No Sassy Black Girl Or Token Friend Here: 10 Shows And Movies We Love That Showcase Strong Black Female Leads

November 26, 2012  |  

Black women aren’t always given the opportunity to portray strong or positive female leading characters on-screen, particularly because Hollywood is dominated by men…white men. Somehow, however, the following women have struck gold in films and television shows that would have them act as outstanding characters, showcasing strength and character in multiple capacities, depicting black women who are struggling with death, romance, violence, revenge, scandal, betrayal or simply trying to survive–all in a gracious and entertaining way.

“Scandal”: Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington stars in ABC’s Scandal as crisis manager, Olivia Pope. Pope’s character is loosely based on the real life crisis manager, Judy Smith. Washington portrays Pope as a headstrong, heavy-hearted woman who personally bears each burden that presents itself in her life. Pope leads a team of attorneys who are tasked with the goal of solving issues for politicians, celebrities and athletes. Scandal doesn’t elude Pope’s personal life, after all, she was carrying on an affair with the president of the United States–making the show all the more interesting.

Colombiana : Zoe Saldana

Saldana stars as Cataleya Restrepo, a young woman with the very dangerous goal of avenging the death of her parents, who were shot down just feet from her as a child. As an adult, Restrepo is a rouge vigilante, having killed over 20 people on her quest to draw out the individual responsible for her parent’s death. Chased by the authorities and criminals, the amble and guarded anti-hero closes in on the man who she’s been chasing for more than half of her life.

Foxy Brown: Pam Grier

In this 1974 blaxploitation film, Grier portrays a true icon in African American cinema, Foxy Brown. After discovering the death of her government-agent boyfriend, Brown goes undercover to not only seek revenge but also to save another woman from a life of drug-abuse and prostitution. Always fierce and always foxy, Brown employs combat skills to fight her way to the truth–and she and her signature fro look great while kicking butt.

“Living Single”: Queen Latifah

Magazine editor and founder of Flavor, Khadijah James (portrayed by Queen Latifah) is a confident business savvy entrepreneur.  Not only does she lead a successful work life, but maintains a positive home life. Though she has epic romances, her positive home life is greatly due to the fact that she has strong bonds with her three close friends who keep her together, and who she also helps by being “Mother” to them.

“Girlfriends”: Tracee Ellis Ross

"brock and joan"


Sure, Joan Clayton had her share of problems: She messed with some messy men at times, she could be pretty neurotic, and her relationship with her parents wasn’t as tight as it could have been. But I think that’s what made Joan so easy to like and relate to. She was just like many single black woman trying to balance work, love, and being something like a motherly figure to three other grown a** women (almost like our friend Khadijah from “Living Single”). We learned a great deal from Joan’s choices, which were always entertaining to watch. Plus, she was a realistic heroine who wasn’t always ready to put a “sucka” in their place (i.e., her friend Maya Wilkes), but she knew how to stick up for herself and hold her ground when necessary.

Monster’s Ball: Halle Berry

In this movie about devastation and transformation, Berry stars as Leticia Musgrove. She’s a woman who recently lost her husband to the electric chair, and then her teenage son to a fatal car accident. While on a quest to heal and thrive, Berry finds a new unexpected love and life with a cop who knew her husband, Hank Gotowski (Billy Bob Thorton). While the sex scenes in the film were a bit too much to some, you can’t deny how stellar a performance Berry gave in this Oscar winning role.

The Color Purple: Whoopi Goldberg

The gritty classic, The Color Purple showcased Goldberg as Celie Harris, a young woman who has suffered violence at the hand of every man who has ever been in her life. She survives the sexual abuse and impregnation by her father and she eventually escapes the controlling hand and strangling hold of her callous husband, Mister (Danny Glover) who married her when she was just a child. Throughout the movie you see how women of her era struggle against oppression, and manage to maintain a great deal of strength, resilience and prevalence.

Love & Basketball: Sanaa Lathan

The coming-of-age movie Love & Basketball is about an ambitious basketball player Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) who shares an epic romance with the boy next door, Quincy McCall, who also happens to be a gifted basketball star. The self-admitted tomboy passionately pursues her interest in basketball during high school and throughout college, and even finds herself playing in Barcelona, Spain and in the WNBA. She is hard-driven, and while she’s focused on her lifelong career goal, she never excludes love from her journey.

Precious: Gabourey Sidibe

The award-winning film Precious follows the life of title character Claireece “Precious” Jones, a 16-year-old, illiterate overweight girl who has two children from her father. Jones also suffers mental and physical abuse at the hand of her mother. After running away from home, Jones struggles to support her child and continues her education before she discovers that she has contracted HIV from her abusive father. Despite all of these challenges, Precious is committed to making a better life for herself and her children.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?: Angela Bassett

The biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It? is about the life and love of Tina Turner and Ike Turner, with Angela Bassett portraying the role of Tina Turner. The tumultuous relationship shared by the couple/musical collaborators is the focal point of the film, along with the personal maturation of Tina. The violent marriage worsened as Ike became addicted to drugs and the abuse became more frequent and brash. Turning to Buddhism, Tina becomes more confident and eventually finds the strength to defend herself against Ike–and leave. The film ends with Tina being free of Ike and having solo success in her career.

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • People you missed:
    Thandie Newton in Rogue
    Viola Davis in How to get away with murder
    Nicole Beharie in Sleepy Hollow, although she’s second billing
    Meagan Goode in Deception

  • Some Guy

    I guess technically Zoe Saldana is “black” but she’s not Negro which is what I came here for when I Googled “black female leads” but I guess you can’t be picky when it comes to a group this paper thin…

  • Speaking of Tina, today is her birthday

  • rogue vigilante

    • psylocke_2001

      you caught that too, huh?

  • IllyPhilly

    Um hum, okay. I agreed with the TV show women although I feel like y’all left out Pam and Gina from Martin, and Thelma from Good Times besides Claire. Love and Basketball for the movies was the best on the list and I would add Robin Givens in Boomerang there too.