Whether you loved or hated the music, movies, and shows that 2016 offered, we saw the release of not just phenomenal entertainment, but also entertainment that is hugely inspirational. While this list by no means captures all the inspired greatness of the year, it highlights some of the best 2016 had to offer in terms of entertainment. Read on to find out about fifteen of the most inspiring phenomena of 2016!

MUSIC

LEMONADE (Produced by Columbia Records)

Her second visual album and sixth studio album, Beyonce’s LEMONADE sparked a frenzy in the music industry. With its focus on the journey she underwent after husband Jay-Z cheated on her, Beyonce’s newest album is raw. LEMONADE chronicles one woman's journey through the seven stages of grief. Enduring the denial, the anger, and, ultimately, the acceptance of her husband's betrayal, Beyonce was able to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and acknowledge her pain by creating a new world from what was seemingly unfixable. Through the use of primarily R&B—with some songs styled as pop, rock, and country among others—Beyonce was able to convey the adversities and complexities faced when one makes lemonade out of lemons.

Why it is inspiring: As a woman, it is awe-inspiring to see Beyonce create beauty from pain, making her hardship an homage to all women out there who have gone through the same intimate betrayal. Through doing this, Beyonce liberated and redefined what it means to be a strong woman. Strong women don’t let their circumstances get them down. They don’t let a man, nor any other woman, stand in the way of valuing themselves and their pursuits. Strong women pick themselves up, brush the dust of their enemies off their shoulders, and continue on. With the release of LEMONADE, Beyonce gave womanhood a makeover and the women within it a beacon of strength to sustain on when needed. (Adrianna Gordey)

THE HAMILTON MIXTAPE (Produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

In November 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda released THE HAMILTON MIXTAPE and expanded the world of the already beloved HAMILTON musical with new songs based on the originals. With covers by Busta Rhymes, Nas, Alicia Keys, and Kelly Clarkson, the album has received much praise. While the mixtape follows the trajectory of the show, it does not contain the same lyrics as the musical. Contemporary artists have come together to collaborate, giving fans a new journey to traverse where the stakes are modernized and feel even more relevant to the 21st century. THE HAMILTON MIXTAPE allows fans to experience an album more personal to them than the musical that took place in the 1700s.

Why it is inspiring: THE HAMILTON MIXTAPE was the seed that grew into the musical. Originally, Lin-Manuel Miranda had only envisioned writing songs about Alexander Hamilton’s life, never imagining they would become acts performed on stage. His story would become the inspiration through telling the stories of others who struggled, maybe not on the scale of a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman,” but important ones nonetheless. The mixtape is a testament to the value of art, of being heard, of telling one’s story. It takes a whole new spin on Miranda’s original idea and allows audiences to redefine not only what they know of US history but of themselves. There is beauty in the sacrifice and pain shared in the mixtape, a relatable soundtrack to the lives many people are leading. It gives the lyrics “who tells your story” a whole new meaning, a definition wherein the fans can start finding one within themselves. (Adrianna Gordey)

READ: More a fan of kid music? Click here to see ComicsVerse's definitive ranking of Disney songs!

 4 YOUR EYEZ ONLY (Produced by Dreamville Records)

Released on December 9, 2016, 4 YOUR EYEZ ONLY is J. Cole’s phenomenal fourth studio album. Based on a friend of Cole’s, the album follows the journey of a fictional man named James. The listener follows James from being a crack dealer, to falling in love, to starting a family, only to discover in the last track that James is dead. In that final moment, it is revealed that the mixtape was made for his daughter to remember him by.

Why it is inspiring: With his latest album, J. Cole is able to paint the picture of what some black men go through every day. Telling the album's narrative from a “thug’s” perspective, Cole traverses the streets, odds, and tragedies that are common occurrences in many black men’s lives today. By following James's story, Cole shows the necessity of acting in the streets, of making bad decisions now so that tomorrow you can still make decisions. Irrespective of these decisions, though, James is still able to experience the beauty of falling in love and bringing a child into this world. Both his woman and child make James reevaluate his life and the decisions he has had to make. This narrative is common among black males in the inner cities. By giving the thug in the streets a name, J. Cole highlighted that these men are providing for their families and loved ones the only way they know how. Not everyone can escape their circumstances to reach their potential like Cole, and the album acts as a tribute to all those who couldn’t. (Adrianna Gordey)

 

MOVIES

ZOOTOPIA (Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore)

Following the plight of an underestimated rabbit named Judy Hopps, the 55th Disney animated film was a wonder for audiences to behold in 2016. On a surface level, the movie was strictly about a rabbit who wanted to prove herself as a police officer in the great city of Zootopia. However, this becomes increasingly difficult as her co-workers, family, and other citizens doubt her abilities time and time again. Only with the help of a con-man fox—Nick Wilde—can Judy prove not only her own worth, but also the worth of others who have their own stigmas to break.

Why it is inspiring: Through humor and humility, ZOOTOPIA covers relevant topics in today’s world. It is a dignified commentary on the prejudice faced by many in today’s society and the allowance of that prejudice to exist. Many movies before have been made to comment on the inherent inequality faced by many in our society—whether they stem from race, religion, or other factors. The film symbolically lays out where the prejudice in Zootopia stems from, as well as where it stems from in our own world. I was deeply moved by the intelligent, careful way in which Disney approached the movie and I applaud them for creating such a masterpiece. To know Disney took its time not only to entertain today’s youth but to educate them, too, was a spectacle I hope to behold again. With any luck, ZOOTOPIA will be the first in a long line of movies to do this. (Adrianna Gordey)

READ: Click here to read about 22 of 2016's best films!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo)

The third and final installment in the CAPTAIN AMERICA movie trilogy, CIVIL WAR was what audiences needed from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since WINTER SOLDIER’s release, the question of what producers would do with the adaptation of CIVIL WAR from comic book to cinematic success was a pertinent one. Our heroes find themselves in a battle between following the government’s orders and not being able to totally trust that government, forcing them to deal with the themes of morality, independence, sacrifice, and duty. A triumph within the superhero movie realm, CIVIL WAR is a movie that deals with reality much more than a world of Infinity Stones and genetically-enhanced humans.

Why it is inspiring: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is inspiring because of the possibilities it introduced for the future of the Marvel movies. By bringing in new characters—namely Black Panther and Spider-Man—Marvel has set themselves up for future success. Black Panther, an exciting new addition to the universe, will bring diversity and a whole new set of badasses for us fans to look up to. By juggling his three main identities—king of Wakanda, protector of his people, and superhero—the character opens up a dimension of substance that we have not found in others already in the Marvel Universe. As for Spider-Man, I am excited for this particular movie because it appears to be a different approach to telling the already famous character’s story. With a John Hughes feel, it will be interesting to see how Tom Holland plays off the awkward, pure-hearted Peter Parker. While this one won’t be pretty in pink but rather righteous in red, the sneak-peak from CIVL WAR has me very excited for the upcoming movie. (Adrianna Gordey)

ARRIVAL (Directed by Denis Villeneuve)

(Spoilers!) As the opening music began, I felt the impending sense of doom through the strong cello chords and the hope and beauty of life in the violin's high notes at the same time. Watching linguist Louise Banks try to decipher the language of twelve alien spacecrafts alongside physicist Ian Donnelly through a dark blue-grey filter, I knew tragedy was on the horizon. As Louise became enlightened to what her future would bring—concerning Ian and their budding love—through her acquaintanceship with two seven-legged aliens, she made the choice to accept her fate rather than try and change it. By seeing Louise decide that whatever is meant to happen will happen, I found myself agreeing with her all the while weeping inside on her behalf.

Why is it inspiring: As a musician, artist, and writer, I was overwhelmed by the film’s strength in each discipline. The music, cinematography, and message resonated with me. I could not stop thinking about the scenes for days, turning the pieces in my mind to see if they connected in other ways. I was used to action-packed, witty extravaganzas of movies, but the film’s slow-burning suspense showed me a better way to tell stories. Besides everything else it did, ARRIVAL gave me a greater appreciation for film.

I was also incredibly happy to see a movie about an accomplished female linguist. There are plenty of mind-driven movies like EX MACHINA and A BEAUTIFUL MIND, but you do not see many films led by female intellectuals. I felt overly proud of Louise and her world-changing contributions, as well as disappointed in how few characters like her exist. Her being the best in her field and affecting all of humankind to come was deeply inspiring to me. (Grace Zhou)

EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig)

EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is a film that deals with the issues of mental health, youthful stupidities, and, ultimately, self-acceptance. Opening with Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld, announcing to her teacher turned confidant, Mr. Bruner, that she plans on committing suicide, the story starts on a precipice. Nadine’s story, told in flashbacks and in the present, all begins with her only friend Krista sleeping with her golden-boy older brother, Darian. This betrayal sends Nadine on a path of self-destruction, wherein she not only manages to turn her own life upside down but those alongside hers as well. Exuberant and demanding, director Kelly Fremon Craig is able to bring to life the audacity, grim resilience, and feigned invincibility it takes to be young with EDGE OF SEVENTEEN.

Why it is inspiring: Watching Hailee Steinfeld confess humiliating event after humiliating event to Woody Harrelson as Mr. Bruner was refreshing. It brought back my own cringe-worthy memories of being seventeen, of having all this life inside you and not knowing what the hell to do with it. Seeing Nadine’s tireless and snarky spirit deal with the loss of her father, the raw relationship with her mother, the jealous yearning to be her brother, and her own selfish need to be wanted, the movie evoked a lot of emotions within me. It was the validation I didn’t get when I was seventeen, the movie that understood me even if I didn’t. Appearing as just another teen movie, EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is a new take on an old theme, a new coming of age story to inspire us just as its predecessors did. (Adrianna Gordey)

READ: Want 22 more films from 2016  to check out? Click here!

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (Directed by David Yates)

On November 18, 2016, JK Rowling again opened up the Wizarding World to us Muggles (or should I say No Majs?). Directed by David Yates, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM was inspired by a textbook of the same name mentioned in the HARRY POTTER series. It follows the journey of Newt Scamander, an awkward, introverted Magizoologist who better relates to his beasts than other wizards. Upon arriving in 1920s New York, Newt’s journey to Arizona is interrupted by not only the mischievous creatures in his suitcase, but also the social and practical injustices being committed in the city. Dark times are coming upon the Wizarding World, and Newt, along with his fellow misfits, have only begun to unearth these troubling revelations.

Why it is inspiring: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM is not only the beginning of another lovely tale penned by the mighty JK Rowling, but also a refreshing take on the concept of heroism. Newt, a man who would rather spend time with his beasts than members of his own species, is not looking for glory. He is simply looking for a way to release his Thunderbird into Arizona. It is with these pure and simple intentions in mind that we see Newt become the center of a much thicker plot, wherein one of the darkest wizards of all time causes havoc. Assembling his team, Newt has also managed to find other people that, when given the opportunity, retain the traits of valor, honor, and sacrifice. The misunderstood within this society have finally found a medium through which they can be understood, a medium through which they are not ostracized, but rather exemplified. It is inspiring to see this idea reimagined and redefined for Rowling’s already rich world. (Adrianna Gordey)

ROGUE ONE (Directed by Gareth Edwards)

 

Sandwiched between STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (December 2015) and STAR WARS EPISODE VIII (December 2017), ROGUE ONE could be easily overlooked. Some people might even say that it's just filler to get fans through the wait until EPISODE VIII. These people would be wrong. ROGUE ONE tells the story of Jyn Erso and how she goes from being an unaffiliated drifter to unexpected hero of the Rebellion. With an amazing supporting cast (K-2SO being an absolute delight), gorgeous cinematography, and a truly compelling story line, ROGUE ONE more than stands on its own in a crowded field. ROGUE ONE grips you, makes you laugh, makes you cry, and breathes life back into the current movie scene. ROGUE ONE makes you excited to go to the movies again. And more than anything, ROGUE ONE gives you hope.

Why it is inspiring: This year has been, to put it mildly, crappy. So many things have happened that we're all left reeling, not knowing how to feel or what to do or what to expect next. ROGUE ONE delivers everything we need to end 2016 and start 2017 on a better note. This movie delivers on so many fronts: The characters are well-developed and interesting; the movie provides a fairly diverse cast, a nice change for a STAR WARS movie; the male characters aren't one-note action heroes; and the female characters are exactly what we need right now. Mon Mothma, resplendent in white robes, stands out as a beacon of eloquence and diplomacy. And Jyn is excellently written. Full of grief and grit and hope, Jyn is a new type of heroine. She can stand up to stormtroopers and politicians, feels deeply even though she has been hurt badly, and is willing to do whatever it takes to make things right. Jyn is the hero we need, a reminder of how to fight when things seem impossible. ROGUE ONE is, at its most basic level, a message of hope. In this difficult year, ROGUE ONE stands out as a light in the darkness. (Colleen Etman)

READ: Need more convincing to go see ROGUE ONE? Click here to read a review!

LA LA LAND (Directed by Damien Chazelle)

Damien Chazelle’s LA LA LAND is a story that follows the romantic and professional pursuits of two dreamers in their prime. Mia, played by Emma Stone, is an aspiring actress. Sebastian, given life by Ryan Gosling, wants to open his own jazz club. Set in Los Angeles, LA LA LAND is a romantic comedy mixed with a musical, a story about love and ambition, and, most importantly, a reminder to follow life’s passions no matter what sacrifices are made along the way.

Why it is inspiring: LA LA LAND is about following one’s dreams and the sacrifices that entails. While this storyline has been exhausted many times over, LA LA LAND is able to tell this story without the usual disillusionment and grimness that accompanies such tales. With a sensational balance of the reality of being a dreamer in a practical world, it captures the effervescence and vibrance of pursuing one’s passion. Chazelle—along with Stone and Gosling’s performances—created a movie that has the spirit of a 1940s MGM musical with all the intimacy and realism of a modern indie film. LA LA LAND is an ode to the dreamers, those who put their souls out there through their art and nonchalantly face rejection after rejection. Those artists of the world who are deemed to have their heads perpetually stuck in the clouds and will become losers because of it. This movie is for those losers. (Adrianna Gordey) 

SHOWS

STRANGER THINGS (Netflix)

July 15, 2016 sparked a day that will forever live in the hearts of many NETFLIX lovers. STRANGER THINGS, an eight-episode science fiction series, follows the story of what happened when local boy, Will Byers, disappeared in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. Paying tribute to 1980s pop culture, the Duffer Brothers—the show’s creators—not only brought to life a rich story but reanimated a time of glory for the entertainment industry.

Why it is Inspiring: The Duffer Brothers didn’t create just another testament to the many sci-fi movies and shows that inspired the series. Through the strategic and nostalgic writing, the Duffer Brothers exemplified what character and plot development should be on television screens today. They managed to do this with minimal cussing, no nudity, and through writing rather than special effects. Resurrecting bygone times, the Duffer Brothers managed to eliminate the modern pretenses of television by allowing us to focus on story instead of the overuse of cinematography. Arguably, the only overused substance within the show would be the imagination and care the Duffer Brothers put into it while writing. (Adrianna Gordey)

READ: Click here to find out why supernatural things always occur in Middle America!

ATLANTA (FX)

Creator Donald Glover describes ATLANTA as “The TWIN PEAKS for rappers.” ATLANTA does exactly that, except it’s a millennial minimalistic version. And there’s less murder (so, that proves to be a plus). If you have not watched ATLANTA and you’ve slept on the show because you were unsure of it, watch it. Bask in the cultural greatness that Donald Glover has created. Plus, there’s a cute baby on the show and who doesn't like babies?

Why it is inspiring:  The concept of the entire show is entirely too cool to pass on and on top of that, who doesn’t like seeing Donald Glover in all his Donald Glover glory? That’s right, no one. The show evokes so many relatable moments that to list them all would be to also incidentally spoil the entire first season. But what I can tell you is that the soundtrack is absolutely hands-down the best! The actors and actresses are so good in this show, and the concept is something I highly recommend. (Shareca Coleman)

INSECURE (HBO) + Soundtrack

The show INSECURE is about an African-American lead character and her, well, awkward life. It is about her awkward life and her insecurities and dealing with those—all while being African-American. Dealing with her blackness, alongside her relationship problems, friendship problems, and job issues, Issa Rae is able to give life to what some African-American women undergo everyday. And mostly everyone can relate to her boyfriend's situation: a recent graduate, failing to find a job in his field who is living a hard life while just trying to help pay rent. 

Why it is inspiring:  This show is especially inspiring for all my awkward and insecure girls out there and especially African-American girls. Being a nerdy, awkward, black girl especially makes you insecure, and relating to this entire show, I realized I was more awkward than I once thought. But INSECURE did make me feel better about myself and my weird awkward tendencies, like dancing in the car while I am driving. My feelings were of happiness and sadness at the same exact time. It is a marvelous show, and the soundtrack is amazing. The plot is something new and fresh and to come out with a show for black girls and not be stereotypical is beyond great, especially right now. Plus, on top of all that, the actors and actresses have done an incredible job. (Shareca Coleman)

READ: Click here to read more about INSECURE as a non-stereotyped TV show!

THE CROWN (Netflix)

On November 4, 2016, Netflix released yet another successful original series. THE CROWN is a biopic television series telling the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her introduction to the throne. While the first season is only ten episodes—each an hour long—the tactical and exacting manner in which the writers tell the Queen’s story is both informative and impactful. Many aspects of THE CROWN have been applauded already, especially the performances, cinematography, and the mostly accurate history surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

Why it is inspiring: Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II was a truly inspiring sight to behold. Not only did she give grace to the already graceful Queen, but she did so in a manner that gave the Queen personality. Through seeing her struggle in all the identities she assumed besides that of Queen—daughter, sister, wife, mother—Foy was able to give reality to a woman most see as fantasy. She defined what the role of Queen means, how duty and country have to come above comfort and family. It is no easy thing to help lead a country, and Foy depicts this. It is awe-inspiring to see a woman battle against her Cabinet, dig her heels in where she sees fit, and gain confidence as she gains victories. While the Queen couldn’t win every battle she waged, it was just as enthralling to watch the Queen fight for her beliefs rather than let them sit idly by. (Adrianna Gordey)

READ: One more for the road? Check out the best of DC Comics in 2016!

In some regards, 2016 is not a year to be celebrated. Politics, oppression, inequality, and tragedy marred the 366 days of 2016 for some people. However, through the battles that may have been waged and lost throughout the year, there is still hope to be garnered. In looking back at 2016, you can either choose to look at the negatives or positives. You can choose to focus on pain fostered within the year, the sacrifices many had to make, the losses people will continue to bear into the new year. Or you can choose to listen to these songs, watch these movies, and record these television shows, knowing that someone in this world is deciding to create rather than destroy, build rather than burn, conquer rather than cower.

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