In her acceptance speech at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Viola Davis stated that women of color are just as good in front of the camera, only they don’t get as many opportunities as they should.
Even so, there are a number of African American actresses leading the charge and making waves in Hollywood. In this article, we shall be focusing on ten African American actresses pushing the envelope in Hollywood and establishing themselves as A-listers.
Charlie Theron was born on 7th August 1975. The South African-American actress doubles as a film producer. Theron was thrust into the limelight after her role in “The Devil’s Advocate” in the 1990s.
Some of her more known films include:
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- Snow White and the Huntsman
- Atomic Blonde
- Dark Places
The dizzying heights of Hollywood fame were nothing to the then-budding star who went on to star in many other movies even winning an Academy Award for her stellar performance in the “Monster” playing the serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
Benu Mabhena was born in London, UK. While she can trace her acting development to the US, the actress’s bloodline lies in Zimbabwe, where her parents and most of her siblings were born. Her family spent a lot of time on the move, settling in various times in Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
The US government at some point offered the country asylum, and they settled in San Francisco. This is where the young Benu Mabhena would live throughout her teenage years.
From an early age, it was clear that Mabhena was in love with performance art. She would do impressions and tell stories to those around her. As she grew older, she veered more into poetry, writing, and reciting poetic pieces. Her credentials were solidified when she attended Diablo Valley College and participated in theater. After college, she chose to live in Southern California and pursue her acting dreams, landing a role in Blood Diamonds (2006). She has also appeared in Night Walkers and Princess.
The 35-year-old Oscar winner has had a dreamy run in Hollywood and is one of the most sought-after actresses in the industry at current. Lupita Nyongo was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents and holds dual citizenship for the two countries. It’s safe to say that you’ve seen Lupita Nyong’o in more than one film, as she played roles in:
- 12 Years a Slave
- Black Panther
- Star Wars: Episode VII & Episode VIII
- The Jungle Book
Her claim to fame was the movie “12 Years A Slave” in which she played Patsey becoming the first Kenyan and Mexican to win the award. Since then she has gone on to feature in high-grossing films such as Marvel’s Black Panther, The Jungle Book, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The actress has had 56 nominations winning 36 times.
Thandiwe Nashita “Thandie” Newton has starred in many blockbuster Hollywood releases and has cemented her name as one of the biggest female stars of our times. The English actress has had roles in both American and British releases. Thandie Newton made her debut in acting in the film Flirting back in 1991. She went on to appear in the film “Interview With A Vampire” 3 years later.
Thandie Newton played a lead role in HBO’s successful show “Westworld”, and played a supporting role in some big blockbusters such as “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and “2012”.Her most notable roles include Nyah Nordhoff-Hall in “Mission Impossible II,” Sally Hemings in “Jefferson In Paris,” Kate Thomas in “Norbit,” Linda in “The Pursuit of Happiness” and a title role in “Beloved.” Over her long-spanning career, Newton has won accolades for her exploits in the movie industry including:
a Black Reel Award for Best Ensemble in “The Chronicles of Riddick,” nomination for a Black Movie Award for outstanding performance in a supporting role in “Crash”, Screen Actors Guild for outstanding performance by a cast in “Crash” among many others.
Michelle Van Der Water
The actress was born in Cape Town, South Africa. Soon after her birth, the family moved to Australia settling in a small town an hour’s drive from Sydney. There Michelle went to high school at Inaburra High School located in the Sutherland Shire after which she went on to graduate from Wollongong University. She took a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Arts in Graphic Design and New Media.
Over her career, Michelle Van Der Water has appeared in many films, including:
- Teeth and Blood
- We Are Love
And many more.
Before acting, she started out with modeling while taking acting classes on the side. After some time taking acting classes she realized that her love for acting was much stronger. She started out in 2000 after moving to Los Angeles.
She has appeared on a number of films taking on short roles on various major films. One of the main roles was in the movie “Minotaur” as Queen Raphaella starring alongside Tony Todd and Tom Hardy. Other performances came in works such as the renewal of the series “Melrose Place,” “Castle,” and NCIS: Los Angeles.
Megalyn was born in Spokane, Washington to an English, German and Irish mother and a Nigerian Father. The actress was discovered early and started acting at the tender age of fourteen. Her aptitude in the performing arts was discovered when she acted in a play during a summer art camp. You may know her from “The 4400” a TV series in which she had the main role as the grown-up Isabelle Tyler.
Megalyn Echikunwoke TV appearances also include:
- House of Lies
- Damsels in Distress
She also had a recurring role in the series “Raising The Bar” broadcasted on TNT. She also held roles on CBS’s “Made In Jersey” “90210” “That’s The 70’s Show” and many others. The actress has also made her voice heard in the political front championing causes she believes in and creating awareness.
She hit the headlines when she got into a relationship with comedian Chris Rock. The two have been dating for some time with rumors of impending marriage doing rounds on the internet.
The Los Angeles native is the daughter of Eritrean immigrants and an only child. The actress got acceptance letters from multiple Ivy League colleges such as Yale, Columbia, and Brown but instead got her degree in business administration from UC Berkeley. During her time in Berkeley, the actress started going for acting classes having to travel between Berkeley and L.A in order to attend acting classes.
Azie Tesfai played supporting roles in many TV shows, including:
- The Real O’Neals
Tesfai had her first taste of the silver screen when she appeared on FOX’s “Wicked Wicked Games.” She has also had roles in “Melrose Place”, “Franklin and Bash,” “Law and Order: SVU” and “Royal Pains.”
Tesfai has also done some humanitarian work even fighting to stop the shutdown of a non-profit she supported in her native Ethiopia.
In her trying to save the non-profit, Tesfai ended up opening her own such organization known as Fortuned Culture. The non-profit deals in selling jewelry and donating the proceeds to children in developing countries.
Even though Chipo Chung was born in 1977 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzanian, she is actually half Zimbabwean and half Chinese. Her first two years of life were tumultuous, as her parents tried to establish a permanent residence due to the instability in Zimbabwe. During this time, she stayed in a refugee camp in Mozambique. When she turned 18, she left for the United States.
Chipo Chung appeared in the following films:
- In the Loop
In order to hone her raw acting talent, she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and that acted as a stepping stone to roles in productions such as Doctor Who, Sunshine, Loop, Proof, Last Enemy, Sherlock, and Camelot.
Apart from being an actor, Chung is a well-known activist, and some of her work has involved setting up the SAFE-Kenya outfit, which campaigns towards creating awareness for HIV and educating the public on the limitations of clitoridectomy. She sits on the SAFE-Kemya trustees board.
Gugulethu Sophia Mbatha-Raw was born on 21st April 1983. She started her acting career in 2004 and has appeared in many critically acclaimed films often taking a major role. She is most known for her acting on the hit TV series “Black Mirror” where she played Kelly. She also appeared as Dido Elizabeth Belle in “Belle.” In “Beyond The Lights” she featured playing Noni Jean.
Some of the other movies she appeared on include:
- Beyond the Lights
- Jupiter Ascending
- The Whole Truth
- ree State of Jones
She also had a role in the movie “Beauty and the Beast” in which she played Plumette. The South African actress was brought up by her South African father and Ann Raw an English nurse. She spent her formative years in Whitney where her acting passion grew.
Mbatha-Raw started out taking small roles in the theatre where she had one of her first breakthrough acting in the theatre version of Romeo and Juliet playing Juliet. In her career, she has made appearances in numerous films always winning her fans over and getting nominations for it. She has had many nominations over the years and won the Best breakthrough performance in the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
Rachel Mwanza is an actress from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Born in Mbuyi Mayi in the Kasai-Oriental Province of the DRC, the actress had to endure a tough childhood. In 2005, when Mwanza was only 8, her father sent the family to live in Kinshasa with the promise that he would join them later, something he failed to do.
Rachel Mwanza is mostly known for her roles in the Belgiam films Kinshasa Kids in 2012 and Troisièmes noces in 2018. The next few years were tough on the family, and Mwanza and her siblings had to drop out of school to fend for themselves. Mwanza’s predicament got even worse when she has declared a witch and kicked to the streets, where she would spend the next few years trying to survive.
Mwanza’s acting break would come when Kim Ngunyen, a film director, saw her featured in a documentary about surviving the streets of Kinshasa. She was subsequently cast in the movie War Witch in 2012. Her performance brought about an avalanche of awards in the Berlin Film Festival, Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and the Tribeca Film Festival.
Elize du Toit
Du Toit was born in Grahamstown, South Africa. She spent much of her childhood in the country but obtained her education abroad. In 1994, She became a student at Wellington College and quickly established herself as a great learner of language and the arts. She also pursued history at the University of Edinburgh, where she was active in theater, performing on numerous occasions with the Edinburg University Theater.
Elize du Toit played supporting and leading roles in the following movies:
- The Devil’s Chair
- In Your Dreams
- Flirting with Flamenco
Du Toit’s professional career has spanned close to two decades now, and she is famous for playing Izzy Davies in Hollyoaks, the Channel 4 soap opera. In the auditions, she managed to ward off the attention of 40,000 others to land the role. She was a mainstay in the show for four years and terminated her association with the production in 2004. She, however, returned briefly in 2007.
After her breakout performance, she went on to star in a number of productions, with some of them being The Devil’s Chair, Waking the Dead, Coronation Street, Casualty, Material Girl, Lewis, The line of Beauty, Doctor Who, and lots more. Even though she has not won any major awards, Elize du Toit continues to get cast in roles that drive conversations in society. At the moment, she lives in London with her husband and kids.
Liya Kebede has done everything when it comes to the entertainment scene. The actress started out as a model and developed into a clothing designer and an advocate for maternal health advocates. In 2007 she rose to become the eleventh most paid model according to the Forbes list. Kebede was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While she may have made a name for herself in the acting scene Liya has done more as a model.
Liya Kebede filmography includes some highly popular films, such as:
- Lord of War
- The Good Shepherd
- The Best Offer
- Desert Flower
The actress and model have also given a lot to goodwill and even got appointed WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health.
She then took it a step further and founded her own charity foundation named the Liya Kebede Foundation founded to help reduce maternal and newborn mortality rates in Ethiopia. In 2013 Kebede won Glamor’s Women of the Year award for her philanthropy.
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The South Africam born star wouldn’t have thought of herself in the movies in her younger days. McClure had the aspiration to work in medicine and never gave acting a single thought. Her movie career kicked off in the most unexpected of ways.
Although Kandyse McClure is more known for her TV shows, she has quite a filmography:
- Romeo Must Die
- Seventh Son
- Mother’s Day
After auditioning for a friend’s play in Canada she received a call to audition for a much bigger role and from then dedicated her life to the profession. McClure has since appeared in a number of high-profile films including Romeo Must Die, Battleship Galactica, and Da Vinci’s Inquest.
Thomas is of Eritrean and American descent. She spent most of her early life in Germany where she developed a love for the arts and especially the performing arts. After finishing her studies the actress went into acting and managed to carve a niche for herself. One of her most notable roles was on the hit TV series “Entourage” as Viveca.
Ella Thomas appeared in many popular TV shows:
- Ten Days in the Valley
- All My Children
She also appeared on CSI: Miami as P.Diddy’s girlfriend. Ella also appeared on “Castle” the hit show on ABC as well as playing a role in “Parenthood.” She has also had recurring roles in TV series such as Ballers and NCIS: Los Angeles.
Apart from acting the actress has also appeared on a number of magazine covers including ELLE, American Vogue, and Glamour where she had her own spreads. She has also done print advertising for major brands like Tiffany & Co., Gap, and Levis as well as automotive advertisements.