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Why Hollywood Needs More (Black) Leading Ladies

by Abdul Ali
February 24, 2013 5:21 PM
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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.

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  • sunshine | April 12, 2013 8:06 PMReply

    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

  • Harold | April 6, 2013 8:14 PMReply

    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.

  • ScriptTease | March 5, 2013 2:02 AMReply

    "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.

  • joey | February 28, 2013 4:36 PMReply

    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.

  • done | February 27, 2013 3:34 AMReply

    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

  • sergio | February 27, 2013 8:02 AM

    Thank you Kelela. I mean exactly what is "Done' complaining about. We're been around for 4 years and 90% of what we do is reporing about black films and TV and other details such as casting. Has done even looked at the the last few days of casting news for black actors? There's been quite a number of them. If she's so thin skinned about being an actress I suggest she ought to re-think being in this profession and find something with less angst

  • Kelea | February 27, 2013 5:47 AM

    What? LOL. But I see you didn't post your name. Be sure to comeback and let us know your name so that when you have new projects they know not to post it so you don't have to endure the pain. Without Shadow and Act I wouldn't hear about half of the projects that are released concerning black tv/cinema. You could ignore topics that you don't like, there certainly are enough entries here to do so. But people only come to the posts that will generate negativity and complain when they post more of them. This is not even one of those topics, the comments are very supportive. I'm not sure how how much more this site can "broaden" their range seeing as they cover international black cinema and everything from "chitlin circuit" plays to big blockbuster budget films. They even give advice to upcoming moviemakers and actors. I don't agree with every post made here and it's obvious some posts (very few actually) are made to generate hits and a certain kind of discussion but I like what they are doing here. So many people rely on this site for black film news and exposure.

  • MEH | February 26, 2013 11:33 AMReply

    Daughters of the Dust is really not that great.

  • SAVANNAH MORGAN | February 26, 2013 10:40 AMReply

    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".


  • Ashley1 | February 26, 2013 9:37 PM

    Yes Savannah!! HELL YEAH to ALL OF IT! You took it all the way back!

  • CareyCarey | February 26, 2013 1:55 PM

    *LOL*.... Look out now Ms. Savannah Morgan. Can I call you Vannah if I'm _____?

    *Big Smile* But you have to bring some to get some, so it's on. Check it out.

    Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose) in For Colored Girls: "A rapist doesn't have to be a stranger to be legitimate. Someone you never saw. A man with obvious problems. But if you been public with him, danced one dance, kissed him goodbye lightly with a closed mouth, pressing charges will be as hard as keeping your legs closed while five fools try and run a train on you. These men friends of ours, who smile nicely, take you out to dinner, then lock the door behind you... "

    Mother Sister (Ruby Dee) in Do The Right Thing talking to Da Mayor: "Hey, you old drunk, what did I tell you about drinking in front of my stoop? Move on, you're blocking my view. You are ugly enough, don't stare at me. The evil eye doesn't work on me. You a drunk fool. Hold your tongue... you don't have that much love"

    Evillene (Mabel King) in The Wiz: [shouting as she threatens to burn Toto] "Would you like sauerkraut or mustard, my dear, on your hot dog?" I loved that movie... one of my favorite musicals. Michael Jackson killed "You Can't Win" and Diana Ross brought tears to my eyes with "Believe In Yourself". Anyway, Mabel Kings performance in Bingo Long And The Traveling Allstars (Owner of The Charcoal Kings) is another favorite.

  • Bondgirl | February 26, 2013 12:39 PM

    I have seen a jumping Jack Flash no less than 6x! Was geeked when it recently came on TV.

  • eshowoman | February 26, 2013 2:06 AMReply

    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?

  • Ashley1 | February 26, 2013 9:35 PM

    I don't remember Tamara Tunie's face in Eve's Bayou only her voice. Maybe in Caveman's Valentine with the FABULOUS Aunjanue Ellis.

  • CareyCarey | February 25, 2013 7:10 PMReply

    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"

  • SAVANNAH MORGAN | February 25, 2013 4:36 PMReply

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

  • SAVANNAH MORGAN | February 25, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    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....

  • Troy | February 25, 2013 2:06 PMReply

    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.

  • Anupam | February 25, 2013 9:52 AMReply

    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.

  • CareyCarey | February 26, 2013 8:48 PM

    Well JTC, since I don't know his "grove zone", I wouldn't know where to begin. But, Eves Bayou would be a good place to start. If he likes comedies, I'd reach back to the 3 films with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. Then I'd move up to "Life" with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. And, I don't believe a person can go wrong with ANYTHING Denzel (except - maybe- The Book of Eli). Come to think of it, speaking of Denzel, I would also suggest early Spike Lee movies. .. Do The Right Thing... Mo Better Blues... Malcolm X... School Daze... and possibly Crooklyn.

    Now, lets go here-->A Raisin In The Sun... Precious.... The Last King of Scotland... Ray... Pulp Fiction... Lackawanna Blues... What's Love Got To Do With It... Hotel Rwanda (Don Cheadle: A Devil In A Blue Dress and Crash). Speaking of "Devil", I enjoyed 2 other Carl Franklin movies. Out Of Time and One False Move.

    Okay, now lets go to the hood. Hustle n Flow... New Jack City... King Of New York... Menace To Society... Deep Cover (Lawrence Fishburn) and maybe "Set It Off".

    Rom-coms: The Best Man... not "Think Like A Man"...

    Morgan Freeman: Shawshank Redemption and The Power Of One.

    There you go JTC. Off the top of my head, that's where I would start. But I am sure others may disagree and/or have more/better suggestions.

  • JTC | February 26, 2013 1:27 PM

    CC, I hear where you're coming from. So give our friend so quality films to watch so he can up his knowledge base.

  • CC | February 25, 2013 10:44 AM

    OH MY LORD! Mr. Anypam, I am laughing with you because surely you jest, right? I mean, out of all of Ruby Dee's more than 100 films, you would have included her performance in American Gangster? Really? Seriously?

    Listen, don't take this personally, but I seriously doubt that if a black person was asked to submit their top 50 black actresses performances, Ruby Dee in American Gangster would not be there. And Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost might be sucking hind tit.

    I would have believed you were serious if you said Raisin In The Sun or Jungle Fever or Do The Right Thing or even Buck and The Preacher Man, but American Gangster? Come on, tell us you were kidding. Or, tell us why you were so enamored with that performance.

  • CareyCarey | February 25, 2013 9:50 AMReply

    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.

  • Bondgirl | February 26, 2013 12:37 PM

    @CareyCarey: Hey! Yes, that scene is definitely a close second.

  • Lynn | February 25, 2013 11:54 PM

    YES! @ S. Epatha Merkerson

  • CareyCarey | February 25, 2013 11:00 AM

    Bondgirl! Whatsup baby. Robert Deniro's wife?! Damn, I did not know that. But yeah, I loved that scene too. I'll tell you another one. How about the confrontation between Mo'Nique and Precious while they were in their apartment, on or near the stairs.

  • Bondgirl | February 25, 2013 10:45 AM

    I agree with Mo'Nique in Precious, but my favorite is when the social worker (played by Robert DeNiro's wife) comes to the house, and she scams her into pretending she's a loving mother. Hilarious and sad at the same time.

  • Peter | February 25, 2013 2:55 AMReply

    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.

  • ScriptTease | March 5, 2013 2:20 AM

    I agree with Aaron. If it wasn't for Tyler Perry, how often do we see film with a leading Black-American? I also agree with you too Peter, we should care about all actors, but unfortunately black actors get the short end of the stick. You rarely see a black extra in a Hollywood film. "This LIMITATION to only blacks is really damaging." I don't see how you were able to form your fingers to type this. I can't speak for all black folks, but sometime I like to go to the movies and watch a positive film starring someone who favors me on the big screen. Sometimes I like to turn on my television and watch a flick starring someone who favors me. I've heard white folks make little remarks about BET... seriously, are you mad because it's a channel that don't cater to whites, or would you be happy if we dropped the B in BET... I just don't get it, but I digress.

  • Fall Sapphire | February 28, 2013 9:11 PM

    was going to castigate them for rudeness. then I saw your comment. whoaaaaa.

  • Marie | February 25, 2013 10:11 AM

    Thanks, Aaron, for addressing Peter's completely ludicrous comment. Clearly Peter has poor eyesight and is therefore unable to see the overwhelming number of white characters in Hollywood movies and the far fewer non-white characters. I guess because we have a non-white President people like Peter think that magically trickles down to representation in films. It never ceases to amaze me how a group of people who have been marginalized for centuries in their own country have to keep justifying their reaction to that marginalization.

  • Sweeta | February 25, 2013 9:21 AM

    @AARON You tell 'em!!!

  • Aaron | February 25, 2013 8:41 AM

    Peter are you white? Because only whites or white minded blacks would say something silly like this on this site when we as people of color are constantly getting the short end of the stick? Know where you are when it comes to Shadow and Act, we don't play kumbaya lets hold hands and be equal bs when WE are the ones still trying to get a whole foot through the door.

  • Ashley | February 24, 2013 11:15 PMReply

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

  • Ashley1 | February 25, 2013 6:12 PM

    Whoopi Goldberg's nonverbals in the scene when Mister tries to cook for Shug is one of my FAVORITE scenes. When she pulls up that rocking chair and watches, and then her eyes get big when she sees him going for the kerosene...I die laughing at the last shot of the empty rocking chair.

    Alfre Woodard in Passion Fish and Crooklyn.

    The Ossie Davis directed Black Girl had a lot of great scenes but Gloria Edwards (RIP) as Norma gave the best scenes: *wielding a knife at Leslie Uggams' character* "GET YO ASS IN GEAR...before the butcher starts carving some bologna!"

  • ALM | February 24, 2013 10:07 PMReply

    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 | February 24, 2013 8:24 PMReply

    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..........

  • PhredG | February 24, 2013 8:03 PMReply

    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.

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