Don’t Sleep On ‘Em: 10 Underrated Black Actors Who Deserve More Shine

June 15, 2012  |  

 

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They are some of Hollywood’s best kept secrets. These talented brothers and sisters can hold their own on the screen alongside the industry’s heavyweights and consistently give great performances. Yet when the awards seasons roll around, their names are barely, albeit, rarely mentioned. Here is our list of actors who we think are truly underrated, and not just the usual suspects. Do you agree?

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Aunjanue Ellis has captivated audiences with her riveting performances in movies Ray, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and most recently in her role as Yule Mae in the box office hit The Help. She has also earned critical acclaim for her TV work on True Blood, Missing and The Mentalist. With her acting chops, it’s hard to believe she has yet to land a lead role on TV or on the silver screen. The Brown University graduate was recently invited to teach entertainment industry courses as an Artist-In-Residence at Hampton University.

 

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Sophie Okonedo has the amazing ability to fully immerse herself in roles like the one she played as Tatiana Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda (for which she earned an Oscar nod) and May Boatwright in The Secret Life of Bees. The British-born actress earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the mini-series Tsunami: The Aftermath. Why doesn’t she have boatload of Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes? Yeah, we’re not sure either. Look for Okonedo next to star opposite Will and Jaden Smith in the M. Night Shyamalan thriller, After Earth.

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Good ‘ol Omar Gooding. Cuba isn’t the only brother in the family who can hold a few lines and hold your attention on-screen. I mean, this is the guy that went from playing a bumbling best friend on “Smart Guy” to playing the very dangerous but conflicted “Sweetpea” in Baby Boy. The role received a lot of praise from critics, and it should have opened up the doors for a lot of bigger acting roles…but those substantial lead roles haven’t really come his way. Instead, Gooding went on to do the TV shows “Barbershop,” “Playmakers,” and “Miami Medical.” But things might be coming up roses for Gooding soon, because he just signed on to do the film To Hell and Back, and just finished the movies, Percentage and Christmas in Compton.

 

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Even though she was born of acting royalty, Condola Rashad has proven herself as a formidable actress. Rashad recently earned accolades for her Broadway debut in the family drama, “Stick Fly.” She’s also appeared in Sex and the City 2, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and The Good Wife. We were pleasantly surprised recently to see this stunning actress in a recurring role in Smash, NBC’s heavily-touted musical drama. Rashad will next appear in the TV remake of the movie, Steel Magnolias, taking on the role of Shelby, originally played by Julia Roberts.

 

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How great of an actor is Jeffrey Wright? Let me count the movies that he’s wowed folks in: Shaft, Basquiat, Syriana, Cadillac Records, Angels in America, Lackawanna Blues–I could go on. Wright holds his own next to Hollywood’s heavyweights and no matter how long he’s on-screen, his skills always make his performances memorable.

Tangi Miller earned critical acclaim in her role as Elena Tyler on the TV series “Felicity,” for which she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. She’s appeared in “Cold Case,” “The District,” and in the movie, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion. We love the fact that Miller hasn’t waited for Hollywood to come callin’; she’s made her own way, writing, producing and starring in her own independent projects including the smart, charming romantic comedy, Love…& Other 4 Letter Words. Among Miller’s upcoming projects are The Trace starring Billy Dee Williams and Lynn Whitfield, and The Love Section with Mekhi Phifer.

The suave and hot Romany Malco has appeared in several box office hits including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Baby Mama and most recently as Zeke in Think Like A Man. We fell in love with Malco when he played marijuana dealer Conrad Shepard on Showtime’s comedy series “Weeds.” He was a series regular on ABC’s “No Ordinary Family,” and wrote and starred as an ex-con turned motivational speaker in the hilarious series, “Tijuana Jackson” on HBO’s Funny or Die Presents. We hope to see more of Malco on the TV and the big screen soon.

 

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Harold Perrineau wowed critics and audiences alike with his compelling portrayal of Augustus Hill in the runaway hit HBO series “Oz.” He endeared us to him as the loveable Murch in The Best Man, and he swept us away in the role of Michael Dawson on the ABC hit series Lost. No stranger to the screen, Perrineau has appeared in many other roles, including Romeo + Juliet, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, “CSI” and “CSI: NY.” Perrineau will be portraying Sammy Davis Jr. in Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story sometime next year.

 

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Nate Parker’s smoldering sexiness lights up the screen whenever he appears. Besides his recent role as Marty ‘Easy’ Julian in Red Tails, he’s appeared in The Great Debaters and The Secret Life of Bees, both of which earned him NAACP Image Award nominations. The Norfolk, VA native will make his next big screen appearance in They Die by Dawn, a black western starring alongside Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson, Bokeem Woodbine and Shanola Hampton.

 

Rockmond Dunbar is considered to be one of the best actors around. From family man Kenny Chadway on Showtime’s “Soul Food” to inmate C-Note on Fox’s “Prison Break,” he invests himself in every role, never playing himself, his character or his audience for cheap. He can go from drama to comedy, playing a sheriff in the TV series “Sons of Anarchy” one minute,  playing Mya Wilkes’ hot neighbor on “Girlfriends” the next, and making ladies swoon as Pookie on “The Game.” Next up for Dunbar: starring in the GMC TV movie “Raising Izzie” alongside his “Soul Food” co-star Vanessa Williams later this year.

Who would you add to the list?

Follow Kimberly Shorter on Twitter at @KimberlyWriter.

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