Our Most Memorable Profiles of 2017
From "Mattress Girl" to Maxine Waters, these are the profiles that we're proudest of this year.
Image by Broadly. Photos by Alex Wong via Getty Images (L), Leila Ettachfini, Red Your Blues (R).
This year, we had the pleasure of profiling some incredible people — forest-dwelling witches, ex-pat poets, intersex activists, and Ani DiFranco. Here, arranged in no particular order, are ten of the stories that stuck with us. Each offers a peak into the life of someone carving out new possibilities in a world that, this year, felt increasingly dark and predetermined.
Emma Sulkowicz is a performance artist living and working in New York City, though most recognize her as the Columbia University student who made headlines her senior year in 2014. Sulkowicz, then a visual arts undergraduate, focused her thesis Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) on hauling a dorm room twin-size mattress everywhere on campus to protest the university's mishandling of her sexual assault complaint against a fellow student. Sulkowicz and Mattress Performance sparked a national debate about sexual assault on campus. As coverage increased, Sulkowicz—wielding a 50-pound mattress and wearing blue hair, a somber expression, and absolute resolve—became the center of a larger culture war tearing through America.
During the seven months Al-Jizawi spent in captivity, she says she was regularly tortured and verbally harassed. Her captors threatened to harm her family in an effort to extract information. In a 2014 interview with the Daily Sabah, she says her experience is "not worth mentioning," because what others experience is much worse. She describes the suffering as mostly psychological (besides being "merely hit with cables and electrocuted"). "They tried to force me to say [my one friend] was an advisor in army," Al-Jizawi recalls, "but I refused."
Ever since I first came across Susun, I’ve felt that there’s an insurmountable chasm between our lifestyles—that I’m a person who is stressed and destabilized by virtue of the fact that I would never choose to spend the day contently foraging for herbs, whereas she’s someone who is eternally serene because she’s a benevolent forest-dwelling witch. But one is not born, but rather becomes, a benevolent forest-dwelling witch. Susun wasn't spawned forth, radiant and bandana-clad, from the ether. She made a series of choices: to leave high school, to drop out of college, to move to the country with a young child, to invite thousands of aspiring green witches into her home.
Her long term desire is to see gender norms die out, but she knows the challenges we're currently up against in this country. "You get put in a box from day you are born. 'You have a vagina, you're this,'" she parrots. "'You have a penis, you're this.' The in-betweens aren't even considered. You just get changed. It's not just a box you tick. It's a spectrum, and it should never limit you to be what you want to be. Gender is just limiting society as a whole.
Perhaps they have not seen an elected official take this kind of stand and use this kind of boldness, particularly directed at one who is the president of the United States," Waters told Broadly of her popularity with millennials, adding that she finds it very easy to call out Trump and his administration because she truly believes he should be impeached. "I think that is what has attracted them to me and led to me being adopted as Auntie Maxine.
Now 74 years old, Feilding—whose full title is the Countess of Wemyss and March—is perhaps the only drug policy reformer who can trace her lineage to the Habsburgs and the illegitimate heirs of Charles II. She is also the unlikely invisible hand behind many of the headline-grabbing studies about how recreational drugs like cannabis, LSD, and MDMA may hold the key to treating everything from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder and nicotine addiction.
Every morning on their way to daycare, Kimberly and her six-year-old daughter, Kai, pray for their estranged family. "No matter how I try to avoid mentioning certain people in our family, Kai continues to pray for them by name," Kimberly said in an interview with VICE. "That's difficult for me, to see this little girl, how she loves unconditionally, and how she has no idea what's going on—because I've strived so hard to protect her from that."
"Look!" Furtado demands. She shows me the inside of her ochre-colored coat, flashing a sheer black bra in the process. "You can wear it two ways! It's literally reversible." She's wholly amused despite her obliviousness, opening and closing her jacket again and again over her breast. She's laughing. I'm laughing. Her left boob is still out. She spells out the clothing brand for me: "D-R-O-M-E. Drome. That's so rad," she says, slumping back into the booth and finally noticing that her left boob is half-exposed. She doesn't seem phased. Why would she be? This is the woman who gyrated in music videos, wearing everything from low-rise jeans and a cropped sheer blouse in "Promiscuous" to a tiny white wife beater in "Maneater."
"[It was] my big reveal," she says. "I exhibited images from my modeling experiences over the last four years. I also read texts that I have never made public while stripping on the street in Berlin. Performing my writing was actually much more intimidating than public nudity. Most people who knew me as Lena Chen had no idea that I was keeping an alternate identity in Berlin. Among artists and art models, it's not uncommon to have an alias, but mine wasn't just a fun stage name. There was an entire personal history I was trying to escape and rewrite."
Early on, DiFranco was open about her bisexuality (she's married to producer Mike Napolitano, with whom she has two children), but in 2015, she told the LGBT blog GoPride.com she's "not so queer anymore, but definitely a woman-centered woman and just a human rights-centered artist." This didn't sit too well with the lesbian and otherwise queer fanbase she'd drawn from the beginning. In an interview with The New York Times, she bemoaned that she's "had to have a lot of really asinine discussions about [her] big betrayal of the queer community by getting married."