The Top 20 Most Influential African-American Women Television Has Ever Seen (LIST)

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kerry washington hair scandal olivia pope

The Gladiators have spoken. Scandal‘s Olivia Pope has captured the No. 2 spot on TIME’s Most Influential Characters of 2013 list.

With her smart and sharp demeanor, it’s no surprise that people love (and loathe) Liv’s ‘sex-capades’ with President Fitz, her sleek style and her ability to fix a crisis in the span of 24 hours.

Charismatic and smart women of color haven’t been portrayed as often as we should on the small screen, but there are still plenty to take notes from. Take a look at some other black women who dominated the tube with their charm, style, and relatable back stories.

20. Melanie Barnett-Davis (Tia Mowry)

The Game’s Melanie knows that she isn’t perfect and that’s why fans grew to love her in the first place. The main character of the hit show, Melanie Barnett began her journey as a wide-eyed medical student who dove head first into her boyfriend’s lavish football life. No one ever stays the same in a relationship and Melanie proved as much with drastic choices (like taking Derwin back after he cheated, and that whole paternity test situation). Fans were rooting for Melanie to win. Who doesn’t love the underdog?

19. Katie Graham (Nia Long)

The short-lived show Big Shots introduced us to the love story that was Katie and James. Katie was a successful VP whose love life was in shambles. She was dealing with a married man until she started dating her coworker James, who was going through a divorce. Katie always managed to give insight into James’ divorce, so much so that the two ended up falling for each other. It was messy and interesting, but it laid out the formula that other characters like Katie and Olivia represent.

18. Maya St. Germain (Bianca Lawson)

Maya played Emily’s love interest throughout the first two seasons of Pretty Little Liars. Maya was confident and kind and took control over her sexuality. Maya was someone who had her life figured out and didn’t care that some people weren’t OK with it – for a young black high school student, Maya was an amazing role model.

17. Chelsea Lewis (Aasha Davis)

Premiere Of Colombia Picture's "The Water Horse" - Arrivals

South Of Nowhere was the little show back in Teen Nick’s heyday. Aasha Davis played Chelsea Lewis, the bright teen whose life changed drastically when her boyfriend Clay was killed because of senseless violence. Chelsea was pregnant with his child when he passed and displayed more strength and wisdom than any character on the show. The view of young single mothers was changed for a while with Chelsea’s presence on TV; she still followed her ambitions to be an artist – even when the odds were against her.

16. True Jackson (Keke Palmer)

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True Jackson, VP gave Nickelodeon a hit with Keke Palmer. Her character True Jackson played the Doogie Howser of fashion with crazy antics from her friends and goofy adults. True always knew how to keep her cool. There hadn’t been a young teen like her for girls to relate to on Nick before. Since 2008, the show remains in syndication all over the world and also inspired a clothing line by the character called “Mad Style by True Jackson,” a first for a Nickelodeon teen star.

15. Raven Baxter (Raven Symone)

Raven Baxter’s character on Disney’s That’s So Raven was funny, bright, and when she was in a bind, always made it into an adventure. Sure, she had physic powers, but teens still could relate to Raven while she dealt with high school, her friends, and her annoying little brother. Raven was the first black main female character on Disney with the second longest lasting television show, the highest rated series, and the first original Disney show to reach 100 episodes. Take that, Hannah Montana.

14.  Angie Hubbard (Debbi Morgan)

One of the most iconic characters in soap opera history was Dr. Angie Hubbard from ABC’s All My Children. She was one of the only African-American actresses on soaps in the ’80s that women could relate to. After the death of her husband Jesse, her character faded from the show and returned in 2008. “It just amazes me that here we are in 2008 and we have so little representation on daytime,” she told The Boston Herald.  “I don’t understand it and I think it’s shameful.”

13. Ashley Banks (Tatyana Ali)

Ashley was the sweet and clever member of the Banks family on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and one of the closest to Will. We got to watch her grow up and flourish into an adventurous teen who took risks. She didn’t always didn’t make the best choices (sneaking out, dating bad boys) but with help from Will and her family, she always learned a valuable lesson. Her ambition and positive attitude was always something to admire.    

12. Donna Emmett (Viola Davis)

Viola Davis

Defense Attorney Donna Emmett’s stay on Law and Order: SVU was brief, but her stay was a memorable one. After defending some of the most bizarre characters on Seasons 4-10, her stance was sharp and she was often seen as a villain. It was refreshing to see a female character with strength and integrity without a man dragging slowly behind.

11. Lisa Landry (Jackee Harry)

Lisa played mom to Tia and Tamera on Sister, Sister and wasn’t the typical ‘Mom’ character that sitcoms usually provided to fans. Lisa was funny and vibrant with her approach to parenting and dealing with Ray through the years. Her charming personality was also commendable, as were her legendary ’90’ fashion statements.

10. Zoe Allyne Washburne (Gina Torres)

One of television’s kick-ass characters was Firefly’s  Zoe, who knew how to handle her own. She was known as the “warrior woman,” so much so, that years after its short run, fans want Gina to play Wonder Woman beside Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) in 2014.

9. Aunt Vivian (Janet Hubert)

The Fresh Prince’s Aunt Viv (Seasons 1-3) was a fan favorite. Her bold, fresh and confident attitude was something to aspire to, and you cannot forget all of those power suits! Aunt Viv held down a career and a family effortlessly. What was most entertaining was how she always put her foot down with Will like he was one of her own. Long live Aunt Viv.

8. Toni Childs (Jill Marie Jones)

Girlfriends’ Toni Childs liked the finer, better, and all around fabulous things in life and didn’t care what anyone thought of it. Toni carried a bold confidence that the other girls didn’t have. Sure, she came off as a bitch sometimes, but she didn’t care.

7. Maxine Shaw (Erika Alexander)

Living Single’s Maxine Shaw was smart and roasted everyone (especially Kyle) when she had the chance. Her job as an attorney helped her with her clever lines and bold statements.

6. Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson)

Bailey played the wise one to her interns in the beginning of Grey’s Anatomy, but she played the boss to all of the surgeons at Seattle Grace. The minute she was gone, chaos would ensue. Bailey was the glue that kept the cast together.

5.  Dominique Deveraux (Diahann Carroll)

Diahann Carroll made history as Dominique Deveraux on Dynasty, the glamorous half sister of Blake Carrington. Her character was very popular with all audiences and she enjoyed playing America’s “first black bitch” on television. During her interview with Biography, Carroll loved the fact that her character made such an impact on television. “It was a caricature. No real people were  involved in those shows.” She also wanted to erase stereotypes when it came to playing Deveraux. “I told the writers forget that I’m female, forget that I’m black and write it exactly how you would want a rich white man to be and you’ll have it, that’s her.”

4. Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy)

Whitley Gilbert knew what she wanted in a man and in life. As one of the sassiest characters on A Different World, Whitley gave African-American woman a voice that wasn’t constrained or insecure about who she was and what she stood for. After all, that’s why Dwayne fell for her in the first place.

3. Florida Evans (Esther Rolle)

Florida Evans was a staple in creating some of the women of color we see on TV today. Rolle’s character got her start on Maude as her housekeeper. Fans loved Rolle’s character so much, that they created a show around her and her family called Good Times. Dealing with serious issues of family, love, and poverty, Florida helped carry an arc that wasn’t on television for the working class and African-Americans in general.

2. Joan Crawford (Tracee Ellis Ross)

Girlfriends’ Joan Crawford was meant to be the Carrie Bradshaw to African-American women in the 2000s. Since Girlfriends was creator Mara Brock Ali’s (The Game, Being Mary Jane) answer to Sex In The City, Joan was the perfect character. She was silly, funny, and loved her friends and past loves hard. She also was fabulous and unafraid to be the semi-awkward woman we all loved.

1. Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad)

The Cosby Show was one of the best sitcoms of all time, and Clair Huxtable had a very big part in helping it get there. Playing a very successful lawyer, Clair always had an allure of cool, calm confidence and stood her ground when it came to parenting. Her marriage with Dr. Cosby was well-balanced, and when it came to mishaps with the kids (Theo’s school troubles or Denise’s choice in guys), Clair always exhibited a strong but gentle parenting stance, one that wasn’t seen on television by a woman of color. Her impact on pop culture was so influential that women aspired to be like her and she was named one of TV’s most influential mothers by AOL.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Facebook | VIDEO CREDIT: YouTube

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