5 African American Actresses That I Admire

We often hear how hard it is for African-American actors/actresses to have long-term, successful careers in Hollywood. It is even harder for them to do so without selling their souls to the “I Will Do Anything” devils of the entertainment business. Many times their talent isn’t appreciated for its full worth and they are overlooked for roles that they would have been wonderful in. But the five talented ladies I have chosen to spotlight today have taken Hollywood and the movie industry by storm and have refused to be type cast and overlooked.

Here are 5 African-American Actresses that I Admire


Cicely Tyson

Born 19 December 1933 in New York City, New York, USA. Cicely Tyson was raised in Harlem, New York by devoutly religious parents from the Caribbean island of Nevis. She was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine and, with her stunning looks, she quickly rose to the top of the modeling industry. In 1957, she began acting in Off-Broadway productions. She had small roles in feature films before she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968) in 1968. Four years later, Cicely was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her sensational performance in the critically acclaimed film Sounder (1972). In 1974, she went on to portray a 110-year-old former slave in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974) (TV), which earned her two Emmys. While Cicely has not appeared steadily onscreen because of her loyalty to only portray strong, positive images of Black women, she is without a doubt one of the most talented, beautiful actresses to have ever graced the stage and screen. (bio from IMDB.com)

My favorite Cicely Tyson role was The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. This movie is a classic and Cicely Tyson made the role of Jane Pittman so life-like and believable. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is the story of a black woman in the South who was born into slavery in the 1850s and lives to become a part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. I have seen this movie countless times and each and every time I see it, I am still mesmerized by this story. It is no surprise that Cicely Tyson won two Emmys for her role in this movie. One of the main reasons I admire Cicely Tyson is that she is very careful of the roles she chooses to accept. She has stated that she chooses to accept roles that portray strong images of black women. She stands strong on her desire to display the beauty and strength of blackness and for this she should be applauded 


Other Cicely Tyson tidbits

  • Co-founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem with Arthur Mitchell
  • Is the first African-American Actress to win an Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie for her performance in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman 
  • Honorary Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.


Taraji P. Henson 


Taraji Penda Henson (born September 11, 1970) is an American actress and singer. She is best known for her roles as Yvette in Baby Boy (2001), Shug in Hustle and Flow (2005) and Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2009. In 2009, she appeared in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself as April, an alcoholic singer.  (bio from Wikipedia)

My favorite Taraji P. Henson role is Shug in Hustle & Flow. Excellent performance Taraji!!  Hustle & Flow is a 2005 independent drama film written and directed by Craig Brewer about a Memphis hustler called DJay, played by Terrence Howard, who experiences a midlife crisis and is compelled to face his aspiration to become a rapper. Shug who was pregnant and a prostitute sang the hook of DJay’s song “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” and every time I hear that song I immediately think of Taraji P. Henson. Aside from her extraordinary acting skills I also admire the fact that Taraji is a single mother who is taking care of business. Her Facebook fan page reads “Taraji aka TJ was born and raised in Washington DC. Single mother and doin the damn thang!” And I agree Taraji! Keep doing your thang!

p.s. Taraji was also excellent in the Lifetime Movie “Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story”

Other Taraji P. Henson Tidbits

  • Taraji has been nominated for and won a host of awards including the BET Award for Best Actress, The Black Movie Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role and an Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
  • Taraji appeared in the music video for Common’s song Testify
  • Taraji was voted one of “The 10 Sexiest Women of 2001” by the readers of Black Men Magazine
  • Taraji P. Henson also has roles in the movies Baby Boy, I Can Do Bad All By Myself and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Kimberly Elise

Born April 17, 1967) is an American film and television actress. She is best known for her role in the films Set It Off, John Q, and Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Elise has won three NAACP Image Awards.  Elise was born as Kimberly Elise Trammel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughter of Erma Jean (née Johnson), an elementary school teacher, and Marvin Trammel, who owns an executive search firm.[1][2] She has three siblings. Elise studied film and acting at the University of Minnesota and earned a BA in Mass Communications.  She was married to Maurice Oldham (1958–2007) from 1989 until 2005; they have two children, Ajableu Oldham and Butterfly Oldham. He passed away from a “massive blood clot”, according to Elise.[4]Elise’s maternal descent is of the Songhai people in Mali.  (bio from Wikipedia)




My favorite Kimberly Elise role is Helen in Diary of a Mad Black Woman. This was a powerful role and Kimberly Elise nailed it! For every woman that was “mad” Elise’s revenge gave each an opportunity to exhale and smirk.  They were able to say “I’m not bitter, I’m mad as hell!”  The movie tells the story of love, betrayal and family and it is one of those movies that you can watch over and over because it is one of the family favorites! One of the things that I admire most about Kimberly Elise is that you never hear any negative press about her. She seems to carry on a normal life with her children and that I can appreciate. I also loved Elise’s roles in Set it Off (one of my favorite movies) and The Ditchdigger’s Daughters.


Other Kimberly Elise Tidbits

  • Kimberly Elise has won awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Theatrical Film, Best Actress and Best Actress in an Independent Film
  • Kimberly Elise has starred in the following award winning movies alongside Denzel Washington; John Q, The Manchurian Candidate and The Great Debaters



Angela Bassett

Born August 16, 1958, in New York City. Bassett was raised with her sister, D’nette, in St. Petersburg, Florida by her single mother, Betty, a social worker. On a high school trip, she became inspired to act after seeing a Kennedy Center production of Of Mice and Men, starring James Earl Jones.Encouraged by a teacher, Bassett went on to study at Yale on scholarship, earning a B.A. in Afro-American Studies and an M.F.A. in drama. While there, she studied under the renowned stage director Lloyd Richards who cast her in the Broadway productions of two August Wilson plays, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Despite her early success on stage, Bassett had to work hard to break through the stereotypical roles usually assigned to African American women on screen. Her first role was a bit part in the cult favorite, F/X (1986).  (bio from Biography.com)

Angela Bassett’s role as Anna Mae Bullock/ Tina Turner in the movie What’s Love Got To Do With It, wins as my favorite Bassett performance hands down. The film is about  singer Tina Turner and how she rose to stardom with her abusive husband Ike Turner and how she gained the courage to break free.  Bassett nailed this role from the awesome acting to the Tina Turner dance routines. Bassett showed her versatility in this film and it  isn’t a surprise that she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical for her performance in What’s Love Got To Do With It. I also enjoyed Bassett’s roles as Bernadine in Waiting to Exhale and Betty Shabazz in the movie Malcolm X. Angela Bassett’s character and style exude class and strength. She is not one of those celebrities that you will hear gossip and rumors about because that just isn’t her style. I appreciate Angela Bassett’s dedication as an actress and I admire her lady-like appeal.


Other Angela Bassett Tidbits

  • Angela Bassett Is one of eight African-American actresses to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.
  • Angela Basset won an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Image award for her role in 
    the television series  ER
  • Her performance as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It  was ranked at #95 on Premiere Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Film Performances of all time.
  • In December 2006 Bassett and actor husband Courtney B. Vance released a book titled, “Friends: A Love Story”


Sanaa Lathan

Sanaa Lathan, pronounced Sa-NAA Sanaa Lathan, was born on September 19, 1971, in New York as her mother Eleanor McCoy performed on Broadway with the likes of Eartha Kitt and her father Stan Lathan worked behind the scenes in television for PBS. She was exposed to the life of entertainment and stars at a very early age, which had a profound impact upon her life. As a child, she was nurtured in athletics and the arts through training in Gymnastics and Dance. She later became a product of divorced parents, whom she remained closely connected to, by being shuttled to live between them both in New York and Los Angeles. Those loving, supportive parents, the extremes of the public schools of New York City and the riches of the 90210 Beverly Hills High, served to build within Sanaa a humble spirit, competitive nature and a full awareness of self. (bio from IMDB)

My favorite Sanaa Lathan Role is that of Monica Wright in the movie Love and Basketball. This was a real love story…sigh. It is one of my favorite movies and one of the main reasons I love it so is because it was different. Who would have ever thought to write a movie about two athletes, their love of the sport and their love for each other. Sanaa was wonderful in this role and when she played Quincy one last game of BBall and the reward was his heart, I was almost in tears. This movie had me shook up!  One of the main reasons I admire Sanaa Lathan is because she always portrays herself as such a classy lady! She is beautiful, yet humble and she cannot be typecast. She is a versatile actress and this can be demonstrated in her roles in movies such as Something New, Out of Time and The Best Man.

Other Sanaa Lathan Tidbits

  • Sanaa’s name is Swahili for “work of art”
  • Sanaa appears as Michelle Landau on the FX Television Series Nip/Tuck
  • Sanaa is the voice of Donna Tubbs on The Cleveland Show 
  • Sanaa Lathan was voted one of Ebony magazine’s 55 Most Beautiful People. [2000



6 thoughts on “5 African American Actresses That I Admire”

  1. Oooh, my favourite actresses in all one go. You are so right – these women are so over looked. I also like Loretta Devine, Regina King, Anika Noni Rose and Tyra Ferrell. Talking of Cicely Tyson, didn’t she and Kimberly Elise really look like mother and daughter in Diary of a Mad Black Woman?


  2. Black Girl,

    Hollywood is not gonna change anytime soon, as it relates to blackwomen. The powers-that-be in LA have a vested interest in maintaining “The White Female Beauty Myth” at all costs. The myth is a “False Premise,” but it benefits whitewomen politically and financially……business, entertainment, fashion, modeling, music, etc. It’s vital that blackwomen understand why hollywood thinks the way it thinks in relation to sistas. Favorite actress, Sanaa, Lathan.



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