Young, Gifted, and Black in Hollywood
Best Young Black Actors to watch on the silver screen
During the press tour for The Color Purple in 2023, actress Taraji P. Henson didn’t hold back. In several panels and interviews, she spoke candidly about the state of being a Black woman in Hollywood. And it’s more harrowing to be a young Black star than you think.
Taraji P. Henson is one of the most recognizable working actresses in Hollywood. But she’s never gotten her flowers. I don’t just mean awards — we know how racially biased those are — but culturally, and in the industry, she isn’t treated with the respect she deserves. If average white actresses can win Oscars (Jamie Lee Curtis I’m looking at you), Henson deserves something higher than an Oscar. After a laundry list of iconic roles like Empire, she’s expressed a sentiment that many Black women in the industry have echoed: the phone doesn’t ring.
Viola Davis, an EGOT winner, had said this before too. After she won her first Oscar nod for Doubt in a show-stealing role alongside Meryl Streep, she was told the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. She didn’t get a single call.
Henson told Sirius XM: “It seems every time I do something, and I break another glass ceiling, when it’s time to renegotiate, I’m at the bottom again, like I never did what I just did, and I’m just tired. It wears on you.”
From pay inequality to lack of recognition, Henson spilled the tea on it all. Some compared her to our media-untrained queen Renee Rapp, but Hanson’s conversations weren’t spontaneous meanderings off script. After decades in the business, Henson knows how to play the game. As a successful Black actress, I’d argue she knows how to play it better than most. This was something different. Instead of holding her tongue like Black women are expected to, she spoke up. And that’s the energy I’m bringing into 2024.
“I’m tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, [and] getting paid a fraction of the cost.”
For Black stars, it’s time to throw that graciousness out of the door. Like Angela Bassett losing the Oscar to Jamie Lee Curtis and refusing to smile about it, it’s time to unapologetically celebrate Black performers and their accomplishments.
In the words of Issa Rae, I’m rooting for everybody Black.
Issa Rae - 'I'm rooting for everybody black' - Full Emmys Red Carpet interviewyoutu.be
Who are the best young Black actors today?
The culture remembers. While Hollywood may have a short memory for Black achievement, our cultural sense memory survives. It’s why we all know Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Angela Bassett are some of the greatest actors of all time. It’s why we don’t sleep on the golden age of Black 90s romance movies, like Love & Basketball, Love Jones, Brown Sugar, and The Best Man.
And it’s why Black performers have been sweeping award shows recently. From Zendaya becoming the youngest Emmy winner for Best Actress in 2021 to Ayo Edebriri, Quinta Brunson, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s triumphant award season, things are looking good — for now.
While things still have a long way to go, from casting to pay disparity and hostile on-set environments, we can support the new generation of Black actors by showing up in droves to support their projects and making sure the industry can’t forget about them.
Oh, to be young, gifted, and Black. It’s a hard-knock life, that’s for sure.
In the spirit of celebrating our wins and spotlighting our community, here are the young (and some upcoming) Black actors in Hollywood to watch. Oscars committee, pay attention:
She needs no introduction. From Euphoria to the upcoming Dune: Part IIand Challengers, Zendaya isn’t just our generation’s style icon, she’s one of its most talented actors. If she finally got in the studio and started a music career, it would be over for everyone.
Oscar nominee and director Daniel Kaluuya has more than proven himself. From his early days on Skins UK to Black Mirror,Get Out, and Nope, he’s amassed an impressive career. But it’s his startling emotional evocation in Judas and the Black Messiah that is my favorite performance. Plus, his Chicken Shop Date. Oscar coming soon.
This girl has been working! 2023 was the year the world met Ayo Edebiri, but she’s just getting started. From her comedic roles in Bottoms to her Emmy-winning dramatics in The Bear, be prepared to see our Irish queen everywhere.
This award-winning playwright of Slave Play (Julia Fox and Kanye West’s first date … which is insane) and Daddy, has now been making his mark in Los Angeles. From writing for the screen to starring in the recent indie absurdist film The Sweet East, I hope we see more of O’Harris. I don’t care whether it’s the stage, the screen, or serving looks on the red carpet.
I haven’t stopped thinking about Jarrell since Moonlight. He also won an Emmy for When They See Us, so he’s been on the rise for years. But I can’t wait until he finally becomes a household name and a leading man.
I haven’t stopped thinking about Ashton Sanders since Moonlight either. His startling vulnerability is yet to be utilized in anything of a similar caliber, though Moonlight is a high bar. Someone get an Oscar-bait script in this man’s hand immediately! (Also put him on a runway I'm BEGGING!)
Speaking of vulnerability, we don’t talk enough about the emotional versatility of Dominique Fishback. Though you might know her from Swarm, she was also the only actor to go toe to toe with Daniel Kaluuya’s stunning performance in Judas and the Black Messiah. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Shondaland is a launching pad for great actresses. India might just be the next Kerry Washington thanks to her tear-jerking performance in Queen Charlotte. I want to see her in everything: dramas, romcoms, reading the phone book. For now I’ll take the Pink Pantheress music video she makes a cameo in.
Congrats to Halle Bailey on her new baby! But also, someone put her back on a set as soon as possible. One of the best singers I’ve ever heard, she proved herself a triple threat in both The Little Mermaid and The Color Purple last year, as well as indie favorite The Line.
Leah Sava Jeffries
The new Percy Jackson show show is the YA phenomenon that’s beloved by all ages. Partly because of the massive fan base of the books, but also because of the charm and chemistry of the young cast. First of all, they’re actually teenagers, which is refreshing. And I’m rooting for Leah Sava Jeffries, who plays Annabeth Chase, to get the same level of fame as those Stranger Thingskids.
Storm Reid has been in big films since she was very little. Recently, she won her first Emmy (at only 20 years old!) for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Riley in HBO’s The Last of Us. She dedicated the award to young, queer, Black women — love to see it.
Keke Palmer has been one of my favorite personalities and performers my whole life. From Akeelah and the Bee and Nickelodeon’s True Jackson, she’s been a star her whole life. Recently, her career has been reinvigorated thanks to her network, KeyTV, and roles like Nope. EGOT soon!