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We’ve talked so much about underrated actresses in the past, but the ladies on this list are women who had huge breakthrough roles in some of our favorite movies. And while it was easy for us to see them having all the luck and reaching superstardom in Hollywood (or at least black Hollywood), things haven’t been that easy. We’re still hoping they’ll become household names sooner or later. Check out 9 black actresses and the movies that put them on our radar and help us figure out why they aren’t as big as the Gabrielles, Tarajis, Nias and more. Where are they now?

Tracy Camilla Johns

My hair idol! And also the heroine in one of my favorite films of all time. Tracy Camila Johns was dope as the sexually liberated Nola Darling in Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. She knew what she wanted, and the number of men she wanted it with, and scoffed at the idea of monogamy and being a one-man woman (how do you like that!?). But after she breaking through in one of Spike’s first feature films, she kept the momentum going for a second, and then fizzled out. Johns went on to have a tiny role in Mo Better Blues, was the scandalous girlfriend of G in New Jack City, and had a small role in an early Air Jordan commercial, but after ’91, that was it. *sad face*


Sharon Warren

If you watched the movie Ray, I’m sure you know by now that everyone who acted in that film was AMAZING. But someone who really stood out in particular for me (and a friend of mine) was Sharon Warren, the young woman who played Aretha Robinson, Ray Charles’ mother in the film. She gave a lot of raw emotion (the funeral scene for her youngest son was TOO sad) and just showed off some good ‘ol acting skills in general, but where is she now? Well, after Ray, homegirl did the movie Glory Road with Derek Luke in 2006, but afterwards, pretty much went and stayed missing after that. We know Hollywood is a struggle for black actresses, so it’s not a surprise that things didn’t take off like they should have, but it sure is a shame.

Theresa Randle

The 48-year-old actress has been acting since ’87 and has starred alongside everyone from Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys, to Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny in Space Jam. But it wasn’t until Spike Lee picked her to play Girl 6 in the movie of the same name as an out-of-work actress who tries her hand at phone sex for a living that we actually got to see her shine in a lead role. She was pretty, had a good voice and pretty good acting talents, so where did she disappear off to? Well, she’s been here and there since the ’96 film. She did Spawn with Michael Jai White, Bad Boys II, appeared in a couple episodes of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and did a short-lived Lifetime show called “State of Mind.” But her last film role was 2010’s S**t Year. It’s 2012, girl, come back!

Tracey Cherelle Jones

I KNOW you remember Dashiki from the crazy movie, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood? You know, the chick with all the kids? So it wasn’t like a deep critical-darling-film role for her–most Wayans Brothers movies don’t provide that opportunity–but with her long dookie braids, attitude and great comedic timing, she was memorable. Since then, Jones, the sister of actress Tamala Jones, has had some small parts. She was in Players Club, was Taraji’s BFF in Baby Boy, a role on the TV show called “The Good News,” “and guest roles on “All of Us” and “Men, Women & Dogs.” Her last film role was in 2010 in the movie Something Like a Business, after a five-year break on camera.

N’Bushe Wright

For me, I actually remember N’Bushe Wright most from her role as Nicki in Zebrahead. In it, she faced the ire of those around her for falling in love with Michael Rapaport’s Zack, a white guy. If you ask others, they think she was stellar in films like Fresh and of course, Dead Presidents. Whenever you saw Wright though, it was probably hard to forget her. Unfortunately, she never became one of the big actresses in Hollywood, though she has the chops to be huge. Outside of just doing those notable films, Wright had a recurring role on the show “New York Undercover” as J.C.’s love interest Carol, was in the movie Blade, Three Strikes, Civil Brand, Joy Road, and did the movie, A Talent for Trouble in 2011. And who could forget her as Calvin’s cheating baby mother (from the “WacArnolds” skit) on the hilarious “Chappelle’s Show”? She’s a great actress, hope to see her in more stuff ASAP.

Taral Hicks

Ah, good ‘ol Belly. The chick that played Keisha, the hood lover and main chick of DMX’s Tommy, was a pretty memorable character as she was one of the few ladies in the movie holding it down and popping off at the mouth  (and she’s memorable to the fellas thanks to some VERY interesting love scenes). But after Belly, most of her roles were more on the straight to video tip. Aside from the full-length feature The Salon, she did Are You Cinderella?, Forbidden Fruits, and her most recent film, 2010’s Ex$pendables. And if you didn’t know, Hicks is a singer too and has been doing gospel music (she was also in the video, “Put That Woman First” by Jaheim). She still does a little film work from time to time, but currently she lives in New Jersey and works as a teacher.


Cynda Williams

While most Spike Lee joints produce strong female characters, if not leads, with the exception of Kerry Washington, most don’t blow up when the movie ends. If you’ve watched the awesomeness that is Mo’ Better Blues, her first film role, then you probably remember Williams as the very ambitious and beautiful Clarke Bentancourt. She was lucky as hell, playing one of the arm pieces of Denzel Washington’s Bleek, even though he was getting his polyamorous-ness on by seeing other women. She was great in the movie, and afterwards she attained quite a few roles, but none that big or notable. Let’s see, there was one guest role on “New York Undercover,” the film, Black Rose in Harlem, “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (the TV movie starring Halle Berry), MacArthur Park, Divine Intervention, and she just finished the movie Turning Point this year. She’s back!

Shareeka Epps

If you’re huge Ryan Gosling fans like we are, you’ve probably seen, or at least heard of the movie Half Nelson. And while Gosling’s great work as a drug addicted teacher garnered him an Academy Award nomination, Shareeka Epps, who played his loyal student, Drey, should have received one too for her amazing acting in the film. If you haven’t seen it, please check it out via Netflix (they do have it on instant!). The Brooklyn-born actress has done mostly independent films since then (see The Winning Season, Mother and Child, My Soul to Take and Yelling to the Sky with Zoe Kravitz and Gabourey Sidibe), but nevertheless, she’s been great, and we’re hoping to see more of her soon.

Bruklin Harris

Two words: Dangerous Minds. Or better yet, Juice. Or how about Girls Town? Bruklin Harris was in most of the coming of age ’90s movies as a chick with too much attitude for her own good, or in the case of Dangerous Minds, a young woman with a bright future who has it halted by a pregnancy. Outside of these ’90s flicks, Harris did a TV movie called “SUBWAYStories: Tales from the Underground,” A Map of the World in ’97, the TV show “UC: Undercover” and was in the TV movie “L.A. Law: The Movie” in 2002. That was the last thing we saw her in for real…

Ariyan A. Johnson

I’m sorry, but I had to do add this chick whether you’ve seen this movie or not. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. is my movie! Let me tell you, Netflix’s instant stream of movies will open up your world to movies you never even thought about but will enjoy to the fullest. That’s how this movie was for me. The movie showcased Ariyan A. Johnson as a 17-year-old high school student with big brains, a big future ahead of her, but unfortunately a big a** mouth. Thinking she’s untouchable, she’s rocked by an unexpected pregnancy that puts a halt on her plans to graduate early and go to college, and she’s forced to figure out whether she’ll keep the baby or get rid of it. Johnson shined in the indie film as Chantel Mitchell, and her Brooklyn accent was on point! After Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., Johnson had a recurring role as Asia on “The Steve Harvey Show,” was in Bulworth, The General’s Daughter, had a guest role on “Jag,” and she most recently did voice work on the animated show’s “Static Shock,” and “Superman Returns.”

Who would you add to the list?

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