Back to IndieWire

Why Hollywood Needs More (Black) Leading Ladies

Why Hollywood Needs More (Black) Leading Ladies

Nothing makes you shift in your seat at the cinema more than a brilliantly-acted scene by a leading lady. However, African American actresses with star power are too often relegated to supporting roles. For your viewing pleasure, we’d like to honor the many hard-working, Black leading ladies in the industry with this gallery of short clips featuring powerful Oscar-nominated Black actresses.

Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in “The Color Purple” (1985)

Staff favorite line: “I ain’t never thought I had to fight in my own house.”

Viola Davis as the Mayor in “Law Abiding Citizen” (2009)

Staff favorite line: “Get this situation under control, gentlemen.”

Octavia Spencer as Minnie in “The Help” (2011)

Staff favorite line: “I got to come up with your questions, too?”

What’s your favorite scene/line performed by an outstanding African American starlet? We’d love to hear it in the comments.

For more great work from Black actresses, XFINITY On Demand™ features Dorothy Dandridge’s “Carmen Jones.” Learn more, and join the celebration of Black entertainment at

Editor’s Note: Throughout Black History Month and beyond, Shadow and Act will partner with XFINITY to celebrate Black entertainment. XFINITY is creating a unique digital community built around the love of Black entertainment at Shadow and Act hopes to enrich this community and provide a launching pad for insightful discussion. Look to Shadow and Act for features and content examining and exploring key themes and topics that run throughout the history of Black entertainment.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , ,



Following on from the idea of glass ceilings the sad truth is black females have two over their heads one being a woman and two being black


With so many beautiful talented black female actresses. Hollywood has failed to utilized the gracious endearing courage of the gifted black woman. She has been a hero in her community. She is copied, hated envied and feared. Yet, she endures with pride and resilience. It is time for Hollywood to paint with a different brush and understand there is more than just one kind of beauty.


"All my life I had to fight." Maybe our black writers, directors, producers….. should create more leading roles for BLACK actresses and actors alike. I'm an aspiring Screenwriter, and I am trying my damnedest to make that happen, but it's a slow process.


Nice site and a worthy topic for discussion. I find it deplorable how in 2013 we as an 'integrated culture' still have glass ceilings and hang ups regarding Hollywood purposefully avoiding casting Black female actresses in realistic and/or popular mainstream roles. Canada's movie industry is even worse regarding racial bias for leading roles while its society is highly ethnically diverse. This site seems to be one of the few venues where some Blacks in the acting profession can get some mainstream exposure showcasing their talents in normal roles. Hollywood has NOT produced up and coming Black stars for many years. It is vulgar to see how Hollywood's producers and casting agencies are smug at this poignant imbalance of ethnic diversity. The only Black 'stars' around now were the young stars from 2 decades ago. I hope this site has projects/ plans to get this discrimination more widely exposed. Unfortunately the folks in the profession who should be in the frontline trying to break down this glass ceiling seem to be too demoralized or simply don't have the character to rock the boat against inequality directed at them.


Eff off shadow and act.. i come to this website and all people do is tear each other apart and a black actress I would rather not even be mentioned on this site…why would any actress feel comfortable dealing with such vitriol from a BLOG?? who needs the constant reminders of "how hard it is"?? we are living and breathing it..why is this stupid site always keeping tabs?? There has to be more news..there has to be more to report.. more to fill up the blog posts..figure it out..your website is searchable and you need to broaden what you are reporting


Daughters of the Dust is really not that great.


Ok.. I can't let the indefatigable CAREY CAREY outdo me… here goes…

1. DOROTHY DANDRIDGE "Carmen Jones"- tells poor Cindy Lou "bait your hook with fish you can fry" and all of her scenes with Mr. Belafonte.

2. PEARL BAILEY/DIAHANN CARROLL "Carmen Jones"- those two put the "G" in groupies and had no shame about it!!

3. ANGELA BASSETT "Waiting to Exhale"- Get YO "s#*T and get out!

4. SHERYL LEE RALPH "A Piece of the Action"- totally belittles her teacher in front of the WHOLE CLASS.. fav line… "my ASS bleeds for you!!!"

5. WHOOPI GOLDBERG- "Jumping Jack Flash"- "I'm a little black woman in a big silver box. On the top of it it says "phone".



1.Tamara Tunie/Meghan Good and Jurnee Smollett in Eve's Bayou
2. Every female character in Daughters of the Dust
3. Effie in Dreamgirls
4. Zoe in Firefly – because I am a sci
fi nerd and how many black women get to kick ass and have a loving husband?


Abdul, you should know you have my heart pumping because I love this game. So, I can't stop sharing my love of black actresses in their memorable roles.

Here's a couple more.

Now don't get mad at me but when I think of female crack-heads, I see many scenes with Alfrie Woodard as Wanda in Holiday Heart.

And oh lord, where do I begin… which black actress portrayed the best pissed-off lover? OOOWEEEE… should I start with every woman in "For Colored Girls"? Some of them did a damn good job. Come to think of it, one of Janet Jackson's scenes in "Why Did I Get Married, too" was no joke. She was talking big shit while destroying the house with a baseball bat.

And who can forget a great scene (one of many) from Whats Love Got To Do With It. I can still feel the heat and anger in Angela Bassett's face. When she was in the back seat of Ike's (Fishburn's) Cadillac, she tried to tear off his face and stab him with her high hills. She was REALLY pissed-off.

Tender, heart-tugging moments: The hearse scenes in both versions of Imitation Of Life.

In Cabin In The Sky, mortally shot at a crap game, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson gets a six-month heavenly reprieve thanks to prayers from wife and true believer Ethel Waters. I still remember parts of that plea.. "Please lord, he's all I got"


1. Angela Bassett "X" – Malcolm you face death 24hrs a day but the possibility of BETRAYAL never enters your mind.


great post:

1. Angela Basset "X" (Betty Shabazz)- Malcom, you face death 24hrs a day but the possibility of portrayal never enters your mind!!!

2. ROOTS- Madge Sinclair (Bell) when she confronts Massa about Kizzy. Leslie Uggams (Kizzy) "can't trust Toubob" lol but the scene where she tells Richard Roundtree why she can't marry him. Lynne Moody (Irene) her scenes w/Georg Stanford Brown in The Next Generations.

3. RAISIN IN THE SUN- Claudia Mcneil, Ruby Dee, & gone too soon Diana Sands.

4. DIAHANN CARROL- "Claudine" effortlessly tranformed from a single mom w/6 kids to vulnerable & sexy in a bath made with Joy dish detergent . LOL

ive got plenty more….


These lists and comments prove the lack of opportunity for black women. I'm surprised none if you older people posting anything Pre-1980s. Even bad movies like o many black films have been have strong performances. Black leading ladies are either something that doesn't really exist or some here have very myopic views.


I would have included Ruby Dee in American Gangsters and Whoopie Goldgerg in Ghosts, in fact the last one I think just shows the versatility and challenge in the roles, as also highlighting the stereotypes that Hollywood often throw Black characters to. I remember being like offended when Viola Davis lost the Oscar; I never take awards seriously but then this seemed to disturb me at a time when as a White male I was thinking racism is not as big in Hollywood as outside. But then as this year and the many before clearly shows, racism and sexism just don't seem to subside.


Without a doubt my favorite performance by a black actress is Monique in Precious. And in that film, although I could champion many, my favorite scene is the one with her and Mariah Carey.

And yes, Oprah did the damn thang in The Color Purple. Sofia: "Sat in that jail, I sat in that jail til I near about done rot to death. I know what it like to wanna go somewhere and cain't. I know what it like to wanna sing… and have it beat out 'ya. I want to thank you, Miss Celie, fo everything you done for me. I 'members that day in the store with Miss Millie – I's feelin' real down. I's feelin' mighty bad. And when I seed you – I know'd there is a God. I know'd there is a God."

And who can forget the impact of these lines: Celie (Woopie): [lunging towards Albert with a knife] I curse you. Until you do right by me everything you think about is gonna crumble!
Sofia: Don't do it Mrs. Celie. Don't trade places with what I been through.
Sofia: He ain't worth it, he ain't worth it.
Albert: Who you think you is? You can curse nobody. Look at you. Your black, you're poor, you're ugly, you're a woman, you're nothing at all!
Celie: Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!

Good stuff.

S. Epatha Merkerson as Rachel 'Nanny' Crosby in Lackawanna Blues: But you can't hurt me no more. I'm numb. Sometimes I look at you, don't even see you. You touch me and I don't feel you. But I can smell you and I know I'm alive. That stench ain't just some other woman's cheap perfume, it's your soul, Bill. Your rotten soul!

The Family That Preys. The scene in which Andrea (Sanna Lathan) tells Chris (Rockmond Dunbar) that she has been having an affair.

Andrea: You know what? Keep that money! There's plenty more where that came from! In fact, you know what? Here's some more. You go buy yourself some boxes and get your stuff out of my house! […] All that money you stole from me was given to me by William […] Andrea telling Chris that he is not the father of their son: My son is a Cartwright.

Oh lord, now that was some s*** that made me wanna holla. In fact, I did shout at the screen but what I said cannot be repeated on this board.


Why don't you start caring about actors as a whole, and why we need more of them. This limitation to only blacks is really damaging.


Charlayne Woodard as Tituba in The Crucible. She is a great actress.


Add in the need for people who actually know how to light/apply makeup to/style hair for people of color. It seems as if the television show "Living Single" was one of the best representations of lighting people of color with varying skin tones on a weekly basis.

mikol perna

If you think Norman`s story is super…, a month-back mother in-law also broght in $4982 sitting there fourteen hours a week an their house and they're buddy's sister`s neighbour has been doing this for nine months and made over $4982 in there spare time from their computer. follow the guidelines on this site……….


I just looked at the XFINITY link and commend SandA for giving it the exposure. More articles/clips/in-cased-you-missed-it for 'us'. Thank you.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *