June marks the year’s half point. Six months down, six months to go. So it’s a great time to start assessing whose star is already on the rise in 2012. I’ve compiled a list of women I’m really checking for this year, for one reason or another. Either she’s an ingenue whose career is starting to hit her stride or she’s been around for awhile but has never experienced a moment in the spotlight as big as the one she’s basking in right now. Mind you, my list isn’t meant to be comprehensive–and some women have been excluded because they’ve already been prominently featured here this year (Kerry Washington for her starring role in Scandal and Dr. Ola Orekunrin, founder of Nigeria’s first ambulance service, are two examples). So feel free to weigh in with your own choices below.
From comedians to songstresses to writers, sisters are really seizing the day in 2012. Let’s take a look:
Comedian and actress Retta Sirleaf has been playing Donna on NBC’s Parks and Recreation since its debut in 2009, but early on, if you blinked, you might’ve missed her. Over the show’s four-season run, her screen time has increased as have the scenes she’s stolen. Donna is half-responsible for one of the sitcom’s best memes, “Treat Yo’self.” And she’s just generally a hilarious ensemble character. Between her facial expressions and her comic timing, you can always tell when Donna is not there for the rest of the characters’ crap. But no matter how great Retta is at Donna, nothing can top her Twitter feed. At least once a week, I’m laughing out loud at one of her live-tweeting TV commentaries. From Downton Abbey to Smash to Game of Thrones, she watches everything. It’s great.
A few last bits of trivia about the fabulous Retta: she’s a Duke alum who worked in pharmaceutical research before breaking out as a stand-up comic in 1996. She’s also related by marriage to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia.
2. China Anne McClain
Thirteen-year-old China Anne McClain has been acting since seven. She’s probably best known for her work in Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls and House of Payne. But now that she’s on Disney’s payroll as Chyna Parks in the tween sitcom A.N.T. Farm, she’s really about to come up. The show has been picked up for a second season and McClain, who is a member of a singing family (her parents are singer-producers and she sang in a family group with her sisters as a small child) , is said to have an album in the works.
3. Melissa Harris-Perry
It’s true that longtime academic and writer Melissa Harris-Perry is not at all a new face in the public sphere, but with the publication of her latest book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, last year and the debut of her eponymous MSNBC show in February this year, Harris-Perry is becoming a household name. If you haven’t been watching The Melissa Harris-Perry Show (aka #nerdland), it’s a great time to start. (And it would be worth your while to visit the show’s official site to catch up on what you’ve missed.) Harris-Perry lines up an amazing group of pundits each week to discuss issues of concern to stateside and international people of color–issues you’d be hard-pressed to find being handled with as much nuance and in-depth analysis as you’ll get in the two hours she airs on Saturday and Sunday.
4. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
At just 26, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is a profilic painter, photographer, and muralist. Her website features her contemporary work which addresses race, politics, sexuality, and popular culture. She occasionally posts time-elapsed videos of her painting process, which never cease to fascinate me. Among the celebrities she’s rendered masterfully on canvas are Questlove, Janelle Monae, Big K.R.I.T., Black Thought, and Sonia Sanchez. This year, the Philly-based artist was selected to participate in The Mural Arts Program’s Roots Mural Project which will be unveiled this October at 600 South Street. And if you’ll be in the Philly area soon, her work will be featured as part of the Leeway Foundation’s spring exhibit.
5. Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Poet and photographer Rachel Eliza Griffiths was featured in last year’s first ever poetry issue of O magazine. The author of three books of poetry, Griffiths’ work is breathtaking and at once history-focused and of-the-moment. Her photography is just as lovely, particularly her Ars Poetica project, in which legendary and contemporary black poets are dramatically photographed.