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50 Black actors who made entertainment history

  • Wesley Snipes

    The ’90s was a pivotal period in Wesley Snipes’s career. With films like “New Jack City,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” and “Passenger 57” under his belt, he was one of the most discussed upcoming artists during this time. He has since run into trouble with the law involving taxes, but the legacy he created for Black actors and filmmakers still has impact today.

  • Richard Pryor

    Richard Pryor is credited for bringing a new storytelling style of comedy to the stage and is a major influence on comedians today. Pryor won an Emmy Award in 1973 and five Grammy Awards in the following years for his performance on stage and in his concert movies. In the 1980 film “Stir Crazy,” directed by Syndey Poitier, Pryor stars as one-half of a comedic duo with Gene Wilder, who worked with Pryor on many projects, including "Blazing Saddles."

  • Viola Davis

    In 2017, Viola Davis became the first Black actress ever to win Oscar, Emmy, and Tony awards for her roles in the drama category. Her supporting role in “Doubt” alongside Meryl Streep proved she was a talent that could stand with some of the greatest names in Hollywood. For this, she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

  • Ice Cube

    After rising to fame in the ’80s as a member of the rap group N.W.A, Ice Cube was introduced to film after being cast for “Boyz n the Hood,” a film famously quoted and praised for its visual representation of Black livelihood in, but not limited to, South Central Los Angeles. He went on to appear in other films, including “Friday,” which he co-wrote, “The Player’s Club,” which he directed, and was the executive producer of “Straight Outta Compton.”

  • John Witherspoon

    John Witherspoon had a 40-year career in movies and television, and he’s most remembered for his role in “Friday,” as the character played by Ice Cube’s father. He’s had many roles in movies such as “Boomerang,” and television series such as “The Wayans Bros.,” and “The Boondocks.” During these now-famous roles, Witherspoon became a notable figure to the Black community and an elderly fatherlike role model.

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  • Dorothy Dandridge

    Dorothy Dandridge was the first Black person to be nominated for an Academy Award for best actress in “Carmen Jones” in 1954, and a Golden Globe in 1959 for best actress in “Porgy and Bess.” As a young Black singer and actress in the ’30s, she often felt the impact of prejudices toward her skin color and faced segregation and racism. She was allowed to sing on stage, but not permitted to eat or socialize in the clubs where she performed.

  • Dave Chappelle

    Dave Chappelle is critically praised for his significant impact on Black culture and comedy. He made a mark in the entertainment industry, starring as himself in his own show, “Chappelle’s Show” in the early 2000s. He has also had his fair share in feature films such as “The Nutty Professor” and “Undercover Brother.” Today, he is still performing stand-up specials.

  • Lupita Nyong’o

    Lupita Nyong’o’s skills caught the eyes of director Steve McQueen, who cast her in the film “12 Years a Slave” just weeks before she graduated from Yale School of Drama. For her performance in this role, she won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 2014. Since then, she’s made her mark in both the “Star Wars” franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Black Panther."

  • Kevin Hart

    Before becoming the funny man on the big screen, Kevin Hart began his career as a stand-up comedian, often performing small shows. After placing his shows on film, Hart soon made his way into Hollywood. In 2015 he became the first comedian to headline and sell out an NFL football stadium for a stand-up comedy show, making history. Since then, he has become popular on big and small screens with movies, hosting gigs, and other projects.

  • Harry Belafonte

    Harry Belafonte was the first Black person in entertainment history to win an Emmy Award in 1960. Six years earlier, the actor, singer, and activist also became the first Black man to win a Tony Award. Belafonte also made a breakthrough in music outside of his acting career, introducing Trinidadian Caribbean music to a more mainstream audience.

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