7 Underrated Hollywood Actors

January 27, 2012  |  
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Adequate representation of black people and culture in TV and film is a well-chronicled fight in America but most people forget why. If there’s one thing the world can stop producing right this second and still get along fine, it’s actors. So this isn’t as much about numbers as it is about impact.

It’s vital that black people are well represented in film because of the awesome power of moving pictures. The normal human brain is wired to believe what you see, above all else. For centuries, people could reliably believe what was before their eyes i.e. if you see a flying man, then men must be able to fly. But that all changed when movies were invented.

Now you’re forced to cope with images, many more vivid than actual memories, that are merely figments of a producer’s imagination. On a cognitive level, you know that you’re watching TV, and that it is not reality. But on a deeper, sensory level, your brain is processing those images as knowledge and experience, just like always.

Enter millions of Americans watching black people robbing, killing, rapping or serving on TV, all day, every day. Add that to the fact that most of them are white and it’s obvious these TV/Film watchers are going to have fcuked up knowledge and experience of black people.

Why go into all this to bring you a list of Underrated Hollywood Actors?

(A) Reminders are always helpful and (B) when minorities are lumped into a category of an industry already divided by genres and generic award systems, they end up fighting for what’s left. Too often black actors are seen as a homogeneous group rather than unique and talented professionals.

These next few actors are underrated because they forced America to cope with marvelously diverse images of black people. And that is what adequate representation in Hollywood is all about. First up:

Don Cheadle
Winner of the “Most Diverse Body of Work” Award


Although you probably haven’t recognized his face until the last few years or so, Don has probably been in the game longer than your favorite on-screen eye candy. He’s a dark skinned brother, which makes it even harder to shine in Hollywood, yet he’s been acting steadily since the late 80’s with no two roles alike, Ocean’s franchise, notwithstanding.

Omar Epps

Winner of “Best Actor to Make You Forget He’s Acting” Award


Everyone remembers Mr. Epps from Love and Basketball, opposite Sanaa Lathan, and fans of House get to see him regularly on TV. He’s come a long way from the “troubled ghetto youth” type cast held down early roles in flicks like Juice and Higher Learning. Then, like now, Epps is adept at convincing you his character is a real person. He has a relatable charm, selling you not only on the character he portrays, but also everything in that character’s back story.

Jeffrey Wright

Winner of the “Best Chameleon-esque Performance” Award


Considering he’s the only brother ill enough to pull off portrayals of Basquiat, Martin Luther King and Colin Powell, it’s astounding that people often forget that Jeffrey Wright is a black man.

Mos Def

Winner of the “Best Rapper Actor Ever and Then Some” Award

Mos Def may be a critically acclaimed underground rapper, but he’s also poster-child for “there’s a thin line between rappers and actors” campaign. Mos got into acting before his rap career, even working alongside Bill Cosby in the ill-fated Cosby Mysteries. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s, long after he’d made his mark on Hip Hop, that Mos Def became a familiar face on the big screen. Right now, he’s the only super star commanding high praise from fans and critics in both acting and hip hop.

Chiwetel Ejiofor
Winner of the “Most Chilling Performance” Award

If Schwarznegger can become a household name, there’s hope for a man as talented as Chiwetel Ejiofor. Maybe you have no clue how to pronounce his name, but his stoic and intense delivery will send chills through your spine, especially when he plays a bad guy, like in the sci-fi smash, Serenity. 


Keith David
Winner of the “Best Voice” Award

Keith David has had equal success as an on screen and voice actor. His booming, rugged and powerful voice is in a class all its own. Which is why it’s been featured in everything from Disney cartoons to video games, like Saints Row, and won an Emmy for his work in several Kens Burns’ films.

Delroy Lindo
Winner of the “Best Screen Presence” Award

You’re probably snapping your fingers trying to remember the last movie you saw D.L. in, but you know the face. Often the best choice for any role requiring an older, obviously intelligent character, it was back in 1992, opposite Denzel (Malcolm X) that Lindo’s acting chops started turning heads.

Which other black actors deserve to be on this list and what award should they win?

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