For many years, black actors, and other actors of color, have not been given the same opportunity to star in major roles that would have seen them stand toe to toe with their white counterparts in terms of commercial success and award recognition. Regardless of this, legendary actors like Sidney Potier, Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, and Morgan Freeman have received the highest awards paving the way for the younger generation to make an impact, even more so with the recent calls for diversity in Hollywood.
Due to this, more than a few young black actors have taken up the mantle and are currently making waves in the industry, with more than a few of them being on their way to legendary status.
High-flying African-American Actors
1. Michael B Jordan
- Date of Birth: February 9, 1987
- Age: 35 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Black Panther, Without Remorse, Creed, Just Mercy, Hardball
- Active Since: 1999
Michael B. Jordan is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most famous black actors currently making waves in Hollywood. The California-born star, who began his career as a child model before switching to acting, first appeared in episodes of Cosby and The Sopranos in 1999 and the movies Black and White (1999) and Hardball (2001). The Newark Arts High School graduate gained more exposure when he landed roles in The Wire (2002) as Wallace and then in All My Children (2003-06) as Reggie Porter Montgomery.
The young actor continued to work all through the years until he starred in Fruitvale Station (2013), where he put in an NAACP Image Award-nominated performance. Jordan was further compared to a young Denzel Washington as he was named among the breakout stars of the year by critics and magazines. In the years to come, Jordan gained more critical acclaim for his performances in the Rocky sequel Creed (2015) as protagonist Adonis Creed and then as antagonist Erik Killmonger in Marvel’s Black Panther (2018).
2. Kevin Hart
- Date of Birth: July 6, 1979
- Age: 43 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Jumanji: The Next Level, Ride Along
- Active Since: 2001
Comedic rock star Kevin Hart needs no introduction as his exploits as both a comedian and an actor has earned him numerous awards as well as an inclusion onto Time Magazine’s 2015 100 most influential people list. Some of his most popular works include Think Like a Man (2012), Real Husbands of Hollywood (2013-present), Ride Along (2014), Ride Along 2 (2016), Central Intelligence (2016), and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017).
The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native started his career as a stand-up comedian while working as a shoe salesman. While things were tough for him initially as he was booed off stage a couple of times, Hart soon developed the unique comedic style that endeared him to fans and saw him win several amateur comedy competitions. From hosting small gigs in his hometown, Hart was soon able to embark on a nationwide tour as he also landed roles in movies like Paper Soldiers (2002), Scary Movie 3 (2003), and Soul Plane (2004), as the rest became history.
3. Donald Glover
- Date of Birth: September 25, 1983
- Age: 39 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Atlanta, The Lion King, The Martian
- Active Since: 2005
2017 seemed to be the year that Donald Glover got the recognition he deserved as everything he had a hand in was very successful. The very talented entertainer, who has careers as a rapper, singer, DJ, comedian, writer, and director, won a Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe Award for his work in the FX comedy-drama series Atlanta. He was also included in Time Magazine’s list of 2017 100 most influential people globally, a testament to his talent and the impact he has had not just in Hollywood but in the inner suburban cities.
Glover, who attended and graduated from the New York University Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in Dramatic Writing, began his entertainment career as a writer on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock. After earning a Writers Guild of America Award for his work in 2009, he joined a comedy sketch group and began making music. What, however, propelled him to nationwide fame was his role as Troy Barnes in the sitcom Community (2009–2014), after which he appeared in a variety of other projects.
4. Omari Hardwick
- Date of Birth: January 9, 1974
- Age: 48 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Army of the Dead, Spell, The Guardian, Sorry to Bother You
- Active Since: 2001
Omari Hardwick, who will be popularly identified as the Ghost from Starz Network’s Power, or Andre from BET Network’s Being Mary Jane, is another name to keep an eye out for. The multiple BET Award-nominated actor earns an inclusion to this famous black actors list due to the impact that his roles in the aforementioned shows have had on the black community.
Hardwick, who was born and raised in the U.S. state of Georgia, began his career in 2004 after having struggled to land a gig for a few years. The University of Georgia graduate has since that time appeared in movies and series like The Guardian (2006), For Colored Girls (2010), and Sorry to Bother You (2018).
5. John David Washington
- Date of Birth: July 28, 1984
- Age: 38 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Tenet, BlacKkKlansman, Malcolm & Marie, Monster
- Active Since: 1992
John David Washington, the eldest child of legendary actor Denzel Washington and wife, actress Pauletta Washington, is another one of the young black actors that are making waves in Hollywood. Washington, who pursued a career in American football before suffering a career-ending injury that left him with no option of becoming an actor, has widely spoken about his intention of not wanting to follow his parents’ footsteps to make a living as an actor. He said he pursued a sporting career to gain some kind of independence where he would not be looked at as Denzel or Pauletta’s son but solely as John David Washington.
At around the age of nine, Washington starred in the Spike Lee-directed film Malcolm X (1992), which featured his father. After hanging up his cleats, he landed the role of Ricky Jerret in the HBO comedy series Ballers (2015-present). Washington’s performance in Ballers has been well received by critics and even earned him an NAACP Image Award nomination. It has further propelled him to roles in BlacKkKlansman (2018), where he reunited with Spike Lee, Monsters and Men (2018), Monster (2018), and The Old Man & the Gun (2018).
6. Daniel Kaluuya
- Date of Birth: February 24, 1989
- Age: 30 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Judas and The Black Messiah, Black Panther, Get Out, Widows
- Active Since: 2006
Daniel Kaluuya is another actor that has earned his place on the famous black actors’ list thanks to his roles as W’Kabi in Black Panther (2018) but more importantly as Chris Washington in Get Out (2017), which earned him a Best Actor nomination at both the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards.
Kaluuya’s journey to the bright lights of Hollywood started in London, where he was born and raised by Ugandan immigrant parents. At a very young age, Kaluuya began performing improvisational theatre. After joining and performing at a local theatre for several years, he was cast to play the role of Posh Kenneth in Skins (2007-2009), which he also contributed to as a writer. In the coming years, Kaluuya continued to perform in theatres and starred in movies like Johnny English Reborn (2011) and Sicario (2015).
7. John Boyega
- Date of Birth: March 17, 1992
- Age: 30 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Half of a Yellow Sun, Attack the Block
- Active Since: 2011
A few people who had not been following the works of John Boyega might have been caught off-guard when he was cast as the lead character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). The English actor, who had earned his stripes in classical theatre acting before putting in noteworthy performances in Attack the Block (2011) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2013), proved he was not in above his head as his portrayal of FN-2187 / Finn earned him the BAFTA Rising Star Award among other awards and nominations.
Boyega has gone ahead to reprise his role in subsequent Star Wars franchise series and movies and might be a possible replacement for Daniel Craig as James Bond, a move that would cement his reputation as one of the best black actors of his generation.
8. Mahershala Ali
- Date of Birth: February 16, 1974
- Age: 48 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Moonlight, House of Cards
- Active Since: 2001
Following his breakthrough performance as Richard Tyler in The 4400 (2004-2007) and subsequent Academy Award-winning role in Moonlight (2016), Mahershala Ali has become one of the go-to black actors in Hollywood. His reputation has further been cemented by his roles in movies and series like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Free State of Jones (2016), and House of Cards (2013-2016).
Ali, who graduated with a Mass Communication degree from St. Mary’s College of California (SMC), began acting after leaving college. He first landed an apprenticeship at the California Shakespeare Theater before enrolling in New York University’s graduate acting program, where he acquired a master’s degree in 2000.
9. Lil Rel Howery
- Date of Birth: December 17, 1979
- Age: 42 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Fatherhood, Home, Get Out, Friends of the People, Rel
- Active Since: 2001
Another comedian turned actor to make this list is Lil Rel Howery, who is best known for his roles as Robert Carmichael in The Carmichael Show (2015–2017), as TSA officer Rod Williams in Get Out (2017), and as himself in the semi-biographical series Rel (2018-present).
Howery was born and raised in the West Side of Chicago. He began his career performing as a stand-up comedian in clubs in the Chicago area before competing on the reality tv series Last Comic Standing in 2007. He soon began working as a writer, producer, and cast member of the sketch comedy series, Friends of the People (2014), as the rest became history.
10. Winston Duke
- Date of Birth: November 15, 1986
- Age: 35 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Black Panther (2018), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Us (2019)
- Active Since: 2014
Winston Duke is one of the black actors currently making waves in Hollywood. The Trinidad and Tobago actor is best known for his role as M’Baku in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, including Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: End Game. He also garnered huge fame through his outstanding performance in the 2019 horror film Us, alongside Lupita Nyong’o and Elizabeth Moss.
Born in Argyle, Saint Paul, in Trinidad and Tobago, Duke moved to the United States with his mother sister when he was nine years old. He got his B.A. in Theatre from the University of Buffalo and Master of Fine Arts from Yale School of Drama in 2013. He has been active in the American entertainment industry since 2014 and is popularly known as M’Baku in Marvel films.
11. Sterling K. Brown
- Date of Birth: April 5, 1976
- Age: 46 Years Old
- Famous Movies: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016), Black Panther (2018)
- Active Since: 2001
Sterling Kelby Brown, popularly known as Sterling K. Brown, is a talented American actor best known for playing Christopher Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. He can also be remembered for playing N’Jobu in Black Panther. He is among the black actors making waves in Hollywood and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
The actor was born and raised in St. Loius, Missouri, United States, and is one of his parent’s five children. He got an acting degree from Stanford University and attended New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. Sterling has been active in the industry since 2001 and has appeared in several movies. So far, he has been nominated for over 24 awards, out of which he has won 12, including Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe Awards.
12. Anthony Mackie
- Date of Birth: September 23, 1978
- Age: 44 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Captain America: Winter Soldie (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: End Game (2019)
- Active Since: 2002
Mackie is an American actor and one of the most prominent faces in Hollywood. He made his debut in 2002, appearing in the drama film 8 Mile. Since then, he has starred in several blockbuster movies and TV shows. Some of his most popular movies include Captain America: Winter Soldie (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: End Game (2019), The Falcon, and the Winter Soldier (2021), etc.
Born Anthony Dwane Mackie in New Orleans, Louisiana, he graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1997. He also attended Juilliard School’s Drama Division as a member of Group 30, alongside Lee Pace and Tracie Thoms. Since the inception of his career, Mackie has recorded a few awards in his name out of many nominations.
13. Jonathan Majors
- Date of Birth: September 7, 1989
- Age: 33 Years Old
- Famous Movies: The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Da 5 Bloods, Jungleland
- Active Since: 2017
Jonathan Majors is an American actor and one of the black actors making waves in Hollywood. He rose to fame following his outstanding performance in the 2019 drama film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Since then, he has been in the limelight and has scored roles in blockbusters such as Da 5 Bloods, Jungleland, and The Harder They Fall. He has also garnered wider fame for his role in TV shows such as Lovecraft Country, Loki, and much more.
Jonathan spent his early years in the Vandenberg military base Lompoc, California, where he was born; his father is in the Air Force. The actor had a tough childhood as he recounted how his father left them and resurfaced after 17 years. However, they have both reconnected and mended their relationship. He acquired a Bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Afterward, he also studied at the Yale School of Drama, where he graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2016. He has been active in the industry since 2017.
14. Chris Rock
- Date of Birth: February 7, 1965
- Age: 57 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Everybody Hates Chris, The Witches, Madagascar, Bee Movie
- Years Active: 1984-Present
Chris Rock is a comic actor, writer, director, and producer who rose to prominence in the 1990s through his appearance on Saturday Night Live. He has featured in several top-rated, and commercially successful movies and TV shows, including Everybody Hates Chris, where he served as the narrator, Head of State (2003), The Longest Yard (2005), Madagascar series, and much more.
He was born Christopher Julius Rock in Andrew, South Carolina, United States. Rock grew up with seven siblings and was raised by their parents, Julius Rock and Rosalie. His ancestry could be traced to northern Cameroon. While attending James Madison High School, he endured lots of bullying from white students but was later pulled out by his mother. Chris later earned his GED. He did menial jobs to make ends meet before becoming a stand-up comedian in 1984.
15. Tyrese Gibson
- Date of Birth: December 30, 1978
- Age: 43 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Black and Blue, Fast and Furious Franchise, Rogue Hostage
- Active Since: 1994
Tyrese Gibson is a talented actor, singer, and songwriter best known for his appearance in the Fast and Furious Franchise and Transformers. He started his career as a singer and songwriter in 1994. However, he joined Hollywood, making his first movie appearance in Baby Boy. He gained prominence by Roman Pearce in the Fast and Furious series. He also starred as Sergeant Robert Epps in the Transformers Film Series.
Tyrese grew up alongside his three siblings in Watts, Los Angeles, California, where he was born. His music career began after his high school teacher encouraged him to audition for a Coca-Cola commercial in 1994. His appearance in the advert, where he was singing “Always Coca-Cola,” set him up for a bigger stage in his career. In addition to appearing in several movies, Tyrese has seven solo albums and a collaborative album to his name.
16. Keegan-Michael Key
- Date of Birth: March 22, 1971
- Age: 51 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Keanu, Pitch Perfect 2, Don’t Think Twice, Why Him
- Active Since: 1999
Keegan-Michael Key is an American comic actor, screenwriter, and producer best known as one of the creators of Comedy Central’s sketch comedy series, Key & Peele, alongside Jordan Peele. Key has been active in the American entertainment industry since 1999 and has starred in a handful of movies and TV shows. His most popular role is perhaps in Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), Keanu (2016), Why Him (2016), Don’t Think Twice (2016), etc. he has also appeared in TV shows, including Parks and Recreation, Mad TV, and many others.
The actor was born to a black father, Leroy McDuffie, and Carrie Herr, who is of Polish and Belgian Flemish descent. However, he was later adopted by Michael Key and Patricia Walsh, who raised him. He graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a degree in Fine Arts. He also got a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre from Pennsylvania State University in 1996.
17. Will Smith
- Date of Birth: September 25, 1968
- Age: 52 Years Old
- Famous Movies: King Richard, Bad Boys For Life, Aladdin, Suicide Squad, Men in Black
- Active Since: 1986
Will Smith is one of the most successful black actors of all time in Hollywood. Besides acting, he is also a rapper and film producer. The four-time Grammy award-winner began his career in 1986 following his appearance on Fresh Prince from Bel-Air. His popularity continued to increase after starring in Bad boys (1995) and its sequels Bad Boys 2 and Bad Boys For Life, Men in Black (1997) and its sequels Men in Black II (2002), Men in Black 3 (2012). Will is the only actor who has acted in eight consecutive films that posted over $100 million at the Box Office and 11 films that grossed over $150 million.
He was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, and was raised by his parents, Willard Carroll Smith Sr. and Caroline. After graduating from Overbrook High School, Smith turned down a scholarship offer from the Massachusetts Institute of technology because of his interest in rap. He started rapping alongside his childhood friend DJ Jazzy Jeff. However, he later switched to acting, for which he has become highly successful.
18. Denzel Washington
- Date of Birth: December 28, 1954
- Age: 67 Years Old
- Famous Movies: American Gangster, Inside Man, The Equalizer, Malcolm X, Flight
- Active Since: 1975
Denzel Washington is a legendary Nigerian actor and one of the greatest black actors of his time. He has won several accolades, including three Golden Globe Awards, two Academy Awards, and much more. Denzel has appeared in several blockbuster movies, including The Book of Eli (2010), The Equalizer (2014), The Equalizer 2 (2018), The Little Things (2021), and much more.
Born in Mount Vernon, New York, Denzel Washington graduated from Fordham University in 1977. He also attended the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco before the inception of his professional acting career. He has four children, including John David Washington, who also made this list of famous black actors making waves in Hollywood. Besides acting, Denzel is also a director and producer.
19. Idris Elba
- Date of Birth: September 6, 1972
- Age: 50 Years Old
- Famous Movies: The Harder They Fall, The Suicide Squad, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
- Active Since: 1994
Idris Elba is an English actor, musician, and producer best known for his role in Nelson Mandela’s biographical film, Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom. He has been in the industry for over two decades and still counting and has starred in several blockbuster and thriller movies. He has also earned many awards and award nominations since the inception of his career.
Born and raised in the London Borough of Hackney, Elba graduated from the National Youth Music Theatre. He first started working in clubs as a DJ before switching into acting, making his debut in the 1994 film Crimewatch. Since then, he has never slowed down to date. He also branched to music, and so far, he has a studio album, five Eps, and one mixtape to his name.
20. Jamie Foxx
- Date of Birth: December 13, 1967
- Age: 54 Years Old
- Famous Movies: Spiderman: No Way Home, Ray, Dreamgirls, The Amazing Spider-Man 2
- Active Since: 1989
Jamie Foxx is a multitalented American actor and one of the biggest black actors in Hollywood. Besides acting, he is also a singer and comedian. He came into the limelight following his role as Ray Charles in the 2004 movie Ray. The actor has also appeared in other films and TV shows such as The Jamie Foxx Show, Jarhead (2005), Dreamgirls (2006), Django Unchained (2012), Just Mercy (2019), The Spiderman franchise, and much more.
Jamies was born and raised in Terrell, Texas, United States. He graduated from United States International University, where he studied on scholarship. Aside from acting, he has released five studio albums, embarked on two musical tours and three stand-up specials.
- Date of Birth: November 29, 1976
- Died: August 28, 2020 (aged 43)
- Famous Movies: Black Panther, 21 Bridges, 42, Get On Up, Marshall
- Years Active: 1993–2020
Our list can never be complete without mentioning Chadwick Boseman. Many people will argue that Chadwick Boseman was already making waves in Hollywood before he signed up to portray the Black Panther superhero character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, specifically in Black Panther (2018). Boseman had previously garnered rave reviews for his roles in 42 (2013), Get On Up (2014), and Marshall (2017), but it was not until he appeared in the highest-grossing film in the United States in 2018 that he achieved undisputed worldwide recognition for his work.
The People’s Choice Male Movie Star of 2018 started his career in 2003 in the series All My Children but left the role to pursue a writing and directing career. As the story goes, Boseman, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in directing from Howard University, first studied acting to learn how to relate to actors as a director. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for him, so he returned to acting, a move that has proven to be one of the best decisions he has ever made.
At the height of his fame, Boseman sadly passed away on August 28, 2020. He was said to have died of colon cancer. Although he is no more, his legacy has continued to live on in Hollywood.