The 90s were an amazing time, made even better by the ebony queens that charmed audiences nationwide (often using humor, class, and sophistication to do so). From Queen Latifah to Vanessa Williams, this list is filled with women who have embodied their roles and left a lasting legacy for Black women to aspire to.
Let’s dive into the amazing performances of these Black actresses who were and still are all that and a bag of chips.
1. Queen Latifah as Cleopatra ‘Cleo’ Sims in “Set It Off”
Released in 1996, “Set It Off” features Queen Latifah as Cleo. Through her performance, we are drawn into the world of an underpaid, hard-working Black woman who decides to chase a risky opportunity: robbing banks.
Inspired by the successful robbery that got one of her best friends, Frankie, fired, Cleo begins hatching a plan that evolves into a string of successful heists.
From her first line in the movie to her character’s climactic ending, Queen Latifah’s performance shows the trials that many Black women faced in the 90s and still face today, as well as an endearing commitment to taking care of her struggling friends. This role solidified Queen Latifah’s place as a successful Black actress of the 90s.
2. Brandy Norwood as Moesha Mitchell in “Moesha”
Running from 1996 to 2001, “Moesha” is a coming-of-age story that follows the title character through their late teens as they navigate through school drama, family shifts, and all the other stresses and victories that come during that life stage.
Brandy’s portrayal of a Black teenage girl in the 90s is one that resonated with many viewers, so much so that she is currently in talks about doing a reboot of the show to see where Moesha is now. Brandy also famously played the role of Cinderella in the 1997 Rodgers & Hammerstein’s film alongside Whitney Houston, who played the fairy godmother. In 2021, the movie came to Disney +, and we were given an important and heart-warming glimpse into how Houston supported Brandy as a Black actress of the 90s.
3 and 4. Tia and Tamera Mowry as Tia and Tamera in Sister, Sister
If you grew up in the 90s and never got the “Sister, Sister” theme song stuck in your head, did you even grow up in the 90s?! Tia and Tamera stormed on the scene as two Black teenage girls who were raised by parents with very different personalities than theirs. The opening episode has the girls realizing they’re twins while on a routine trip to the mall.
Once the girls realize they’re twins, their parents make a life-changing decision to live in the same household so the girls can be raised with each other. Chaos and hilarity ensue as Tamera’s adoptive father, Ray (buttoned-up and serious, always trippin’), attempts to get along with Tia’s adoptive mother, Lisa (fun-loving and colorful). All the while, the girls plan crazy schemes with their friends and parents, which is what makes their show so memorable to this day.
You go, girls!
5. Janet Louise Hubert as Vivian Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Die-hard Fresh Prince fans have a clear favorite when it comes to the role of Will’s aunt, Vivian Banks. Though the new actress (Daphne Maxwell Reid) was brilliant in her own right, many fans were upset by the change (which was partially caused by disagreements between Will Smith and Janet Louise Hubert).
Janet Louise Hubert was the picture of Black grace and sophistication as Vivian Banks, with all of the fierce and undauntable qualities you’d expect from a woman who emerged from the streets of Philadelphia to make her way in the world. Janet’s vision for the show may have differed from Will’s, but it was amazing to see a Black woman in her forties slay 20-something ballet dancers at their own game (then immediately pass out).
Will and Janet have since buried the hatchet, but 90’s TV fans will always miss seeing their queen on the screen – the “true” Vivian in the hearts of Fresh Prince fans. And we’re all rooting for the iconic Black actress of the 90s to appear on screen again.
6. Jackée Harry as Sandra Clark in 227
Though 227 ended in 1990, Jackée Harry’s role as Sandra Clark (and Lisa Landry in “Sister, Sister”) showcased her outrageous comedic timing and set the stage for her later role as Lisa Landry in “Sister, Sister.”
The Sandra Clark character started out as a building resident who thought she was better than everyone else (and was known for her fabulous looks). Over time, however, the character evolved, proving herself as a complex and unlikely hero within the building. We even got a glimpse of her relationship with her mother (played by Della Reese, who would also come to be known for her role in “Touched by an Angel” in 1994 while Harry played the role of Lisa Landry).
Harry wasn’t as attached to the character as her fans were, however, and was frustrated about playing Sandra because she felt that the comical role diminished her true acting talent. She’s since come to grips with the character and embraced her ability to make people laugh and provide much-needed levity to our lives.
Jackée Harry is da bomb everywhere she goes, and seeing her appear in “Girl Meets World” decades later was a treat! Turns out that Harry isn’t just a phenomenal Black actress of the 90s, but one that has left a lasting impression.
7. Vanessa Williams as Aunt Teri in Soul Food
The multi-talented Vanessa Williams has won many accolades over the years: from Miss America to Grammy-nominated musical artist. (She’s also launched a clothing line and starred on Broadway, for that matter!) But some of her most beloved work has been in television and cinema.
In the 1997 classic Soul Food”, Williams portrayed the role of Teri Joseph, a successful Black lawyer and the aunt to the film’s 11-year-old protagonist Ahmed. The film features an ensemble cast with other stars like Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, and Michael Beach and tells the story of a close-knit yet sometimes strained Chicago family and their weekly Sunday dinners.
Williams won an Image award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture, and the film inspired a television spinoff, plus rumors of a sequel that may be coming soon.
Want to Learn About More Black Actresses of the 90s?
These Black queens slayed in their roles, but there were far too many that we needed to leave out! Thankfully, we’ve got new lists of stunning Black actresses coming to our blog every day – so check out our catalog to find out more about the ebony queens who stole our hearts, and subscribe to see more!