Standing The Test Of Time: 13 Seasoned Black Actresses Still Working In Hollywood

July 15, 2013  |  
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On Oprah’s “Next Chapter” special on Black Actresses in Hollywood,  Viola Davis said it best when she shared, “We’re in crisis mode as black actresses.” Beautiful, black and talented actresses play our favorite characters on the big screen, with the ability to make us laugh, cry or high-five our sisters in solidarity (think Angela Bassett torching her cheating husband’s things on Waiting To Exhale). Unfortunately, despite the success, fame, and riches, black actresses still face a shortage of opportunities and limited types of roles in Hollywood. If you factor in the competitive nature of this career, it’s amazing we can even say there are thriving black actresses in Hollywood. But when it comes to these women that’s the case. And what’s even more remarkable about these ladies is that they’ve been excelling in the industry for decades. Check out the list.



From playing the strong willed Miss Sophia in Color Purple ,to her latest role in The Butler, Oprah is sure to captivate audiences with superb acting skills. She plays the butler’s wife in this latest film slated for August 16th, and since her last movie, Beloved, came out back in 1998, it’s about time she returned to the big screen.

Alfre Woodard

With a plethora of films under her belt, Alfre Woodard really made a name for herself with her role as a drunken, alcoholic mom in Down in the Delta, and as the caring nurse in HBO’s Miss Evers’ Boys. Her latest film was Lifetime’s black version of Steel Magnolia’s, where she played a convincible, cantankerous Ouiser.

Viola Davis

Without a doubt, Viola Davis embodied her character as mom to a boy suspected of abuse at the hands of a priest in the hit film Doubt. We next saw her in The Help, as a soft spoken, thoughtful Aibileen Clark with a hollow heart over the death of her son. Her stoic performances have earned her two Oscar nominations, among other accolades.

Phylicia Rashad

Our very own Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show, Phylicia Rashad was one of the first black role models on a sitcom that showed us that we could be black, beautiful, successful and family- oriented. She has blessed us with that sly smile, raised eyebrow, and beautiful mane time and time again, most recently in the remake of the black version of Steel Magnolias as Clairee.

Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson’s film career began way back in the 50’s with the film Odds Against Tomorrow where she played a jazz club bartender. She’s still going strong with some of her most recent films, including The Help as Constantine Bates, Why Did I Get Married Too? as Ola, and Alex Cross as Nana Mama.

Halle Berry

The first black actress to win an Oscar for a leading role, the beautiful Halle Berry is versatile in the roles she takes . She’s played superhero, Storm, in the X-Men series and Catwoman, where she worked that skin tight, patent leather suit complete with ears and tail. Losing Isaiah and Monsters Ball, the  film for which she won an Oscar, are part of her laundry list of films. Her latest movie, The Call, where she plays a 911 dispatcher, is a real thriller with a unique twist at the end.

Angela Bassett

Waiting to Exhale! Can we say ticked-off sistah walking away from her husband’s things engulfed in flames? What a powerful scene! Angela Bassett has us mesmerized and remembering parts from her movies such as What’s Love Got To Do With It, where she played Tina Turner as well as Stella in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. We wanted to help her kick Ike’s butt, and kiss the extremely young Winston Shakespeare.

Loretta Divine

What an unforgettable, sing-songy and breathy voice this talented actress has! For those of us who have kids in love with Doc Mcstuffins, we knew immediately that she lent her voice to the candy stripe nurse hippo character Hallie. She’s also played in many a movie and series, and some of her recent work includes Grey’s Anatomy and Death at a Funeral. Who can forget that hot sashay she did for costar Gregory Hines in Waiting to Exhale?

Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee’s filmography list dates back to the late 1940’s when she played in That Man of Mine in 1946. Fast forward to today, and she’s still acting in films like A Thousand Words with Eddie Murphy, starring as his mom plagued with Alzheimer disease and American Gangster, where she slapped some sense into on-screen son, Denzel Washington.


Regina King

Regina King got her start in the hit sitcom 227 as lovable and bright eyed Brenda Jenkins. She’s been acting ever since, playing in Boys n the Hood, Enemy of the State, and Our Family Wedding among other films. Most recently, she played the rough-around-the-edges detective Lydia Adams on the drama Southland.


Vanessa Williams

The first African American Miss America, Vanessa Williams used this platform to branch into acting. Her first major film was Eraser, where she played along actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. She also starred in Soul Food, where she went off on cousin and hubby with a butcher knife for having an affair. Recently, Vanessa has played characters Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty and Renee Perry in Desperate Housewives. She was also in the supernatural drama 666 Park Avenue.

Octavia Spencer

Oh how we rejoiced when she told Hilly what was in that pie she whipped up for her in The Help. Octavia Spencer packed her character Minny Jackson with enough spunk and gumption to last a lifetime. She also starred in A Time to Kill as Roarke’s nurse. Octavia has just finished up a few movies, including the highly anticipated Fruitvale Station.

Pam Grier

Pam may not have the same body she did when she was Foxy Brown, but she still has the same acting chops. The ’70s sex symbol is making her way back into the mainstream, this time around playing people’s mamas instead of the hot mama. Most recently, she played Queen Latifah’s mother in Just Wright.

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