Arts·Best of 2017

From Get Out to Kent Monkman, the best of 2017 reflected the extreme times we're living in

Movies, TV shows, books and art: Amanda Parris shares her top 9 picks of the year, featuring creators who terrified, inspired, provoked and affirmed.

Movies, TV shows, books and art: Amanda Parris shares her top 9 picks of the year

It was an extreme year, and the best art of 2017 provoked extreme emotions. Scene from Get Out. (Universal)

Every December, two things are guaranteed: Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" will be played absolutely everywhere and websites will publish an abundance of year-end listicles.

This is another one.

In 2017, art and culture provided not only a reflection of our times and a focused analysis of how we got here, but it also imagined where we could end up.

The last time I wrote one of these lists, I vaguely recall proclaiming that this year couldn't get any worse than 2016. Over those 12 months, the world lost Prince, David Bowie and Carrie Fisher.

But then came 2017, and we had more important things to be upset about. It was the year President Trump took office, the year that nuclear threats returned to the headlines and the year overt racism reared its ugly head in mass public demonstrations complete with tiki torches.

This list features creators who terrified, inspired, provoked and affirmed, suitably providing a landscape of extreme emotions to go with the extreme realities that come when one is living in the age of Trump.

Get Out


Jordan Peele achieved something in 2017 that few filmmakers and studios have been able to do in the era of Netflix: transform a movie into an event that has so much excitement and buzz, people actually went to the theatre.

On a budget of $4.5 million, his debut feature made more than $254 million worldwide — an award-winning box office success that captured the contemporary zeitgeist with piercing insight while re-envisioning the possibilities of the horror genre in powerful and exciting ways.

On a personal level, watching Get Out with an audience that was compelled to laugh, yell and shout at the screen was one of the best cinema experiences I've ever had. The memory of the entire theatre gasping in despair when the police car arrives towards the end of the film still brings me goosebumps.

The Handmaid's Tale


This brilliant award-winning TV series captured the imagination of audiences and became a rallying cry for women's mobilization in the first year of Donald Trump's presidency. The white bonnet and red cape worn by the handmaids in Margaret Atwood's Republic of Gilead even popped up at protests throughout the year.

The Skin We're In and Unarmed Verses

In the span of just a few months, my friend Charles Officer released his critically acclaimed CBC film The Skin We're In and his award-winning NFB feature documentary Unarmed Verses.

The first is a hard-hitting investigation into race in Canada with activist and writer Desmond Cole as its guide. The second film, Unarmed Verses, is a quiet and intimate look into the impact of gentrification on a little-known Toronto community, told through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl.

Both films confirmed Officer as one of the most important filmmakers working in Canada today. Unarmed Verses won the Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award at Hot Docs 2017, the Best Canadian Documentary Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Audience Choice Award at the Regent Park Film Festival and it's included in TIFF's annual list of the top 10 Canadian films of the year.

The Secret Life of Canada

I listen to podcasts daily and one of my favourite new discoveries was The Secret Life of Canada, a podcast hosted by Leah Simone-Bowen and Falen Johnson. But I'm definitely not the only one listening — this year, it became so popular it surpassed This American Life and Oprah on the iTunes charts.

Brilliantly conceived and executed, the series tells Canada's forgotten stories. The episodes always feature intriguing launchpads for deeper discussion. On one podcast, for example, Marian Engel's novel Bear is their entry point for talking the subversive strategies of first and second wave feminism in Canada.

It's funny and informative, weird and insightful — the perfect ingredients for a great podcast.

Kent Monkman's Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience

Kent Monkman puts finishing touches on "The Scream," one of the key pieces in his new exhibit Shame and Prejudice. The canvas depicts children being torn from their families to be sent to residential schools. (Nigel Hunt/CBC News)

This year marked the controversial celebration of Canada 150, and no art illustrated the contradictions of this anniversary more than Kent Monkman's project Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience.

His large-scale paintings took audiences on a journey of this land's history 150 years before Confederation, depicting a no-holds-barred examination of Indigenous experience.

Using the collections and archives of Canadian museums as his inspiration, Monkman created a series of paintings that touched on the reserve system, residential schools, the murders of Indigenous women and girls and the incarceration of Indigenous people. It also saw the return of his alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (who is releasing a memoir next year).

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

(Harper Collins)

I don't usually read YA novels, but this New York Times bestseller was talked about so much in 2017, I decided to check it out — and I was not disappointed.

Thomas's award-winning debut novel intimately explores the aftermath of a police shooting through the eyes of a teenage witness. It is a searing account of an experience that is too often dehumanized by politics and statistics.

Alongside the accolades (including a film adaptation set to be released next year), the novel has also been the subject of controversy when it was banned by a school district in Texas.

Everything by Arthur Jafa

Although cinematographer Arthur Jafa has been creating work for close to three decades, 2017 felt like the year where the world finally gave his art the attention it deserved.

Following his critically acclaimed 2016 videos for Solange's "Cranes in the Sky" and "Don't Touch My Hair" Jafa's multidisciplinary practice took centre stage at the Serpentine Galleries in London with exhibit A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions.

The show explored the idea of a Black visual aesthetic that he powerfully incorporated through film, photography and assembled found footage.

That same multilayered approach also appeared on his video for Jay-Z's "4:44" — the best video from the album, in my opinion.

Jessie Reyez,"Gatekeeper"

2017 will go down in history as the year of reckoning for male power and privilege.

In film, music, technology and sports industries, women and men came forward with numerous stories of sexual harassment and assault and the world listened.

In the midst of the revelations, Canadian R&B singer Jessie Reyez released the song and accompanying short film "Gatekeeper," a haunting but disturbingly familiar narrative of her experience working in the music business, where the patriarchy is alive and well. It's a brutally raw but undeniably relevant soundtrack in the year of #MeToo.

Brother by David Chariandy

I read David Chariandy's award-winning novel Brother on a weekend when I was supposed to run errands, visit a friend and cook.

Instead, I sat in my bed, sent excuses via text message, ordered delivery — and immersed myself in the story of two young men growing up in Scarborough.

Without a doubt, Brother was the best novel I read this year. Poetic and tragic, funny and familiar, insightful and moving, Brother was evidence that experiences I had lived through were worthy of nuance and complex representation on the page.


Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays and watches too many movies. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.