A Black History Month Tribute To 10 Of The Greatest African-American Actors

It’s Black History Month, and as fans of film, television, and all things entertainment, there’s no better time for Monkeys Fighting Robots to celebrate the work of actors of African descent. All of these actors are fulfilling dreams that their ancestors couldn’t even imagine were possible. Each actor, possessed by a need to create and entertain, are poised, talented, hard-working, and have an extensive filmography of varied roles that look into the soul of humanity. These 10 actors are pioneers with passion, focus, and skills they’ve used to entertain millions. They are not only heroes to future generations of artists but serve as an inspiration to people all over the world.

Celebrating Black History Month With
A Tribute To African-American Actors!

Sidney Poitier

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Arguably the most important black actor ever. Sidney Poitier was the Jackie Robinson of the cinematic industry, becoming the first African-American actor to win a Best Actor Academy Award. Poitier’s extraordinary ability to embody roles helped him break barriers and into the mainstream like no other African-American actor before him. Poitier also directed films, including Stir Crazy, the first movie by an African-American to earn more than 100 million dollars.

What To Watch:
Raisin In The Sun – 1961
Lillies in the Field – 1963
In The Heat Of The Night – 1967
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – 1967
Sneakers – 1992

Angela Bassett

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The often poised, African-American goddess known as Angela Bassett is a powerful presence in any role she undertakes. Comedy, drama, action, sci-fi, and beyond, the genre makes little difference as her range knows no limits. Bassett, like wine, gets better with age and has creeped out viewers most recently in roles featured on American Horror Story.

What To Watch:
What’s Love Got To Do With It – 1993
Strange Days – 1995
How Stella Got Her Groove Back – 1998
The Rosa Parks Story – 2002
Jumping The Broom – 2011

Denzel Washington

black history month-actor

A force of nature or a calming voice, Denzel Washington is simply one of the greatest living actors today. It took nearly 40 years for another black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, and Denzel did it with a dominant performance in Training Day. As a director, Denzel’s third film, Fences, earned four Academy Award nominations this year.

What To Watch: 
Glory – 1989
Malcolm X – 1992
Training Day – 2001
Man On Fire – 2004
The Flight – 2012

Halle Berry

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For a while, Halle Berry was the female Will Smith, cranking out hit-after-hit. The gorgeous actress unleashed an Oscar-Winning performance in Monster’s Ball that propelled her to new heights. Halle quietly continues to work, including making the box office disaster Catwoman for which she graciously accepted a Razzie Award!

What To Watch:
Boomerang – 1992
Bulworth – 1998
Swordfish – 2001
Monster’s Ball – 2001
Cloud Atlas – 2012

Morgan Freeman

black history month-actor

What is there to say? A recent poll suggested that Morgan Freeman should be the voice of God. I’d agree with that 100 percent. It’s a rich tone with a light gravel to it. But it’s Freeman’s measured cadence and what he does with just a look that makes him such a unique presence on the screen. Freeman’s work as an activist means he’ll be celebrated during Black History Month and all year round for decades to come.

What To Watch:
Lean On Me – 1989
The Shawshank Redemption – 1994
Seven – 1995
Million Dollar Baby – 2004
Invictus – 2009

Viola Davis

black history month-actor

Most actors would do just about anything to receive one Academy Award nomination. Viola Davis, as of 2017, has three nominations, including one this year for her role in Fences. Whether its the stage, where she’s won a Tony, or the big screen, where she’s won Golden Globes, or it’s Television, where she broke barriers as an Emmy winner, Davis’ skill as an actor is undeniable and only getting better!

What To Watch:
Doubt – 2008
The Help – 2011
How To Get Away With Murder – 2014
Blackhat – 2015
Fences – 2016

Will Smith

black history month-actor

Poitier punched through the mainstream, and four decades later Will Smith would take it over. Since 1995, no actor’s filmography comes close to the number of summer blockbusters starring Big Willy. If Poitier was the screaming voice saying “Pay attention to me, to us!” Will Smith said “Okay, now that we’re on the same page, let’s make fun movies together.”

What To Watch:
Six Degrees Of Separation – 1993
Bad Boys – 1995
Ali – 2001
The Pursuit of Happiness – 2006
Concussion – 2015

Whoopi Goldberg

black history month-actor

From comedian to theatre, TV, and film, Whoopi’s a star whose range is uncanny. Goldberg is one of only 12 entertainers to win the EGOT grand slam consisting of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award. As host of TV’s The View for the past 10 years, Whoopi is is proven to be an outspoken, renaissance woman.

What To Watch:
The Color Purple – 1985
Ghost – 1990
Sister Act – 1992
How Stella Got Her Groove Back – 1998
For Colored Girls – 2010

Louis Gossett, Jr.

black history month-actor

If longevity is a sign of success, then Gosset is one of the most successful actors ever with a career that spans nearly five decades. Gossett’s presence on screen is magnetic and while he’s a big, strong man, his range as an actor takes him and the viewing audiences to some soul-crushing emotional places, sometimes with just a look.

What To Watch:
Roots – 1977
An Officer And A Gentleman – 1982
Enemy Mine -1985
Iron Eagle – 1986
The Principal – 1987

Alfre Woodard

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A lot of people don’t realize the quiet, yet epic, legacy that Alfre Woodard has created. Most might know Alfre from television which makes sense because of her 18 (third most all-time!) Emmy nominations, winning four. But Woodard also earned Oscar and Grammy nominations, as well as winning a Golden Globe and three Screen Actors Guild awards.

What To Watch:
Cross Creek – 1983
Passion Fish – 1992
Miss Evers’ Boys – 1997
The Family That Preys – 2008
12 Years A Slave – 2013

Honorable Mention: Hattie McDaniel

hattie-black history month

A Black History Month tribute to actors would not get very far without Hattie McDaniel. In 1940, Hattie became the first African-American actor to win an Academy Award for her role in Gone With The Wind. But, Hattie, like the actors above, was a renaissance woman. Hattie has TWO stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. One is for her contributions to film. The other is for radio, where Hattie broke barriers by becoming the first female, African-American singer ever on US radio broadcasts.

What To Watch:
Judge Priest – 1934
China Seas – 1935
Saratoga – 1937
The Mad Miss Manton – 1938
Mickey – 1948

Our Black History Month celebration continues next week
with the best African-American filmmakers of all-time! 

Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.