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Can You Name Hollywood's Black "A-List"? (Survey)

by Cynthia Reid
May 13, 2011 8:08 AM
44 Comments
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A few days ago, I caught the end of a twitter debate going on concerning what black actors and actresses are considered "A-List". Although this is not a new debate, I'm always surprised by the names that will come up and why. Part of the difficulty with developing this list is trying to determine popularity versus demand. Also, racially, there are certain thespians that probably appeal more to the black community than with white studio heads in Hollywood.

This subject was highlighted even more when word came out that Quentin Tarrantino was hoping to cast "top shelf" for his Django Unchained production. Immediately, I thought this only came down to Will Smith or Denzel Washington. I couldn't even think of a black woman, besides Halle Berry, considered "top shelf" which was certainly disturbing and I'm not completely sure she's in that category.

Now, using the phrase "top shelf" or "A-list" probably, in a general sense, means the ability to get a green light for a film. However, that definition may contain additional factors regarding ethnic actors.

Also, there's another angle to this that I think is a big reason for Tyler Perry's success. Whether you like him or not, he's always had a knack for casting well and understanding who appeals to his audience. Sometimes the actors and actresses that one group finds charming can be totally different from what mainstream society wants to force feed you.

So tell me...who's on that "A-List"? And could there possibly be two...one for the mainstream and one for our community?

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44 Comments

  • Porter | June 14, 2011 5:08 AMReply

    Up and coming director Tim DeWayne will be showing up on this list soon. FINALLY someone is bringing some content driven projects to the African-American movie audience. Thank you, Tim! Show Tyler Perry, Spike Lee and Lee Daniels how it's done!

  • Adam Scott Thompson | May 16, 2011 3:19 AMReply

    Are we talking actors or "movers" period? 'Cause if it's just actors then Tyler Perry, aka Citizen Coon, shouldn't be anywhere near this conversation.

    Will Smith gets films greenlit as an actor and producer. Denzel's actually made a career out of basically commandeering roles that were meant for white actors (see "Crimson Tide"). Beyond that, maybe Samuel L. Jackson -- white people LOVE them some "Samue-elle."

    And if we were just talking documentaries and nature specials, Morgan Freeman would be tied for #1 (w/ Alec Baldwin) out of everyone.

  • Michelle Too | May 16, 2011 2:46 AMReply

    I thought that the A list referred to actors? So how is it that Tyler Perry even comes up as part of the discussion? He is not known as an actor. Now, if we were talking A list producers....you might have a point.

    The Will Smith and Denzel Washington posts are dead on. They are the only two Black ACTORS (you know, people known PRIMARILY or FIRST AND FOREMOST as ACTORS) who make the cut of A list.

    Now, is there a separate A list for Black actors, of course. I bet when studio execs (read White folks) are sitting around and they have to come up with Black names, they go to the Black list. Which consists of whomever's agent/management team happened to be the most convincing.

    And as far as Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett.....sigh.....

    1. Both are Aussies. People of all colors get extra points for being from other countries. Extra extra credit for England or Australia.

    2. They are considered beauties (and yes, they have that in common with Halle)

    3. Both have starred in HUGE blockbuster films. LIke HUGE. Franchise and otherwise. (Halle only has XMen and her part was teeny in comparison to Cate in Lord of the Rings)

    4. Here's the kicker....both Nicole and Cate (ESPECIALLY Cate) have LONG been considered great actresses. Like great. Like consistent. Like, great in everything. Has anyone seen Elizabeth or Notes on a Scandal? Both ladies have played a RANGE of roles. And both have been nominated multiple times for the greatest prize in the land, the Oscar.

    By the way....Cate Blanchett was in Benjamin Button...a financially successful film. Hanna did well at the box office. And while Nicole Kidman hasn't had a financial success since 2007 (The Golden Compass) she has had critical success and acclaim with Rabbit Hole. She also has 4 films in production and nine in development. Halle? Only 4 in development and one in pre-production. I think the numbers speak for themselves.

    I don't think that Halle can stack up against those two women. Not saying that she can't act or that I am hating, but just pound for pound, she doesn't really compare, resume wise.

    Everybody else (i.e. Martin Lawrence or Common) that everyone else has mentioned is just happy to have a job.

  • Dankwa Brooks | May 16, 2011 2:09 AMReply

    I think the term A-List means that they can OPEN a film as THE LEAD not a supporting character. Danny Glover was a HUGE STAR for the Lethal Weapon films, but couldn’t open the same type of box office if he was alone. Morgan Freeman? While playing the lead in several films I still don’t consider him a “Leading Man”. By “open” I mean to a more than satisfactory box office on opening weekend.

    According to my above criteria and avoiding the obvious I’ll point out Eddie Murphy as still A-List and still can open a film as the lead. Females at this point May 16, 2011-NO.

    People like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler are considered A-List because they can open a film. Jim Carrey used to be A-List. While still a huge star I don’t think could open a film at this point May 16, 2011.

  • E Forde | May 15, 2011 5:04 AMReply

    In answer to orignal post as it stands today there is only one Black Person who could be said to be a member of "Hollywood" A-List. The answer is Will Smith

    After that I'd put Tyler Perry, Denzel Washington & Morgan Freeman on next rung down. They can & will make films of there choosing but they can't get something green lit on there names alone.

    @ Lynn May 13th Post
    Nice list but are you really sure that the likes of VANESSA WILLIAMS, TERRENCE HOWARD, JADA PINKETT & LUDACRIS are "Black" A-List.

  • Kia | May 14, 2011 12:00 PMReply

    Don't want to play a broken record, so I'll mention an actress who should go into a list of her own... Ms. Thandie Newton--such a strong character actress who gets no love. She's fierce!

    I echo those who've stated that Nicole Beharie is on the rise.

  • Cynthia | May 14, 2011 4:52 AMReply

    @Roberto that's funny! I'm actually a Halle Berry fan so I don't know how you came to that conclusion. In fact, I have great respect for Halle because I remember, back in the day, when she pushed hard to develop her own indie projects and preached fervently about doing so. Keep in mind, this isn't a "my favorite" list...I'm actually trying define the so-called "A-list" based on the green light definition. So far, I think Jug is right. It's Will Smith, Denzel Washington and NO women. By the way, your examples of Nicole Kidman And Cate Blanchett actually make my point. Those women can STILL get a green light on projects.

  • roberto | May 14, 2011 3:29 AMReply

    Why does Cynthia hate Halle so much? Halle is A-LIST, no she hasn't had a commerical hit since the last x-men but what was the last hit Nicole Kidman, or Kate Blanchett had,..........i'll wait...............but they're still considered A_list




    Will Smith, Denzel, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah are all A-list

  • Harlepolis | May 14, 2011 1:43 AMReply

    Did anyone mention Rashida Jones? Not A list, but she's a steady employee and I guess she's on her way of being in the A list.

  • Bridget | May 14, 2011 1:13 AMReply

    I agree Jug. I would not consider a singer/rapper-turned-"actor" like Common or Beyonce A-list at all.

  • Jug | May 14, 2011 1:01 AMReply

    @Lynn-And this isn't me attacking you. I just want to have a higher standard for our projects & our "stars". What makes them special is that they've worked their butt off to achieve a level in their field and the world-that is really damn hard to do. To short change them with folks who are doing the everyday, that's just silly.

    And for the record, Common's biggest film to date with him as a major character, was JUST WRIGHT, $12 Million budget, made $21 Million. That's not "A-List", that's "Glad I got a job"

  • Shanea | May 14, 2011 1:01 AMReply

    the black A- list.... Will Smith and Denzel Washington. Will Smith. Denzel Washington. Will Smith. Denzel Washington. Oh and did I say Will Smith and Denzel Washington??

  • Jug | May 13, 2011 12:57 PMReply

    @Lynn-Couldn't agree with you more. But it's a disservice to dissociate Tyler from Hollywood. If he distributed his films by himself, maybe. But his movies go though Lionsgate, which just reupped him to a massive deal

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/risky-business/tyler-perry-extends-deal-lionsgate-173562

    So, as Quentin Tarantino put it "you fight to be outside of the system, and then after a while, you are the system". Spike needs to chew on that one for a bit, but anyway...

    Common-because he starred in some movies with some stars-is A-List? I really want you to analyze that statement? And my question has little to do with the known fact (look it up in the Encyclopedia) that Common is a horrible actor & has gotten worse the more he's given. BUT, by your criteria, would you consider...say...Bill Paxton A-List? He's worked alongside some MAJOR Oscar winning stars? Even had his own show on HBO. Is he "A-List"?

    Or Keith Robinson, starred alongside MAJOR stars & an Oscar winner in DREAMGIRLS and then on tv on MONK, next to a multi-Emmy award winner. He's even had his starred on some pilots that didn't go? That's not A-List, that's called a working actor and I think folks shouldn't confuse the two. At some level, you're ALWAYS looking for your next gig. It's another thing entirely to be able to walk into a room and say "Let's do this". Common, cannot do that. Mostly due to his talent (lack thereof), I've seen every movie he's been in-even DATE NIGHT where he MIGHT have had two lines and couldn't do that well. That's not A-List, that's a rapper who has a built in fanbase but not "pull", remember when Snoop was in everybody's movies? Or Ice-T before L&O:SUV. Yeah. :-(

  • Lynn | May 13, 2011 12:45 PMReply

    I meant to say Tyler Perry hires obese African-Americans in his films because they can't get work anywhere else. I guess A-List is all about money than huh??

    Can't u have money without being a household name?? Tyler Perry may be successful but how is he "Hollywood" i just don't think he does enough to be recognized as a filmmaker.

    There are people out there who have masters degrees who work hard getting a film out there to the public while, this guy promotes a crap film about some fat mommy with stereotypes like loud-mouth-fat mammy-eating fried chicken-can't get the baby daddy to support his kids and the crack head relative etc. yler Perry's films are so predictable.

  • Lynn | May 13, 2011 12:37 PMReply

    @ Jug

    I didn't consider Tyler Perry A-List because he doesn't do enough in the film industry to be considered an A-List sure his films gross a lot at the box office he employs obsess African-American actors because they can't find work elsewhere. Yeah he has done some stuff.

    But Tyler Perry's films are not really "Hollywood" it is more like Atl-wood he has money but i don't consider him "Hollywood" his actors are not seen in anything else and his films don't reach out to me. Like Spike said, we have moved on he needs to go away with this coonery buffoonery flicks.

    I would consider Common A-List he is actually on the rise he starred alongside Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman in "Wanted". He also was in "Street Kings" and "Smokin Aces" he will star in a new AMC series in the Fall.

  • Bridget | May 13, 2011 12:31 PMReply

    I'm tired of talking about the same guys over and over again. We all know it's Will & Denzel.

    But, as far as females: Halle (at one point; although, her star has been dimming dramatically over the last couple years), possibly Zoe Saldana soon, Nicole Beharie afterwards with the release of 'Shame', and maybe a long shot will be Zoe Kravitz.

  • Akim | May 13, 2011 12:08 PMReply

    Obviously Beyonce has surpassed Halle as the top black actress in Hollywood seeing as she can carry a film with her name and turn a profit! coughObsessedcough

  • Jug | May 13, 2011 11:43 AMReply

    And because I love it so much & it's a Friday, I toast to 50 Cent!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYtRfNzxBU4

    LMAO

  • Jug | May 13, 2011 11:43 AMReply

    @Lynn-Derek Luke? Gary Dourdan? Common?! come on, I know you made a list of folks who are working, but really, over half of your list has to wait for someone else in order to do anything. Jesse Williams?!? Nobody knows who he is except he's the light-skinned dude with dimples on Grey's (I know because I've seen him a couple of films & I watch Grey's), but come on now. Where's the standard? Where is the bar?! If we gone put Derek Luke, an actor that had to WAIT for months until Tim Robbins signed onto a movie where Derek was THE LEAD before it got made, than we may as well put 50 Cent up there, because technically by these standards, he's working more consistently than any MOST of these folks AND greenlighting his own shit (see Tyler Perry reference)

  • Jug | May 13, 2011 11:35 AMReply

    @Lynn-whoa whoa, did you just say that I said Tyler Perry is A-LIST...ME?!?! In the immortal words of my man Isiah Whitock...Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit! I would NEVAH EVAH say some crazy shit like that LMBAO

    People are inevitably going to say Tyler is A-List because he's rich & he "gets movies made", so I took his status & equated his empire to having his own playpen that he is the king of vs playing with the rest of the kids and being measure alongside them. That might be harsh or unfair, but when you run on another track, get ready to be judged accordingly.

    That's why I said earlier that the criteria for A-List is so subjective, that everybody was gonna throw their favorite up there, or their momma's favorite, or somebody that reminds them of their lil' cousin Mo.

    TP "A-List"...that still got me chucklin' :-D

  • Lynn | May 13, 2011 11:21 AMReply

    Let me add my two cents to this list.

    Wow! Jug is posting everywhere on S & A. I disagree w/ your thoughts about Tyler Perry as "A-List" That's a No-No! How is he considered A-List?? White people don't acknowledge TP's style of film making take a look at "For Colored Girls" not a single white person liked his directing style and many Blacks are not to fond of him.

    I don't know why we have a "BLACK" list. But this is the industry whether we like it or not.

    Here is my list of "BLACK A-LIST IN HOLLYWOOD" I have to say the List of A-List Blacks have changed over the years in Tinseltown but here is a updated list A-List of males/females of Blacks in Hollywood who have been working non stop:

    DENZEL WASHINGTON (I'm sure he is on the top of everybody's list he has a new Universal Pictures thriller titled Safe House w/ Ryan Reynolds written by David Guggenheim)

    VIOLA DAVIS (Great Actress a little Underrated)

    VANESSA WILLIAMS (Former Miss America Desperate Housewives)

    REGINA KING

    WHOPPI GOLDBERG

    ANGELA BASSETT

    PAULA PATTON

    FOREST WHITAKER (Great Actor Nuff Said)

    HALLE BERRY (She is not on my list as any great actress but she is up there for some people and i believe looks can bring one very far)

    MORGAN FREEMAN

    JAMIE FOXX

    SAMUEL L. JACKSON

    ANTHONY MACKIE

    TERRENCE HOWARD

    JEFFREY WRIGHT

    TARAJI P. HENSON

    QUEEN LATIFAH

    WILL SMITH

    JADA PINKETT

    LUDACRIS

    DWAYNE "THE ROCK" JOHNSON

    ALFRE WOODARD

    DON CHEADLE

    BILL COSBY

    EDDIE MURPHY

    TAYE DIGGS

    BLAIR UNDERWOOD

    MICHAEL EALY ( Looks & Talent)

    LAZ ALSONSO

    L.L COOL J

    IDRIS ELBA

    COMMON

    DEREK LUKE

    GARY DOURDAN (C.S.I, Jumping The Broom)

    JESSE WILLIAMS (Greys Anatomy)

    SHEMAR MOORE (Criminal Minds)

    I can't think of any more that stand out.

  • leelee | May 13, 2011 11:20 AMReply

    There can only be one A list. Only a few chose black actors are on it.

    Will Smith
    Denzel Washington
    Morgan Freeman ( the man has played God)

    There is no black women on the list.

  • Jug | May 13, 2011 11:18 AMReply

    And is it me, or is Maya Rudolph looking reeeeal black now? Before you usta couldn't tell, but now.... LOL

    http://collider.com/kristen-wiig-maya-rudolph-interview-bridesmaids/89535/

  • Cynthia | May 13, 2011 11:13 AMReply

    @ScreenNation...I actually had those actors in my picture but had to crop it for size. The pic is just a representation. And I think you're inquiring about Maya Rudolph (in purple) from "Saturday Night Live". She has "Bridesmaids" coming out this weekend which looks like it'll be a big hit.

  • sdlow | May 13, 2011 10:58 AMReply

    ALFRE WOODARD, PAM GRIER, LYNN WHITFIELD,

  • Screen Nation | May 13, 2011 10:33 AMReply

    interesting to see UK representation from David Oyelowo in your pic ahead of idris & Chewi!

    Tamara broke down the party right there with her little A list cocktails. To go for the full knockout mix I would add

    A list Character actor
    A list Action actor
    A list Comedy actor

    Dosnt that bring in Samuel, Whoopi, Wesley ( yeah he's lockedown) Chris Rock and hey maybe even Jamie.

    We gots listers of kinds..

    btw who is that top middle right?

  • Jug | May 13, 2011 10:21 AMReply

    Tyler is different because he took his toys & started his own playpen & is the king of that mountain. Remains to be seen how that shakes out now that TD Jakes is starting to get serious love from Screen Gems & SONY after NOT EASILY BROKEN & JUMPING THE BROOM. But as far as the rest of Hollywood, nobody is thinking about Tyler as an actor...yet :-O

  • Jug | May 13, 2011 10:18 AMReply

    Misha & I are peas in a pod. Will & Denzel. Dat's it baby! And TRUST, I wish it weren't so, because there are an amazing number of extremely talented individuals out there, who make bank in their respective field &/or genre. But Will & Denzel are the ONLY ones of color that everyone salivates over to be in their project, no matter what the genre & across the board is on EVERYONE'S list to get a movie made. Tho Denzel takes an "L" in romance/romantic comedy, PREACHER'S WIFE proved he can go there if need be & , hey, he's Denzel *insert tooth, lip suck here LOL). Nobody is effin' with them.

    No women, sorry, but I've said it before, I think if COLUMBIANA hits, Zoe will get pushed into that faux A-List sphere-sided along folks like Sam Worthington, Taylor Lautner, Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth & such-that ain't about talent, but about who has the most heat. It'll be up to her & her choices that move her into true A-List territory (that's what killed Halle, SHIT choices)

  • misha | May 13, 2011 9:28 AMReply

    Hmm...using the above critieria (i.e. who can get a film greenlit), the list would include:

    Will Smith
    Denzel Washington

    The End.

    I can't even think of one of black actress who'd qualify as A-list. Nope, not even Halle Berry. I don't think she has any power in hollywood. If she does, then she's done an awful job at employing it to her benefit. Her career has basically floundered since winning that Oscar. Unlike many of her popular pale counterparts, she certainly hasn't been cast as the leading lady in any blockbuster movies (save playing the "sex kitten" in a few films).

    Now I do think many more actors become "eligible" when you make the distinction between "white and black hollywood."

  • tepnlex | May 13, 2011 9:06 AMReply

    As defined by Wikipedia:
    A-list is a term that alludes to major movie stars, and/or the most bankable in the Hollywood film industry.

    My ranking per Tamara's category/classification:
    1. Will Smith
    2. .....
    3. Beyonce
    4. Will Smith
    5. Will Smith
    6. Will Smith

  • Cynthia | May 13, 2011 9:05 AMReply

    @candicissima Forgot about Martin Lawrence.

  • cyris | May 13, 2011 9:04 AMReply

    Nicole Beharie in two years.

  • Mr. Bubbles | May 13, 2011 9:01 AMReply

    Add Queen Latifah to the list

  • Mr. Bubbles | May 13, 2011 9:00 AMReply

    Denzel Washington, Danny Glover, Forest Whitaker, Will Smith, Zoe, Tyler Perry, Martin Lawerence, Halle Berry,

  • Tamara | May 13, 2011 8:55 AMReply

    1) A-list blockbuster feature film actor

    2) A-list indie actor

    3) A-list singer-turned-actor

    4) A-list rapper-turned-actor

    5) A-list television-actor

    6) A-list once-upon-a-time-Oscar-nod-actor

    ***This is your "top shelf" champagne, vodka, gin, bourbon, etc. or how I see them (categories). Assign 'brands' (actors) accordingly. Begin with that there nifty pic of 'the best of us' you have posted :)

  • candicissima | May 13, 2011 8:49 AMReply

    Forgot Zoe Saldana. If Colombiana takes off, she'll definitely go from B+ to A list.

  • Vanessa | May 13, 2011 8:46 AMReply

    I meant to add Denzel in that list...

  • candicissima | May 13, 2011 8:46 AMReply

    Also A: Tyler Perry, of course

    @tepnlex; Martin is a B- on a good day.

  • Vanessa | May 13, 2011 8:45 AMReply

    Will Smith, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, Idris Elba, Anthony Mackie, Zoe Saldana, Beyonce (eyeroll) Taraji Henson, Queen Latifah, Kerry Washington, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard, Don Cheadle.

    Not necessarily my personal favorite list, although some are. This is just what I see right now.

  • candicissima | May 13, 2011 8:44 AMReply

    A: Will Smith, Denzel, Halle, Queen Latifah, Sam Jackson, Eddie Murphy

    B+/A- (depending on the circumstances): Taraji Henson, Paula Patton, Angela Bassett, Don Cheadle, Idris Elba, Jeffrey Wright, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard (but maybe not now after the Iron Man thing), Anthony Mackie

  • tepnlex | May 13, 2011 8:41 AMReply

    Will Smith, Denzel, Martin Lawrence, and Madea, ha!

  • Cynthia | May 13, 2011 8:37 AMReply

    @Jug...yep! lol But this actually had me thinking that, perhaps, we're dealing with more than one list.

    Of course, we all have our "favorites" and wish list!

  • Jug | May 13, 2011 8:29 AMReply

    Cynthia, you DO know this is about to turn into "my favorite person" list right? LOL

  • Brandon | May 13, 2011 8:29 AMReply

    zoe, taraji, and possibly paula patton, will, denzel, and possibly anthony mackie

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