20 Stars and Influencers Who Radiate Creativity and Get Everyone Talking

From Queen Bey to Samantha Bee

What would you do with fame, if you had it? Would you simply enjoy all the perks and pay that come with it, or would you use it as a launching pad for your creative passions?

As part of Adweek's annual Creative 100, a list of the 100 most creative professionals in America, we honor 20 celebrities and influential figures who've consistently challenged themselves, their industries and their audiences.

Here is our list of 2016's multi-talented creative stars who just keep surprising fans and stepping up their game:  

 

 Milana Vayntrub

Actor / Director / Activist

Los Angeles

Best known as the unassuming and quick-witted AT&T spokeswoman Lily Adams, Vayntrub was intended to appear in only one ad for the brand. But thanks to her effortless charm, and her improv chops, she's now been in more than three dozen spots.

The 29-year-old was able to transform the initially small part into a defining role that's helped her pursue many creative passions, which include acting, directing and activism.

"Milana's Lily resonates with audiences because she's a multi-dimensional character in a way that's rare for commercials," says director Hank Perlman, who was behind the camera for most of Vayntrub's AT&T ads. "We try as hard as we can to not only make her funny, but to make her as strong, smart and human as possible."

In January, Vayntrub helped to bring attention to the Syrian refugee crisis, creating a short documentary of her experiences volunteering in Greece and revealing her own history as a Soviet-era refugee from Uzbekistan. She also started a nonprofit, Can't Do Nothing, where people can donate to help refugees. Earlier this month, she went to Jordan to visit refugee camps, and she will be releasing a follow-up documentary later this summer.

This month, she appears in Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot while continuing to advocate for refugees. She sat down with Adweek to talk about her creative process, activism, privilege, feminism and what she's doing next. Check out our full interview with her here.

—Kristina Monllos

 

 Jesse Williams 

Actor / Racial Equality Activist

Los Angeles

In his seven seasons as Dr. Jackson Avery on ABC's Grey's Anatomy, Williams has smartly used his Shonda Rhimes spotlight to create projects that push for social justice. He executive produced art project Question Bridge: Black Males and documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. He and his wife, Aryn Drake-Lee, also created a keyboard app, Ebroji, featuring GIFs and images for people of all races and genders (including transgender). Last month, he cemented his status as one of the Black Lives Matters movement's most influential voices by accepting BET's Humanitarian Award with a passionate speech about race and police brutality. "There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of," he said. "There has been no job we haven't done, there's been no tax they haven't levied against us, and we've paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here."

—Jason Lynch

 

 Ashley Graham

Model / Body Image Activist

New York City

Already a rising star in the modeling world, Ashley Graham became a global celebrity when she was featured on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover this year. She also starred in the body positive Lane Bryant "I'm No Angel" campaign, along with ads for Revlon and Swimsuits for All. She even appeared alongside Joe Jonas in his band DNCE's "Toothbrush" music video. Graham has used her newfound celebrity status to do more than score high-profile gigs. Becoming one of today's top body positivity activists, the model has delivered a TEDx talk (with nearly 1 million views) celebrating her curves and challenging the industry's perception of plus-size models. "We need to work together to redefine the global image of beauty," she says in the talk, "and it starts by becoming your own role model."