Growing up, I remember always gravitating toward the melanated ladies in movies, plays, and shows. In one of my favorite movies, Clueless, I didn't want to be Cher, I wanted to be Dion (it's hella weird to like your stepbrother anyway). I never cheered for the Toros, I liked the East Compton Clovers. I couldn't stand Angelica's bad ass, it was #teamSusie every time. And to this day, I've never seen an episode of Friends, but I can certainly quote alllllll of Maxine Shaw Attorney at Law.
I guess you could say in a society where we aren't always in the forefront, I understood at a very young age, that representation matters.
And because of this, I always welcomed a means for celebrating black actresses, specifically rising black actresses under 30. They're the ones to watch for, the ones who will impact the upcoming generations most. They're not as seasoned as the queens Taraji, Sanaa, Phylicia, or either of the Reginas, but they certainly have something to say.
So, from Netflix to theaters, here's a list of black actresses under 30 that we need to know in 2020:
China Anne McClain
China Anne McClain is a ATLien born and raised, and is best known for her roles as little Jazmine Payne in Tyler Perry's House of Payne and China James in Daddy's Little Girls. She also stars as Lightning in the CW's Black Lightning. China may only be 22, but she has been capturing the hearts of viewers for over 15 years as 1/3 of the Disney kid adorable sister trio, The McClain sisters, who are all top black actresses under 30.
And make no mistake, China is all grown up and has now found her niche audience of loyal followers through TikTok.
On working with Tyler Perry:
"When I was working with Tyler Perry, and I've worked with him starting when I was around 7, watching him, I realized that I can be nice—because, like I said, I'm from the south and that's naturally what I want to be. I want everybody to be comfortable. But at the same time, do not change yourself for anybody. I really respect that about Mr. Perry and it's something that I know that he didn't know I picked up from watching him. But his demeanor in general is just, like, he is who he is. And at this point I've adopted that feeling. But at the same time, don't sacrifice my morals, my values, who I am. I don't have to change myself, you know?"
Her most recent venture is starring alongside Adam Sandler for the third time (Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2) in the family comedy, Hubie Halloween. But one of my favorite little known facts about her career is she sings the theme song to Disney show, Doc McStuffins.
Despite the 'rona, McClain is officially back to work and headed to our screens soon.
You can follow her on Instagram at @chinamcclain.
Another black actress under 30 to know is Kiersey Clemons, who recently starred alongside Janelle Monae in Antebellum. She has cemented her place in indie storytelling where she identifies as a part of the LGBTQ community and routinely accepts roles outside of the status quo.
After getting her feet wet on Disney Channel series like Shake It Up and Austin and Ally, her breakout role came in the form as a starring role in 2015's Dope, whose cast also included A$AP Rocky and Zoë Kravitz. Dope also introduced Clemons into the DC Comics Universe. She won the role of Iris West—girlfriend of The Flash, the lightning-fast crime fighter played by Ezra Miller in Suicide Squad and Justice League.
Since, she started focusing on independent films, appearing in Flatliners, The Only Living Boy in New York, and, this year, Hearts Beat Loud and Sweetheart. Now, Clemons captures the essence of roles where she can tell untold stories; roles with social consciousness, however subtle.
Beyond film, she's also waded into social justice, helping lobby for the courts to reexamine evidence in the case of Marcellus Williams, a death-row inmate who has been incarcerated for nearly two decades despite new evidence that could exonerate him.
You can follow her on Instagram @kiersey, where she is happily, unapologetically, her damn self.
When it comes to Marsai Martin, what more needs to be said? Probably leading the pack of black actresses under 30, our favorite shady little sister has managed to pivot her acting gig on Black-ish, into a full-on empire, complete with starring in, and executive producing, her own projects. And for those that aren't exactly sure what this means, sis cuts and signs the check that she deposits. Let that marinate.
Martin tells ET:
"I'm blessed to actually have the platform that I have. Being a Black girl, even in [a] white, male-dominated industry, you have to use your voice. You have to speak your mind for your audience."
And she's making no apologies about her journey, how she arrived, and being herself.
Since emerging on the scene in 2014 at the age of ten, the now 16-year-old actress has racked up a plethora of accolades and awards. Martin has multiple projects in the pipeline, including the animated film Paw Patrol: The Movie (2021) and her second feature film, StepMonster.
Follow her on Instagram at @marsaimartin.
Lovie Simone Oppong
Lovie Simone Opphong. Zora Greenlead. The 21-year-old Bronx powerhouse.
Simone currently plays Tabby in The Craft Legacy, a 2020 reboot of the cult classic thriller The Craft. Out this month, The Craft Legacy is just one of the many projects in which she stars. She's also in the Social Distancing TV series that captures all the highs and lows of quarantining. The series will be streaming on Netflix. Then, there's Starz's Power Book III: Raising Kanan in which Simone plays the love interest of the lead character. Sis, is working, and she is making no attempts to slow down, as her resume also consists of OWN's Greenleaf, and 2019 Sundance Film Festival premiere Selah and the Spades, where she stars as Selah.
Outside of acting, Simone spends much of her time sharing good reads and behind-the-scenes footage.
Follow her at @loviesimone_.
Before she was a rising star on a newly exciting Netflix series, Grand Army, Odley Jean was just a regular Haitian-American girl in Brooklyn, working to make ends meet, and fighting to pursue her dreams. She landed a role as Dom, on the teen drama, a role she is a few years older than, but as it turns out, one she's got a lot in common with.
About the show, Jean tells Teen Vogue:
"'Degrassi' was in the school and the hallways, but also went into the teens' lives at home as well as a lot of social issues. But, I feel like 'Grand Army' lays it all out there and calls everything and everyone out. And it's up to us to dissect and have conversations. It's not spoon-fed to you."
As Refinery29 puts it, "Ten seconds. That's how long it takes to know that Odley Jean is going to be a star." Amen.
You can follow her on Instagram @odley.jean.
Fans, such as myself, first got to know Raven Goodwin after appearing on the hit show Being Mary Jane. Soon after, she was featured in Disney's Good Luck Charlie, and now, she is showing a new side of her otherwise private world. After recently having a baby girl she is stepping back into the spotlight to encourage body positivity and loving yourself with, or without, the weight.
Most recently, Goodwin portrayed Denise Clark-Bradford in the 2020 Clark Sisters biopic, The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel. And since, she has been taking over social media with her charm, advocacy, and fitness journey.
Right now, Raven is focusing on being a mommy but be on the lookout for her future impact.
Keep up with Raven on Instagram at @ravengoodwin
"The vision is set. The slate is built. Grateful to my ABC family & excited to join the television landscape to collaborate and push forward the stories of our many intersections."
That's what Yara Shahidi wrote on Instagram to celebrate her new ABC deal for her production company, 7th Sun. 20-year-old Shahidi's, an uber-vocal activist and champion for racial justice and equality, plan is to focus on stories from underrepresented communities and "projects that touch upon themes of history, heritage, culture, and joy," 7th Sun said in a statement.
And if we should be excited that any young, black woman is telling stories their way, it is Shahidi. Her start on Black-ish had such success, that it evolved into successful spin-off, Grown-ish. Since, she's finding her voice as the unofficial spokesperson for the Gen Z's woke culture and she has an impressive collection of mentors all around her: from Michelle Obama, Janelle Monae, and her dazzling mother, Keri Shahidi.
Oh, and she's a student at Harvard. I could go on all day about this queen, but you guys know. So, Yara Shahidi, ladies and gentlemen.
Follow her on Instagram at @yarashahidi.
One random night I was scrolling through all the nothing that was on TV, when i decided to binge watch Little Fires Everywhere. And from the moment I turned it on, I could not stop watching. I stayed up and finished the entire season; it was that good of a show. I loved the themes, the changes in character dynamics. And I loved Lexi Underwood.
Her character, the daughter of Kerry Washington's character Mia Warren, was so pure and genuine in how she approached her role. At a young 17 years old, I was blown away by her promise. On working on the show, Underwood tells Vogue:
"Every day was a masterclass. They made sure everybody else in the scene looked good. One time, Miss Kerry and I were in a scene and it was her coverage but I was giving a strong performance, so she had them stop and turn the cameras around. They taught me how to unapologetically take up space as a young black actress; to speak up if I had an idea or if something didn't seem authentic to my character. We had a voice in the creative process. We never felt like we were kids."
Up next, Underwood will be starring as a Disney princess alongside John Sally for Sneakerella (which we're so excited to see) and has even started a production company.
Keep up with her on Insta at @officiallexiunderwood.
Seventeen-year-old Lyric Ross plays Deja on NBC's hit show, This Is Us, a role she was, of course, excited to get.
And working in most of your scenes with Sterling K. Brown, who let her hold his Emmy award as a bomb affirmation, is something to brag about. She's young but she packs a punch, and she's next up to bat, as she's already been nominated for the prestigous NAACP award to go along with that Emmy. Expect this black actress under 30 to be around for a long time.
Catch up with her on Instagram at @lyricnicoleross!
Dominique Fishback isn't normal. No, I mean it, she is one of the most enjoyable black actresses under 30 to watch. The 29-year-old stars alongside Jamie Foxx in Netflix's Project Power, had gained the respect and attention of others for her role on HBO's The Deuce. You may have also seen her in 2018's The Hate U Give. Still, the Brooklyn-raised phenom is continuously outperforming her own ranks and making her mark as one of the young Hollywood starlets.
Her upcoming role in the Fred Hampton film Judas and the Black Messiah, she will co-star with Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. She tells Entertainment Weekly:
"I have a lot to say — I'm a writer as well, so I'm ready for people to take me seriously. My essence, my purpose, they're all aligning. From your lips to God's ears."
Keep up with Dominique's journey on Instagram @domfishback.
Feature image by Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com