For several decades now, the entertainment industry has given rise to some amazingly talented black actresses from all over the world. These fascinating television and movie stars have featured in every film genre, from musicals to dramas to comedies. Some of them have even won wide-ranging awards as recognition of their acting prowess.
The movie and television sector has several actresses who are simply amazing. Due to modern-day diversity, these actresses have varied backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, and country of origin. Here are some outstanding black actresses who have graced our screens at one time or the other.
25 most outstanding black actresses of all time
Here is a look at some famous black actresses who have stood out through their sheer acting talents.
1. Angela Bassett
Born in August 1958, in New York City, Angela Bassett attended the Yale School of Drama and went on to star in the Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got to Do With It, for which the actress received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award.
Some of Angela's other spectacular performances have been in films such as Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Strange Days, Supernova, and Mr. 3000.
2. Halle Berry
Halle Berry is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful black actresses of all time. For her performance in Monster's Ball in 2001, she became the first African American woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Halle has also enjoyed prominent roles in Jungle Fever (1991), X-Men (2000), Swordfish (2001), Die Another Day (2002), Gothika (2003), Cloud Atlas (2012) and Kidnap (2017). Halle is among the best-known black actresses from the 90s.
3. Taraji P. Henson
Taraji P. Henson was born in September 1970, in Washington, D.C. She landed her first professional acting gig on Smart Guy. In 2001, she got her big break in the film Baby Boy.
In 2008, she earned an Oscar nomination for her part in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She then starred in Hustle and Flow and later earned an Academy Award nomination for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Taraji also won a Golden Globe for her role as Cookie on the hit television soap opera Empire.
4. Viola Davis
Acclaimed actress Viola Davis is among the very few African American performers who have won Tony, Oscar, and Emmy Awards. She is known for her award-winning performances in the television series How to Get Away With Murder and the Broadway productions of King Hedley II and Fences.
5. Kerry Washington
Kerry Washington has appeared in films such as Ray, She Hate Me, The Last King of Scotland, and Django Unchained. She also starred on the Shonda Rhimes T.V. series Scandal.
Born in New York City in January 1977, actress Kerry Washington started performing during her school years. She earned a degree in Performance Studies from George Washington University.
6. Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson is an award-winning film, television, and stage actress. She is renowned for her roles in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, The Help, and Broadway's The Trip to Bountiful, among others.
Cicely Tyson built a successful career by carefully choosing roles that exemplified quality and depth. She has won accolades and awards for her performances on T.V., stage, and in film.
7. Zoe Saldana
Zoe Saldana is a trained dancer who is also one of the leading black female actors in Hollywood, having starred in blockbusters like Star Trek, Avatar, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Born in June 1978 in Passaic, New Jersey, and partly raised in the Dominican Republic, the bilingual Zoe Saldana started her acting career in films like Crossroads, Drumline, The Terminal, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
8. Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle is among the most famous black actors of all time. She is also an activist and author and well-known for her roles in various films and television series.
She began her career as a model and landed minor acting roles in some of the most popular sitcoms and teen-comedies of the 1990s.
She made her breakthrough through her roles in the acclaimed medical drama series City of Angels as well as the 2002 film Bring It On.
9. Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah is an award-winning actress and musician. Her debut hip-hop album, All Hail to the Queen, sold more than 1 million copies, and the single U.N.I.T.Y. earned Latifah her first Grammy Award in 1995.
She has also garnered acclaim for acting, earning her first Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2002 blockbuster musical Chicago, and an Emmy nod for her portrayal of blues singer Bessie Smith in the 2015 film Bessie.
10. Regina King
Regina King's versatility as a performer and down to earth good looks have made her one of Hollywood's most in-demand African American actresses.
Equally adept at comedy and drama, Regina has appeared in a wide range of films, most notably Jerry Maguire, the 1996 box-office smash starring Tom Cruise, and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, a glossy 1998 romance starring Angela Bassett.
11. Thandie Newton
Nashita 'Thandie' Newton is an English actress who has appeared in several British and American films. Newton was born in London to Nyasha, a Zimbabwean health-care worker, and Nick Newton, a Cornish laboratory technician and artist.
12. Nia Long
Nia Long is an American actress and occasional music video director. She is best known for her roles in the television series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Third Watch, and the films Soul Food, Love Jones, The Best Man, Big Momma's House, and Are We There Yet?
Nia was born in Brooklyn, New York, into a family of Afro-Trinidadian descent. Her name, Nia, is one of the seven days of Kwanzaa, which means purpose in Swahili.
13. Octavia Spencer
Born and raised in Alabama, Octavia Spencer landed her first acting gig while working behind the scenes of 1996's A Time to Kill. Following small parts in films and T.V. series like City of Angels and The Chronicle, her career reached new heights in 2011 with the hit drama The Help, which earned her an Academy Award.
She later received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her portrayal of N.A.S.A. mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in the 2016 biopic Hidden Figures and her supporting role in the 2017 sci-fi drama The Shape of Water.
14. Alfre Ette Woodard
Alfre is an American film, stage, and television actress. She has been nominated once for an Academy Award and Grammy Awards, 12 times for Emmy Awards (winning four), and has also won a Golden Globe and three Screen Actors Guild Awards.
She is known for her role in films such as Cross Creek, Miss Firecracker, Grand Canyon, Passion Fish, Primal Fear, Star Trek: First Contact, Miss Evers' Boys, K-PAX, Radio, Take the Lead, and The Family That Preys.
15. Regina Hall
Regina Hall is one of the finest African American actors of our time. She is known for her leading roles in Girls Trip, Shaft, and Little. Hall ventured into acting later than usual because of the many years she spent in school.
Like several other young black actresses, she struggled at the beginning of her career, and at one point, had to work as a waitress to pay the bills.
16. Rosario Dawson
Born in May 1979, in New York City, actress Rosario Dawson's talent was discovered at age 15 when she was cast in the edgy 1995 flick titled Kids. Since then, she has gone on to star in a wide spectrum of independent and feature films, including Sin City, Rent, and Grindhouse.
Besides acting, Rosario is also an outspoken activist for various causes. She co-founded Voto Latino to encourage Latinos to register and vote.
17. Lupita Nyong' o
No doubt one of the most talented young black actors today, Lupita Nyong' o started acting as a teen in Kenya and went on to work behind the scenes of the film The Constant Gardener.
She directed and produced the albinism documentary In My Genes and starred in the T.V. series Shuga.
Lupita went on to earn acclaim for her role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave (2013), for which she won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The following year, she starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the Off-Broadway play Eclipsed.
The actress also featured prominently in the box office-shattering superhero flick Black Panther (2018).
18. Meagan Monique Good
Meagan is an American actress who has appeared in numerous television shows, feature films, and music videos. Born in California, she started acting at the tender age of four and appeared in several television dramas before making her debut on the big screen.
Her breakthrough performance came in the 1997 movie Eve's Bayou. She then went on to land a regular role in the sitcom Cousin Skeeter.
19. Vanessa Williams
In 1983, Vanessa Williams made history when she was crowned the first African American Miss America. Unfortunately, some inappropriate photos of her were soon plastered on the pages of Penthouse magazine.
Horrified, the Miss America pageant board asked Williams to resign her post. She then started a singing career, finding great success and then branching out into acting, again with much success.
20. Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg is an award-winning comedian, actress, human rights advocate, and the longtime host of the daytime talk show The View. She starred in an acclaimed one-woman production in 1983, and in 1985, she won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording.
Goldberg won an Academy Award in 1991 for her performance in Ghost, and in 2007, she embarked on a lengthy run as moderator of the T.V. talk show The View.
Goldberg is also known for being among a very small group of celebrities who have achieved 'E.G.O.T.' status, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award.
21. Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. The actress found early success in show business by performing with her sister, leading to her first film appearance.
Dorothy's breakthrough came in the 1954 musical Carmen Jones. However, she found it difficult to replicate that success, and her final years were marred by personal and professional problems, until her death at age 42 in 1965.
22. Pam Grier
Pamela Suzette Grier is one of the best black actresses from the 70s. She became famous for her starring roles in a string of 1970s women-in-prison and blaxploitation films for American International Pictures and New World Pictures.
Some of her most notable films include Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974).
23. Vivica Fox
In 1997, Essence magazine asserted Vivica Fox was 'the Hollywood homegirl of the moment.' Nearly a decade later, Fox had parlayed her screen appeal into a successful acting career with more than a dozen films and nearly as many television appearances to her name.
In the early 2000s, Fox had her sights set on a long, powerful career in Hollywood, and had begun to develop a behind-the-scenes career as a producer.
24. Ruby Dee
Ruby Ann Wallace was an American actress and social activist known for her pioneering work in African American theatre and film and her outspoken civil rights activism.
Dee's artistic partnership with her husband, Ossie Davis, was considered one of the most distinguished in the theatre and film industry.
25. Jada Pinkett Smith
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith landed her big break on the sitcom A Different World. She went on to star in films like The Nutty Professor with Eddie Murphy, and Spike Lee's Bamboozled before her prominent contributions to The Matrix Reloaded and the animated film Madagascar.
Jada later returned to television with starring roles on Hawthorne and Gotham and helped make Girls Trip a surprise box-office hit in 2017. She is married to actor Will Smith, with whom she has two children, Jaden and Willow.
The modern-day entertainment industry continues to give rise to some amazing black actresses every year. It will be fascinating to see what these talented people have in store for their fans in the future.