At this year’s Academy Awards, there was not a single nomination for an actor of color. This caused quite a controversy, and rightly so. Watching these recent all-white Oscars might have left viewers with the impression that African Americans have not left their mark on Hollywood.
So now that Oscar season has past, it’s a good time to reflect on how much the movie business is indebted to African-American actors. And it’s a great time for all of us – black or white – to draw inspiration from these five Hollywood powerhouses:
1. Morgan Freeman
He’s been nominated for four Oscars and won one for Million Dollar Baby. He’s been in every sort of movie, from the serious (Driving Miss Daisy) to the light-hearted (The Lego Movie). Freeman deserves to be in the pantheon of great actors from recent decades. The son of a barber and a schoolteacher in Memphis, TN, he got his acting start at age 9, and he’s been developing his craft ever since.
2. Oprah Winfrey
You make think of her as a talk-show host, but remember, Oprah is also a world-class actress. She was nominated for an Oscar for The Color Purpleand has appeared in many other notable films. The “Queen of All Media” has been incredibly supportive of the African-American arts community and is living proof that you don’t need to be white to be a true media mogul.
3. Will Smith
He started out as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, did a bunch of rapping, and then turned into one of the biggest stars in Hollywood with massive hits likeMen in Black and I Am Legend. Now his children Jaden and Willow are taking the world by storm also. Will Smith has brought incredible youthful energy to an industry that is often considered too conservative (and too white!)
4. Tyler Perry
Is there anything Tyler Perry can’t do? His name is on everything: hit movies, TV shows, plays … he’s even a gospel songwriter. He’s been called the next Oprah – he’s building an empire like hers, and sometimes he even dresses like her. That’s right, his Madea movies have grossed over half a billion dollars, with Tyler Perry bending gender stereotypes with his outrageous portrayal of the mischievous matriarch.
5. Halle Berry
She’s won every acting award in the book, but what really makes Halle Berry stand out is her incredible range. Her breakout was the 1992 romantic comedy Boomerang but she’s since gone on to become a Bond girl and the mutant superhero Storm in the X-Men franchise. And perhaps most memorable was her Oscar-winning turn in the gut-wrenching Monster’s Ball. Having accomplished so much, Berry is the ultimate combination of beauty, talent, and class.