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As previously stated on day 23, Hollywood was not kind to Black people initially, either through participation or portrayal, #LetTheTruthBeTold. African Americans have successfully fought long and hard to change the narrative. Now, Black screen guild members are among the highest-paid actors and actresses in the industry.

Today we will shine the spotlight on a few female actresses, entertainers, comedians, directors, and producers who are continuing to raise the bar within the entertainment industry. We celebrate the battles they have won behind the scenes and in front of the cameras–demonstrating a tenacious determination, talent, and unwavering faith, associated with Black Genuis. #LetTheTruthBeTold.

“Six Top Black Women Actresses of Today”


Angela Bassett

Angela Bassett is an Academy and Emmy Award-nominated actress known for roles in ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It,’ ‘Waiting to Exhale,’ ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘Black Panther.’

Angela Bassett attended the Yale School of Drama and went on to star in the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, for which the actress received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award. Other films have included Waiting to ExhaleHow Stella Got Her Groove BackStrange DaysSupernova and Mr. 3000. She wed fellow actor Courtney B. Vance in 1997.

Born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City on August 16, 1958, Angela Evelyn Bassett is known for her many dramatic roles in films, television and on stage. Bassett was raised with her sister, D’nette, in St. Petersburg, Florida by her single mother, Betty, a social worker. On a high school trip, she became inspired to act after seeing a Kennedy Center production of the classic story Of Mice and Men, starring James Earl Jones.

Encouraged by a teacher, Bassett went on to study at Yale on a scholarship, earning a B.A. in Afro-American Studies and an M.F.A. in drama. While there, she studied under the renowned stage director Lloyd Richards, who cast her in the Broadway productions of two August Wilson plays: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Read More.

The Higher Purpose of my life is not the song and dance or the acclaim, but to rise up, to pull up others and leave the world and the industry and better place

Viola Davis

Viola Davis

born August 11, 1965, in St. Matthews, South Carolina. She is the daughter of Mary Alice Davis, a maid, factory worker, homemaker, and civil rights activist. Her father, Dan Davis, is horse trainer. Davis is the second youngest of six children. The Davis family would later move to Central Falls, Rhode Island, where Viola attended Central Falls High School. After graduating from high school, she attended Rhode Island College, earning a degree in theater in 1988. Davis would continue her studies at the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York City for four years (1989–1993).

Davis made her Broadway debut in August Wilson’s tragic comedy Seven Guitars, in 1996, in which she played the character Vera, a woman who takes back her boyfriend who had wronged her. A few years later, Davis worked with Wilson again in his 2001 drama King Hedley II, for which she won her first Tony Award and Drama Desk Award. Davis also won another Drama Desk Award in 2004 for the off-Broadway production of Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage.

Davis’s first films included Out of Sight, Solaris, Traffic, and Syriana. She later appeared in Kate & Leopold and Antwon Fisher. Davis’s television credits have included Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Traveler, and Century City. In 2008 Davis played Mrs. Miller in the film adaptation of the Broadway play Doubt, which also starred Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Davis was nominated for several awards for her performance in the film, including a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. On June 30, 2009, Davis was inducted into The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. Read More.

Halle Berry

Halle Berry became the first African American woman to win the Academy Award for best actress following her performance in ‘Monster’s Ball.’ She has also starred in ‘Swordfish,’ ‘Die Another Day,’ ‘Gothika’ and the ‘X-Men’ film franchise.

Halle Berry is an acclaimed actress and former beauty queen. For her performance in Monster’s Ball in 2001, she became the first African American woman to win an Academy Award for best actress. She has also enjoyed prominent roles in Jungle Fever (1991), X-Men (2000) and its sequels, Swordfish (2001), Die Another Day (2002), Gothika (2003), Cloud Atlas (2012) and Kidnap (2017).

Halle Maria Berry was born on August 14, 1966, in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest daughter born to Jerome and Judith Berry, an interracial couple. Halle and her older sister, Heidi, spent the first few years of their childhood living in an inner-city neighborhood. 

In the early 1970s, Jerome Berry abandoned his wife and children, after which Judith moved her family to the predominantly white Cleveland suburb of Bedford.

Berry attended a nearly all-white public school, and as a result, was subjected to discrimination at an early age. Her early bouts with racism greatly influenced her desire to excel. 

Throughout high school, the determined teen participated in a dizzying array of extracurricular activities, holding positions of newspaper editor, class president and head cheerleader. Read More.

Inner truth is a constant reset.

Lynn whitfield

Lynn Whitfield

Lynn Whitfield is an American actress and producer. Whitfield is best known for her performance as Josephine Baker in the HBO biographical drama film, The Josephine Baker Story (1991), where she won a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries and a movie along with a Golden Globe nomination. Whitfield had several other starring roles in films, which include A Thin Line between Love and Hate (1996), Gone Fishin (1997), Eve’s Bayou (1997), Stepmom (1998), Head of State (2003), Madea’s Family Reunion (2006), and The Woman (2008).

Whitfield was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 6, 1953, to Jean Butler, a finance agency executive, and Valerian Smith, a dentist. She is the eldest of four children and graduated from Howard University in 1975. Her father was instrumental in developing Lynn’s initial interest in acting as he was a prime figure in forming a community theater in her native Baton Rouge. She first garnered attention on the stage by studying and performing with the Black Repertory Company in Washington D.C. She married one of the company co-founders and pioneers of black theater, playwright/director/actor Vantile Whitfield in 1974. She later moved to New York City, New York, and appeared in off-Broadway in such shows as The Great Macdaddy and Showdown. Whitfield also acted on alongside actress Alfre Woodard in the play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf in 1977.

In 1981 Whitfield made her professional screen debut in the NBC critically acclaimed serial drama, Hill Street Blues as Jill Thomas. In 1983 she appeared in the comedy film, Doctor Detroit. Other films in the 1980s included The Slugger’s Wife (1985), Silverado (1985), and Jaws: The Revenge (1987). She also starred in television films, The George McKenna Story (1986) alongside Denzel Washington and The Women of Brewster Place (1989) alongside Oprah Winfrey and Cicely Tyson. Read More.

Tarji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson starred in ‘Hustle and Flow’ and earned an Academy Award nomination for her role in ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.’ She has also won a Golden Globe for her role as Cookie on the TV soap opera ‘Empire.’

Taraji P. Henson landed her first professional acting gig on Smart Guy. In 2001, she got her big break in the film Baby Boy. Her performance led to the role of Shug in Hustle and Flow and in 2008 she earned an Oscar nomination for her part in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Henson went on to appear in such films as Think Like a Man (2012) and also starred in the television drama Person of Interest from 2011 to 2013. In 2015 Henson took on the role of Cookie Lyon in the hit series Empire, earning a Golden Globe for the part. Her later films include the critically acclaimed Hidden Figures (2016) and What Men Want (2019).

Actress Taraji P. Henson was born to a working-class family in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 1970. When Henson was two years old, her parents divorced. Henson has described both of her parents as loving and attentive. She has pointed to her father, Boris — a metal fabricator who was forced to live in his van after being laid off — as a main source of moral support during her upbringing. Read More.

Don’t confuse the truth with the opinion of the masses. These are almost remotely never the same


Kerri Washington

Award-winning actress Kerry Washington has appeared in such films as ‘Ray,’ ‘She Hate Me,’ ‘The Last King of Scotland’ and ‘Django Unchained.’ She also starred on the Shonda Rhimes TV series ‘Scandal.’

Born in New York City on January 31, 1977, actress Kerry Washington started performing during her school years. She earned a degree in performance studies from George Washington University. After making her film debut in 2000’s Our Song, Washington starred in such films as Save the Last Dance and Bad Company. She later earned wide acclaim for her work in Ray and The Last King of Scotland. In 2012 she began her run on the TV drama Scandal, receiving Emmy nominations for her portrayal of main character Olivia Pope. She also portrayed lawyer/academic Anita Hill in the 2016 HBO film Confirmation.

In June 2013, Washington married pro football player Nnamdi Asomugha, with the two having a baby girl, Isabelle, the following year. The couple had been dating for about a year before tying the knot. The couple welcomed a son, Caleb, in October 2016. Read More.

“Prominent Black directors/Producers”

In 2012, Ava Duvernay became the first African American woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance Film Festival. She won the award for her second feature, Middle of Nowhere (2012). She is the Founder of AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement.

Ava Marie DuVernay

Ava Marie Duvernay is an American director, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor.  At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the Best Director prize for her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere (2012), becoming the first African American woman to win that award. DuVernay also directed the film Selma (2014), which gave her nominations for a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award for Best Picture. DuVernay was the first black female director to receive these two prestigious nominations.

Ava DuVernay was born on August 24, 1972, in Long Beach, California, to Darlene Maye who was an educator, and Murray Maye, a businessman from Hayneville, Alabama. DuVernay, the oldest of five children, grew up in Lynwood and Compton, California.

DuVernay graduated from Saint Joseph High School, a private Catholic all-girls school in Lakewood, California, in 1990 and then attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she earned a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in both English and African American studies in 1995. She then worked as a publicist for FOX, Savoy Pictures, and public relations firms for four years before forming her own agency, The DuVernay Agency, which would later be known as DVA Media plus Marketing in 1999. Read More.



Lemmons is the director credited with directing British-born Black actress Cynthia Erivo to an Oscar award winning performance for her depiction of Harriet Tubman in the movie “Harriet.”

Kasi Lemmons was born on February 24, 1961 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA as Karen Lemmons. She is an actress, known for The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Harriet (2019) and Candyman (1992). She has been married to Vondie Curtis Hall since August 19, 1995. They have two children. Her name is pronounced “Casey”. She was a Was member of the dramatic jury at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001.

She has appeared in one film that has been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant: The Silence of the Lambs (1991). She has also directed one film that is in the registry: Eve’s Bayou (1997).
Directed 1 actress to an Oscar nomination: Cynthia Erivo, who was nominated for Harriet (2019).
Kasi means eight in Finnish. She is the daughter of Dorothy Othello (Stallworth), a counselor and psychologist, and Milton Francis Lemmons, a biology teacher. She was raised mostly in Boston. On the show Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (2012), she discovered that her patrilineal great-great-great-grandfather was likely born in Africa, and was brought to the U.S. in the early 1800s. His son Primus believed the family name to have already been “Lemons,” or a variation, in Africa. Read More.

“The Answer = Diversity + Inclusion”


Black women established and up and Coming film Directors fighting for their place at the table


For decades, Hollywood’s excuse was that they just couldn’t find Black female directors. As a project worked its way through big and small screen studios, the same names—belonging to white men—would be written on a sheet of paper, continually shutting its tinseled doors in the faces of Black women who were uniquely qualified to tell stories.

But the day of reckoning is here.

With Black women helming projects on TV, film and streaming platforms, the excuse has expired. From lighter fare such as Claws, a show about the dark side of manicurists, to a biopic about one of America’s heroes, Harriet Tubman, Black women are not only comfortable in front of the lens, but behind it as well.

ESSENCE wants to salute 22 women who are not only changing Hollywood by showing up, but by bringing diverse and inclusive projects to our screens.

“Top Black Women Film Producers of the Last decade”

It goes without saying that getting films greenlit, produced, packed and then sold for distribution is no easy task. Between pre-production to the end of a film’s run at the box office, that’s about 18 months in between. Getting one made is hard enough, but to continue to make films in this business takes more work and there’s a lot that goes into the production that most people don’t talk about, let alone write about.

Here’s a list of 5 of the top Black women producers who have demonstrated a level of consistency throughout the last decade.

1. Ava Duvernay – A director, producer, writer, marketer and film distributor, Ava DuVernay made her feature film debut with the documentary This in the Life (2008), a history on hip hop movement that flourished in Los Angeles in the 1990’s. This was followed by series of television music documentaries which included “My Mic Sounds Nice” (2010) which aired on BET. … Read More. Other notable movies to her credit are, “Selma” (2014), “When They See Us.” ” Middle of Nowhere,” and the series “Queen Sugar” (2016-2021)

Watch Trailer to Ava Duvernay’s Upcoming MLK Biopic

2. Stephanie Allain – 7 Films Produced between 2010-2019. Produced Juanita in 2019. Like Martin-Chase, Allain has had a prolific producing career spanning over 25 years. Besides being the former director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Allain and producer Lynette Howell Taylor will co-produce the 92nd Oscars, making her the first woman of color to hold such an honor.

3. Debra Martin Chase – 7 Films Produced between 2010-2019. In 2019 Martin-Chase produced the critically acclaimed film Harriet that has also been a box-office success. Like Allain, Debra has had a prolific producing career spanning over 25 years.

4. Roxanne Taylor (née Avent)- 6 Films Produced between 2010-2019. In the last two years, Avent has produced studio released film such as The Intruder (37M), Traffik (9.5M), and Black and Blue (23M) to become apart of the conversation when it comes to successful producers of color in Hollywood.

5. Maya Table  – Maya Table recently added “film director” to her title, having directed the short film “Dating App”, which was featured by Issa Rae and the short documentary, “Reclaiming Nappy” which was featured on Facebook Watch and at Facebook’s 2019 Sundance Festival panel. Maya Table acts as the executive producer of her production company, Sam Frank Productions, named after her grandfather.

If your dream only includes you, it’s too small.


“Queens of Comedy”

Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes is an American actress, comedian, writer, and voice artist. She is best known for her recurring role as Barbara Baran on the CBS primetime show The New Adventures of Old Christine, and for her comedic roles in such films as Monster-in-Law and My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

Sykes is the daughter of Marion Louise, a retired banker, and Harry Ellsworth Sykes, a retired U.S. Army colonel.  She was born in Portsmouth, Virginia on March 7, 1964, but raised in the Washington, D.C. area.

Sykes attended Arundel High School in Gambrills, Maryland, and later Hampton University, where she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Upon graduation, she worked as a procurement officer for the National Security Agency (NSA) but soon realized she wanted to become an entertainer. Read More.

Tiffany Haddish

Tiffany Haddish is an Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress and author who received critical acclaim for her role in the ensemble comedy film ‘Girls Trip.’

Tiffany Haddish is an African American comedian and actress who was seen for years in supporting roles in TV shows and movies until she appeared as part of the ensemble cast of Girls Trip in 2017 and earned critical acclaim, including a prestigious award from the New York Film Critics Circle and an Emmy Award in 2018.

Tiffany Sarac Haddish was born on Dec. 3, 1979, in Los Angeles. Her father was from Eritrea, Africa, descended from Ethiopian Jews. Haddish’s mother is African American. Her father left the household when Haddish was very small and she did not see him again until she was an adult.

Haddish has two half-sisters and two half-brothers, the result of her mother getting remarried. When Haddish was 13, her mother was in a car accident and sustained a brain injury. After the accident, her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was no longer able to care for Haddish and her siblings. The children went into foster care and were eventually raised by their grandmother. Read More.

“Stand-up, Movies and Television”

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi is the veteran of our group. She was able to leverage her stand up comedy skills into a thriving movie career as well as T.V. talk show host on the women’s talk show, “The View.”

Whoopi Goldberg is an award-winning comedian, actress and human rights advocate, as well as the longtime host of the daytime talk show ‘The View.’

Whoopi Goldberg starred in a popular one-woman production in 1983, and in 1985 she won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording. That same year, Goldberg’s success with The Color Purple launched a highly visible acting career. 

Goldberg won an Academy Award in 1991 for her performance in Ghost, and in 2007 she embarked on a lengthy run as moderator of the TV talk show The View. Goldberg is also known for being among a very small group of celebrities who’ve achieved “EGOT” status, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award.   

Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson on November 13, 1955, in New York City. Goldberg and her older brother, Clyde, were raised by their mother, Emma, in a housing project in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

Goldberg’s father abandoned the family, and her single mother worked at a variety of jobs — including teaching and nursing — to make ends meet. Goldberg changed her name when she decided that her given name was too boring. She claims to be half Jewish and half Catholic, and “Goldberg” is attributed to her family history. Read More.

” Gone Too Soon”


Accomplished Actress, Cicely Tyson (1924-2020)

Read compelling accounts of Chadwick and watch movie clips of some of his on screen work from portrayals of Jackie Robinson and Jame Brown to the Black Panther.

Critically acclaimed actor Cicely Tyson was born in Harlem, New York City, New York on December 19, 1933. Her parents, William and Theodosia Tyson, were immigrants from Saint Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies. Her father was a carpenter, and her mother was a domestic.

After graduating from Charles Evans High School in Manhattan in 1951, Tyson landed a position as a secretary for the American Red Cross. Unsatisfied with the work, she enrolled in the Barbara Watson Modeling School to pursue a career in modeling.

By the late 1950s, Tyson had become one of the top black models in the United States, and she appeared on the cover of black magazines such as Ebony and Jet.  While waiting in the offices of Ebony magazine, she was encouraged to audition for a role in the film The Spectrum, which discussed conflicts between dark and light-skinned blacks. Tyson won the role, but The Spectrum was never completed due to financial problems. This experience, however, persuaded Tyson that she should pursue a career in acting.

Tyson began her career on the stage.  In 1961, she appeared in the original cast of French playwright Jean Genet’s The Blacks which became the longest running non-musical of the decade with over 1,400 performances. In 1963, at the insistence of  academy award winning actor George C. Scott, she became a part of the cast of East Side/West Side of which Scott was the star.

By the mid-1960s and early 1970s, Tyson was a frequent guest star on television, appearing in I-SpyNaked CityThe NursesThe Bill Cosby Show and a number of other programs. Her movie career progressed more slowly. Like many black performers of her generation, Tyson was leery of the “blaxploitation” films of the era and held out for a film that promoted positive images of African Americans.

That film came in 1972 when she was cast in the role of Rebecca Morgan in Sounder. The film examined the life of a black family in the Depression-era South with dignity and compassion. Tyson’s performance garnered positive reviews from critics, and she was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.  In 1974, she broke new ground for black actors when she received an Emmy award for her portrayal of the character Jane Pittman, based on a novel written by Ernest J. Gaines. Her performance made her one of the premier actresses of her generation.

The moment anyone tries to demean or degrade you in any way, you have to know how great your are. Nobody would bother to beat you down if you were not a threat.


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