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Sometimes all it takes is that one big opportunity to take an actor from underrated talent to superstar: Empire was that opportunity for Taraji P. Henson; Scandal made Kerry Washington a household name; Jane The Virgin made all the difference in Gina Rodriguez’s career.

Great strides are being made when it comes to having more and more men and women of color in starring roles on TV. However, we’re still a little salty about the following talented actors and actresses who are so close but still far away from the brightest of spotlights. These are actors and actresses who are way too underrated after years of giving great performances.

Regina King

After giving some amazing performances while starring on Southland (very underrated show by the way), King still hasn’t really broken through the glass ceiling in Hollywood. And for goodness sake, a lot of people get her and Regina Hall mixed up on a regular basis (I asked Hall about this, and she says it happens all the time). But King has been showing off her formidable acting talents for quite some time, dating as far back as her performance as Iesha in Poetic Justice. It’s never too late to break through though, as King does have a new role in the critically-acclaimed ABC drama, American Crime.

Wood Harris

Oh, how I wish people would stop sleeping on my (imaginary) friend. When given the right roles, Wood Harris can do some really great work. Unfortunately, he’s been pigeonholed into a lot of drug dealer roles over the years…

But one of his best turns on-screen was as a drug dealer, when he played Avon Barksdale on HBO’s The Wire.

Anika Noni Rose

Not only can Rose act, but she can sing too! And yet, she still doesn’t get the kudos she deserves. Some of my favorite performances from her include her work as Grace Makutsi on HBO’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, lawyer Wendy Scott-Carr on The Good Wife, and Paris in A Day Late and A Dollar Short. And along with Chiwetel Ejiofor, the two were probably the best part of the very underwhelming Half of a Yellow Sun…

Anthony Mackie

Okay, so he says some really random (and naive) things from time to time. But c’mon, Anthony Mackie sure gives one hell of a performance on-screen. Some great examples include his work in The Hurt Locker and Night Catches Us.

Sophie Okonedo

I’ve been a fan of Okonedo’s work since Dirty Pretty Things, and every time I’ve seen her on-screen, she’s always given a standout performance. Still, aside from her role in Hotel Rwanda, and her stage work, people have been hitting the snooze button on the talented actress.

Jeffrey Wright

One of my absolute favorites, Jeffrey Wright proved that he is a force to be dealt with way back in 1996. If you’ve seen Basquiat, I’m sure you would agree. But after almost 20 years, Wright is still not getting all the love he deserves. This despite some dope performances in Shaft, Lackawanna Blues, Cadillac Records, and most recently, playing Dr. Valentin Narcisse on Boardwalk Empire.

Nate Parker

And I’m not just including him on this list because he’s super fine, intelligent, and sweet. Seriously, Nate Parker is quite the talent. He was amazing in The Great Debaters (as was Jurnee Smollett by the way), the best thing about the very bad Red Hook Summer, and despite the fact that few people saw it, he did a great job in Beyond The Lights, too.

Kimberly Elise

It really pains me that Kimberly Elise doesn’t get the roles that she deserves, because she’s one of the most talented women acting today. And yet, despite all that talent, she’s found herself co-starring on VH1’s Hit The Floor. No disrespect to fans of the show but she can definitely do better.

Aunjanue Ellis

The actress hasn’t been given very many leading roles in the films she has been in and the shows she’s appeared on, but she’s always stood out in her supporting work. She had the chance to star front and center in the BET miniseries The Book of Negroes and definitely gave an awesome performance as Aminata Diallo.

Danai Gurira

Not only does Gurira kill it as Michonne on The Walking Dead, but she also proved that she can pull off a pretty convincing Nigerian (Yoruba) accent in the stunning independent film Mother of George.

Lorraine Toussaint

I couldn’t stand Vee on Orange is the New Black! Lorraine Toussaint did a great job of fooling me into thinking that the character was a caring, motherly individual, instead of a conniving, treacherous chick. But that’s not the first great performance that Toussaint has given. She recently did an amazing job portraying Amelia Boynton in Selma. Then there’s Middle of Nowhere, and a slew of other dope performances for both TV and film.


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