Whether it’s a Hollywood film, prime-time television, Broadway, or another form of talent, Black people in the entertainment industry have worked to break barriers. According to the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report, Black people made up 12.5% of Hollywood roles—a percentage close to a proportionate representation in the U.S. Yet, many Black characters reinforce stereotypes and reflect ideas of white writers instead of lived experiences, with an overrepresentation of domestic work and mimicked Black culture. Historically, some Black roles were played by white actors in blackface.
According to Richard Dyer’s “White: Essays on Race and Culture,” these images have ingrained problematic representations of who Black people are and what Black culture represents with stereotypes, racism, and oppression. Even as Black actors began to hold their own in the white space of film and television, many continued to face discrimination and segregation issues as second-class citizens despite all of their success.
In spite of this, Black actors have persevered and proved they have the talents and skills necessary to make it in the business. These major milestones have opened doors for future projects and creators to depict the Black experience.
Stacker compiled a list of 50 Black actors who paved the way for future generations to continue the legacy. This list of actors who made entertainment history is compiled through news articles and profiles and represents actors of all genders and various countries of origin. Each actor has achieved a different milestone in different genres, waves, and decades of film and TV.