As the decade nears its closing, there have been many Black performances from actors and actresses across the spectrum of film and television that didn’t garner their much deserved praise. However, we here at Shadow And Act want to give these actors and actresses their due flowers. While there are numerous performances that come to mind, here are 10 of the most slept-on performances this decade.
In no particular order:
1. Aisha Hinds in Underground
Few were prepared for the storm system that was Aisha Hinds’ revelatory performance as Harriet Tubman in the WGN historical drama series, Underground. In the second season episode “Minty,” Tubman recounts her childhood and the perils of attaining freedom in front of a group of mostly white abolitionists in Philadelphia. Hinds fully inhabits the presence of Tubman and delivers a soul-stirring speech that is just as relevant in 2019 as it was in 1857. If anything, Hinds’ performance was confirmation that her presence is too grand to be contained on just the small screen.
2. Aja Naomi King in The Birth of a Nation and How to Get Away with Murder.
Despite how people felt about the film as a whole, Aja Naomi King’s performance as Cherry Turner, wife of Nat Turner, in The Birth of a Nation was initially the subject of universal acclaim critics. However, her awards season possibilities were dashed due to the controversy surrounding its director. And as law student Michaela Pratt on How to Get Away with Murder, King has delivered Grade-A acting all throughout the series, especially in these last two seasons. In the scene above, Pratt declares that she’s her ancestors’ wildest dreams to Solomon Vick, the father who abandoned her. The scene is confirmation that King is overdue for a big break as a leading lady in Hollywood cinema.
3. Mya Taylor in Tangerine
Before the critical and commercial acclaim of the FX drama Pose, Texas-born actress Mya Taylor broke down barriers when she became the first openly transgender actress to win an Independent Spirit Award for her portrayal of Alexandra in Sean Baker’s 2015 film Tangerine. Taylor fully inhabits the role of a sex worker with an affinity for singing and showcases her talent for both singing and acting, as emphasized by her performance of the song “Toyland” in the video above.
4. Corey Hawkins in BlacKkKlansman
While much of BlacKkKlansman was anchored by a charismatic performance by John David Washington, Tony Award-nominated actor Corey Hawkins gave a scene-stealing performance towards the beginning of the film as civil rights leader Kwame Ture. Hawkins, who played Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton, perfectly mimics the energy of Ture by delivering a fiery speech on fighting racism, oppression and celebrating Blackness. Equal parts celebratory and revelatory, Hawkins’ performance was unjustly overlooked by many.
5. Betty Gabriel in Get Out
Cited as one of the best performances of 2017 by The New York Times, Betty Gabriel‘s performance as Georgina, the Armitage family’s housekeeper in Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning film Get Out, was nothing short of memorable. Playing a woman trapped in the “Sunken Place” couldn’t have been an easy feat, but Gabriel leaves a big impression, as emphasized by the clip above.
6. Ashley Blaine Featherson and Marque Richardson, Dear White People
Fans of the Netflix show Dear White People have been clamoring for an episode centered around Joelle Brooks, Sam’s best friend, portrayed by Ashley Blaine Featherson. Fans got their wish during the show’s second season when Featherson showcased not only her acting prowess but also her singing skills with a memorable cover of the Erykah Badu song “Tyrone.” Her co-star, Marque Richardson, also earned raves for a performance in a Barry Jenkins-directed episode from the first season that should have made him a shoo-in for awards
7. André Holland in The Knick
Before he garnered critical acclaim for his roles in Moonlight and High Flying Bird, André Holland captured many with his performance as Dr. Algernon C. Edwards in The Knick. Portraying a Black surgeon who encounters racism from white patients and colleagues, Holland was the show’s scene-stealer before he starred in Moonlight.
8. Russell Hornsby in The Hate U Give
Despite its overwhelming critical acclaim, The Hate U Give was unjustly overlooked during awards season last year. Russell Hornsby, who portrayed the role of patriarch Maverick Carter, received career-best reviews for his performance, which was shortlisted by many critics as a Best Supporting Actor Oscar contender.
9. Algee Smith in Detroit
Currently starring as Chris McKay on the HBO show Euphoria, Algee Smith first garnered much of our attention as R&B singer Ralph Tresvant in The New Edition Story. Smith proved he is leading man material with his portrayal of singer Larry Reed in Kathryn Bigelow’s 2017 period drama, Detroit. The controversial film, originally thought to be an Oscar contender, didn’t make waves critically or commercially. In a perfect world, Annapurna Pictures’ Lead Actor campaign for Smith would have landed him a nod.
10. Stephan James in Homecoming
Holding your own in a scene with Julia Roberts is no easy feat, but Stephan James pulls it off. As Walter Cruz in the Amazon psychological thriller Homecoming, James continues to demonstrate the talent he showcased in If Beale Street Could Talk by playing a young military veteran eager to transition back into civilian life. James did earn a Golden Globe nomination for this role.
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