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How Rihanna and Tems’ Oscar Nomination Is A Win For Black Women

Last Updated: July 1, 2023

Growing up, I made a lot of friends who were of African and Caribbean diaspora and descent, and although I do not directly come from those roots, I identified with being proud of where you come from. When Rihanna and Tems scored their first Oscar nomination for “Lift Me Up” I immediately thought of the pride my African and Caribbean friends felt. 

Imagine seeing people who have the same cultural background as you reach such a major accomplishment like their first Academy Award nomination – and instantly proud comes to mind.

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Rihanna and Tems are breaking records for award season, specifically at the Oscars. The Bajan and Nigerian singers received their first-time nominations in January. 

The category is Best Original Song, with other competitors being Lady Gaga and Bloodpop for “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick; Dianna Warren for “Applause” in Tell It Like a Woman and more. “Lift Me Up” was created by Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler, and Ludwig Goransson. The song dropped in October 2022, and tributed the late Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. In a recent behind-the-scenes video, Rihanna played the song for Ryan Coogler, Ludwig Göransson and Jay Brown, Roc Nation CEO and she left the room speechless. “It’s one of those songs that can hold a lot,” Coogler said. “I imagine people’s weddings; I love it a lot.” 

Seeing the impact of the song from both an artist and songwriter’s perspective gave me the courage and motivation that I needed to know that as a Black woman, I can shoot for the stars and have massive goals. 

While this nomination is significant for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and Black Panther family, this is an even bigger deal for African and Caribbean artists due to the lack of representation and recognition at such a high stature. According to the Jamaican Observer, Sidney Poitier is the only actor with Caribbean roots who won Best Actor in 1963 for his Lilies of The Field role. 

With the rise of genres like Afrobeats and Dancehall coming into mainstream music, the spotlight on Rihanna and Tems is just the kind of representation needed. Apple Music even noted how streams of DJ mixes in Africa increased have increased by 500% this past year, with African electronic genres, including afrobeats, amapiano and Gqom, driving the growth.

As my musical tastes evolved over the year, I always loved hearing the new Black international artists coming up, and always wondered when they were going to receive mainstream recognition – and now that time has come. 

 Rihanna performs during Super Bowl LVII  (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For many international artists, crossing over into the American charts is the ultimate dream. Artists like Rihanna, who has over a decade of experience starting with her debut album of Music of the Sun, and Tems, who’s just getting started with hits such as “Free Mind” and WizKid collaboration “Essence,” create a blueprint for artists from the African Diaspora to take inspiration from them. 

Not only is this a win for Afro-Caribbean creatives, but also a win for Black mothers in the music industry. After giving birth in May and becoming a first-time parent with rapper partner A$AP Rocky, Rihanna made the biggest pregnancy announcement at the 2023 Super Bowl Halftime show. In that moment, it was revealed to me that I don’t need to be afraid of balancing work and family life because it’s possible that Black women can take the biggest stage in music and be powerful.  

“I’ve been bossy all my life,” Rihanna said proudly during the Apple Music Conference. “I really get involved with every aspect of everything I do.” Rih Rih has continued to show young girls like me that it’s okay to be assertive, stand firm in your decisions, and go after what you want as a woman in the workplace. 

She is set to perform “Lift Me Up” at this year’s Academy Awards and represent all the working moms trying to do it all. According to Variety, Catherine Zeta-Jones is the only other name to perform a musical number at the Academy Awards while pregnant – making Rihanna the first Black woman to do so.

In Rihanna’s press conference for this year’s Super Bowl, she spoke on the importance of representation for immigrants in pop culture. “That’s key for people to see the possibilities,” she said. With this year being significant for Tems and Rihanna, the possibilities for those from small islands and countries can see that they can have big dreams and achieve these significant accomplishments. 

Musician Tems performs during halftime at the 2023 NBA All Star Game (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Caribbean and Afrobeats culture is taking American music by storm and providing a platform for the next generation of musicians, producers, and creatives to see people who look like them in an industry that isn’t always inclusive. 

With this nomination and a possible win on the horizon, many doors and conversations will open for how important and necessary it is to include sounds reflective of different cultures that infuse mainstream genres such as R&B and hip-hop because they all impact pop culture in their own way.

More importantly, it’s impactful to see two Black women receive such high recognition reassuring that although there is work that needs to be done, every step counts, and Rihanna and Tems are seamlessly shifting the culture and conversations for women in music.

For Black women worldwide, it’s motivating to see these women come together to collaborate on an empowering song and receive a nomination together for the first time.


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