Eight Black Actresses Who Don't Get Enough Shine

by Raisa Habersham

Unsung on TVOne is a favorite show of mine. It gives black people the opportunity to praise our black talent the in entertainment industry that mainstream media hasn’t embraced as easily. Vivica A. Fox, who has seen success in film, television and on stage, was featured on a recent episode of Unsung. Seeing Fox’s rise to fame made me realize how much black female talent we have that does not receive acclaim.

Media often subscribes to the “one at a time” rule when it comes to black actresses. But there is room for all of them. Here are a list of black women in the industry that we love, but are often overlooked:

1. Vivica A. Fox
We saw Fox’s rise to fame in movie classics such as Set It Off, Two Can Play that Game and Why Do Fools Fall in Love. Fox’s onscreen brashness paired with her charm were to die for, and let’s not forget her sexiness in Booty Call. Fox’s repertoire allowed her to branch out into other areas such stage production and entrepreneurship. But she’ll always be one of our favorites for her delivery as Frankie in Set It Off:

2. Regina King
King is sometimes left off of “90s sistas that we love” lists but she has proven herself as one of the best in the game. King made us laugh in 227 as Brenda, convinced us she could hang with the best of them in Boyz InThe Hood,  proved her voiceover skills as Huey and Riley on The Boondocks and showed us her dramatic ability twice over in Ray and Southland. King’s come a long way from the sweet girl listening to her parents and hanging with Calvin. Let’s hope her newest role on American Crime puts her further into the spotlight she so deserves. Here’s King on the breakout ABC hit:

3. Kimberly Elise
Who can forget Elise as Tee-Tee in Set It Off? The single mom captivated us as she struggled to provide for her son and brought us to tears when he was fatally shot. From that moment on, Elise has stood on screen with some talented names in hit movies, including Denzel Washington in John Q and The Manchurian Candidate, Forest Whitaker in The Great Debaters and Whoopi Goldberg in For Colored Girls. While Elise is introducing herself to new, younger audiences on it Hit The Floor, she’s long deserved more praise, especially with her consistent delivery seen here in John Q:

4. Jurnee Smollett-Bell
Some of us first fell in love with Smollett-Bell as Denise on Full House but her most pivotal role was Eve Batiste in Eve’s Bayou. Since then she’s continued to astound us in The Great Debaters and Selma, Lord, Selma to name a few. Smollett-Bell has quite an impressive acting career as she’s also been a series regular on Friday Night Lights and True Blood. The actress’s resume dates back to 1991 and she’s made a smooth transition from child star to adult actress. Watch Smollett-Bell in The Great Debaters as Samantha Booke:

5. Victoria Rowell
Just like the black actresses across film, few are seen in soap operas but Rowell was a mainstay for more than a decade on the CBS soap The Young and the Restless as Drucilla Winters. While that is perhaps her most known role, Rowell’s filmography is quite impressive and includes her role as Amanda Bentley-Livingston on Diagnosis: Murder and work on The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Despite winning 11 NAACP Image Awards, Rowell’s work goes unnoted for someone with a career spanning nearly three decades. Watch Rowell show why she’s earned her awards here:

6. Wendy Raquel Robinson
Robinson has a certain je’nais se quoi when approaching her roles. She can give you shero principal Regina Grier while “bamming it in yo’ face” in The Steve Harvey Show or she can be the around away manager Tasha Mack in The Game who makes time for her loved ones. Whatever the case, Robinson makes them heroic even when they’re not trying to be. Though Robinson’s acting chops earned her a 2014 NAACP Image Award for best actress in a comedy series, she certainly deserves more praise than she receives. With The Game coming to a close, here’s hoping to see more from Robinson, including her comedic skills seen on The Steve Harvey Show:

7. Tichina Arnold 
Most known as the best friend to Gina Waters (Tisha Campbell) on Martin, Arnold’s acting range often goes underscored. Arnold’s forte may be comedy, but the actress’s role as Lena Baker in The Lena Baker Story displays her fluidity in roles. Arnold also won an NAACP Image Award for her role as Rochelle in Everybody Hates Chris. And did I mention that sista can sang? Watch her here trying to help Martin get Gina back:

8. Nell Carter
Carter, who is best known for her role on the NBC sitcom Gimme A Break!, first got her start on Broadway. The Tony award-winning actress garnered Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for her portrayal of Nellie Harper. Carter, who passed away in 2003, has a legacy that is often forgotten during an era of Florida Evans, Claire Huxtable, Mary Jenkins and black supporting characters in between. Here’s a clip of Nell on Gimme A Break!:

We will sing the praises of black women in the industry when they are unsung in mainstream media. We deserve the shine. Who would you add to this list?

Photo: Shutterstock

Raisa Habersham is an Atlanta-based freelancer who has written for USA Today College and AllDigitocracy.com. She is also Associate Editor for VOX Teen Communications where she develops teens’ journalistic skills. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at the handle @newsworthy17.