The Extraordinary Historymakers of 2020
In a year that defied expectations in so many ways, these are the people who met the moment—breaking barriers, inventing new rule books, provoking change, and making 2020 a year in which at least some change was for the better.
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz in 2013.
In addition to becoming the first madam vice president-elect in American history, Harris is the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to be elected to the office. When she takes office on January 20, she’s likely to break many more records from there.
Chase Strangio: The ACLU Lawyer Who Won a Landmark Supreme Court Case
In June the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that it is illegal for an employer to discriminate based on transgender identity or sexual orientation. Following the decision, Strangio, one of the lawyers who argued the case, called it “the most beautiful win we could possibly get out of this court. It’s everything that we wanted.”
Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci: The Married Couple Who Could End the Pandemic
© Felix Schmitt/Agentur Focus/Contact Press Images.
Cofounders of the German start-up BioNTech, Sahin and Türeci teamed with Pfizer to develop a COVID vaccine in January—and in November, announced a product that was more than 90% effective. According to The New York Times**, when they first saw the efficacy data for their vaccine, the couple celebrated by brewing Turkish tea at home.
Emily Green, Molly O‘Toole, and the staff of This American Life: Winners of the First Pulitzer for Audio Reporting
Reporting in Guerrero. Photo courtesy of Cesar Rodriguez.
Twenty-five years after its first episode, and nearly a decade into the ongoing podcast boom, This American Life, along with reporters Emily Green (pictured) and Molly O’Toole, won the first Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting, for “revelatory, intimate journalism that illuminates the personal impact of the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.” The show’s host, Ira Glass, wrote, tongue firmly in cheek, “I guess they decided audio journalism is finally here to stay.”
Bad Bunny: The Puerto Rican Rapper Who Kept Topping Charts
Photograph by Jason Nocito.
After his album YHLQMDLG debuted at the end of February, it made history on the Billboard 200 as the highest-charting Spanish-language album ever. And he closed out the year, which also included a Super Bowl halftime performance and another surprise album released in May, by topping Spotify’s list of the most streamed albums in 2020.
Billie Eilish: The Gen Z Grammy Juggernaut
Photograph by Mark Seliger.
It was in 2019 that Billie Eilish hit one of her first eye-popping records, becoming the first artist born in the current millennium to have a number one album. At this year’s Grammys, however, she made much more public history, becoming the youngest person—and only the second person ever—to win all four of the top categories.
Adam Silver: The NBA Commissioner Who Made Safe Sports Possible
By Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images.
The NBA season was halted twice, first by the coronavirus pandemic and then by player strikes as protests for racial justice unfolded across the country. But it also found undeniable success with its COVID-safe “bubble,” where 22 teams could play while isolating from the rest of the world. After 172 games there were zero positive tests—the only major professional sport to pull off that feat.
Sarah McBride: America’s First Trans State Senator
Photograph by Mackenzie Stroh.
During the same election that led its former senator Joe Biden to the White House, Delaware welcomed to its state senate Sarah McBride, who joins a small but growing group of trans elected officials nationwide. “I am hopeful that tonight’s result can send a potentially lifesaving message to a young trans kid,” McBride told BuzzFeed. “They can go to sleep knowing that their dreams and their truths are not mutually exclusive.”
Stacey Abrams: The Political Superstar Who Helped Turn Georgia Blue
Photograph by Ethan James Green.
In the two years since she narrowly lost Georgia’s gubernatorial election, Abrams and her groups the New Georgia Project and Fair Fight registered more than 800,000 new voters in the state, which was enough to hand the state’s electoral votes to Joe Biden. Her future options seem limitless, but for now she and thousands of volunteers are already back to work, focused on two Senate runoff races on January 5.
Bong Joon Ho: The Director Who Broke the Oscars’ Language Barrier
South Korea’s film industry has been producing robust, international hits for decades, but it took Parasite for the Academy Awards to finally open their eyes. Bong Joon Ho’s thriller was not only the first film not in the English language to win best picture, but also the first South Korean film even nominated for best international feature film (it won that too).