11 Celebrities and Influencers Raising the Bar for Creativity in 2017

Meet the multi-talented stars of Adweek's Creative 100

Donald Glover has become one of today's most versatile and in-demand talents.
Getty Images

Hollywood has no shortage of talents who excel in their crafts, but the rarest joy is to find a celebrity or rising star who seems capable of doing almost anything—and doing it well.

Each year, Adweek’s Creative 100—our list of the most creative professionals in America—honors 10 celebs and influencers who represent the best of the artistic, innovative spirit coming out of television, film, music and more.

Our list is new each year with no repeat honorees, meaning you’ll definitely want to check out our 2015 and 2016 lists, which included stars who’ve risen far higher since, such as Chance the Rapper and Legion creator Noah Hawley.

Here are our picks for 2017:

 

Issa Rae
Actor, Writer, Director, Producer

With an HBO series based off her successful web series and book, Rae provides a fresh voice to the comedy scene. Her insightful point of view and background in production as a woman of color fuel her relatable and honest sense of humor.

Recently, thanks to an unofficial social media campaign across Tumblr and Twitter, Rae was named the writer of a feature heist/action film starring Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o. In previous speeches, Rae has thanked her mother for their shared sense of awkwardness, which seems to continue to inspire her projects and success throughout her career.
Sami Main

 

Jordan Peele
Actor, Writer, Director

Get Out, a 2017 horror film he wrote, co-produced and directed, became the second biggest R-rated horror movie in North America. It earned over $165 million in domestic sales as of April, and the departure from Peele’s usual medium of comedy showed that his talents are far more wide-ranging than casual fans might have thought.

As one half of the comedy and sketch duo Key and Peele, he helped create sketches for Comedy Central before the pair starred in Keanu, a feature-length film also written by Peele.

“Get Out was totally a passion project,” Peele said in an interview with Fandango. “I didn’t think it was ever gonna get made, but it was just fun to write.”
Sami Main

 

Alexander Wang
Fashion Designer

In an industry where designers come and go faster than you can say Anna Wintour, 33-year-old Alexander Wang has managed to stay atop the fashion pyramid for more than a decade. The reigning king of New York’s cool kids and “models off duty,” Wang launched his first collection to massive critical acclaim in 2006, winning the coveted CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize in 2008, and he hasn’t slowed down since.

In addition to designing his wildly popular namesake collection and a diffusion line, T by Alexander Wang, the fashion wunderkind spent three years as creative director for legendary label Balenciaga, launched a sold-out capsule with H&M, designed a line of furniture with Poltrona Frau, and last year, kicked off an ongoing collaboration with Adidas Originals.

In 2016, the Alexander Wang business turned over $150 million in revenues, growing at double-digit percentages annually, according to Business of Fashion.
Emma Bazilian

 

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij
TV and Film Collaborators

In Hollywood, the phrase “frequent collaborators” is usually used to describe directors and their favorite character actors, or recurring costars with comedic chemistry. But for Marling and Batmanglij, the definition goes much deeper, and the results of their years-long partnership have been some of the most creative TV and film ideas in recent memory.

The two vaulted to fame in late 2016 with the debut of Netflix’s The OA, which they developed and wrote together. Marling starred in the surreal and addictive show (which Adweek’s TV Hot List named the year’s Hottest Binge), while Batmanglij directed each episode.

The two refined that collaborative structure over several years, beginning with 2011’s Sound of My Voice, a captivating tale of two filmmakers trying to expose a cult, followed by 2013 thriller The East starring Marling alongside Ellen Page.

Their projects drew respect in indie circles, but Marling and Batmanglij found themselves feeling too limited by the time constraints of film. “By the time you get the world and all these people set up, you have a half-hour to play in it, then you’re out,” Marling told Vulture in January 2017. The result was Netflix’s oddly compelling The OA, and Marling promises that Season 1 was only “the outermost ring of that labyrinth.”
David Griner

 

Donald Glover
Actor, Writer, Producer

Glover shook up TV last fall with his inventive FX series, Atlanta, which debuted to critical and commercial acclaim, becoming the network’s highest-rated comedy ever. The show’s most essential element? “Tone was the most important,” says Glover, who created, wrote, starred in and occasionally directed Atlanta, while finishing his third Childish Gambino album, Awaken, My Love! “The feeling you get watching the show is the heart of the series, we hoped.”

As Glover plots Season 2, he’s also tackling four beloved franchises: playing Lando Calrissian in next year’s standalone film about a young Han Solo, voicing Simba in the upcoming Lion King remake, appearing in Spider-Man: Homecoming this summer and overseeing a Deadpool animated series (alongside brother Stephen) which will air next year on FXX.

“My approach is, basically, not trying to remake anything,” Glover says, but rather “just trying to replicate the wonder you felt as an audience member.”
Jason Lynch

 

Emily Calandrelli
TV Host, STEM Advocate

You may know Calandrelli, who calls herself “the Space Gal,” from hosting Xploration Outer Space or as a correspondent on Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves The World, but what you might not know that she has two master’s degrees from MIT, where she trained in aeronautics and astronautics and in how to properly communicate science to policymakers.

As a science communicator, Calandrelli thinks her job is more important now than ever. “The political climate has awoken a science beast in everybody,” she says.

It’s her job, both as a science communicator and children’s book author, to produce good work even if it’s difficult. “The science community is unforgiving of errors, but I’ve had to overcome the fear of getting something wrong and getting attacked online,” she says. “Correct yourself publicly if you need to, but there’s no harm in trying.”
Sami Main

 

Kendrick Lamar
Rapper, Songwriter

Originally from Compton, Calif., Lamar has transcended the rap genre and become one of today’s most widely respected musicians and songwriters. The 29-year-old has nabbed seven Grammys and is known for his politically charged and passionate lyrics, which have become anthemic for the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond.

Lamar launched his fourth album “DAMN.”, this year, which was widely praised among critics and fans for upping the ante on his already impressive wordsmith skills, selling more than 600,000 units in the first week.

“I like to put a lot of different things and wordplays and messages in my music because I want it to live further than two weeks,” Lamar told NPR in April about the album. And while his previous releases focused on world events, “DAMN.” squarely focuses on his personal journey and emotions.

“It’s not easy telling your truths and stating your fears from when you were seven, 17 and a couple of years ago,” he added. “But I know at the end of the day, the music is not for me; it’s for somebody else.”
Lauren Johnson

 

Kumail Nanjiani
Actor, Writer, Podcast Host

Two seasons into starring on HBO’s Silicon Valley, Nanjiani decided it might be a good time to start taking acting classes for the first time. It wasn’t because he couldn’t keep up with the demands of his character, Dinesh. On the horizon there was an opportunity for Nanjiani to star in a movie that he would co-write with his wife, Emily Gordon, based on the duo’s own spectacular love story—The Big Sick.

“Making a movie is so hard and there are just so many things that can go wrong that this was just a part of it that I didn’t want to feel nervous about,” Nanjiani tells Adweek.

The comic has built his career shifting from project to project, adding a number of impressive accolades along the way. He has built a loyal, 1.5 million-deep following on Twitter, gained critical acclaim for his debut one-man show “Unpronounceable” in 2007, created two wildly successful podcasts and, of course, caught the eye of Amazon Studios at Sundance this year, which offered up $12 million for his film.

The Big Sick hits theaters at the end of the month, and at the moment the comedian has been road tripping with fellow co-stars Aidy Bryant, Ray Romano and Kurt Braunohler on a comedy tour to promote the film. Between tour legs, Nanjiani spoke to Adweek about what he loved most about making his new film, his experience acting alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Snoop Dogg in an Old Navy ad and what’s next.

Check out our Adweek’s interview with him here.
Katie Richards

 

Martellus Bennett
NFL Tight End, Children’s Author, Entrepreneur

“I truly believe that the children are the future, which means they will be the creators of our tomorrows—the world that we will be living in, in the next 20 years.” he tells Adweek. “I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world that lacks creativity and imagination.”

Bennett helms multimedia production outfit The Imagination Agency, and his game plan includes the interactive storybook app “Hey, A.J., It’s Saturday (which he wrote for his daughter after being disappointed in the lack of diversity in children’s books); an EP titled “I’m Not a Rapper; But Some of My Friends Are”; a children’s clothing line in collaboration with Mimobee; and “Football Marty” pillows to benefit Boston Children’s Hospital.

“Creativity is a sport, and in order to get better at it, we must practice and work at our skillset and better our game,” he says. “Creators are athletes competing in an Imaginasium. Don’t think for one second that creativity is not a competition.”
David Gianatasio

 

Melissa McCarthy
Actor, Writer, Producer, Fashion Designer

Even without a new movie this year, Melissa McCarthy is having her most groundbreaking moment since Bridesmaids first launched her into the Hollywood stratosphere in 2011.

She starred in one of this year’s most clever Super Bowl ads, as an eco-warrior trying to save the planet with hilarious consequences for Kia, while she and husband Ben Falcone executive produced (and occasionally appear in) the new TV Land comedy Nobodies, which was quickly renewed for Season 2.

But McCarthy’s pièce de résistance was her immediately iconic impersonation of embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live in February, which became the season’s defining (and most viral) sketch and helped give the show its highest ratings in 23 years.

“I don’t do impressions. I don’t have the ear for it,” McCarthy, who played Spicer four times in all, recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “But when I read the script, I was like, ‘Oh, God, that is juicy.'”
Jason Lynch

Kumail Nanjiani photographed by Marc Royce for Adweek. Martellus Bennett photo courtesy The Imagination Agency. All other photos via Getty Images.

 

Get to know the rest of Adweek’s Creative 100 for 2017:
15 Chief Creative Officers
18 Executive Creative Directors and Group Creative Directors
22 Creative Directors and Associate Creative Directors
14 Art Directors and Copywriters
10 Global Creative Leaders
12 Digital Innovators
10 Branded Content Masters
12 Artists and Authors
11 Celebrities and Influencers
• Cover Story: How Kumail Nanjiani Is Becoming an Inescapable Creative Force

Also check out all the honorees in alphabetical order.

This story first appeared in the June 12, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.