Being a child actor in Hollywood is no joke. Especially if you’re a black one. You can’t help that you’re eventually going to grow up and possibly not be as cute-as-a-button like you used to be. And once you try to cross into more adult roles (if you can find any) you might be criticized for raunchier portrayals. But there have been many black child actors that have crossed over and been very successful over the years. Laurence Fishburne and Regina King for example. But there have also been many that have floundered since going through puberty (the whole cast of “Different Strokes” are a classic example). To showcase some of the new blood trying to stay above water into adulthood, here are five young and uber-successful child actors still doing big things, and five who have struggled big time.
Good News: Raven-Symoné
Raven just might be the most successful child star out. Of course, Raven-Symoné got her start as Olivia on “The Cosby Show,” both standing and showing out with her comedic timing and just all around sinister cuteness (who remembers the “Rudy and Olivia had a fight” episode?). And work didn’t stop for her after the show ended. Raven starred in “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” and in movies (both feature and TV) like Dr. Doolittle, The Cheetah Girls movies and Revenge of the Bridesmaids. She also, of course, starred in the Disney show, “That’s So Raven” as the amusing lead character. Don’t act like you never got caught singing that theme song! Now, Raven is back (and really tiny all of a sudden) as a small town girl trying to make it in the big city in the “State of Georgia” on ABC Family. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
Good News: Keisha Knight Pulliam
Talk about a comeback, right?
After playing Rudy on “The Cosby Show” for most her childhood, once the show ended, Keisha Knight Pulliam was thought of as another child star come and gone. But in reality, she was living her life like the rest of us, going to school and heading off to get a degree in Sociology at Spelman and crossing into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated’s Eta Kappa chapter. Then all of a sudden, girlfriend popped up in Chingy’s video for the addictive song “One Call Away” in 2005 and she was back to being our “it girl.” Pulliam has since appeared in movies like Beauty Shop, and Madea Goes to Jail, as well as TV shows like “Psych,” and as Miranda in “House of Payne.” Here’s to hoping she sticks around for a long time!
Good News: Bryton James
Back in the day, Bryton Mclure, now going by James, was the spokesmodel for that ratchet rat tail hairstyle all the boys used to wear when he played Richie on “Family Matters.” And even though he wasn’t the most popular child star we would mention during the big run of shows with black casts, he’s certainly doing more than some of our favorites. After seven years on “Family Matters,” James disappeared, but came back in a big way, with recurring roles on “The Vampire Diaries,” “Hero Factory,” and notably, as Devon on “The Young and the Restless, a role he’s played since 2004. And he’s definitely grown into his looks. Let’s just thank the Lord he got rid of that Jheri curl and his signature rat tail.
Good News: Tia Mowry-Hardrict
Not saying that identical twin sis Tamera hasn’t done it big as well over the years, but we all know Tia hit the jackpot with “The Game.” After making a name for herself playing the traditional, nerdy twin sister on “Sister, Sister,” Tia usually did work alongside her sister, including voice-overs for cartoons and appearing in movies and the TV movies. But in 2006, Tia went her own way and got the lead role of Melanie in the TV show “The Game.” While it struggled on The CW and was canceled in 2009, it was picked up by BET and returned this past January to overly-excited fans who’d witnessed a flurry of old episodes on the station, and was greeted with great ratings all season. The 5th season is on its way, so the new mother will continue to get her shine.
Good News: Jurnee Smollett
With a head full of big, curly hair and the cutest cheeks ever, Jurnee Smollett was definitely one of my favorite child actors, appearing numerous times on shows like “Full House,”“Hanging with Mr. Cooper,” and “Cosby” and appearing on the ABC show “On Our Own” with six of her siblings. Since then she’s been in a gang of movies (LOVE her in The Great Debaters) and been a star on “Friday Night Lights” and “The Defenders.” She’s rumored to star as Supreme singer Florence Ballard in movie about the iconic group.
Bad News: Orlando Brown
OMG. Who could forget the tiny cadet “Tiger” in the movie Major Payne? With his fear of the dark and priceless cabbage patch and Michael Jackson impression in the film, a young Orlando Brown was one of the best things about the film. And he did even bigger and better things after that first movie role: showing up as 3J on “Family Matters” and making hilarious cameos on shows like “The Jamie Foxx Show,” “Sister, Sister” and most notably, appearing as Raven-Symoné’s homie Eddie on “That’s So Raven.” I think it was on that show that we realized he wasn’t the adorable little boy we all remembered. Since then, he’s been pretty MIA–literally. Brown was reported missing at one point in 2008 when after a scheduled performance at a nightclub fell through, he went ghost to go vent. He popped back up and apologized for the snafu later. And in 2007, the star was arrested for weed possession, which he claimed didn’t belong to him. But before we were ready to count him completely out, homeboy returned this year on the show “The End.” and will appear in the films, The Maul and Christmas in Compton, due out this year and in 2012. Don’t know how I feel about those titles, but a job is a job!
Bad News: Jaimee Foxworth
You’ve probably heard a boatful about this young woman’s hot mess of a story, but to recap: Foxworth played Judy Winslow, the youngest daughter in the Winslow family on “Family Matters.” Her character was written out of the show after only a few seasons (as though this child never existed…) after development of her character wasn’t happening and salary disputes ensued. After that, Foxworth struggled to find acting jobs as she got older and wound up not only abusing drugs and alcohol, but wound up doing pornographic movies. Foxworth went on to document her issues through appearances on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” and through a TV One series called “Life After.”
Bad News: Kel Mitchell
Who didn’t like “Kenan & Kel”? Well, probably lots of people, but that’s not the point. At one point and time, Kel Mitchell owned Nickelodeon (not literally), and this was evident after he was one of the stars of the sketch comedy “All That” and found a way to turn a simple sketch from that show into the cult classic Good Burger film. On top of that, he was the co-star of the show “Kenan & Kel,” creating many popular references to orange soda. You’d assume that with all that under his belt, including many other TV (including a recurring role on “One on One”) and movie appearances, Kel had some decent money. Well, you guessed wrong, because the actor filed for bankruptcy in 2010, citing more than $1.7 million dollars worth of liabilities. Could it be time for “Kenan & Kel” to make a comeback? Probably not.
Bad News: Maia Campbell
The beautiful actress got her start with small roles in movies like Poetic Justice and in shows like “Thea” as a teenager before getting to star alongside the very fine LL Cool J in the show “In the House,” which aired for five seasons. She also appeared in numerous small movies over the years and as Tyrese’s booski in the “Sweet Lady” video. But sadly, Campbell has allegedly spent the last few years battling a crack cocaine addiction, being arrested more than once, going to rehab, and has been caught on camera talking reckless, supposedly under the influence. It has been claimed that Maia is battling with schizophrenia, which definitely could explain her behavior. We hope the actress can get the help she needs and stays away from dangerous substances so she can get back in front of the camera very soon.
*Information on Campbell’s alleged mental illness was included after the piece was published to help better explain circumstances surrounding her drug abuse.
Bad News: Cherie Johnson
If you wrote down a list of things you want to do in life, I doubt being on the cover of Playboy would be one of your biggest aspirations. But actress Cherie Johnson, formerly the on screen homie of Laura Winslow on “Family Matters,” and Punky Brewster on the show of the same name, sees it as a good look. Yeah, we don’t get it either. The actress, who has appeared in a few small films since the end of “Family Matters” (I Do…I Did! was a don’t…) is reportedly engaged to Ricky Romance, the seemingly crazy brother of former B2K singer Raz-B, and the two were recently looking to showcase their love on a reality show of some sort. Uh…I’m all for black folks making money and black love, but no one wants to see that!
Who would you add to the list?