At this year’s Emmy Awards, many of us watched in awe as Diahann Carroll, the first African-American Emmy nominee for Naked City in 1963, walked hand-in-hand with Hollywood “it” girl Kerry Washington.
As the two powerhouse actresses took to the stage to present the award for Best Supporting Actor in a drama, for many viewers, this moment was one for the books.
You see, in 1969, Carroll received a Best Supporting Actress nod for her role in the hit television series Julia. The NBC sitcom was the first to cast an African American woman as the lead in a non-stereotypical role.
Having the legendary actress alongside the Scandal star had huge significance, as Washington was the first African-American (male or female) in nearly 40 years to earn a nomination as a lead in a series.
So when Kerry lost to Homeland star Claire Danes, many people took to the blogosphere and mainstream media to air their grievances. Some celebs, including Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo, spoke out. In an interview, Pompeo stated:
“I didn’t see any diversity in the Emmys at all. The Emmys felt so dated to me.”
The problem of the lack of diversity in Hollywood is no surprise. In fact, many of our favorite black actresses are often ignored by mainstream media and forced to fight for limited roles available for women of color. On an Oprah’s Next Chapter special on black actresses in Hollywood, Viola Davis said “we are in crisis mode as black actresses.”
While some of our favorite black actresses have made us laugh and cry (or shout and rejoice – think Waiting to Exhale) many argue that this exceptionally talented pool of women have not been given the props that they truly deserve. Quite frankly, we agree. It is time to diversify Hollywood and give more of these ladies the opportunity to shine.
Check out our gallery below of Hollywood’s most talented, yet underrated, African-American actresses.
1. Sophie Okonedo - The British actress first made headlines after starring alongside Don Cheadle in the Oscar nominated "Hotel Rwanda." Most recently, she can be seen in "After Earth," which costars Will Smith.
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2. Danai Gurira - The Zimbabwean-American actress plays Michonne on AMC’s "The Walking Dead" and has even won a Whitings Writers Award for her work.
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3. Rutina Wesley - The Julliard School graduate has blown us away with her talents playing Tara Thornton on HBO’s smash hit "True Blood."
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4. Retta - On NBC’s "Parks & Recreation," the actress plays Donna Meagle, but did you know that she is native to Liberia and related to Liberia’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf?
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5. Janae Watson, Danielle Brooks, Uzo Abuda & Samira Wiley (left to right) - These ladies are making headlines starring in the Netflix hit series "Orange is the New Black." All of them are exceptionally talented and have us sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for season 2.
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6. Yvette Nicole Brown - The "Community" star is pure hilarity on the NBC series. You can also get ready to see her guest starring on the new sitcom "Welcome to the Family."
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7. Tika Sumpter - In an interview with Clutch magazine, Sumpter spoke about her struggles as a dark-skinned actress in Hollywood saying, “I got letters thanking me for my existence." The 33-year-old NY native made waves while starring as Raina Thorpe on "Gossip Girl." You can catch her on OWN’s "The Have’s & the Have Nots."
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8. Tichina Arnold - Everyone remembers Arnold as “Pam” on the hit series "Martin." She also went on to critical acclaim as the mom on Chris Rock’s "Everyone Hates Chris."
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9. Robinne Lee - The Yale graduate proves to be beauty and brains, having starred in hits such as “Hitch” & "Seven Pounds."
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10. Reagan Gomez-Preston - Gomez-Preston is an amazing actress, proud mother and an avid “tweeter." She has been in the game for some time and has no plans on stopping anytime soon. Catch her as the voice Roberta Tubbs on "The Cleveland Show" or on the new hit "Love That Girl!"
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11. Monica Calhoun - With a resume that rivals some, this actress has been on a slew of television and movies. Get ready to catch her reprise her role of Mia in "The Best Man Holiday."
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12. Margot Bingham- As Daughter Maitland on HBO’s "Boardwalk Empire," she is definitely bringing the heat.
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13. Loretta Devine - This 64-year-old seasoned vet has played every type of role imaginable on both the big and small screens. In 2011, the "Grey’s Anatomy" star won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. Everyone loves Mrs. Devine!
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14. Kyla Pratt - From "Love & Basketball" and "One on One," this beauty has grown up right in front of our eyes. No need to worry, you can still find her on BET’s "Let’s Stay Together."
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15. Kimberly Elise - Yes, she has been in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies, from "Set It Off" and "Beloved" to "John Q." Elise has acting chops to blow anyone away.
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16. Kat Graham - This beauty is a double threat. Not only can she sing her butt off, but you can also catch her playing Bonnie Bennett in the CW television hit series "The Vampire Diaries."
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17. Joy Bryant - Yes she is a supermodel who has played the love interest of 50 Cent in "Get Rich or Die Tryin’" and turned heads in the sleep-a-way hit "Antoine Fisher." You can also catch the Bronx native on NBC’s hit show "Parenthood."
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18. Journee Smollett - Known for her roles in "Eve’s Bayou" and "The Great Debaters," this stunner surely knows how to turn heads and give the people what they want.
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19. Gugu Mbatha Raw - Her full name means “Our Pride,” and we can see just why her parents chose the moniker. Get ready to catch her in the Fox Searchlight film "Belle."
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20. Gina Torres - This Cuban-American actress not only starred in "The Matrix" franchise, she is also married to actor Laurence Fishburne. Currently, she plays Jessica Pearson on "Suits."
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21. Essence Atkins - At one point, Atkins was all over television with guest spots on hits such as "Moesha," "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and played the fun loving sister on the series "Smart Guy."
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22. Denise Vasi - Fashion model turned soap star. This actress has a lot to celebrate after walking down the aisle with director Anthony Mandler. Catch her on VH1’s "Single Ladies."
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23. Anika Noni Rose - Many remember the actress from the hit film "Dream Girls" alongside Beyonce and J Hud, but this seasoned pro made history when she voiced Princess Tiana in Disney’s "The Princess & The Frog.”
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24. Angel Conwell - From "Baby Boy" to most recently "The Young & the Restless," this beauty seems to be one of the most hardworking actresses out.
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25. Aisha Tyler - Some remember her from E! Entertainment’s "Talk Soup," on which she was the first African American and woman to host the series. Others might remember Tyler as the first African American to play an “extended” character on "Friends" - whatever the case, this comedic genius is a force to be reckoned with. Catch her currently on CBS’ "The Talk."
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26. Sonequa Martin Greeb - Currently starring in two hit series "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead," we can see that this beauty will go far.
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27. Naomie Harris - Confidence and beauty exude from the British-born star. With "Skyfall" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" already under her belt, we can’t wait to catch her playing Winnie Mandela alongside Idris Elba this November.
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28. Malinda Williams - The 37-year-old actress has been in the game for quite some time. We loved her when she played “Bird” in the television adaptation of "Soul Food."
Continue reading TIME FOR CHANGE: Hollywood’s Most Underrated Black Actresses (PHOTOS)
31 Most Underrated Black Actresses In Hollywood (PHOTOS)