Black women are routinely paid less than should be. Specifically, they are paid just 64 cents for every dollar paid to a white man. As you can imagine, Black actresses don’t have it much better, often being paid less for their work than their white counterparts.
Black actresses haven’t let the industry deter them from their greatness. To give out much-earned flowers to those that are at the top of the acting game in Hollywood and beyond, we wanted to give you our top 10 Black actresses since 2010–or relatively speaking, the best Black actresses of the past decade!
This list will only count achievements during and since 2010. So some of our favorites don’t really get to make the list. That means no Queen Latifah, Loretta Devine, Angela Bassett or Alfre Woodard, whose peak critical and commercial success was, more or less, largely before the year in question.
Thus, this list is for the current superstars and rising talent set to rule the industry for the next 10 years. So let’s dig into these 10 Black actresses (in alphabetical order) set to run Black Hollywood, and Hollywood as a whole, for the foreseeable future.
Kerry Washington – It’s only right that Kerry kicks off our list, as she may have been the one that actually set off the recent “leading Black woman” moment in Hollywood. Her star turn on Scandal hit the nation by storm, as her character, Olivia Spencer, was fierce, independent, other-worldly intelligent, desirable and human. For several of its initial seasons last decade, Scandal dominated social media, was the first impetus behind live-tweeting scripted TV shows, and played a part in taking Shonda Rhimes from decorated creator to an undeniable force. Washington’s part in that was not small, as she turned in what was the best acting stint of her career, as she was nominated for 2 Emmys, 5 Image Awards, and a Golden Globe.
Of course, she has done a great deal more since then, with notable roles in For Colored Girls, Night Catches Us, Django Unchained, Confirmation, American Son, and Little Fires Everywhere. So while you may always remember her for Save the Last Dance, big sister “Chenille” has grown up a great deal since then…and it’s been for the better!
Lupita Nyong’o – Perhaps this is ridiculous to say, but Lupita really doesn’t get all of the flowers she deserves. I say it sounds ridiculous, because she’s a Yale School of Drama graduate, won the Oscar for best supporting actress in her first ever film role (12 Years A Slave), and has a recurring presence in both the Star Wars franchise and Black Panther. Still, I think her acting talents get overlooked. She was amazing in Jordan Peele’s Us. Her starring role in Queen of Katwe is one of the most underheralded performances of the past decade. And her ability to go from drama to full on action star in movies like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker shows the range this amazing Black actress has.
Octavia Spencer – I believe Hollywood tried to create an actors Hall of Fame at one point, but like a movie without a plot, it fizzled out faster than an oversized soda from a theater’s concession stand. But if there was a true acting Hall of Fame, there’s no doubt that Octavia Spencer would be a first-ballot entry. When you go to IMDB and check out the “Known For” section, and what you get back is Hidden Figures (Oscar nominated), The Help (Oscar winning), and Fruitvale Station (Canne winner), you have to pay your respects. But of course, you can’t just stop there. Just in the past decade she has starred in Snowpiercer, The Shack, The Shape of Water, and Ma. Personally, I was a fan of her performance in Self Made, where she played Madam C.J. Walker in a not so well produced Netflix Original, but she stood out nonetheless. She’s also done some range-y and fun roles, like Mom (on CBS), Zooptopia (Disney movie), Bad Santa, and an appearance on Drunk History as Harriet Tubman. I said I wouldn’t rank this list, but if I were to do so, it would be hard not to give first place to the actress that has 3 Oscar nominations, one win, multiple Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and a BAFTA award–to name a few.
Phylicia Rashad – That’s right. Phylicia Rashad belongs on this list for the last decade–not the last 5 decades, wise guy. In an era where there is more TV and more blockbuster movies than ever, somehow, this old school legend is still giving the youngins a run for their money. She won’t even let her own daughter (the incredibly talented star of Billions, Condola Rashad) borrow the limelight as long as she’s still in the game.
While I could list her bona fides from iconic roles on The Cosby Show, A Different World, Cosby, or Santa Barbara, we’re not going back that far, nor do we have to go back that far to derive her impact on TV, and especially, but not limited to, Black TV. We can start with her role as Common’s mother in Just Wright (2010). Then we can move on to her powerful performance in For Colored Girls (2010)–helping save what many thought was ruined by Tyler Perry. She would go on to become the mother everyone has to love in the Creed franchise, including a third installment due later in 2022. She damn near stole the show with her performance in Empire, which is hard to do when Terrance Howard is the guy you’re often playing opposite of. Her regular appearances on This Is Us had her back at her finest playing the mom who’s just always right. And most recently, she’s been showing her range, playing a doctor in HBOMax’s David Makes Man.
I didn’t even touch on the super fun and playful side of Phylicia, who early on took hilarious gigs and cameos in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Blossom, and In the House, and she continued her run of out-of-character roles in this past decade with appearances in Disney’s Soul, Grey’s Anatomy, and in one of the funniest music video opening sketches ever, In My Feelings.
Regina King – In compiling this list of the best Black actresses, I was actually surprised that Regina King’s filmography wasn’t necessarily as bountiful as it comes across in my head. For me, I can’t help but be a victim to the 90s in seeing her in titles like 227, Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, Friday, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Jerry Maguire, and even that one episode of Living Single. But over the past decade-plus, Hollywood hasn’t really given her the myriad of opportunities someone with that type of resume should have. Those classic Black titles and/or roles that she dazzled in just don’t hit the same way with the current Hollywood brass.
Oh, well! We love her!
Regina 100% belongs on this list, because she just won’t let Hollywood hold her back. First of all, she reprised her many voices in The Boondocks return back in 2014, and it was well worth the wait. She also starred in The Gabby Douglas Story–an overlooked tale about the famed American gymnast. Somehow, she managed to do both American Crime and The Leftovers around the same time (2015-2017), and she was absolutely award-worthy for each role, winning an Emmy for the former. A year later, she was brilliant in Seven Seconds–won an Emmy for that! She won an Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk. She grabbed another Emmy for Watchmen. And she continued to show her range with her villainesque portrayal in The Harder They Fall. So while Hollywood was busy not giving her the respect she’s due, she was busy taking it.
Regina Hall – It may sound stereotypical to say, but statistically, Black women are some of the hardest workers out there, and Regina Hall is proof positive of that. Her filmography reads like a paginated encyclopedia entry. Perhaps best known for Scary Movie, Regina’s bona fides span way past the horror-mocking genre. In the earlier parts of the teens, she kicked things off with a nice little arc on Law & Order, and then the floodgates burst open!
In 2012, Regina was one of the leads in the blockbuster Think Like a Man (and two years later, its sequel). She then reprised her role as Candace in The Best Man Holiday. She would star in another romantic comedy ensemble piece with About Last Night. And she continued to bring the laughs in Barbershop: The Next Cut.
Her respect really started to come in after that amazing run of Black movies, with roles in Insecure, Shaft, Little, The Hate U Give, and Black-ish. All of which culminated in gigs in some of the best titles of the past few years: Girls Trip and Black Monday. On top of that, she was masterful in her delivery of both humor and drama as the lead in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
Tessa Thompson – This may be a bit of a sleeper pick–if you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past decade! Many folks remember Tessa Thompson from her role as Jackie Cook in Veronica Mars, but in the last decade, she has been making tons of moves–particularly off the small screen and into film. She started her ascent after her role as Nyla in Tyler Perry’s version of For Colored Girls. Then she really woke Black people up to her acting prowess in Dear White People (2014) with a starring role that was good enough to spark a TV-version of the movie. (She only made a guest appearance in the TV show though.)
But by the time that TV version came out, Tessa was already on to better things. She would go on to have roles in the Oscar-winning movie Selma, Creed, Thor: Ragnarok, Westworld and Men in Black: International. She most recently played “Irene” in Passing, an original Netflix movie, in which Tessa plays a light-skinned Black woman rekindling her friendship with a childhood friend who had decided to “pass” instead of acknowledging her true race.
Tiffany Haddish – Tiffany is probably one of the few actresses on this list that actually made a name for herself almost entirely within the last decade. There’s really not too much of note on the resume prior to 2013. However, once you get past that point, her talent increasingly becomes undeniable.
In 2013, she got a recurring role in Real Husbands of Hollywood, and watching her hold more than her own acting alongside some Black comedy legends, was as impressive as almost anything I’ve seen done in comedy. She then got a role in Keanu, the Key & Peele movie debut, and showed us her range to not just be funny, but to also be the love interest with a dark side.
But it was in 2017, when Tiffany got the starring role in Girls Trip, that you knew her acting career was here to stay. Obviously, we know Girls Trip as a whole goes down as one of the funniest Black movies of all-time. But it’s not that way without its funniest actress, and there’s no doubt that person was Haddish. She stole the show–and she stole it from acting legends, including ones on this list like Regina Hall, not to mention Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith. The scene where she shows Jada and Queen how to grapefruit a man is about as outlandish as it gets!
Of course, she’s got some other bangers too, including: The Carmichael Show, Uncle Drew, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Self Made, Tuca & Bertie, and The Last O.G. But my favorite role of hers is no doubt her best, and it was her role as Trina Malone in Bad Trip, a fictional reality movie in which she plays a character within a movie but is at the same time doing super crazy things in front of real, unsuspecting people, who believe her actions are for real. From escaping imprisonment to threatening to kill people, Tiffany pretends to be a villainous sister out for revenge, and real world onlookers have no idea. It’s one of the funniest premises I’ve ever seen, and Tiffany was hands-down the one that stole the show–again.
We’d be remiss not to link to the latest Haddish controversey, and hopefully, as more details come out now that the suit was dismissed, we’ll learn more about her specific role in that.
Viola Davis – The queen of the state, Viola Davis, has been gracing our screens for a long time, and I’m glad she’s reached this point in her career where she’s getting some of the best of what Hollywood has to offer–even if it still isn’t what she quite deserves. I know I just said Haddish largely made her career over the past decade, but so did Viola–unless you count Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in 2005. But now, she’s shown just what she can do, and she is fully reaping the spoils.
You could say her run on Showtime’s short-lived United States of Tara is what got her in front of the mainstream. Or maybe it was The Help…? Perhaps. However, there’s no doubt that it was 2014’s arrival of How to Get Away with Murder that catapulted Viola to commercial success. Being a part of the whole Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, TGIT lineup was one of the best things that ever happened to her–but of course, she rightfully belonged. From there, she would go on to get roles in Suicide Squad, The First Lady or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Like most though, I’m highly anticipating her new film, The Woman King, which is supposed to be an action-packed movie worthy of award season.
Zendaya – Last but not least, the only Black woman here that goes by just one name: Zendaya. When you give your kid a powerful, unique name like that, aren’t they just kind of destined for greatness? But I digress. More importantly here, this woman can act. While we probably shouldn’t put too much credence on her childhood days as an actress, she didn’t really start acting until 2010, so her entire acting career has been over the last decade (or so). For those that don’t know, Zendaya started her Black actress journey with the folks at Disney, eventually landing her own show in K.C. Undercover on the Disney Channel. She did 76 episodes there before she eventually gave the Mouse House the deuces and immediately became a star.
In 2019, she was MJ in Spider-Man: Far from Home. In 2021, she would grace our Netflix screens while we were still kind of stuck in the house–with Malcolm & Marie, in which she pretty much acted alongside one other person for the better part of 2 hours. But now, the show that is making her a full-on household name and has catapulted her to the top of Emmy Nominating voting cards (and her second win!) is the one and only Euphoria, where she plays Rue Bennett, the non-conforming, teenage drug addict who thinks she’s smarter than everybody else.
Honorable Mention: Tracey Ellis Ross, Sanaa Lathan, Wanda Sykes, Uzo Aduba, Gabourey Sidibe, Audra McDonald, Janelle Monae, Zoe Kravitz, Tia Mowry, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tiffany Haddish, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine, and Taraji P. Henson