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45 Black Actresses to Watch Who Fail the Paper Bag Test

Here is a list of dark-skinned Black actresses who we should be watching and who most definitely fail Hollywood’s racist paper bag test.

About two years ago (roughly), my dear colleague and esteemed film critic Rebecca Theodore-Vachon posed an innocuous and presumably easy-to-answer question: Can anyone name three darker-skinned A-List Black actresses under the age of 30 currently getting offered lead roles?

Of course, the question wasn’t easy to answer and everyone who attempted to do so drew a blank because… colorism. And not much has improved since then, even with all the writing that has come out about it in the last two years. 

Still, rather than rehashing the same ol’ conversation about how colorism is clearly an issue that plagues so-called Black Hollywood, I’d much rather put out of list of dark-skinned Black actresses—of all ages—who we should be watching and who most definitely fail Hollywood’s racist (and ongoing) paper bag test:

1. Kiki Lane – 28

Breakout Role: If Beale Street Could Talk (Tish Rivers)

Recent Role: Coming 2 America (Meeka)

2. Lovie Simone – 21

Breakout Role: Greenleaf (Zora Greenleaf)

Recent Role: The Craft (Remake)

3. Letitia Wright – 26

Breakout Role: Black Panther (Shuri)

Recent Role: Death on the Nile (Rosalie Otterbourne); Small Axe (Altheia Jones)

4. Skai Jackson – 17

Breakout Role: Bunk’d (Zuri Ross)

Recent Role: Panini (Love Interest)

5. Marsai Martin – 15

Breakout Role: Black-ish (Diane Johnson)

Recent Role: Little (Young Jordan Sanders; Executive Producer)

6. Shahadi Wright Joseph – 14

Breakout Role: Us (Zora Wilson/Umbrae)

Recent Role: The Lion King (Voice of Young Nala)

7. Naomi Ackie – 27

Breakout Role: Lady Macbeth (Anna)

Recent Role: The Rise of Skywalker (Jannah)

8. Ryan Destiny – 25

Breakout Role: Star (Alexandra Crane)

Recent Role: Grown-ish (Jillian), Flint Strong (Claressa “T-Rex” Shields)

9. Madison Curry

Breakout/Recent Role: Us (Young Adelaide Wilson / Young Red)

10. Lyric Ross – 16

Breakout/Recent Role: This Is Us (Deja Pearson)

11. Damaris Lewis – 29

Breakout Role: BlacKkKlansman (Odetta)

Recent Role: Titans (Blackfire)

12. Kennedy Derosin – 15

Breakout Role: Mudbound (Lilly May Jackson)

Recent Role: Claws (Aria)

13. Quvenzhané Wallis – 16

Breakout Role: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hushpuppy)

Recent Role: Black-ish (Kyra)

14. Saniyya Sidney – 13

Breakout Role: Fast Color (Lila)

Recent Role: The Passage (Amy Bellafonte)

15. Lidya Jewett – 10+

Breakout Role: Good Girls (Sara Hill)

Recent Role: See Dad Run (Lidya)

16. Imani Hakim – 26

Breakout Role: Everybody Hates Chris (Tonya)

Recent Role: Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (Dana)

17. Alexandra Grey – 29

Breakout Role: Transparent (Eliza Parks)

Recent Role: Gossamer Folds (Gossamer Bryant)

18. Mya Taylor – 28

Breakout Role: Tangerine (Alexandra)

Recent Role: Stage Mother (Cherry)

19. Stefanée Martin

Breakout Role: The Get Down (Yolanda Kipling)

Recent Role: Cherish the Day (Esther)

20. Coco Jones – 22

Breakout Role: Let It Shine! (Roxanne “Roxie” Andrews)

Recent Role: Five Points (Jayla)

21. Trinitee Stokes – 13

Breakout Role: K.C. Undercover (Judy Cooper)

Recent Role: Mixed-ish (Tamika)

22. Camille Winbush – 29

Breakout Role: The Bernie Mac Show (Vanessa “Nessa” Thomkins)

Recent Role: Everything But a Man (Sharita)

23. Antoinette Robertson – 25

Breakout Role: Zero Hour (Alima)

Recent Role: Dear White People (Coco Conners)

24. Birgundi Angel Baker – 27

Breakout Role: The Chi (Kiesha Williams)

Recent Role: The Last Shift

25. Yindra Zayas – 25

Breakout Role: Girl Meets World (Yindra)

Recent Role: Family Reunion (Crystal)

26. Asha Bromfield – 24

Breakout Role: Riverdale (Melody Valentine)

Recent Role: Locke & Key (Voice of Young Nala)

27. Ebony Obsidian – 25

Breakout Role: If Beale Street Could Talk (Adrienne Hunt)

Recent Role: Hunters (Carol Hawthorne)

28. Riele Downs – 18

Breakout Role: The Best Man Holiday (Faith Sullivan)

Recent Role: Henry Danger (Charlotte Page)

29. Simona Brown – 25+

Breakout Role: Roots (2016) (Jinna)

Recent Role: Behind Her Eyes (Louise)

30. Tanyell Waivers – 30

Breakout Role: Ma (Genie)

Recent Role: Queen Sugar (Keke)

31. Angelica Ross – 39

Breakout Role: Pose (Candy)

Recent Role: American Horror Story: 1984 (Rita/Donna Chambers)

32. Jodie Turner-Smith – 33

Breakout Role: Queen & Slim (Angela “Queen” Johnson)

Recent Role: Without Remorse (Karen Greer)

33. Gabrielle Dennis – 38

Breakout Role: The Game (Janay Brice)

Recent Role: A Black Lady Sketch Show (Various)

34. Lashana Lynch – 32

Breakout Role: Captain Marvel (Maria Lambeau)

Recent Role: No Time to Die (Nomi)

35. Dewanda Wise – 35

Breakout Role: Underground (Clara)

Recent Role: Someone Great (Erin Kennedy)

36. Tika Sumpter – 39

Breakout Role: The Game (Jenna Rice)

Recent Role: Mixed-ish (Alicia)

37. Teyonah Parris – 32

Breakout Role: Dear White People (Film) (Colandrea “Coco” Conners)

Recent Role: WandaVision (Monica Rambeau)

38. Nafessa Williams – 30

Breakout Role: Black Lightning (Anissa Pierce)

Recent Role: Black and Blue (Missy)

39. Yetide Badaki – 38

Breakout Role: American Gods (Bilquis)

Recent Role: This Is Us (Chi Chi)

40. Danielle Brooks – 30

Breakout Role: Orange Is the New Black (Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson)

Recent Role: Clemency (Evette)

41. Anna Diop – 31

Breakout Role: Titans (Kori Anders/Starfire)

Recent Role: Us (Rayne Thomas / Eartha)

42. Amber Riley – 33

Breakout Role: Glee (Mercedes Jones)

Recent Role: Little Shop of Horrors (2019) (Audrey II)

43. Ashley Blaine Featherson – 32

Breakout Role: Dear White People (Joelle Brooks)

Recent Role: Bad Hair (Voice of Young Nala)

44. Ashleigh Murray – 31

Breakout Role: Riverdale (Josie McCoy)

Recent Role: Katy Keene (Josie McCoy)

45. Jade Eshete – 35

Breakout Role: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Farah Black)

Recent Role: Billions (Lauren Turner)

Clarkisha Kent is a Nigerian-American writer, culture critic, former columnist, and up and coming author. Committed to telling inclusive stories via unique viewpoints from nigh-infancy, she is fascinated with using storytelling and cultural criticism not as a way to “overcome” or “transcend” her unique identities (as a fat and queer Black African woman), but as a way to explore them, celebrate them, affirm them, and most importantly, normalize them and make the world safe enough for people who share them to exist. As a University of Chicago graduate with a B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and English, she brings with her over five years of pop culture analysis experience, four years of film theory training, and a healthy appetite for change. Her writing has been featured in outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Essence, The Root, BET, HuffPost, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and more. She is also the creator of #TheKentTest, a media litmus test designed to evaluate the quality of representation that exists for women of color in film and other media. Currently, Kent is working on finishing a novel about a Black female outlaw and a TV comedy pilot about an immortal familiar.

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