We do not talk enough about Black women and our skills. There are Black people in the entertainment industry who toil over their craft. Shadow and Act has given deserved attention to Insecure, Queen Sugar, How To Get Away With Murder, Black-ish, Shots Fired, Underground and Scandal. I wanted to highlight performances by Black Actresses that readers might have missed and may also enjoy. I am ecstatic that we have a number of Black Actresses to applaud. I admire these performances and am happy to share them with you. I look forward to even more.
Here is a list of some of my favorites. In the comment section, please share the performances that have stuck with you.
7. Angela Bassett as Desiree Dupree (“American Horror Story: Freak Show”)
If you have not seen Angela Bassett as Desiree Dupree, the three-breasted lady, you are missing a treat. Vamp, vixen, shrewd, haunted and captivating, Angela Bassett burns a hole in whatever screen you encounter her. Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story isn’t for everyone. But, if you love the craft and performance, Angela Bassett’s Desiree is for you. Her skills are unmatched and she is, arguably, the greatest Black actress in this time. In this role, she serves up: Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge, and all the depth of Black womanhood. She is the Black Pinup woman that Hollywood has kept offscreen. Well, here she is and no one else could deliver her like Ms. Bassett.
6. Michaela Coel (Michaela-Moses Ewuraba O Boakye-Collinson) as Tracey (“Chewing Gum”)
This is not a performance. This is a tour de force. Probably the most liberated series in the history of television. Never in my lifetime have I seen something so s’exually subversive, irreverent, condescending, colorful and fun. The levels at which she attacks the patriarchy and foolish notions of womanhood, religion, class and sexuality, boggles the mind. Michaela’s freedom within her body is awesome to witness. Her comfort level with the issues she addresses and the playful nature that she summons to confront complex shit is astounding. Just give her a network please so that we can advance this human experiment with a quickness.
And if anyone should play Nina Simone…
5. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Kelly (“Black Mirror”)
In the British Television Series, Black Mirror, Gugu plays a character from the 1980’s. This performance surprised me the most because the storyline was revelatory and also because Gugu appeared very at ease, playful, thoughtful and mysterious. Her character was alluring. Gugu made it clear that there was much more to this woman than what met our eyes. She layered this character with her body language and the wistful spirit that she gave her. Gugu herself is elusive in terms of her roles, thus far. I dig that. She has played different types of women. This role is especially interesting because her beauty is not the focal point. Her talent always shines through but this time its center stage.
4. Niecy Nash as Didi Ortley (“Getting On”)
Yes, you read correctly, Niecy Nash! LOVED this performance. Niecy Nash plays a Nurse who is understated, humble, endearing and smart. Getting On is a comedy. In comedy, when there is one Black character, that character is typically over the top. Niecy is balanced, reflective and rational while others around her implode. From her wardrobe to her family life in this series, she brings a sweetness and tenderness to this working class Black woman that we don’t often get to see. In the age of television where beauty and posed shots are the order of the day, Niecy Nash brings a real performance to the small screen. I am excited about TNT’s Claws simply because of her performance in this series. Niecy has chops!
3. Sophie Okenedo
The first two episodes of Undercover felt a bit unsteady. However, as it continued, Sophie’s character, a criminal law barrister, began to layer. By the end of the series, I was convinced that this was the rarest of Black women performances that I had ever seen. Sophie plays an intellectual who is susceptible to deception but wise enough to strategize around those who attempt to rattle her. Sophie brings a nuance and skill to complicate this character and makes her memorable and captivating. I look forward to Season Two of this series.
2. Simone Missick as Misty Knight (“Luke Cage”)
While I watched Luke Cage, the Marvel series on Netflix, I kept remarking on Simone Missick. Her character was relatable, sincere. I saw the Black women in my life reflected in her calm, observant, confident yet vulnerable, personage. She was a steady, grounded, presence in a sea of hyperbolic characters. I was struck by how authentic she was. She played a woman that you couldn’t assign anything to because she was complete. She did not ask for anything from the other characters, she had expectations of them. Her character was not seeking or living to please another. She had a job to do and she did it. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
If you haven’t seen Luke Cage, stop reading and watch it. Seriously, for your mental well-being as a Black person. Just do it. This series absolutely blew my mind. For all of the talk of what Black content should be or can be, this shut everyone up and simply delivered. Certainly, there were political dissections of the show. But, honestly, the importance and sheer force of this show can withstand any criticism.
1. Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay (“Westworld”)
After watching this performance, I want to see Thandie Newton in everything. She serves delicious rebellious, robotic, splendor. Her talent is unwavering, uncompromising, disciplined. The focus and inner strength it must have taken to deliver this performance boggles the mind. It is a role that, on its surface, is about a pretty face. It quickly becomes a role where a woman fights to be in control of who she is, of her destiny. I winced when I saw who her character would be. As the most significant woman of color in the show (Tessa Thompson is in it as well and there are people of color scattered throughout), I was concerned. Thandie executes this character with a sensuality and grace that exudes power and nonconformity. It is a brilliant performance.
An additional Thandie bonus. For those of you that have BBC One, Thandie Newton plays DCI Roz Huntley in “Line of Duty.” This series centers on a police unit that investigates corrupt police officers. Line of Duty is the Royal Television Society Award-winning crime drama series. It has become one of the BBC’s most successful series of all time. It is a must watch series! The end of season three explodes with a performance by a female detective that is compelling and groundbreaking. I love “Line of Duty”! The new season, Season Four, is centered around Thandie Newton’s character and, again, Ms. Newton delivers!
Are there any other standout TV performances by Black actresses that you think aren’t getting enough attention?