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Where would we be without the Black women of Hollywood? While the movie industry has been painfully slow to expand its attention beyond the lives and experiences of white people, these Black superstars have made a name for themselves anyway, delivering some of the most memorable performances of all time in these iconic films. In the coming years, we can only hope that Black women’s opportunities in Hollywood continue to grow. In honor of Black History Month, we’re looking back at the most iconic Black female roles of all time — and hoping this list will double by 2030.
With the Oscars taking place this same month, there’s continued tension around the Academy’s failure to nominate nonwhite artists. This tension has been growing for years and gets more active every year as the Academy fails to learn from its oversights. In 2016, Whoopi Goldberg was already sick and tired of having the same conversation: “We have this conversation every year, and it pisses me off,” she said on The View. “There’s not a lot of support for little companies that make movies that may be more diverse than anything else, but you can’t b*tch about it just at Oscar time…I am mad! So don’t be surprised.”
Goldberg is right — if we want to see real change, we have to actively support the people and companies that fund diverse projects and turn away from those who don’t. And if you need any further inspiration to fight for Black female representation in film, look no further. Here are 12 of the most stunning performances by Black women to ever grace our screens.
A version of this article was originally published in February 2020.