With all of the buzz of #OscarsSoWhite and the Academy Awards, it's easy to get a little disgruntled at the place and value of minority talent in Hollywood. Then you turn around and see black actresses flourishing on the cover of magazines and in their diverse roles on camera.
This week, in honor of MLK day and the start of black history month, Kode magazine is spotlighting six young black actresses, labeling them "Generation Noir." The magazine will release individual cover stories and full interviews from the issue. Before that, I would like to give my own introductions to this group of talented young women.
- Age: 20
- Major acting role: "Tiana Brown" from Fox's Empire
- Twitter handle: @SerayahLove
Tiana Brown is McNeill's first major acting role. Brown is an R&B diva singer on the Empire Records label and was formerly a love interest of Hakeem. In an interview with The Guardian, McNeill says she draws inspiration from pop stars Beyonce and Rihanna for her role on the show.
Even though McNeill is known for Empire, she is a musician in her own right. Her current music can be found on her Soundcloud. According to Vogue, she is currently working with mega producer Timbaland. She is known to be a triple threat as she is skilled in music, dance and acting.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, McNeill reveals that she gives back to the community through her love of mentoring. She recently talked to a group of Carribean students who dream of being on the big screen. She told them:
"Whatever your outlet is, you really just have to pursue it and say, 'Ok I know where I'm from. I know the violence that occurs. But it doesn't have to define me. I know where I'm gonna be.'"
- Age: 22
- Major acting role: "Diggy" in film Dope
- Twitter handle: @KierseyClemons
Other than Clemons' major role in Dope, she has appeared in various television shows such as Disney's Austin&Ally, MTV's Eye Candy and Amazon series Transparent. As Diggy, Clemons effortlessly played a tomboy lesbian who hasn't had much experience with girls, like her friends. Diggy is comfortable within her own skin and her world of what she calls 'white boy shit' (Game of Thrones, skateboarding, punk bands). Clemons received a gracious response from Dope fans:
"I get very emotional when I get tweets and comments or when I meet people and they tell me, 'I've never been able to see myself on screen and I was able to watch you and feel like I was watching myself.'"
She is currently working on upcoming movie Bad Neighbor 2. She will be playing a funny black girl that will break the Sapphire stereotype of black girls being merely the sassy, 'neck-rolling' sidekick. She plays 'Beth' who teams up with two other girls who decide to create their own sorority that has all the rights to party like the fraternities.
Clemons was recently named one of the New Faces of Feminism in the February Issue of Teen Vogue. Through her roles in Dope and Transparent, she holds a strong connection to the LGBT community. Clemons says these roles gave her a deeper respect for those who fight to be respected as human beings. In an interview with Oyster she says, "We have to keep fighting for understanding and it's going to have to be consistent; it's going to go on for awhile."
- Age: 18
- Major acting role: "K.C." from Disney's K.C. Undercover
- Twitter handle: @Zendaya
Coleman is a singer, actress and dancer making her another triple threat on this list. Not only did she act in her starring role on Disney's K.C. Undercover, she also co-produced! In the show, K.C. is a math whiz with a black belt in karate. She must balance a civilian existence with undercover missions to save the world.
Coleman made her mark on the music industry by debuting her self-titled album on Hollywood Records in 2013. The platinum song "Replay" from this album gathered a total of 123 million views on YouTube and earned Coleman a NAACP Image Awards Nomination for Outstanding New Artist and the 2014 BMI Social Star Award.
According to her website, Coleman is extremely passionate about giving back and is currently an ambassador for Convoy of Hope. This organization is dedicated to providing help and hope to those who are impoverished, hungry and hurting. She has also worked with UNICEF, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Keep A Child Alive and Children's Miracle Network.
- Age: 15
- Major acting role: "Zoey" in ABC's Black-Ish
- Twitter handle: @RealYaraShahidi
Shahidi plays an angsty teenage black girl in one of my favorite weekly shows, Black-Ish. For this performance, she won the NAACP Image Award for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series last year. I love this show and Shahidi's role because of how relatable her character and family is to me and mine. Shahidi told ESSENCE.com the following about her role:
"Zoey's consumed by her phone, always with her friends, talking and texing, posting on Instagram and stuff like that even though she's popular and smart. She becomes more complex when she is off the phone. It's one of the things that we just have to learn as a generation - to take a step back."
Shahidi is not only known for her role as "Zoey," but also as the younger Olivia Pope in another hit ABC television show, Scandal. Kerry Washington just happens to be her style icon, according to her interview with InStyle. Shahidi describes her style as "way too conservative" for her age. She says, "Washington taught me that as a young actress, not to change who you are, or your values or morals for a role."
When Shahidi is not taping Black-Ish, she is a full-time social activist inspiring young women to excel academically, volunteering at medical clinics and starting her own mentoring club, according to her interview with the NY Times. Last year, Shahidi met with the UN Women, an organization dedicated to gender equality, and spoke at the Paley Center for Media on a panel titled "Cracking the Code: Diversity, Hollywood & STEM." She does all these amazing things while still excelling in school with a 4.6 grade point average.
Katerina "Kat" Graham
- Age: 26
- Major acting role: "Bonnie Bennett" in Vampire Diaries
- Twitter handle: @KatGraham
Graham is a singer, actress, dancer and fashionista. In her role as "Bonnie Bennett" she plays a powerful witch who discovered her powers just in time to help her family and friends. Graham has also stared in movies such as 17 Again, The Roomate and had the starring role in Honey 2. Graham also just recently produced her first full-length album labeled Roxbury Drive which includes the song "Secrets" featuring Babyface.
Graham is a high profile supporter of the United Nation High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) , a counsel member for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defemation and an ambassador for the Water Project. Graham told Virgin Unite why she particularly holds the UNHCR close to her heart:
"Both of my parents were refugees as one point; I'm half Liberian and half Israeli, so there's been a lot of historical turmoil in my family."
It has also been announced that Graham is to play Jada Pinkett Smith in the upcoming Tupac biopic All Eyez On Me. She is very excited and told Variety that her and Smith are very similar. "We are both muscians, producers and actresses - and tiny and sassy. So it works! I think it's going to work."
Aja Naomi King
- Age: 31
- Major acting role: "Michaela Pratt" in ABC's How to Get Away With Murder (HTGAWM)
- Twitter handle: @ajanaomi_king
King plays a starring role in one of the three infamous shows of #ShondaLand, HTGAWM. In this legal drama series, King portrays Michaela Pratt, an ambitious overachiever who's dream is to be just like her domineering professor, Annalise Keating who is portrayed by Viola Davis.
King tells Cosmopolitan that she is similar to her character in some ways:
"We're extremely similar in the sense that I am driven," she says, "and even though I can be confident, with me it feels like I'm putting it on, whereas Michaela - she lives in her confidence."
King received her first NAACP Image Award nomination for her performance in this role and in my opinion, it was well-deserved.
King is not only a student in the show, but went to school herself. She completed her undergraduate acting training at the University of California, Santa Barbara according to Design&Trend. She also graduated with a Master's Degree in Fine Arts at Yale School of Drama.
Her upcoming project, other than HTGAWM, is due to be released this year. King will star in the all-black cast of "The Birth of A Nation," a story about the African-American slave Nat Turner who led a rebellion of slaves and free blacks in Southamption, VA.
Remember to stay tuned on each girl's inside story featured in Kode magazine. I predict that this generation of black actresses will continue to break down the barriers that Hollywood places on blacks, women and black women.