When I say radicalisation, do you think of Martin Luther King? Or do you recall the latest bulletin from so-called Islamic state? Once, to be radical did not mean misunderstanding a religion or despising someone . It referred to a politically progressive way of thinking which aspired to improve society and eradicate prejudice wherever it lurked.
Revolutionaries like these didn’t disappear at the end of the 60’s along with Lennon & McCartney and black and white television. They have always been there to guide us. Now, in a new era of fake news and pantomime presidents, we need authentic voices more desperately than ever. Here are my greatest modern radicals.
David Oyleowo is a full-time movie star. He is also one of the most eloquent, insightful, and fearless spokesmen for the representation of black lives in the movies. But his activism isn’t some kooky side project. In Oyleowo’s astonishing career, performance and protest are as naturally linked as gravity and falling apples.
An Englishman of Nigerian descent, Oyleowo is “hellbent” on harnessing cinema, the most powerful form of communication in the world, to re-examine the black history which has been buried by centuries of apartheid and Austen adaptations. In October, the actor gave a speech at the BFI where he explained “I grew up watching period dramas….But I never saw anyone like me in them; so I decided to find a story to erode the excuses for me not doing one.” In 2014, he did monumental work as Martin Luther King in Selma, an electrifying account of the Selma to Montgomery protest march against restricted black voting privileges. He currently stars in A United Kingdom, a 1940’s set true-life drama about the legally forbidden interracial romance between a Botswanan prince and an English bank clerk (Played by Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike).
These are vital stories, pulsingly relevant to a time where racial prejudices are creeping back into national policy. They simply would not have been produced without the tireless passion of artists like Oyleowo. We should be grateful to have him.
Feminine sexuality has always made the men in charge squirm. It’s why tampons are still categorised in this country as a luxury item. And it’s why any artist who dares to express or explore their sexuality is immediately filed under ‘controversial’ in society’s brimming cabinet of paper-thin stereotypes.
Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo couldn’t be less bothered. Her debut album, Queen of the Clouds, thrummed with seductive synths and playful, ear-burningly honest tales of passionate love and midnight encounters. Entering the US Billboard 200 at 14, Lo was catapulted into the spotlight, later earning a Grammy nomination for co-writing Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” while recording her sophomore effort, Lady Wood. While promoting that album, she told the NME of her ambition to dissolve sexual double-standards. “In the media, whenever you see a naked women it’s always sexualised, or to please someone else’s eyes. I want to get to a place where women can be naked the same way that man can- funny naked or naked just to be naked”. When Little Mix slip into the leather leotards, we all realise the marketing team provided the wardrobe. But when Lo struts on stage, it isn’t fleetingly arousing, but an attempt to stimulate a meaningful debate about absurd gender norms.
With her dazzling protest album Lemonade, a palate-scorching brew that faced up to America’s cycle of racist violence , Beyoncé proved that it’s possible to be both hugely popular- sales reached 1.5 million units by last November- and unignorably relevant. Flaunting an uncompromising social conscience, the reigning Queen of pop braided quicksilver RnB choruses about feminine resilience with urgent cries for immediate change. Her performance of lead single “Formation” at last year’s Superbowl half-time show, which truly deserves to be memorialised as one of the greatest political addresses of 2016, brazenly referenced the militant 60’s civil rights leader Malcolm X, suggesting both a possible way forward and reminding us how little progress has actually been made in bridging America’s racial divisions. You don’t get that with Taylor Swift. Here is a multi-million disc selling singer unafraid to address the colossal social issues defining our generation. You might call her the voice of our times.