The 1970s were a wonderful decade for Black filmmakers with the onslaught of Blaxploitation and an all around revolution, building off of the 1960s, in the ways that Blacks were heard, seen, and thought of in the public mind. In that vein, hundreds, perhaps thousands of films were made by Black directors and Black actors, both male and female,gained greater visibility. The following are the top ten Black actresses of that decade.
1. Diahann Carroll
The magnificent Diahann Carroll was the brightest Black star in the universe for most of two decades from the 1950s to the 1970s. Carroll made her film debut in 1954 in the legendary Dorothy Dandridge vehicle Carmen Jones in the role of Myrt and made her Broadway debut that same year in the Truman Capote play House of Flowers. After winning a Tony Award in 1962 for the Broadway play, No Strings, her career hit a new high when she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for the film Claudine in 1974.
2. Diana Ross
Former lead singer of the most successful girl group in history, The Supremes, Diana Ross burst into the 1970s with ambitions towards a successful film career as well. She recognized these ambitions with a string of successful films in the 1970s beginning with 1972's Motown classic, Lady Sings the Blues, the powerful biopic in which the life of the legendary Billie Holiday was brought to screen. For her performance in the role of Billie Holiday, Diana Ross was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1972. Ross followed up the success of Lady Sings the Blues with two more classic films, Mahogany,in 1975 and The Wiz, the Black version of The Wizard of Oz in 1978. All three of these films were wildly successful in the 1970s, with the first two putting Motown and Berry Gordy on the scene as producers of films.
3. Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson began her career as a television star in the 1960s. By the 1970s, she had developed a successful film career as well. She established herself as a movie star in 1972 when she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for the role of Rebecca Morgan in the film Sounder. Her other noted film from that decade was 1978's A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich.
4. Pam Grier
Pam Grier was one of the queens of cinema in the 1970s, rightfully earning her title as the Queen of Blaxploitation. In the 1970s, Pam Grier personified the tough, assertive, ass-kicking Black woman who commanded respect and dealt punishment to those who refused to give her props. Beginning the decade with a bit role in the radical film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Pam Grier headlined two films in the women-in-prison genre in 1971, Women in Cages and The Big Doll House. In 1972, Grier starred in the cult classic, Black Mama, White Mama and another women-in-prison film, The Big Bird Cage. With 1973's Coffy and 1974's Foxy Brown Grier established herself as the Queen of Blaxploitation, with Coffy wildly beating Tamara Dobson's Cleopatra Jones at the box office, which was released the same year. Grier enjoyed a string of successful films in the Blaxploitation genre during the 70s, enjoying tremendous popularity until the genre died out in the early 1980s.
5. Rosalind Cash
Rosalind Cash's was one of the most prominent and recognizable Black faces in popular culture during the 1970s. Making her film debut in 1971's Klute with Jane Fonda,Cash appeared in a series of films throughout the decade. In 1974, she was cast as the female lead in Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby's hit film Uptown Saturday Night. Her other major film roles that decade came in 1974's Amazing Grace alongside Moms Mabley and Slappy White and 1975's Cornbread, Earl, and Me alongside Moses Gunn and Laurence Fishbourne.
6. Paula Kelly
Making her film debut in 1969 in the fabulous musical brought to screen,Sweet Charity, alongside best friends Shirley MacLaine and Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly entered the 1970s as one of the most prominent actresses on television, the Broadway stage, and on film. In 1971, she was prominently cast in the hit film, The Andromena Strain and in 1973 she starred in the prominent Black film, The Spook that Sat by the Door. In 1974, she starred in the Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby classic Uptown Saturday Night.
7. Debbie Morgan
Debbie Morgan, an acclaimed television actress, was one of the most celebrated Black actresses of the 1970s. Appearing in the 1971 classic film, Mandingo, she made her name during that decade playing Elizabeth Harvey in the legendary miniseries, Roots.
8. Irene Cara
A prominent singer and actress, Irene Cara saw her most prominent film in 1976's hit film, Sparkle in which she played the title character. Building off of the success of Sparkle, she went on to star in the iconic television miniseries,Roots.
Lonette McKee saw her rise to fame in 1976 when she costarred with Irene Cara and Mary Alice in the hit film, Sparkle. With the success of Sparkle, she went on to enjoy a prominent career in the 1980s and 1990s.
10. Nell Carter
Nell Carter is one of television's most iconic figures, having carved out her place in history with the 1980s hit sitcom, Gimme A Break. Accomplished as an actress on Broadway,on television, and in film, Carter established herself as a superstar with her film debut in 1979's blockbuster rock musical,Hair.