Black History Month is a celebration of the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans.
Let’s celebrate this month by taking a look at some of our favourite African American actors who have graced our screens in recent years and some of those who we will be seeing for years to come.
With honourable mentions to Viola Davies, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, Octavia Spencer and Denzel Washington, let’s get to our list…
Before starring in various films Murphy had risen to fame on Saturday Night Live. Murphy has played multiple roles as well as the main character in the films The Nutty Professor (1963-1996), Norbit (2007) and Meet Dave (2008). I loved his role as Doctor Dolittle (1998-2001), where he played a doctor who could talk to animals and decides to help a tiger and a bear. I also loved him in The Haunted Mansion (2003), where he comes across ghosts and the dead to solve a mystery. I enjoyed his role in Daddy Day Care (2003), as a dad who opens up day-care so that he could spend more time with his son. I think the best role he has ever played is the character Donkey in the Shrek franchise (2001-2010) because he somehow manages to worm his way into Shrek’s life and become unlikely friends which I think shows that anyone can be friends and they can come in unlikely circumstances.
Known For: The Nutty Professor (1963-1996), Shrek (2001-2010), Trading Places (1983).
Upcoming Work: Beverly Hills Cop 4, Triplets, Coming 2 America.
Appearing in the series Persons Unknown (2010) as a regular was his first major role, but his breakthrough performance was as a baseball player Jackie Robinson in the biographical film 42 (2013). The only film I have watched with Chadwick Boseman is Gods of Egypt (2016) where he played a deity named Thoth and was one of the few actors of colour featured within the film. However, Boseman achieved international fame with his performance playing the superhero Black Panther in the Marvel franchise, making him the first African American actor to headline an MCU film. Sadly, Baseman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013 and unfortunately died in August 2020 due to complications with his illness. However, his final film Ma Rainey Black Bottom (2020) Is scheduled to be released posthumously on the 18th of December 2020 on Netflix.
Known For: Black Panther (2018), Captain America Civil War (2016), Get on Up (2014), All My Children (2003).
Starred in various films and TV shows including Bia in Rio 2 (2014), The Darkest Minds (2018), Where Hands Touch (2018), Sleepy Hollow (2013–2014), and Mr Robinson (2015). Making her acting debut with the film Colombiana (2011), her breakthrough role, aged 14, came as Rue in the film The Hunger Games (2012). I would say my favourite performance from Stenberg is her role as Rue as I think that Rue dying is what helped Katniss to win at the end of the games as she had told Katniss that ‘she had to win’ before she died.
Known For: The Hate You Give (2018), The Darkest Minds (2018), Everything Everything (2017), The Hunger Games(2012)
Upcoming Work: Dear Evan Hansen
Mostly recognised for his television appearances in the British television series Skins (2007-2009), playing Posh Kenneth, he gained prominence as a rising star for his roles in the superhero film Black Panther (2018) and as the star of the horror Get Out (2017) which gained Kaluuya an Academy Award nomination for best actor. However, my favourite performance of his was as the MI7 agent Colin Tucker in the film Johnny English Reborn (2011), who becomes Rowan Atkinson sidekick. I loved this film because Kaluuya’s role was a serious agent who loved his job which was a contrast to the character Johnny English, who was an accident-prone agent. I’m a huge Doctor Who fan and I loved Kaluuya’s role as Barclay in the episode titled Planet of the Dead which was part of the 2008-2010 specials. Kaluuya plays a hysterical passenger who blames the doctor. I liked this episode because it accidentally transports a bus full of passengers to a desert island who have to work together to find their way home.
Known For: Get Out (2017), Black Panther (2018), Sicario (2015), Widows (2018), Doctor Who (2009), Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Upcoming Work: The Upper World, A Christmas Carol, Judas and The Black Messiah
English actor, director, and comic book writer has become well known for his role-playing Mickey Smith in the British science fiction show Doctor Who (2005–2010) starring alongside Billie Piper, Christopher Eccleston, Camille Coduri and David Tennant. I loved Clarke’s role in Doctor Who as Mickey Jones, who is the first African American companion to the doctor. Clarke seems to have a varied background in TV making appearances in the police procedural drama The Bill (2000), medical dramas Casualty (2001), Doctors (2003), Holly City (2004), crime series Chasing Shadows (2015), The Level (2016), and Adventure INC (2003). His most recent role in TV was Bulletproof (2018-present) where he starred as NCA Detective Aaron Bishop. Clarke also starred in and directed Kidulthood (2006), as well as the sequels Adulthood (2008) and Brotherhood (2016). Following Brotherhood Clarke has starred in the films Screwed (2011), The Knot (2012), The Anomaly (2014), Mute (2018), and Fisherman’s Friends (2018). Among his accolades, he has won the Laurence Oliver Award for most Promising performances 2003 and the BAFTA Orange rising star award 2009.
Known For: Doctor Who (2005-2010), Brotherhood (2016), Star-Trek into The Darkness (2013), Mute (2018)
Upcoming Work: SAS: Red Notice, Parenthood, Twist
An English actor, writer, producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and DJ whose career spans across film and television. His directorial debut was an adaptation of the 1992 novel Yardie by Victor Headley. Elba is best known for the roles of Stringer Bell in The Wire, DCI John Luther in the BBC series Luther and the biographical film Mandela Long Walk to Freedom (2013). Among his many other appearances, Idris has starred in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (2007), Prometheus (2012), Pacific Rim (2013), Beats of No Nation (2017) and Molly’s Game (2017). An interesting fact about Elba is that he voiced the character chief Bogo in the Disney animation Zootopia (2016), Shere Khan in the live remake of The Jungle Book (2016) and Fluke in Finding Dory. Idris has received an OBE and won various awards including a Golden Globe, Independent Spirit Award, NAACP Image Award, BET award and Black Reel Award.
Known For: Luther (2010-2019), American Gangster (2007), The Mountain Between Us (2017), The Dark Tower Us (2017)
Upcoming Work: Three Thousand Years Long, the suicide Squad, The Harder They Fall
The first film that I have watched that starred Foxx was Django Unchained (2012) which follows a slave who has been recruited as a bounty hunter, gets revenge and saves his wife. One thing I was unaware of was that Foxx had sung in a band called Leather and Lace and had also been a host and executive producer of the Fox game show Beat Shazam. Foxx is widely known for his role of Ray Charles in the 2004 biographical film Ray. One of the films that I have repeatedly seen is his role as William Stacks in the remake of Annie. I loved this film because it shows a modern-day version of Annie (2014). My favourite performance of his is in the film White House Down (2013) where he plays a president who has to be rescued from a terrorist assault. Over the years Foxx has collected several awards including an Academy Award, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe Award.
Known For: Ray (2004), Annie (2014), Django Unchained (2012), White House Down (2013)
Upcoming Work: All-Star Weekend, They Cloned Tyrone, Signal Hill, Day Shift
Rising star Zendaya started as a child model and backup dancer before starring as Rocky Blue in the Disney’s channel show Shake It Up (2010-2013). Following her appearance on Dancing With The Stars (2015-2018), she produced and starred as the spy in the Disney series K.C Undercover (2015-2018) as K.C Cooper. Her stardom has only risen due to the HBO series Euphoria (2019-), were she stars as a teenage drug addict. Her performance in Euphoria has led her to be the youngest winner of a primetime Emmy Award. Zendaya has risen in popularity due to her supporting role as Anne Wheeler in the musical The Greatest Showman (2017) and as Michelle in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and its sequel Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019). I loved her role as a trapeze artist in The Greatest Showman who ends up falling in love with Phillip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron, in a time where the mixing of classes is taboo. I loved this film because it explores the hopes and dreams of people who don’t fit in and are viewed as freaks overcoming their fears and standing up for what they believe in.
Known For: Euphoria (2019-), The Greatest Showman (2017), Zapped (2014), Frenemies (2012)
Upcoming Work: Dune, Untitled Spider-Man: Far from Home sequel, Malcolm and Marie
Smith, a rapper turned actor, started in the industry and rose to fame with the NBC series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996). His film debut was the crime drama Where the Day Takes You (1992). Smith has starred in numerous films from romance and action to science fiction and fantasy including Bad Boys (1995), Shark Tale (2005), I, Robot (2004), Ali (2001), Bright (2017), Independence Day (1996), Hitch (2005) and Suicide Squad (2016). My favourite film of his has got to be his role as the genie in the live-action remake of the 1992 Disney animation Aladdin. I loved this version because the genie ends up falling in love and helps Aladdin defeat Jafar. His role in the film series Men in Black (1997-2012) as Agent J made being a secret agent much more interesting and supernatural as he helps to supervise aliens living on Earth from humans. In the film Collateral Beauty (2016), Smith has to come to terms with the tragedy, exploring how love, time and death can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.
Known For: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996), Men in Black (1997-2012), I Am Legend (2017),
Upcoming Work: King Richard, Life in A Year
Gugu began her acting career by starring in one of the best British science-fiction shows Doctor Who (2007) and the comedy film Larry Crowne (2011). It seems that Mbatha-Raw favours the science fiction genre most as she appears in the films A Wrinkle in Time (2018), and The Cloverfield Paradox (2018). Gugu Mbatha-Raw appeared in Doctor Who as Martha Jones’ sister Tish Jones. Made her breakthrough with the British period drama Belle (2013), for which she won the BIFA Award for best actress. I loved the film Belle because Mbatha-Raw played the lead of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race woman, in 18th-century England, who has been raised as a gentlewoman in her uncle’s household. Gugu was recognised by Elle Magazine in 2014 in it’s ‘Women In Hollywood’ issue, which honoured women for their remarkable achievements in the film. She progressed with the films Miss Sloane (2016) and Beauty and the Beast (2017). In June 2017 Gugu was given an MBE.
Known For: Larry Crowne (2011), Undercovers (2010), Touch (2012), Beyond the Lights (2014), Concussion (2015)
Upcoming Work: Loki
This article was written by guest contributor Zahra Arshad.
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