Monday, April 25, 2011

Best Black Film Actresses By Decade: The 1990s

The 1990s were a great time for Black actors and Black moviegoers looking for representations of Black images on screen. From the visions of Spike Lee and John Singleton being translated onto the big screen, to the prominence of talented Black actors in Hollywood, the 1990s were a decade of a thriving Black Hollywood. The top ten Black actresses of that decade were

1. Whoopi Goldberg

Starting off the decade with an Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as psychic Oda Mae Brown in Ghost, Whoopi dominated Hollywood in the 1990s, even enjoying a brief time as the highest paid actress in the industry. Following the success of Ghost, Whoopi scored several times throughout the decade with powerhouse dramatic roles as Odessa Carter in The Long Walk Home, Mary Masembuko in Sarafina,Corrina Washington in Corrina, Corrina and her depiction of Myrlie Evers in 1996's Ghosts of Mississippi for which she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. In the midst of creating such meaningful and powerful dramas on screen, she also starred in some amazing comedies including, Soap Dish and the box-office-busting megahits Sister Act and Sister Act II: Back in the Habit, two of the highest grossing films of the decade. Whoopi finished out the decade with another notable performance as the best friend in the film adaptation of Terri MacMillan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Over the years, Whoopi has far exceeded every measure of success in the entertainment industry, proving herself not only in Hollywood, but on Broadway and in other venues as well. Whoopi Goldberg is one of the most successful entertainers in the world, having earned the rare distinction of winning the EGOT (meaning every major entertainment award in every category-Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony)-something that has been accomplished by only a handful of entertainers throughout history.

2. Angela Bassett

Angela Bassett is one of the most talented actresses to ever appear on film. This Yale graduate made a name for herself in the movie industry nabbing role after juicy role portraying images of strong, powerful Black women on screen. Beginning with her first notable role as the concerned mother, Reva Devereaux in John Singleton'sBoyz in the Hood, she engraved her name into cinema history with her portrayal of Civil Rights icon Betty Shabazz in Spike Lee's Malcolm X and scored an Oscar nomination for her depiction of Tina Turner in 1993's What's Love Got to Do With It. Bassett further entrenched her name into cultural memory of the decade with her crafting of the character Bernadine in 1995's Waiting to Exhale and her performance as Stella in 1998's How Stella Got Her Groove Back, both major vehicle's depicting the lives of Black women. Throughout her career, Angela Bassett has portrayed several significant Black women in American history on screen including Betty Shabazz, Tina Turner, Katherine Jackson, and Rosa Parks.

3. Robin Givens

Robin Givens' career thrived in the late 80s and early 90s, suffering a major decline after her divorce from Mike Tyson and seeing a major come back in 2008 with her appearance in Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys. In the early 90s, however, Robin Givens' was the star to watch, as her stardom headed straight to the top of the industry, placing her above almost every other Black actress in the business. Two roles, her appearance as Imabelle in A Rage in Harlem and her performance as Jacqueline Broyer in Boomerang placed her at the top of the heap as far as Black actresses are concerned. Her portrayal of the savvy, competitive and emotionally detached go-getter opposite Eddie Murphy's playboy who got played in Boomerang was permanently etched into public memory. With that one role, she dominated early 1990s Hollywood and held rank as far as Black actresses are concerned.

4. Lela Rochon

Sweet and sultry are the words that define the image that Lela Rochon created for herself on film throughout the 1990s. Schmoozing off from her role as the sultry Sunshine in 1989's Harlem Nights, she splashed into the 1990s with a memorable cameo role in 1992's Boomerang as the naive dog lover with bad feet, Christie. Rochon followed that up with the role that cemented her reputation as an actress and etched her into the cultural pathos, the high-powered executive with man problems, Robin Stokes in 1995's commentary on Black women's lives, Waiting to Exhale. She finished off the decade with a major role in Mr. and Mrs. Loving, the screen adaptation of the love story between the interracial couple responsible for ending miscegenation laws in the United States and with another notable role as the wife of Frankie Lymon in Why Do Fools Fall in Love.

5. Halle Berry

The illustrious Halle Berry has been a marvel on screen ever since her first notable role as the crackhead Vivian in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever. Throughout the 90s, Halle built momentum in her career, starting with her praiseworthy performance as Angela in Boomerang and building on that as she gained laurels for her performances in Alex Haley's Queen, The Flinstones,B*A*P*S,Bulworth,and Why Do Fools Fall In Love. Her acting career in the 1990s culminated in her winning the Emmy Award for the HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, the story of Dorothy Dandridge,who was the first Black actress to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Halle Berry has proven herself to be one of the most formidable and most bankable actresses in the business. One of the highest paid stars in the world, she is the first Black actress to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture.

6. Vivica Fox

For a time, no one was hotter in the world of Black Hollywood than Vivica A. Fox. She was Foxy Brown and a bit more. Playing Will Smith's leading lady in his 1996 blockbuster hit,Independence Day,Vivica sprang onto the Hollywood scene grasping major role after major role in Set it Off,Booty Call,Batman and Robin, the epic Soul Food, and Why Do Fools Fall in Love. After the late 90s, her career fell into a major slump, but picked up briefly with 2001's Two Can Play that Game and 2003's Kill Bill: Vol.1.

7. Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams is one of the most versatile and successful people in the entertainment industry. Williams began her career by winning the Miss America pageant and being crowned as Miss America for 1984, holding the distinction as the first African American to hold the title. From that vantage point, Williams set off on a successful music and film career, scoring several major hits in the 1980s and 1990s and keeping momentum in her career up to the present day. Two roles defined her career as one of the most successful actresses of the 1990s, her performance as Francine Hughes in 1997's Hoodlum and her noteworthy performance as Teri in the Black epic, Soul Food.

8. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston carved out for herself a solid film career in the 1990s appearing opposite some of the most popular leading men of the decade including Kevin Kostner in 1992's blockbuster hit The BodyGuard and Denzel Washington in 1996's The Preacher's Wife. All three of her films that decade were popular and have become classics. Had she chosen, she could have matched the success of her music career with her career in film. As it stands, she has still made an indelible mark on cinema and earned her place as one of the top actresses of the 1990s.

9. Lonette McKee

Lonette McKee came into the 1990s with an already solid career built off of two decades of compelling performances such as 1976's Sparkle, 1984's The Cotton Club, and 1989's Oprah vehicle and miniseries The Women of Brewster Place. McKee laid her claim to 1990s cinematic history in two roles,as the avenging wife, Drew in 1991's Spike Lee classic, Jungle Fever and as Louise Little, the mother of Malcolm X, in Spike Lee's epic film, Malcolm X.

10. Lynn Whitfield

Building on a solid career established in the 1980s, Lynn Whitfield emblazoned her image into cinema history with her praiseworthy, Emmy-winning performance as Josephine Baker in the 1991 HBO biopic The Josephine Baker Story, based on the life of Josephine Baker. Whitfield scored again twice in the 1990s with her portrayal of Roz Batiste, the troubled wife and mother in 1997's Eve's Bayou and as the wealthy,scorned wife and mother in 1998's The Wedding opposite Halle Berry.

Honorable Mentions:
Loretta Devine
Janet Jackson
Alfre Woodard

The 1980s


KBJr. said...

Love the concept of these lists.

While I applaud the inclusion of Lonette McKee (an actress we all know by face, but not by name) in terms of honoring lesser-known but great black actresses, I'm scratching my head at the Lelah Rochon and Robin Givens mentions.

Is this a numbered list or just a listing of 10 names? If it's numbered, no way Lelah or Robin is above Halle or Vivica.

Where's Nia Long? Jada Pinkett Smith? The great Jennifer Lewis?

Brandon said...

Its not a ranking, just a listing of the top ten. Jada only rose into the top ten in the 2000s...the only major role of any noteworthiness she did in the 90s was Set it Off.