Presenting The First-Ever Bitch 50

Pop culture is an evolving landscape that is populated by artists, entertainers, visionaries, activists, and political figures. At Bitch Media, we’re interested in shape-shifters who push pop culture to be more representative, inspiring, and meaningful for communities who are typically ignored by mainstream media. We’re paying attention to those who say what won’t be said anywhere else; those who do what needs to be done, with or without fanfare; and those who push for and measure social and cultural progress with a lens that expands the world beyond our current realities.

The Bitch 50 recognizes the most impactful creators, artists, and activists in pop culture whose imaginations extend beyond normalizing and affirming the same mainstream messages. The Bitch 50 have utilized their creative or political power to further advance visibility, equality, or access for marginal folks—especially LGBTQ communities of color.

We honor those who have taken risks in their work that push us closer to progress—a world where more LGBTQ people are in leadership and decision-making positions, democracy is a practice not a hope, and racial inclusion is a basic start instead of a goal. The Bitch 50 highlights the firsts and the pioneers; the people who created a ripple or a path from the margins to the center. We looked at cultural work that generated exciting possibilities for expressing identity, power, gender, sexuality, and relationships—work that intentionally focused on freeing others.

Activists

Photo of Tarana BurkeTarana Burke

Activist, nonprofit founder, and senior director of Programs at Girls Gender Equity

Listening to a young girl tell her story of sexual abuse in 1997 led Tarana Burke to create Just Be, Inc. in 2007, a nonprofit organization to help young girls of color who are facing sexual harassment and abuse. She called the movement “Me Too.” Then, in 2017, actress Alyssa Milano borrowed the phrase without acknowledging Burke, causing a widespread discussion about intersectionality and prompting an outpour of stories and public outcry about sexual harassers and predators across multiple industries. Burke’s life’s work predates all digital activity and keeps the focus on survivors, and now her movemovent, #MeToo, is thriving with an accompanying resource website.

Follow: @taranaburke

Photo of Ericka HartEricka Hart

Activist and sex educator

It is hard to pinpoint what Ericka Hart is best known for—her activism to decolonize the medical industry in order to move toward better representation for Black women in breast cancer research and narratives, her work to decolonize our ideas about sex and sexuality as an educator, or her 2017 breakout “decolonized podcast for lovers on the margins,” From Hoodrat to Headwrap. Clearly, the difficulty one has in defining her central work provides us the answer: Hart need not take one aim to decolonize our minds and our worlds, she packs enough insight, wit, and nuance to do it all at once.

Follow: @ihartericka

 

Photo of Colin KaepernickColin Kaepernick

Activist and professional athlete

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem before the beginning of an NFL game on September 1, 2016, launching a mainstream conversation about racial equality. This September, when President Trump called for the firing of anyone who did not stand for the flag, NFL players and owners linked arms and/or knelt before or during the anthem to express their disagreement. Although Kaepernick was ultimately punished for his actions, they have memorialized him as a cultural icon who melded sports and political opposition.

Follow: @kaepernick7

Photo of Frances LeeFrances Lee

Activist

Frances Lee—a self described multidisciplinary scholar and trans and gender nonconforming advocate—publishes work about queer kinships, community activism, and Asian and American Pacific Islander literature. This year, Frances pushed us all to consider the parallels between social justice activist culture and spaces and dogmatic purist cultures in “Excommunicate Me From The Church of Social Justice” and, later, “Why I’ve Started Fearing My Fellow Social Justice Activists.” Frances asks questions and presents ideas about how we can “spend less time antagonizing and more time crafting alternative futures where we don’t have to fight each other for resources and care.”

Follow: Hello Frances Lee

Photo of Carrie Ann Lucas

Carrie Ann Lucas

Disability rights activist, attorney, and founder of Disabled Parents Rights

Along with ten other protesters from ADAPT, a national organization born in Colorado that has fought for the rights of people with disabilities since the 1970s, Carrie Ann Lucas was arrested in July of this year during a 59-hour sit-in at Senator Cory Gardner’s office to protest the Senate healthcare bill. After Lucas used Facebook to livestream the sit-in, it received upward of 359,000 views. Lucas is the founder of the nonprofit Disabled Parents Rights, and practices juvenile law. She has also announced that she will be running for Town Board in her hometown of Windsor, Denver.

Follow: @disabilitycubed

Photo of Chelsea ManningChelsea Manning

Transgender rights activist

After serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for leaking confidential military information to Wikileaks and being pardoned by Barack Obama, Chelsea Manning stepped out into the new world fully as herself and emerged as a leading voice for transgender and healthcare rights. In September, CIA director Mike Pompeo expressed his disapproval of Harvard’s invitation to Manning to serve as a visiting fellow, calling Manning an “American traitor.” Harvard caved and rescinded its offer, provoking controversy about who gets to speak on college campuses. Manning stayed even and reframed the insult by saying, “I’m honored to be the first disinvited trans woman to the Harvard University fellowship program. And I am, I’m honored.”

Follow: @xychelsea

Photo of Chase StrangioChase Strangio

Activist and staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT & AIDS Project

Chase Strangio has had an explosive year. Strangio has worked tirelessly to combat transphobic bathroom bills and fight for the rights of trans and gender nonconforming people in police custody, most notably as a member of Gavin Grimm’s legal team and as Chelsea Manning’s attorney. Strangio’s work to forward legislation and action for LGBTQ communities and those living with HIV undoubtedly continues the drumbeat of the legal work needed for policy to truly shift in this country.

Follow: @chasestrangio

Photo of Amita SwadhinAmita Swadhin

Writer, advocate, and founder of Mirror Memoirs

Amita Swadhin founded Mirror Memoirs, an oral history project that centers the healing and leadership of LGBTQ survivors of color to end child sexual abuse, and organized the first documented gathering for LGBTQ survivors of color to share stories, build community, and strategize how to use their struggle and resilience as a starting point. Leading by example, in January, Amita Swadhin shared her story of survival in her remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee against the appointment of Jeff Sessions, during which she stated, “I am here today on behalf of rape and sexual assault survivors to urge you not to confirm Senator Sessions as attorney general.”

Follow: @aswadhin

 

Supernova Women logoSupernova Women

Cannabis activists

America and Canada generated more than $6 billion from harvesting and selling marijuana in 2016, but people of color and Black people are often locked out of that economy. Supernova Women, a collective of women of color activists, are aiming to change that through legislative lobbying, business workshops, and educating ex-offenders about expunging their records. Their advocacy pushes back against the failed war on drugs and opens doors for people of color who want to profit from the legalization of marijuana.

Follow: @supernovawomen

Women's March logoWomen’s March Organizers

Organizers and activists

On January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, the 2017 Women’s March became the single largest day of protest in U.S. history. Countless protests all over the world fought for basic human rights that were attacked by Trump’s campaign. An estimated five million people participated in the protests worldwide. The Women’s March signaled a new era of both digital and offline organizing against the Trump administration and revealed a new chapter of political resistance in the continuing story of feminist empowerment.

Follow: @womensmarch

Artists

Photo of Nicole ChungNicole Chung

Writer, editor, and white supremacy slayer

Nicole Chung recently became web editor-in-chief at Catapult, the latest in a slew of accomplishments that mark her greatness as a writer and editor. In 2017 alone, Chung published an essay about being an Asian adoptee in a white family in the anthology Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America; wrote an incredible profile of John Cho for GQ; and interviewed Amy Tan for Shondaland. She also leads conversations about how transracial adoption often perpetuates white supremacy through her writing and on her striking Twitter account.

Follow: @nicole_soojung

Photo of Roxane GayRoxane Gay

Writer and trailblazer

Roxane Gay has had one hell of a 2017. The New York Times-bestselling author released Hunger, a powerful memoir about weight and trauma, in June. A few months later, she announced that she will be releasing two new books. Beyond her own work, Gay also creates pipelines of opportunities for the next generation of writers. She sponsored a scholarship for the inaugural Jack Jones Literary Arts retreat and opened up about intentionally mentoring emerging writers of color. If 2017 is any indication, Gay is just getting started.

Follow: @rgay

 

Photo of Rachel Kaadzi GhansahRachel Kaadzi Ghansah

Long-form writing savant

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah rarely writes for the public. She has the unique luxury of immersing in stories for months—researching the region, interviewing potential subjects, and becoming part of the landscape. In 2017, Ghansah’s byline appeared exactly three times: Once in a game-changing profile of Missy Elliott for the June issue of ELLE; again in Jesmyn Ward’s groundbreaking anthology, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race; and a third time in an incredible GQ profile of Dylann Roof that kept her in Charleston, South Carolina, for three months. Her work is an ode to the tradition of Black storytelling, a means of pushing Black writers forward. As she focuses her attention on a book, we will cherish the three stories she has given us in 2017 and prepare for the greatness that is still to come.

Follow: The Uncollected Works of RKG

Photo of Samantha IrbySamantha Irby

Writer, essayist, and witty-as-hell commentator

Samantha Irby is one of those rare writers who can retain her distinctive voice no matter what she is writing. Irby always delivers a mixture of incisive personal reflection and hilarious cultural commentary whether on her popular blog bitches gotta eat, in the anthology Nasty Women, or in her New York Times-bestselling book We Are Never Meeting In Real Life. Her writing contributions earned her a much-deserved spot on this list, and we are eager to see her humor translate to television—FX bought the rights to her debut essay collection Meaty!

Follow: @wordscience

Photo of Kima JonesKima Jones

Writer, publicist, and founder of Jack Jones Literary Arts

After founding Jack Jones Literary Arts, a book publicity company that focuses on changing the literary industry with the narratives of writers of color, Kima Jones expanded the services of her company by offering one of the most highly anticipated writing residencies in the country in 2017. The Jack Jones Writing Retreat is reserved exclusively for women of color writers of all backgrounds and levels of accomplishment. With an impressive roster of donors to cover scholarships and travel fees, Kima Jones has opened the often-closed door for writers of color, and it looks likes she is just getting started on her mission to enrich the reading world.

Follow: @kima_jones

Photo of Lisa LucasLisa Lucas

Executive director of the National Book Foundation

Lisa Lucas is the youngest person and the first Black woman to hold her leadership position at the National Book Foundation. Her mission? She wants to get more people reading and “de-snob literature” by expanding the table. This year’s winners of the prestigious National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 award, which recognizes exceptional debut work, were all women and three of them were women of color. In an industry that typically awards white male writers, the works nominated during Lucas’s brief tenure thus far are more diverse and representative of women voices. She is clearing the way to the pulpit with red carpet and opening the path for more storytellers in the process.

Follow: @likaluca

Photo of Janet MockJanet Mock

Writer, trans activist, and world builder

Janet Mock has spent the bulk of her writing career deepening our cultural understanding of trans identity. In 2017, she continued her advocacy by appearing on popular radio show The Breakfast Club to school the trio of clueless hosts about navigating the world as a trans woman and speaking at the Women’s March about the importance of making space for and listening to trans women in the resistance movement. However, Mock has, in many respects, moved past teaching trans 101. Her second memoir, Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me, focused on her teenage and young adult years, with only a few pages dedicated to discussing trans identity. She’s also writing for Ryan Murphy’s forthcoming show Pose, which boasts a historic number of transgender actors. It’s Janet Mock’s world, we’re just living in it.

Follow: @janetmock

Photo of Ijeoma OluoIjeoma Oluo

Activist and writer

Thanks to Ijeoma Oluo’s brilliant profile in The Stranger, the name Rachel Dolezal will never come up in our national discourse again. Oluo is the editor at large at The Establishment, writing about institutional racism and misogyny in America. Her insights on race, cultural appropriation, and Facebook’s internal flagging systems that often punish women of color who seek protection from harassment have initiated a robust, straightforward conversation on how both individuals and institutions perpetuate white supremacist patriarchy. Oluo’s first book, So You Want To Talk About Race, debuts in January 2018.

Follow: @IjeomaOluo

 

Photo of Jordan PeeleJordan Peele

Comedian, writer, and horror visionary

Get Out is a masterpiece, and Jordan Peele, the comedian-turned-filmmaker behind it, is a mastermind. Peele’s directorial debut is a satirical look at an experience Black people are all too familiar with: being the only one. In this case, Peele’s protagonist, the only Black man in an all-white suburb, experiences racial terror unlike anything we have ever seen onscreen. The horror film grossed over $175 million, a massive profit for a movie made with $4.5 million. Get Out’s success also marked a renewed interest in Black horror and sci-fi films. HBO is now adapting Nnedi Okorafor’s book, Who Fears Death; Fox 2000 nabbed Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone; and Peele is rebooting The Twilight Zone and adapting Lovecraft Country.

Follow: @JordanPeele

Photo of Jesmyn WardJesmyn Ward

Writer and two-time National Book Award winner

Jesmyn Ward is a writer’s writer. Her prose leaps off the page, haunting readers and following them for days, weeks, months, and years after they have finished one of her masterpieces. In September, she released the critically acclaimed novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, which grapples with the cruelty of mass incarceration and offers a powerful ode to her home state of Mississippi, continuing her reign as this generation’s best storyteller. The book scored her a second National Book Award for fiction. Ward has purposefully stayed in Mississippi, and is continuing to bring literary clout to the often overlooked state.

Follow: @jesmimi

Creative Visionaries

Photo of adrienne maree brownadrienne maree brown

Writer and pleasure activist

adrienne maree brown published her second book, Emergent Strategy, in February 2017, deepening her legacy as a modern-day healer. Based in Detroit, adrienne’s work spans facilitating space for social justice workers, writing books, and editing anthologies through her work as a facilitator, writer, scholar, and activist. adrienne’s books aren’t just books—they are seeds for more programs and opportunities to connect with her communities in order to build a future that roots itself in both personal and systemic transformation.

Follow: @adriennemaree

Photo of Ava DuVernayAva DuVernay

Director

The accolades just keep piling up for Ava DuVernay. In 2017, her documentary on mass incarceration, 13th, earned her two Emmy awards and made her the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. DuVernay has spent a large portion of 2017 working on the highly anticipated film adaption of the classic A Wrinkle in Time, which features a girl of color saving the world. DuVernay is the first woman of color to work on a live-action film with a $100 million production budget. If that means we’re able to live in the world as seen through the genius eyes of Ava Duvernay, it is worth every cent.

Follow: @ava

 

Photo of Alexis Pauline GumbsAlexis Pauline Gumbs

Independent scholar, prayer poet priestess, and visionary

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a self-proclaimed troublemaker and a Black feminist evangelist who has authored two poetic and experimental collections and tirelessly shares the necessity of ancestral connection to Black feminist brilliance. Alexis strategizes and uses technology for Black community formation, specifically in her work as provost of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, a transmedia-enabled community school and lending library based in Durham, North Carolina. This year, through the Black Feminist Bookmobile project, the library will take over 800 books celebrating Black feminism and Black feminist practice on the road and to the people, where Black brilliance resonates and belongs.

Follow: @alexispauline

Photo of Tracy Y. OliverTracy Y. Oliver

Screenwriter and box-office breaker

Girl’s Trip is the mecca of Black girl movies. It accrued over $100 million in the box office, and gave Black women a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience. The movie is the brainchild of Tracy Y. Oliver—a film writer who is opening doors for Black women writers through her work. Her credits also include Barbershop: The Next Cut, Survivor’s Remorse, and The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, and she is currently overseeing an adaptation of First Wives Club that will reportedly include a diverse cast. 2017 was Tracy Y. Oliver’s year, and she clearly has no interest in slowing down.

Follow: @TracyYOliver

Photo of Shonda RhimesShonda Rhimes

Director

What a year for Shonda Rhimes. She continues her dominant hold on Thursday night’s primetime TV lineup with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, all the while launching Shondaland, a website and newsletter celebrating the powerful art of storytelling. In August of this year, Shonda Rhimes signed on for a multiyear deal with Netflix to produce more stories for our insatiable appetite for flawed women protagonists of color and anxiety-inducing plot twists and cliffhangers. Whether it’s ABC or Netflix, as long as Shonda Rhimes keeps on producing original content, we’re here for it. All of it.

Follow: @shondarhimes

Photo of Rae Angelo TuteraRae Angelo Tutera

LGBTQ clothier and advocate

Rae Angelo Tutera makes beautiful suits. Most notably, they makes suits for trans and gender nonconforming communities as the co-owner of Bindle & Keep, which is the subject of the 2016 documentary, Suited. Rae’s quiet, daily impact has a transformative effect on the lives of those on the margins. To make clothing for and celebrate the handsome beauty of those who have rarely been offered access to formal outfitting is to change the world in the humblest of ways.

Follow: @handsomefmnst

Photo of Lena WaitheLena Waithe

Actor, producer, director, and screenwriter

Lena Waithe made history this year when she won an Emmy for best comedy series writing for her work on the “Thanksgiving” episode of Master of None. She is the first Black woman to take home the award. Waithe based the episode on her own experience of coming out to her mother. Her upcoming series about life on Chicago’s South Side, The Chi, premieres on Showtime in January 2018.

Follow: @LenaWaithe

Photo of Oprah WinfreyOprah Winfrey

Media mogul, actress, and master of reinvention

It’s never too late to reinvent one’s self. At 63, Oprah Winfrey knows that all too well. After creating her own television network, dominating daytime television for over 20 years, and accruing billions of dollars, Winfrey could have rested on her laurels; instead, she has chosen to show up in 2017 with a renewed vigor and passion for acting and creating. Winfrey joined the cast of Greenleaf, a church centered-drama set in Memphis; costarred in the forthcoming Wrinkle In Time; and joined 60 Minutes as a correspondent. It’s a testament to Winfrey’s investment in creating culture and blazing a trail for those who are coming behind her.

Follow: @Oprah

Entertainers

Photo of Fatimah Asghar and Sam BaileyFatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey

Creators of Brown Girls

Brown Girls, written by Fatimah Asghar and directed by Sam Bailey, started as a web series before being picked up by HBO this year. The show centers on the intimate friendship between two women of color, Leila, a Pakistani American writer who is starting to embrace her queerness, and Patricia, a commitment-averse Black musician. With two complex women of color, no white people, and a diversity of sexualities, Brown Girls is radically shifting the way we think about onscreen relationships and those who are being left out of mainstream narratives.

Follow: @asgharthegrouch and @SamQBailey

Photo of Cristela AlonzoCristela Alonzo

Comedian, actress, writer

Cristela Alonzo became the first Latina woman to write, produce, and star in her own network television show when she released Cristela in 2014. She has since released her Netflix standup special, Cristela: Lower Classy. Alonzo is the host of the podcast To be Continued, and her first book will be released in 2018. Alonzo is a powerhouse who is breaking down barriers for women of color writers and performers.

Follow: @cristela9

 

Photo of BeyoncéBeyoncé

Singer who stops the world

All hail the queen! Outside of stopping the world with a jaw-dropping pregnancy announcement, Beyoncé also turned her attention to educating the women who will follow her. On the one-year anniversary of Lemonade, Beyoncé announced the Formation Scholars, a scholarship program for woman college students at Berklee College of Music, Howard University, Parsons School of Design, and Spelman College who are majoring in creative arts, music, literature or African-American studies. Beyoncé’s monetary investment in college students at two historically Black colleges and continued activism around police violence speaks highly of her commitment to equality.

Follow: @Beyonce

Photo of Viola DavisViola Davis

Actress and producer

Viola Davis is a triple-threat actress, winning awards for her groundbreaking roles in film, television, and theater. In 2017, she continued producing and starring in Shonda Rhimes’s immensely successful legal drama How To Get Away With Murder. This year, Davis infused her role as professor Annalise Keating with even more masterful emotional depth, creating vital conversations about complex characters for Black women, vulnerability, addiction, survival, and Black motherhood. She inspires and empowers others by centering underrepresented narratives in her work and being open and candid about overcoming poverty and the difficulties of being a Black woman in Hollywood.

Follow: @violadavis

Photo of Clarissa ShieldsClaressa Shields

Boxer

Hailing from Flint, Michigan, Claressa Shields is one of the world’s best boxers and also one of its most overlooked. She recently won the WBC and IBF super middleweight titles. Shields is the first American boxer, man or woman, to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals, bringing home first place in both the 2012 and 2016 games, and she did so as an ameteaur athlete. Shields is also an unflinching critic of major corporations who flock to male boxers with multimillion dollar sponsorships, but turn a blind eye to women who have accomplished far more. She is the subject of the 2015 documentary T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold, and her story will again be told by Barry Jenkins via Universal Pictures.

Follow: @Claressashields

Photo of Jemele HillJemele Hill

Sports journalist and commentator

Jemele Hill stood her ground even as the White House called for her firing and Trump demanded an apology for tweeting, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” The tweet evolved and fed into energized discussions about the inseparable nature of sports and politics. Hill, a Black woman, has adamantly and repeatedly refused to separate her identity and personal views from her job as others have called on her to “just stick to sports.”

Follow: @jemelehill

Photo of Aparna NancherlaAparna Nancherla

Comedian and actress

Aparna Nancherla might have produced the only writing worth reading from the New York Times Opinion section this year with her hilarious rebuke of Twitter’s move away from its only celebrated feature: brevity. All jokes aside, Nancherla’s standout work as an Indian American comedian and writer in an industry that is dominated by the likes of Louis C.K. is pioneering in and of itself. Nancherla continues to shift the focus away from the same old cis-white-man narratives, offering smarter comedy for those of us who never found anything funny about sexual assault. She also cohosts the podcast Blue Woman Group, voices Hollyhock on BoJack Horseman, and has a cameo on Aziz Ansari’s Master of None.

Follow: @aparnapkin

Photo of Issa Rae Issa Rae

Creator, actress, and the personification of Black girl magic

The second season of Issa Rae’s hit HBO series Insecure resonated with scores of Black women who have loved a partner unworthy of them. Rae’s series generated so much buzz that HBO renewed it for a third season before the second season even ended. That was just the beginning for the writer-producer-actress extraordinaire: After saying, “I’m rooting for everybody Black,” at the Emmys, Rae partnered with Turner House author Angela Flournoy for a HBO television drama about a Black family living in Los Angeles in the early ’90s. She has also continued to make space and create opportunities for Black creatives, the true mark of a Black woman in the business of bettering her community.

Follow: @IssaRae

 

Photo of RihannaRihanna

Musician, fashion icon, and business mogul

After years of smashing music records, Rihanna turned her attention to upending the beauty industry for the better in 2017. Fenty Beauty’s products and campaign aim to represent and serve women of color with affordability, diversity, and durability. Many of the products sold out soon after the line’s launch, proving the undeniable, urgent need for beauty products that cater to people of color. Rihanna also raised $840,000 for charity in a single night this year through her Diamond Ball. The proceeds went to her foundation, the Clara Lionel Foundation, which funds hurricane relief and scholarships and medical centers in Barbados and around the world.

Follow: @rihanna

Photo of Amiyah ScottAmiyah Scott

Actress and activist

Amiyah Scott stars in Lee Daniel’s Star, a series about the Atlanta music scene. In her role as Cotton, Scott presents a mesmerizing narrative, expanding our cultural understanding of what it means to be trans. She is a fierce advocate for trans women, centering their narratives and unapologetically speaking out about her experiences growing up as a Black trans woman in New Orleans.

Follow: @KingAmiyahScott

Photo of Gabourey SidibeGabourey Sidibe

Actress and director

Gabourey Sidibe’s directorial debut, The Tale of Four—a short film inspired by Nina Simone’s “Four Women” that follows four Black women through a single day in their lives—dropped the same year as her memoir This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare. Sidibe is a regular on both Fox’s Empire and Hulu’s Difficult People. Both through her work and activism, she has been a necessary and key voice against body shaming and racial profiling.

Follow: @GabbySidibe

 

Photo of Jessica WilliamsJessica Williams

Actress and comedian

As the youngest correspondent ever on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, Jessica Williams quickly became a recognized, standout voice on politics, race, and pop culture. She has taken that fiery and hilarious voice to her own projects, starring in Netflix’s The Incredible Jessica James and cohosting the podcast 2 Dope Queens. She’s also writing and will star in a new Showtime comedy due next year. Through her work, Williams is continuing to open doors for vital conversations about race, politics, and pop culture—on her own terms.

Follow: @msjwilly

Photo of Gabrielle UnionGabrielle Union

Actress and writer

This year, Gabrielle Union released her memoir We’re Going To Need More Wine, a collection of essays about rape, trauma, divorce, fertility, and her life in Hollywood. She is also the star and showrunner of BET’s hit Being Mary Jane, which is wrapping up its successful run in 2018 and for which she received an NAACP Image Award. Union has been an outspoken voice on sex, race, and beauty standards in Hollywood since the ’90s, and is sure to be an even stronger presence after the success of her first book.

Follow: @itsgabrielleu

Political Shakers

Photo of American Flag2017 November Newly Elected Class

Politicians

After the 2016 election, we have turned our eyes to the prize of 2018 and 2020, but this year’s newly elected class of politicians is proving that the resistance is already winning. Progressive candidates fighting for the marginalized communities to which they belong won local and state races, unseating incumbents and making the GOP shake in their boots. Congratulations to Danica Roem, Andrea Jenkins, Melvin Carter, and the other politicians making history this year.

Photo of Carmen Yulín CruzCarmen Yulín Cruz

Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September, Carmen Yulín Cruz appeared on national television to appeal for the resources Puerto Rico desperately needed. She spoke frankly of the U.S. government’s failure to mitigate the crisis and pleaded with the world for help. Trump lashed out, calling her “nasty,” but she stood her ground and refused to budge. She is expected to run for governor of Puerto Rico in the 2020 election.

Follow: @CarmenYulinCruz

 

Photo of Arisha Michelle HatchArisha Michelle Hatch

Managing director of campaigns at Color of Change

Arisha Hatch is the managing director of campaigns at Color of Change, the organization behind the six-year long campaign that led to Bill O’Reilly’s final fall from grace at Fox News this year. In her role, Hatch has helmed dozens of strategic actions to put an end to institutional hate in this country from quelling corporate support for hate groups to taking down white supremacists on Twitter, to reforming the bail bond industry. Color of Change is now furiously hiring for organizers, strategists, and fundraisers, a testament to Hatch’s keen leadership and unwavering movement toward justice for Black communities and other communities of color.

Follow: @ColorOfChange

Photo of Eric HolderEric Holder

Chair of National Democratic Redistricting Committee

Eric Holder once made history as the first African American U.S. attorney general under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2015. Now he is making even more waves as a Trump critic and, more importantly, chairing the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. In his most recent efforts, Holder has become a champion of redrawing district maps and arguing for a Supreme Court intervention in racial gerrymandering. Holder is pushing for more civic engagement and understanding of the problem so voters are able to fairly choose their candidate instead of being used to secure a Republican advantage in 2018 and 2020.

Follow: @EricHolder

Photo of Angela RyeAngela Rye

Political commentator, attorney, and CEO

Angela Rye is an outspoken, incisive critic of racism and inequity. She is the CEO of IMPACT Strategies, an empowerment initiative for young professionals, and has served as the executive director and general counsel to the Congressional Black Caucus. Activism and advocacy have taken center stage throughout her life, and Rye continues to make huge strides in advancing opportunities for women in politics.

Follow: @angela_rye

Photo of Sally YatesSally Yates

Attorney

When former acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to defend Trump’s travel ban, she was promptly dismissed from her post, but also widely lauded for her staunch opposition to the ban and its unlawful and injurious consequences, a punctuation to her successful career in government. She first served as a U.S. attorney, and then as U.S. deputy attorney general during the Obama administration. She is now a passionate and informed voice in the fight against Trumpism.

Follow: @sallyqyates

Photo of Maxine WatersMaxine Waters

U.S. Representative

Congresswoman Maxine Waters represents California’s 43rd district and has been in Congress since 1990, during which time she has set a precedent for bold and unflinching leadership. This year, she reclaimed her time and rallied Americans against President Trump’s misogynist and racist regime. She is the cofounder of the Black Women’s Forum and has been a vital voice in Congress against those who would bully or intimidate Black women and communities of color.

Follow: @RepMaxineWaters

Technologists

Photo of Maxine WatersBozoma Saint John

Uber’s savior

Bozoma Saint John is a force to be reckoned with. The former Apple Music and iTunes executive joined Uber as the brand’s first-ever chief brand officer. In whitewashed Silicon Valley, John is one of the few Black women executives who intentionally practices inclusion and the only one who could improve Uber’s battered reputation. John is turning the ride-sharing company around after multiple storms, including a recently uncovered data breach, the loss of over 200,000 customers because of their ties to Donald Trump, and the resignation of former CEO Travis Kalanick. She’s also sowing the seeds for other Black women and women of color looking to make their mark in the white male-dominated tech world.

Follow: @badassboz

Photo of Kortney ZieglerKortney Ziegler

Tech genius

What do you do with your spare change? Tech entrepreneur Kortney Ziegler wants people to automatically donate their loose change to help people in jail who cannot afford bail. Appolition is his latest creation, but it is not his only innovative idea. He is also the creator of Trans*H4CK, a nonprofit organization that helps trans people create community and gain visibility in tech; the founder of Eleven, a Twitter bot that gives users a noncommercial license to those who tweet #11c; and the cofounder of Aerial, a platform for people to host live digital events. Ziegler is using tech to make the world more equitable—a worthy goal for a worthy dude.

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