Five Black Actors You Should Know
(Plus, local talent you should work with)
While Hollywood & pop criticism lack representation & amplification of Black actors, Black creators have been utilizing the form brilliantly since almost the medium's beginning. A simple list of five is insufficient, so in addition to checking out these five Black actors, we encourage you to explore the work of many more!
Bridging our list to contemporary performers would be unfit without acknowledging the performers who rose out of the Blaxploitation and independent film movements. New York actor & theatre director, Duane Jones, represents the layered & subversive work being done at the time. Jones is perhaps most well known for his performance in the horror classic Night of the Living Dead (1968).
His casting was somewhat controversial as the character was originally written for a white performer. George Romero, the film’s director & Godfather of Zombie cinema, pithily explained to critics, “Duane simply gave the best audition.” Jones’ work on the film brought forward racial undertones & commentary that wasn’t in the original text, making it an important marker in Black film history. Though his life was tragically cut short due to cardiac arrest in 1988, Jones gave another seminal performance in Bill Gun’s Ganja & Hess (1973). Half experimental film, half horror, the film has become a cult classic after screening at Cannes, with fans worldwide citing it for its ingenuity. If you aren’t familiar with this film, you may be familiar with one of its greatest champions, Spike Lee, who did the 2014 remake, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Ganja & Hess (1973)
Many readers in their 20s & 30s may recognize Sandra’s face from her work in the Disney Channel original masterpiece, The Cheetah Girls (2003). Few have given her the celebration and recognition that her four-decade career warrants. With over 50 film credits to go along with her copious stage work, Caldwell has routinely contributed to some amazing Black creators and the industry as a whole. Her most distinguished credit comes in Maya Angelou’s only directing effort Down in the Delta (1998).
Over the last 4 years, Sandra has also opened up about her identity and in the New York Times, came out publicly as trans. She has continued to talk about her experiences as well as being an advocate for other up-and-coming performers; she spoke candidly, contributing to Sam Feder’s Netflix documentary, Disclosure (2020), and expressed beautiful excitement for what the future holds.
Down in the Delta (1998)
The Cheetah Girls (2003)
The Book of Negroes (2015)
In her third year on SNL, Ego Nwodim is stealing most sketches– let alone most shows. Her journey to performing wasn’t a straight and narrow path, though. Originally from Baltimore, she made her way out to LA for college to study Biology. In an interview with Seth Meyers, she explained that the only way her mom would let her move to “where the acting was” is if she promised to be pre-med. Consigned to performing outside of school, she began performing at UCB Los Angeles, making waves with her one-woman show, Great Black Women...and Then There's Me.
Ego’s ability to play the straight man or fish out of water helps keep SNL above water while it navigates, attempting a comedy show amid a pandemic. If you have a duly reasonable aversion to SNL, check out her writing jokes on Twitter or hear her improvising on the podcast of all comedy podcasts, Comedy Bang Bang.
Ramona Edith Williams
To segue our list into our hometown shout-outs, we thought it was fitting to feature the up-and-coming star, Ramona Edith Williams. What she lacks in age, Ramona makes up with screen presence. She most notably co-starred alongside Kelly O’Sullivan in Chicago’s own Saint Frances (2019). Ramona’s precocious charm helped catapult the feature to national relevance and the 2019 Audience & Jury Awards at SXSW. Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson closed his recent Oscar piece, pleading with the Academy to catch-up with the film. Lawson likened Alex Thompson's gentle film to “a bleary-eyed hug, offer[ing] in the truest sense of communion.” Additionally, Ramona recently paid her Dick Wolf dues while appearing in Chicago PD as Makayla Ward. As her IMDb bio points out, Ramona also has aspirations to be an Olympic ice skater. So whether it’s on the big screen or the podium, we’re excited for Chicago’s future with Ramona on our team.
Saint Frances (2020)
Chicago PD (2021)
Here are some we recommend checking out: