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Black Actresses Under 30 That We Need To Know

They're the ones to watch for, the ones who will impact the upcoming generations most.

Culture & Entertainment

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.

Kiersey Clemons

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.

Marsai Martin

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_.

Odley Jean

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.

Raven Goodwin

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

Yara Shahidi

"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.

Lexi Underwood

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.

Lyric Ross

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

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."

I stan.

Keep up with Dominique's journey on Instagram @domfishback.

Feature image by Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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