The nominees for 2019 stand out for the diverse social, professional, and economic backgrounds they hail from and include everyone—from artists and athletes to activists and actors. But it is their contribution, good or bad, in shaping the narrative around them that matters the most.
India’s wealthiest and world’s 9th richest man, Mukesh Ambani, features prominently among titans recognised by the US magazine, including the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Tiger Woods.
The founder of TikTok, a scientist who bent medical ethics by editing genes of human embryos, a couple of litigators who helped to repeal a 157-year-old colonial anti-LGBT law in India, a rising tennis sensation who shocked Serena Williams at the US Open last September, a sexual assault survivor who birthed the #WhyIDidn’tReport movement as well as the man she accused have all entered the hall of fame.
Qrius explores the peculiar list where Pope Francis, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Robert Mueller, Xi Jinping, and Michelle Obama feature alongside Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Lebron James, and Mohamed Salah.
Indian advocates Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy were nominated for the prestigious citation by actor Priyanka Chopra, who described the duo as the beacons of hope for India’s LGBTQI community. Katju and Guruswamy were instrumental in the partial overturning of Section 377, which criminalised homosexuality and same-sex relationships.
They had argued that sexuality and its expression are fundamental human experiences, and to enable discrimination on the basis of sexuality and its expression denies individuals their fundamental human rights.
“The beauty of the Constitution is that it compels us to unlearn our prejudices,” Gurswamy said in an interview with The Caravan after the Supreme Court struck down the colonial-era law observing, “I am what I am so take me as I am.”
Among other pioneers were Sandra Oh who became the first actor of Asian descent to win an Emmy last year, Hasan Minhaj who has infused American comedy with fresh political rigour and colourful humour, chef Samin Nosrat of Netlfix’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat-fame, Aileen Lee who broke the glass ceiling and founded feminist venture capital firm All Raise, and teachers Jay O’Neal and Emily Comer who inspired others in West Virginia to strike against inadequate school funding in the US.
It’s a pity, however, that Katie Bouman was not credited along with her colleague Sheperd Doeleman.
Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani was nominated for the TIME 100 list just two months after the prestigious Hurun Global Rich List admitted him to the top 10 wealthiest businessmen in the world. Among Ambani’s greatest achievements, cheap high-speed internet access in India has had the most marked influence in the country’s progress toward digitisation.
Anand Mahindra of the Mahindra Group calls the vision “jaw-dropping” and the visionary “more ambitious” than his father Dhirubhai Ambani who had founded Reliance Industries conglomerate.
Writing for the TIME magazine, Mahindra says in admiration, “When its enormous retail division is married to the Jio network for e-commerce, it will give Amazon a run for its money. When the media entities Ambani owns begin leveraging Jio, he could create India’s default entertainment destination. The mind boggles at the possibilities.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and LockheedMartin CEO Marillyn Hewson feature alongside Ambani as the titans of 2019.
Other titans celebrated for extraordinary services in their respective fields include Egyptian football star Mohamed “Mo” Salah, who helped the country qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first time they had reached the finals of the event since 1990. Salah was named African Footballer of the Year in 2017 and 2018 and was also English football’s Player of the Year in 2017-2018.
The 26-year-old Liverpool forward spoke about gender equality in the Middle East after being named one of TIME 100’s most influential figures of the year alongside other athletes, including ace golfer Tiger Woods, women’s soccer icon Alex Morgan, and NBA star LeBron James.
TV content creator Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, Glee, American Crime Story) also found a place in this category.
Artists and icons
The most influential artists of 2019 included actors Dwayne Johnson, Glenn Close, Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), and Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), and musicians Khalid, Ariana Grande, and K-pop sensation BTS.
For icons, Indian-origin comedian Kumail Nanjiani referred Mirian G (pseudonym), a Honduran immigrant who was separated from her infant son at the US-border and later filed a class action lawsuit against the Trump administration’s horrific family separation policy, drawing international attention to this dehumanisation.
Ireland’s abortion activists Grainne Griffin, Ailbhe Smyth, and Orla O’Connor were also hailed for their effort in bringing public opinion to the progressive side; it resulted in a positive referendum on Irish’s women autonomy over their own bodies. US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders nominated Yemeni human rights-defender Radhya Almutawakel for facing “risks every day to uncover the human costs of war”.
Noted filmmaker Spike Lee (BlacKKKlansman), former First Lady Michelle Obama, and pop icons Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga were also honoured alongside Christine Blasey Ford, who had nothing to gain but everything to lose by coming forward against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, accusing him of raping her nearly thirty years ago.
Kavanaugh went on to become a judge anyway, but Ford’s searing testimony shone a light on the flawed system of shaming and disbelief that keeps sexual assault victims from speaking out.
Kavanaugh has also been nominated to the list under Leaders.
The most interesting juxtaposition of nominees was in this segment. Hillary Clinton recommended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren nominated newly elected Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, rounding off the Democrat quota. Both these women have been trailblazers, showing Washington how it’s done since taking back the House in the midterms last year. Pelosi’s clapback at Trump, who is also on the list, and AOC’s working class background have not sat easy with conservatives.
House Majority leader Mitch McConnell and Attorney General William Barr have also been credited for wielding their influence in a turbulent time for American politics.
Among noted international leaders were Pakistani PM Imran Khan whose meteoric rise from cricketer to a controversial politician is noteworthy; Chinese premier Xi Jinping whose iron-fisted reign has led China into a dangerous trade war with the US and Beijing to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region; Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu who won a historic fifth term in the elections last month and whose political career is fraught with corruption charges, and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern who showed the world how a nation should grieve after the racially motivated terrorist attack at Christchurch mosques last month.
Juan Guaidó, who staked a claim to form a new Venezuelan government in January and has the US backing to oust longtime President Nicolas Maduro, is also on the list. Brazil’s new right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has made it for all the wrong reasons—he is a climate change disbeliever and is contemplating recriminalising homesexuality in Brazil.
Pope Francis, whose administration of the Catholic Church has come under global scrutiny for condoning and covering up decades of sexual abuse committed upon children and nuns, is also on the list.
Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Hoesung Lee and teenage climate warrior Greta Thunberg have been nominated in this category as well.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.