By Ellen McGirt
Updated: January 2, 2019 2:37 PM ET

Looking back at 2018, one of the great and unexpected joys came from just showing up.

Take going to the movies, for example.

While Netflix deserves all the words of admiration for their eye-popping streaming numbers, in 2018, movie-makers of color summoned people around the world and compelled them to get off the couch, put on proper attire, and travel to a real place just to keep an entertainment appointment.

The “business case” for diversity in film was the break-out story last year, pushing aside the tired idea that talented people of color or their authentic stories won’t appeal to a wide (white) audience.

Crazy Rich Asians became the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade, taking in a worldwide total of $238 million by the end of the year. Ava DuVernay became the first black woman director to generate $100 million in domestic box office with A Wrinkle In Time. And of course, there is Black Panther.

In terms of box office earners, a metric that identifies the stars who were part of the biggest domestic draws of the year, the prize for 2018 belongs to 25-year-old Letitia Wright, the Guyanese-born actor who played Shuri, the break-out star of Black Panther.

She helped generate some $1.55 billion in box office last year. In addition to Panther ($700,059,566), she also appeared in Avengers: Infinity War ($678,815,482), Ready Player One ($137,690,172), and The Commuter ($36,343,858).

Wright, who was largely unknown just twelve short months ago, is officially both black girl magic and highly bankable.

What a nice surprise.

(For those keeping track, the other earners in the top five were the stars of Black Panther, Samuel L. Jackson, one of the Chris’s* and Josh Brolin.)

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there is clearly more work to do in the film business. And while there was much to celebrate during awards season with Pixar’s Coco, Chile’s A Fantastic Woman and Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy-horror The Shape of Water, the lack of support for Latinx talent on both sides of the camera remains a significant issue.

But as the business case continues to assert itself, I am thinking more about the human case. I think about the act of faith it takes to sit with friends and strangers and take a new adventure together, and what it takes to make something extraordinary and have people show up for it.

I think about the only other black woman in the otherwise-white neighborhood theater who gave me the nod as she dashed out during the credits of The BlacKkKlansman, trying to stay in her feelings while not making eye contact with anyone else.

I think about taking three white teens, whom I adore, to Chicago for the opening weekend of Black Panther, and the joy of watching the film surrounded by a diverse group of happy families, many black, many in full-contact cosplay.

I think about how just fine folks thought it was for Viola Davis to be married to Liam Neeson in Widows, and how nice it was to all go outside again with that new normal imprinted on us.

I think about being in San Francisco and giving away some extra tickets I’d accidentally bought for A Wrinkle In Time to some young guys on the street, and getting into a funny conversation about what it takes to be successful. “Ava is so good because Compton makes the best artists,” they declared.

And we all want a little Compton up in our business these days.

But to get that, or any other breakthrough you seek, showing up seems to be at the heart of the matter, whether we’re Ryan Coogler or a mid-level manager trying to bring out the best in people they don’t really know or understand. It’s not an escape, it’s an opening.

So, in 2019, I’m going to keep the metaphor going.

I plan to show up as often as I can – for art, for unusual things, uncomfortable ideas and unfamiliar people. It’s the only way I’ve learned to make sure I’m open enough to be part of something that can make some good in the world. And it’s a mess out there. Have you noticed?

*Relax, it’s Pratt. Don’t @ me.


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