on a fateful recording session by Ma Rainey in 1927 Chicago. The film, Boseman’s last, launches on Netflix on December 18.

Pixar’s Soul, voiced by Jamie FoxxPhylicia Rashad, and Angela Bassett, follows a middle school music teacher who, after finally getting a chance to join a jazz band, dies after a freak accident. Originally intended to be a theatrical release, it will be released on Disney+ on December 25. 

Sylvie’s Love, starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha, follows a married woman who falls in love with a jazz musician. It lands on Amazon Prime Video on December 25.

By Candice Williams
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