Around the start of every year, “Time” magazine releases a list of who they deem to be the 100 Most Influential People of that year. First published before the turn of the millennium in 1999, the list highlights notable performers, organizers, writers, journalists, and politicians, all mavericks in their fields, who have had an indisputably significant impact on culture and society. Examples of current and former honorees include Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, and Malala Yousafzai.
It may be hard to believe (or accept), but we are about halfway through 2019. That’s right. Just think of everything that has transpired in your life since New Year’s. Now, just think about doing it all again. Whew!
Since the Time 100 list is usually published at the beginning of the year, it not only relies on the honoree’s past proven efforts but the honoree’s prophesied contributions to the future of their respective fields. Now that we have sunken a little deeper into the year, I think it’s time we add a few more names to this list.
By nature, lists that work like the Time 100 are a bit exclusionary. Brandishing 100 people as the “most influential” seems quite foolish when we consider the billions of amazing humans that exist on this planet. All of whom are making power moves in their own lives every day, sans celebration or praise. If we do want to narrow things down a bit however, Hollywood is a great place to start.
Hollywood is an ever-changing vessel, but the past few years have seen a phenomenal surge of diverse voices and female-spearheaded projects. This is a much-welcomed change. After last year’s award season Anne Cohen wrote, “The red carpets may be back in storage for another year, but the point has been made: Women are done waiting for permission. We've been quietly chipping away at a systemic power imbalance for nearly a century; now, the sledgehammers are coming out.” - Refinery29
It’s undoubtedly true. Female-identifying producers, writers, directors, and actresses are kicking ass, taking names, and making no apologies for it. Whether it is in megawatt movies like “Captain Marvel” and “Dark Phoenix,” smaller, quirkier films like Netflix’s romantic comedy “Someone Great” or popular television shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Shrill,” having women at the forefront only improves things. Because of this, I’ve curated a list of inspiring, intelligent and innovative A-list actresses who I believe deserve a spot on “Time’s” next list!
Janelle Monáe may be more widely known for her Grammy-award nominated discography, but her acting chops can no longer be taken for granted after a quick glance at her credentials. From portraying real-life NASA superhero Mary Jackson in “Hidden Figures” to the devoted and open-hearted Teresa in Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning miracle movie “Moonlight,” Janelle has become a force in Hollywood.
December of last year saw the release of “Welcome to Marwen,” a Universal picture starring Steve Carell, and now you can catch Monáe’s sultry voice in some of the biggest box office animated movies like “Rio 2” and “Ugly Dolls.” She deserves her place right at the top of this list and I cannot wait to see what else she has in store.
Another Hollywood newbie who should get a certified spot on the Time 100 list is Kiki Layne. At only 27 years old (27!!!), Layne has become one of the most revered new A-listers. Another alum of Barry Jenkins’ cinematic mastery, Layne was the breakout star of his adaptation of James Baldwin’s haunting romance novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The movie was nothing short of gorgeous and this was largely due to Kiki’s subtle yet stoic portrayal of the character Tish. Quickly following “Beale Street” was a role in another highly anticipated adaptation, Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” Both films murk on the topics of identity, race, human connection and brutality, and likely required a lot of exhaustive physical and mental work from the young actress. Layne rose to the occasion on both accords, earning the 2018 Essence Black Women In Hollywood Spotlight Award.
Up next is “Captive State,” an alien thriller starring John Goodman. In other words, Kiki is not taking her platform lightly and we can expect more challenging work from her in the future.
It may seem odd to include such a well-known and established actress like Reese Witherspoon on this list of Hollywood standouts. But in recent years, Witherspoon has stepped into a whole new realm of Hollywood prowess as an executive producer. Her company Hello Sunshine has backed a number of successful films including “Wild” and “Gone Girl,” in addition to HBO’s megahit “Big Little Lies” and an original podcast.
Slated up next are a bunch of other movies, many of which are being adapted from books. Reese herself is an avid reader and a spot on her online book club has become a coveted position for novelists all around the world.
If you do not already know her name, it’s beyond past time to learn it, people! Raisa has been an “under the radar” actress for some time now, but has stepped further into the Hollywood ether with her role in Freeform’s “Grown-ish.” Francia is a series regular on the hit YA show, a position she was likely familiar with after a long stint on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” As if this was not enough, she was also tapped to star in the long-awaited sequel, “Lifesize 2” starring this up-and-coming model by the name of Tyra freaking Banks! Talk about a dream come true.
One of Francia’s most notable and noble Hollywood moves however, was actually outside of any production studio. Back in 2017, Raisa got one of her kidneys removed. Why, you ask? Because she found out that she was a match for her best friend who just happens to be global superstar Selena Gomez. Immediately after the assessment, Raisa agreed to make the transfer. Gomez battles lupus, and at the time was facing a potentially fatal battle with her failing kidneys. This decision was likely not as easy as Raisa made it seem, but proves that she is more than just an A-list talent. She’s the ultimate friend.
Hollywood really has a lot to look forward when it comes to the next two names on the list. Fourteen year old Marsai Martin is most known for her role as the quippy (read: evil) Dianne on ABC’s “Black-ish.” Martin’s been with the character since she was nine years old, and seeing her grow feels as if I am watching a real life neice or baby cousin bloom before my eyes. The proud aunty vibes escalated even further this year thanks to the release of Martin’s film “Little,” a riff off of the earlier ‘80s film “Big” which starred forever dreamboat, Tom Hanks. Martin leading the film would have been enough of a reason to celebrate. Come to find out that she also pitched and executive produced it, making her the youngest person in Hollywood history to do so. Damn!!! Leave some success for the rest of us pretty please.
If you needed even more of a reminder that the young people are doing it better than we are, look no further than Joey King. This powerhouse actress is only nineteen years old and has already been in over 20 films and television series. Although King has played a lot of clichéd teeny-bopper roles, she’s not afraid of the meaty, gritty, painful ones either. King currently stars in “The Act,” a heart-aching true-crime drama on Hulu. According to my sister in I AM & CO, Vanessa, the first season follows the lives of Gypsy Rose Blanchard (King) and her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard. After years of being sheltered and lied to, Gypsy goes on a road of self-discovery and independence to escape her toxic mother/daughter relationship. The role is daunting, but King is fully committed and even shaved her head to match her character’s signature buzz cut.
On the complete opposite end of the age spectrum is your queen and mine, Ms. Betty White. What a gem of a woman, am I right? Dear reader, whoever you are, wherever you are, please take a moment right now to verbally exclaim, “Betty White is so damn awesome!”
A true comedic icon, White really exploded onto our screens as Sue Ann in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Several decades later she is still dishing out spitfire in other roles and guest appearances, earning the longest television career of any female entertainer.
If I’m being 100 percent honest (and I trust you, dear reader, enough to be 100 percent honest), one of my favorite Betty White roles was Elka Ostrosky in TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland.” Yessss, the age of the average viewer for this show was probably closer to 47 than 22, but I loved every second! It was amazing to witness a group of older female actresses lead a comedic television show, a phenomenon similar to White’s other notable series, “Golden Girls.”
It really is fun to gawk at all the honorees on “Time’s” notorious list. The issue is plump with striking photographs of the celebrants and powerful introductions/words of praise written by equally admirable cultural icons (Ava DuVernay wrote an excerpt for Gayle King, Shawn Mendes wrote an excerpt for Taylor Swift, Tessa Thompson wrote an excerpt for Brie Larson, etc.). While I am all for giving people their flowers while they are still here, it’s important to remember the power every single one of us here on this planet possesses.
Your presence here is enough of a promise that you have a set purpose. Whether you choose to influence others in your home, local community, or on a much grandeur scale like these honorees, the work you do here is not just important, it’s necessary. The actresses I’ve chosen to add to the Time 100 are talented and beautiful, yes, but more importantly they elevate Hollywood’s all too traditional standards. They inspire us to do better, be stronger, and reaffirm all the ways we can light up the world.