Colman Domingo, Tracy Oliver and Cakes da Killa
Credit: Dee Cercone/Everett Collection; Cakes da Killa/Facebook; Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection; Francesca Roh/Xtra
Pop Culture
9 min

7 highlights from the 2020 Black queer arts calendar

The films, music, games and artists you should look out for this year

Every month is cause to celebrate Blackness, but February is particularly special because it’s Black History Month. Queer and trans members of the Black community are often left out of the conversation when this month rolls around, but visibility is slowly improving across all types of media.

This year, Xtra asked six Black queer folks about the queer-centric events, people and projects they are looking forward to in 2020. And yes, I got so excited I had to weigh in, too. Here are our seven picks of the queer Black art we’re excited for:

New music from Cakes Da Killa 

Cakes Da Killa is an emerging artist out of Brooklyn and has been one of my favourite musicians for years. A friend introduced me to his 2016 album, Hedonism, and I’ve never been the same. His music and sound are explicitly queer. He goes so hard when he spits and he raps with absolutely no vagueness or ambiguity to his lyrics, which is so refreshing to me. He recently released a new song called “Luv Me Nots” that’s both sexy and vulnerable, and it has me hyped for whatever else he may have planned in 2020. Looking forward to his new album!

Stevie Mat, writer

Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts Season 2

I recently discovered Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts, a cartoon with three Black lead characters. One of them mixed, one is queer and one has big curly hair—just like me. It’s optimistic and cute and fun—even in a post-apocalyptic world—and I think that’s very timely. The soundtrack is fantastic and includes wolves (one of whom is voiced by GZA) rapping about astronomy. I’m going to go back and read the comic it’s based on as I wait for Season 2 to drop. I recommend anyone who hasn’t heard about it, or is the least bit curious, to binge-watch.

Cassie Complex, writer, attorney

Tracy Oliver’s show formerly known as Harlem

Film writer Tracy Oliver at the premiere for Girls Trip in Los Angeles.
Credit: Dee Cercone/Everett Collection

The comedy formerly known as Harlem, written and produced by film writer Tracy Oliver, is coming to an Amazon streaming service—and I am very excited. Not only has the show cast Black women of all shades and shapes, but it also features a character named Tye played by Jerrie Johnson, a queer Black woman. We need more Black LGBTQ characters in film and on television, and this is a good start. I do wonder whether this show will fill the planet-sized hole the cancellation of Girlfriends left in my chest. Having the show produced by the creative minds behind Girls Trip (Oliver, along with Malcolm D. Lee) certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Clarkeisha Kent, culture critic

Jonica “Jojo” T. Gibbs, star of BET show Twenties

Jonica T. Gibbs is the lead in Lena Waithe’s new BET show, Twenties. The comedy follows three Black women (two straight and one masculine-presenting lesbian) as they navigate life and work to make their dreams a reality. The first two episodes premiered at Sundance, and Gibbs’s performance as Hattie blew me away. Waithe has an eye for talent, and Gibbs seems to be a stand-in for her. Beyond Gibbs’ talent, she has a certain “it” factor, and I genuinely think she’s setting herself up to be the next big name in entertainment.

Jon Higgins, media critic and educator

Twenties 

Speaking of the highly anticipated Twenties, I have a recurring role on the show. I play Courtney, Hattie’s condescending, nemesis co-worker. Bitter for having lost a writer PA position to newcomer Hattie, she never misses an opportunity to bust Hattie’s chops, give side-eye or offer up a snide remark. The comical banter between us is perfectly timed, and I give off office mean girl realness. Twenties premieres on BET Mar. 4.

Ashli Haynes, actress

Anything from openly gay actor Colman Domingo

Colman Domingo poses at the 10th Annual Governors Awards in Los Angeles.
Credit: Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection

Colman Domingo plays the compassionate father in If Beale Street Could Talk, whose warm way of looking at his daughter lets us know that she can face whatever is thrown at her. Domingo also plays a Nigerian pimp in Zola who’s both menacing and goofily funny, which is not an easy mix to pull off.

Domingo is an openly gay actor who’s been working in film, TV, and on stage for over two decades. With a role in Zola, the horror remake of Candyman directed by Nia DaCosta and the August Wilson adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with Viola Davis (both of which are in post-production), 2020 is his breakout year. Domingo has proved he has the chops. Now, where is his starring role?

Murtada Elfadl, cultural critic

Marsha P. Johnson Park in New York City 

A still of Marsha P. Johnson from a new Netflix documentary.
Credit: Marsha P. Johnson, 2017. ©Netflix/courtesy Everett Collection

This month, New York officials announced that East River State Park in Brooklyn will be renamed in honour of Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson was a prominent figure in the LGBTQ community who fought for the rights of queer people and sex workers, and played a key role in the Stonewall uprising. Considered the “mayor of Christopher Street,” Johnson and fellow trans activist Sylvia Rivera created resources for homeless LGBTQ youth and sex workers. Johnson was a pioneer, activist and legend. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calls Johnson an “an icon of the community.” And now, she’ll become the first openly trans woman to have a state park named after them.

Valerie Complex, writer, film critic

The Last of Us II 

I am incredibly excited about the spring 2020 release of The Last of Us Part II for Playstation 4. The Last of Us (2013) is the best video game I’ve ever played in my life: It’s something otherworldly, and more cinematic than most movies that were released that year. I cried during part one’s finale. It’s the pinnacle of gaming for me—after I finished playing, I decided to retire from gaming for two years.

With this long-awaited sequel, gamers play as Ellie (who identifies as a lesbian) as she navigates the clicker-infested society and attempts to escape her past, which involves her guardian Joel and losing the love of her life. This sequel offers a whole new story that I can’t wait to get into.

Rendy Jones, film critic 

Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks & Scones

Ngozi Ukazu, a cartoonist who had a hugely successful Kickstarter, will be releasing a second volume of her wholesome coming-of-age queer romantic novel, Check, Please!, this spring. The first volume is focused on the life of Bitty, a gay figure skater and vlogger who joins a hockey team during his freshman year of college. He falls for the team captain, and the story follows them as they tackle pressing issues like homophobia and depression. The first book was a charming romance novel suitable for teens but entertaining enough for adults—and the second is bound to be just as great.

Erika Hardison, creator of Fabulize Magazine