In a year of head-snapping shocks and a whip-fast pace of news developments, who has distracted us, soothed us or explained it all for us in a way we could process? The USA TODAY Life staff has chosen 10 people who have helped to rescue us from the appalling headlines of 2017.
Which turned out to be important because what has turned out to be the story of the year in entertainment has been anything but entertaining, as the parade of shamed men from movies, TV, stage, fashion, ballet and even grand opera began slouching across the nation’s screens beginning in October.
And there appears to be no end in sight. The torrent of allegations continues almost daily, summoned from hundreds of women, and some men, who have accused some of the great and powerful of the entertainment industry of sexual harassment, abuse and assault in episodes as recent as last year or as far back as four decades.
But there have been highlights, particularly among those who have taken up the mantle of fighting back against injustice, whether on screen, like Wonder Woman, or off (we’re looking at you, Jimmy Kimmel).
And while we may not all agree on the political infighting, we can at least agree that in 2017, goodness, good humor and a grinning royal engagement occasionally saved the day.
Rose McGowan, commandant of #RoseArmy
She was best known as an indie darling, a star of the Scream films, who played a witch on Charmed in the early aughts. Now she’ll be known as one of the women whose tweeted accusations of rape by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein helped bring the powerhouse producer down. She also helped to kick-start the #MeToo movement that led to the fall of others, and new attention to the no-longer-hidden problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.
For decades McGowan, 44, kept publicly silent about what she says Weinstein did to her in a hotel room in 1997. But once the New York Times and later The New Yorker revealed she was one of several women who accused Weinstein, McGowan, 44, went public in a big way. She has since become a leading face of feminist fury about sexual harassment.
“We are all Me Toos. I have been silenced for 20 years,” she shouted, fist raised, in a fiery speech greeted by cheers at the Women’s Convention in Detroit on Oct 27. “I have been slut-shamed. I’ve been harassed. I’ve been maligned … We are one massive collective voice, that is what #RoseArmy is all about … No more will we be shunted to the side. No more will we be hurt. It’s time to rise. It’s time to be brave…
“Name it. Shame it. Call it out … It’s time to clean house!”
Gal Gadot: The superhero who didn’t let us down
On screen, Gal Gadot was everything we needed from Wonder Woman: a tough warrior who samples ice cream and coos at babies, a worthy match for her opponents and an agent of change uninhibited in a misogynistic world. Off screen, the raven-haired Israeli was a freaking delight. Gadot ditched heels in favor of flats for her big Hollywood premiere, never deviated from Wonder Woman’s message of kindness and inner strength and gave brutally honest interviews.
“Power and strength are qualities that are very familiar with men,” Gadot told USA TODAY in May. “And once women have this quality, then automatically they’re (written as) colder. … But in real life, it’s not true. Most women who are strong, they’re very loving and warm and inclusive.” Fans now feel such ownership over her character’s feminism that they cried foul at the subtle sexism she endures in Justice League. Put it this way: if this past Halloween is any indication, Gadot’s inspired a whole new generation of little Wonder Women.
Ronan Farrow: Harvey Weinstein’s worst nightmare
Who said print is dead? NBC’s loss became The New Yorker’s gain after network execs turned down the Harvey Weinstein exposé the former MSNBC host been researching for 10 months.
Farrow, who has accused his own father, Woody Allen, of molesting his sister, wouldn’t let the Weinstein story go, telling CBS, “In terms of the gravity of the evidence, it would’ve been impossible for me to live with myself or answer to any of the many women I had already interviewed if I had stopped.”
After initially getting scooped by The New York Times, Farrow, 29, made up for lost time by reporting how Weinstein used ex-Israeli spies to track accusers like McGowan and journalists like himself and the Times’ Jodi Kantor and kept his behavior secret with silent payoffs and nondisclosure agreements.
Though it may be too soon to tell whether Farrow’s words will “line the halls of justice,” as McGowan foretold, we’ll make a prediction of our own: A Pulitzer Prize.
Jordan Peele, the funny Hitchcock
As much as racism was a foe in real life, comedian-turned-filmmaker Jordan Peele’s imagination made it this year’s top horror-movie villain, too. Whether you want to call it a satire or a comedy or a thriller or (as he’ll joke) a “documentary,” Get Out took pop culture to the “Sunken Place” with a biting look at being black in America, embraced the social commentary of horror flicks past like Night of the Living Dead, and created a phenomenon that resonated with every race.
What could have been just another scare-fest will now be taught as part of college film courses and looks like it could follow up its box-office success with awards-season kudos. Yet with all the film’s popularity and hilarity, one can’t forget how personal a project it was to Peele.
“Art, genre and comedy are important pieces of the conversation and can often incite cathartic moments for all of us,” he told USA TODAY in February. And in 2017, in between the laughs and frights, Peele also made the country think about where it is and where it should be.
Kumail Nanjiani, comedy’s next big thing
Whether swatting Trolls on Twitter or warming our heart by sharing his own love story with the world, Kumail Nanjiani became a Hollywood star this year simply by being himself.
He hosted Saturday Night Live, nerded out with the Silicon Valley guys but made his biggest impact with The Big Sick, a romantic comedy based on the courtship of Nanjiani and his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon. The story of a Pakistani standup comedian and how he first falls for his white girlfriend — and then for her parents when she’s hospitalized with a potentially fatal illness — also put the spotlight on interracial coupling and its effect on family dynamics in different cultures. (He also unleashes perhaps the only great 9/11 joke ever.)
Nanjiani kept it real with his romance but also with his Twitter feed, ripping the Muslim ban and sounding off on controversial senatorial candidates with insightful wit and more than a little sass. He’s a little bit Eddie Murphy, a little bit Mark Twain, but luckily for us, a true original.
Meghan Markle, American royal
There’s nothing like a royal wedding to cheer up Britain in dreary times; now the principle applies to the USA, too: The long-awaited announcement, on Nov. 27, of American divorcée Meghan Markle’s engagement to bachelor Prince Harry was greeted by millions of Americans with delight and relief after months of bad news.
When Markle, 36, marries Harry, 33, at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in May, she’ll become the first American actress — and the first biracial royal bride — to be welcomed into the British royal family in its history.
Harry and Meghan will be the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the much-touted “special relationship” between America and Britain, bringing a scion of an ancient line (with ginger genes) together with a contemporary woman blessed with a natural beauty and the nobility of the American middle-class.
Markle is giving up her career as an actress (she was a star of the legal drama Suits), but not her American citizenship. And she’s getting something in return: the HRH and the title of royal duchess. or her.
Jimmy Kimmel, comedic conqueror
Jimmy Kimmel put power and purpose behind his late-night punchlines. After the talk show host’s son, Billy, arrived in April with heart defects, Kimmel, 50, began using his Jimmy Kimmel Live stage to advocate for affordable health care, especially for those with pre-existing conditions. And he slammed inventor of the “Jimmy Kimmel Test” Sen. Bill Cassidy when Kimmel felt the Louisiana legislator reneged on his word.
Kimmel also added Roy Moore to his list of foes, likely ahead of Matt Damon. During social media smack-talking in November, Kimmel accepted the hostile invitation of the Republican Senate nominee accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls to Alabama, with a caveat. “OK Roy, but I’m leaving my daughters at home!” Kimmel tweeted.
Alec Baldwin: The resident Trump troll never waivered
What made politics bearable in 2017? A continual dose of Alec Baldwin, for one. Saturday Night Live’s resident fake president trolled Trump throughout the calendar year, whether it was making out with former press secretary Sean Spicer (by way of Melissa McCarthy) in May or getting in the shower with Paul Manafort (Alex Moffat) following the former campaign chair’s indictment last month. “I brought you in the shower to make sure you weren’t wearing a wire, Paul,” said Baldwin, standing shirtless in shower cap. “God, you’re screwed.”
The actor, who hosted SNL for a record 17th time in February, chased headlines week-to-week. In October’s fall premiere Baldwin knocked Trump for his bungled response to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, fake-lecturing San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz (Melissa Villaseñor) via phone. “You should have paid your bills,” he intoned. “FEMA takes a few days – unless you get FEMA Prime.”
But a line in the same sketch conveyed the mood of the nation best. Playing to the news cycle, Baldwin revealed the president’s strategy. “Trust me, it might seem like what’s coming out of my mouth is B-A-N-A-N-A-S, but it’s all part of the plan, said Baldwin, clad in golf clothes and a MAGA hat. “The more chaos I cause, the less people can focus. They’re all getting so tired.”
That about sums up 2017.
Kendrick Lamar, rap revolutionary
Declaring oneself the “greatest rapper alive” is one of the oldest tricks in the hip-hop playbook.
But if any contemporary MC deserves to wear that crown, it’s Lamar, 30, who teased his return to music with that lofty proclamation on sneering Trump diss The Heart Part 4 in late March. He swiftly followed it with swaggering lead single Humble, a pummeling braggadocio whose jaw-dropping music video is packed with symbolic imagery, and then with soul-baring fourth album Damn., which busted sales records for the Compton rapper while plumbing further into the depths of his psyche.
Lamar is up for seven Grammy Awards at next month’s ceremony, where he’s heavily favored to win (a long-overdue) album of the year, after two previous nods in the category for To Pimp a Butterfly and Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. But the socially conscious artist remains — for lack of a better term — humble, telling fans at October’s Forbes Under 30 summit that despite the acclaim of any given moment, he always wants to “be a person that stands for something. Whether the plan works or not, I want to be remembered as that.”
Margaret Atwood, author of a movement
Margaret Atwood is probably the best person to explain how the adaptation of her feminist novel The Handmaid’s Tale, first published in 1985, became one of the most celebrated and important TV series of 2017.
“I put nothing into (the book) that has not been done in history at some time, in some place,” the 77-year-old author told USA TODAY in April. “I didn’t intend it to be prescient, I intended it to be a (warning).”
Whether or not we were warned, we were certainly captivated by Hulu’s Emmy-winning adaptation of the dystopian parable, which takes place in a totalitarian theocracy where women are stripped of all rights and enslaved. The visual of the handmaids in their red robes and white bonnets, brought to life most memorably by Elisabeth Moss as Offred, became instantly iconic, and showed up in political protests, Halloween costumes and more.
But one acclaimed, successful TV adaptation was not enough for Atwood. Her 1996 novel Alias Grace arrived as a six-part mini-series on Netflix this fall, and its captivating, mystic examination of gendered violence was as powerful as Handmaid’s – if it arrived with less fanfare.
Atwood’s work has been on our bookshelves for years, patiently waiting for its moment. 2017 was that moment, and it was gratifying to see the author gleefully take to the stage along with the cast and crew of Handmaid’s at the Emmy Awards in September when it became the first streaming series to nab the top prize. We’re guessing she’s not done yet.
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