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The 11 Most Important Women of Color Moments of 2015

The 11 Most Important Women of Color Moments of 2015

Harry Potter” Gets More Inclusive: Hermione Will Be Played by a Black Actress 
The “Harry Potter” franchise — seven best-selling books, eight movies that struck lighning at the box office — has always preached the power and magic of love, diversity and solidarity. But despite author J.K. Rowling’s clear stance against racism and intolerance, the “Potterverse” definitely has some problematic elements

So we couldn’t have been happier to hear the news that Hermione Granger, one of the three main characters in “Harry Potter” and easily one of the most beloved figures in the franchise, is being reimagined as a black woman. Actress Noma Dumezweni has been cast as Hermione in an upcoming theater production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” The play takes place nineteen years after the conclusion of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” News of the casting led to enthusiastic cheers, as well as some unfortunate (but predictable) racist backlash. Rowling praised the color-blind casting of Hermione, tweeting to detractors, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione,” then included a cheeky kissy-face emoticon — an eff you to prejudiced fans who clearly missed the point of the “Harry Potter” story.) 

Ava DuVernay Barbie Flies off the (Virtual) Shelves 

Mattel first introduced an Ava DuVernay doll back in April as part of its “Sheroes” line, described by the toy company as “female heroes who inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere.” DuVernay’s considerable fan base — namely her 141,000 Twitter followers — convinced Mattel to mass produce the pint-sized iteration of the “Selma” director, which went on sale in the first week of December. The doll sold out online in 17 minutes. 

Barbie has a (deservedly) bad rep for perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards, so we were thrilled to see the company celebrating women for what they do rather than what they look like with the Sheroes line. Now it’s clear that immortalizing history-making helmer DuVernay was a great business decision as well. We can only hope the limited-edition Barbie goes on sale again soon. 

Viola Davis Becomes the First African-American Winner in the Best Actress in a Drama Category at the Emmys and Delivers Powerful Acceptance Speech 

“The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity,” Viola Davis proclaimed in an acceptance speech that quoted Harriet Tubman upon becoming the first African-American woman to win a dramatic Emmy (in 2015!). “You cannot win an Emmy for a role that isn’t there,” she very reasonably argued. The “How to Get Away With Murder” actress then thanked “people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons and Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goodes, to Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line.”

Even more wonderfully, Davis was hardly the only black female winner of the night; she was also joined by Uzo Aduba, Regina King and “Bessie” writer-director Dee Rees.

Home” Hits Box-Office Gold With Immigrant Girl-of-Color Protagonist

Less than a third of characters in family films are female, according to a 2010 study by the Geena Davis Institute. You can guess how many female characters of color there are in children’s entertainment, which is, for better or for worse, instrumental in how young people grow up to see the world. Hence it was enormously important that the sci-fi animated hit “Home,” about an alien who teams up with a new human friend to keep his extraterrestrial species from invading Earth, feature a female protagonist of color in the teenage Tip. Voiced by Rihanna (and her mom by Jennifer Lopez), Tip is part of an immigrant family from Barbados — a character detail that acknowledges that adventures can happen to anyone. It helps, also, that the film has a surprisingly strong anti-colonialism message — heady stuff for a kids’ movie. If you think “Home” is the movie equivalent of eating your vegetables, though, think again: By being inclusive and progressive, the movie became the 14th highest-grossing film of the year. 

Shonda Rhimes Caps Off a Great TV Year With a Mind-Blowingly Great Memoir

If you’re looking for a last-minute holiday gift, you can’t top a copy of Shonda Rhimes’ brilliant “The Year of Yes.” The book’s got an easy hook: The “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” creator said yes to everything over the course of a year — but it’s really a peek into Rhimes’ wise, funny, surprisingly candid brain, which contains opinions on everything from accepting compliments and balancing showrunning with single motherhood to, yes, the recent weight loss that’s been (unfairly) making the most headlines. By the end of journey in “The Year of Yes,” you’ll feel like you’ve gained a new best friend. 

Jane the Virgin” Actress Gina Rodriguez Wins a (Richly Deserved) Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy

Gina Rodriguez became the second Latina actress ever to win a Best Comedy Actress Golden Globe at the beginning of this year when she was justly recognized for her work on CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” (“Ugly Betty’s” America Ferrera was the first.) Rodriguez — the only person of color to take home a trophy from the ceremony — gave one of the most touching acceptance speeches of the night, when she said of her win, “This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes. My father used to tell me to say every morning: ‘Today is going to be a great day. I can and I will.’ Well, Dad. Today is a great day. I can and I did.” You can look forward to Rodriguez’s upcoming book, which will include more advice from her father that’s helped the actress in her life and career. 

Constance Wu and Nahnatchka Khan Make “Fresh Off the Boat” One of TV’s Sharpest and Funniest Broadcast Sitcoms 

The first Asian-American family sitcom in two decades, “Fresh Off the Boat” is an overachiever in many ways: the jokes, the performances, the relatable mixed feelings about joining mainstream America. But for us, two women really take the ABC comedy to the next level: MVP cast member Constance Wu, who always knows how to throw a hilarious curveball with her delivery as Tiger Mom Jessica, and showrunner Nahnatchka Khan, who hired Asian-American writers for her writers room for greater authenticity and made the inclusion of queer people of color (still too rarely seen in the media) a part of America’s inclusive tapestry. 

Ballerina Misty Copeland Enjoys Another Banner Year

It’s never been a better time to be a Misty Copeland fan. After publishing a best-selling memoir and landing a movie deal last year, America’s most famous ballerina became the subject of a documentary and the American Ballet Theater’s first black female principal dancer in 2015. “I had moments of doubting myself and wanting to quit because I didn’t know that there would be a future for an African-American woman to make it to this level,” Copeland said after attaining principal-dancer status, openly acknowledging the under-representation of dancers of color in ballet. “At the same time, it made me so hungry to push through, to carry the next generation. So it’s not me up here — and I’m constantly saying that — it’s everyone that came before me that got me to this position.” Copeland continues to be an inspiring role model, as well as proof positive that talent can come from anywhere — but needs opportunities to shine. 

Desiree Akhavan Explores Queer Hipsterdom From an Iranian-American POV in “Appropriate Behavior” 

Desiree Akhavan’s directorial debut made our “10 Best Women-Directed Films of 2015” list, and for good reason. “Appropriate Behavior” covers well-trodden ground: We’ve all seen many a movie about a young woman dealing with a bad break-up, awkward rebound sex and parents who just don’t understand. But told through writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan’s lens, all this feels like something fresh. It’s the details that make the main character, Shirin (played by Akhavan), so compelling. Her parents are Iranian-American immigrants, she’s bisexual and her recently ended relationship was a with woman. (The causes of the split — which we won’t spoil, but will acknowledge for being unusually interesting — are explored through flashbacks.) As Inkoo wrote in her review at TheWrap, Shirin and her “pursuit of her true self isn’t just a story we’ve rarely, if ever, seen on film; it’s the introduction of a hilarious and essential new voice.” 

Tangerine” Brings Trans Women Onscreen and Wins Critics Over 

It’s heartbreakingly, depressingly rare to find a movie centered on two women of color. Rarer still is a movie portraying transgender characters played by transgender actresses. “Tangerine” is unlike anything we’ve seen before — and yes, that’s partly due to the fact that it was shot entirely on an iPhone. But its frenetic pacing and charismatic leading ladies are what make this dramedy truly memorable. The film follows two pals (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor), both transgender sex workers, searching for an unsavory ex-flame on Christmas Eve. In addition to showing a side of Los Angeles that rarely gets the big-screen treatment, “Tangerine” offers messy, complicated female protagonists in a messy, complicated friendship. The result is riveting, and the film won rave reviews, largely thanks to the magnetic performances of its leading ladies. Rodriguez and Taylor are nominated for Independent Spirit Awards in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress category, respectively, marking the first time that trans actresses have been nominated in both categories. 

“The Wiz” Earns Huge Ratings By Featuring an All-Black Cast

The success of “The Wiz Live!” shouldn’t have come as a surprise: Diversity sells, after all. Hollywood just tends to ignore this fact. This live-action spin on “The Wizard of Oz” was heavily promoted, and NBC’s faith in the project was rewarded handsomely with a huge audience — about 11.5 million viewers tuned in to see a cast that included Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige. When was the last time you remember an all-black production of anything on network TV? Execs, take note — we want more female-centric stories on television, especially ones centered on women of color. 

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