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Making Waves: 100 Artists Putting the East Bay on the Map

A master list of musicians, artists, writers, dancers, directors, actors, and poets shaping the culture, all from the East Bay.



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Boots Riley, with Jermaine Fowler and Terry Crews

Photo: Pamela Gentile/SFFILM

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Daveed Diggs with spoken-word artist Rafael Casal in Blindspotting

Photo: Ariel Nava/Lionsgate

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Nijla Mu'min

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Marcus Gardley in Black Odyssey

Photo: Devin Berne/Cal Shakes

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Sadie Barnette

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Work by Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik

Photo: Sana Javeri Kadri

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Work by Woody de Othello

Photo: Courtesy of the artist/Jessica Silverman Gallery

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Work by Marisha Farnsworth

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Tommy Orange

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25. Boots Riley
Film and hip-hop pioneer | Oakland
Riley, the 47-year-old independent hip-hop icon from the Coup, entered the film world with a bang: Sorry to Bother You, his bizarro punk-political comedy, is one of the most highly touted movies of the year. It’s also a peek into the relentlessly creative mind of a unique talent. Annapurna picked up the film after a big showing at Sundance and will give it a wide release July 6. Meaning that, at long last, the world can get hipped to one of Oakland’s seminal artistic voices.

26. Ryan Coogler
Hollywood rainmaker | Raised in Richmond
Between breaking box office records we didn’t even know existed with Black Panther and landing on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, the Richmond native is injecting a shot of Bay Area values into the most mainstream of pop-culture fare. For his next trick, he has again teamed with Michael B. Jordan for Wrong Answer, the story of a standardized-test cheating scandal in Atlanta, with a screenplay by another A-lister, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

27. Amir Bar-Lev
Pop-culture chronicler | Raised in Berkeley
How’s this for ambitious: Create the definitive story of the Bay Area’s most cherished—and, let’s be honest, mocked—band, the Grateful Dead. That’s exactly what Bar-Lev, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker, did with Long Strange Trip (2017), a four-hour, six-act masterpiece that was 14 years in the making. What could be more Berkeley than that?

28. Cary JOJI Fukunaga
Boundary-breaking director | Born in Oakland
Fukunaga, 40, won an Emmy and widespread acclaim for directing the razor-sharp first season of True Detective; then his hypnotic Beasts of No Nation kick-started a distribution revolution for Netflix. Next up: Maniac, one of 2018’s most anticipated black comedy series. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone play participants in a pharmaceutical trial gone off the rails. Streaming on Netflix later this year.

29. Jennifer Phang
Sci-fi visionary | Raised in Walnut Creek
Phang, who has directed episodes of Quantico and Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, made a bold statement with 2015’s Advantageous (above), in which a single mother is forced to submit to a body-switching procedure. Part Handmaid’s Tale, part Joy Luck Club, it’s a powerful meditation on technology and humanity.

30. Mahershala Ali
Oscar-winning thespian | Born in Oakland
Born in Oakland and raised in Hayward, this former rapper (who released two albums on the Hieroglyphics’ label) turned Academy Award–winning actor keeps his hometown close: A month before his Oscar turn in Moonlight, Ali appeared in Kicks, an Oakland-set indie. Up next, he plays a jazz pianist touring the South in Green Book.

31. Moshe Kasher
Multi-platform funnyman | Raised in Oakland
Oakland’s most celebrated white-boy comedian hit the big time in 2012 with Moshe Kasher: Live in Oakland, filmed at the New Parish. By the time he dropped his first Netflix special (The Honeymoon Stand Up Special, with his wife, Natasha Leggero), Kasher had gone national, hosting a Comedy Central talk show (Problematic) and two podcasts and scoring roles in Zoolander 2 and Transparent.

32. W. Kamau Bell
Comedy truth teller | Berkeley
The Bay Area’s favorite self-described blerd (for black nerd) is flying the flag for Bay Area wokeness, talking sense to white nationalists on his Emmy-winning CNN docuseries United Shades of America and delivering sociopolitically charged comedy through his podcast Kamau Right Now!

33. Pete Nicks
Eye-opening documentarian | Oakland
East Bay documentarian Nicks spent two tumultuous years embedded with the Oakland Police Department, capturing its attempts to reform after officer-involved shootings, a high-profile sex scandal, and the ouster of its chief. The result is The Force, a timely view into post-Ferguson policing.

34.–36. Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer
Bathroom humorists | Born in Berkeley
The East Bay dick-in-a-box crew have long since traded viral web shorts for mainstream fame. Samberg just returned for the fifth season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (which both Schaffer and Taccone have directed); meanwhile, Taccone is attached to the upcoming comedy Miracle Workers, directed the pilot episode of Tracy Morgan’s The Last OG, and will helm the totally unnecessary but possibly hilarious MacGruber 2 The trio are also executive producers on Freeform’s Alone Together and Hulu’s upcoming Pen15—so maybe they have more dick jokes in them after all.

37. Ryan Fleck
The unlikeliest blockbuster | Raised in Oakland
The Oakland native was an unexpected pick to helm Captain Marvel’s $100-plus-million, Brie Larson–starring origin story (due out March 2019) with his wife, Anna Boden. Yet Fleck’s been gathering fans ever since his thoughtful 2006 breakout, Half Nelson, starring Ryan Gosling as a crack-addicted inner-city schoolteacher.

Page three: Theater