10 Gifted Black Actresses Under 35 Forging New Paths in Hollywood

Check out this list of young Black actresses that are expected to take over the entertainment industry. Pictured: Halle Bailey wearing a Black dress and posing at the BET Awards 2022 red carpet. | Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET
Check out this list of young Black actresses that are expected to take over the entertainment industry. Pictured: Halle Bailey wearing a Black dress and posing at the BET Awards 2022 red carpet. | Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET

The emerging generation of actors are no longer allowing Hollywood to move the goalpost away from them. This is evident in the increased and refreshing diversity of this new wave of onscreen talent. Specifically, many young, Black actresses under the age of 35 have been at the forefront of this shift. Pursuing a career as an actor is already a mighty feat. Add being Black and female, and there are certainly additional layers of complexity and difficulty. Still, these talented women have not only been making their mark in the film and television industry but are also pushing the boundaries and redefining the norms.

The 10 women in the following list are known for their undeniable skill, but beyond acting, they are also insistent upon making room for other Black aspiring actors and advocating for them whenever they can. Here’s a look into some of the remarkable young Black actresses under 35 who are taking the entertainment world by storm.

10. Storm Reid: A Trailblazer On and Off Screen

Storm Reid, born on July 1, 2003, is an accomplished actress, producer and entrepreneur recognized for her talents and performances in the entertainment industry. Her rise in success began with small featured roles in films like Twelve Years a Slave and Sleight and has most recently included starring roles in the movies A Wrinkle in Time and Missing. Reid has worked alongside prominent film industry players like Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay. She recently won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role of Max in the hit series The Last of Us.

Beyond acting, Reid founded A Seed and Wings Productions, a film and television production company dedicated to uplifting multicultural narratives and starting meaningful conversations that entertain, educate and uplift. She also created the brand ArashiBlu, a faith-inspired clothing line. Under this brand, she has also begun community service efforts using proceeds to restore parks and recreational spaces in underprivileged neighborhoods across the country.

9. Lexi Underwood: Actor, Singer, Author Extraordinaire

Lexi Underwood is a talented American actress best known for her brilliant portrayal of Pearl Warren in Hulu’s Emmy-nominated series Little Fires Everywhere, starring alongside Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon. She was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for her performance. Born on August 28, 2003, in Cheverly, Maryland, Underwood began acting on stage at the young age of 10 before transitioning to television. Beyond Little Fires Everywhere she is known for her roles in The First Lady, working alongside Viola Davis and portraying Malia Obama, Sneakerella, and Just Beyond.

Off screen, Underwood is force to be reckoned with. She founded her own production company entitled Ultimate Dreamer Productions and immediately began producing with a clear vision in mind. Her first project, We the Voices of Gen-Z clearly defined her future goals and aspirations: using her platform to be a voice for her generation through her art. She was recently listed on the Forbes 2024 30 Under 30 List for her success, and she shows no signs of slowing down. Next month, her YA novel Louder than Words, co-written with Ashley Woodfolk, will be on shelves and available to the public.

8. Dara Reneé: A New Kind of Disney Diva

Dara Reneé, born on November 7, 2000, is a talented actress most recognized for her dynamic performance as Kourtney Greene in the Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. She plays the colorful, loyal and tell-it-like-it-is best friend to the lead, played by Olivia Rodrigo. Deviating from common tropes of Black actresses as best friends, this portrayal is of a character who is equally confident and talented in her own right. Previously, Dara Reneé has appeared in ABC’s Black-ish and Grey’s Anatomy. She can be seen in the upcoming Disney Channel original movie Descendants: The Rise of Red coming to the streaming platform this summer.

Beyond her career as an actress, she is incredibly passionate about inspiring the next generation to dream big and reach their goals. Alongside Shark Tanks‘s Daymond John, a prominent public figure, entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Dara Reneé will serve as a DREAMbassador for the Disney Dreamers Academy later this year.

7. Ayo Edebiri: A Funny Girl Forging Ahead

Ayo Edebiri is a talented young actress, comedian and writer. Somewhat of a breakout star, she is most known for her role as Sydney Adamu on The Bear which she has been portraying since 2022. For the role, she has been awarded a Screen Actors Guild Award, Film Independent Spirit Award, a Golden Globe, and a Primetime Emmy Award. While these are the awards she won, she has been nominated for several others. With a diverse portfolio, Edebiri’s work can also been seen (and heard) in the movies Bottoms, Theater Camp, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and The Sweet East.

Born on October 3, 1995 in Boston, MA, Edebiri fell in love with comedy in her eighth grade drama class. Because of this, she joined the improv club at Boston Latin School. She went on to attend NYU first studying teaching and later switching her major to dramatic writing. Her start in the industry began with stand-up comedy skits and then eventually, she began writing jokes for shows like Dickinson and Big Mouth that allowed her to make the transition to acting. She will soon add “director” to her list of skillsets with the upcoming season of The Bear for which she will direct an episode.

6. Yara Shahidi: An Actress, Producer and Scholar in A Lane of Her Own

Yara Shahidi, born on February 10, 2000, is a talented American actress, producer and advocate. She first gained widespread recognition for her captivating and entertaining performance as Zoey Johnson in Black-ish. However, she had been acting since the young age of 9 when she starred alongside Eddie Murphy in Imagine That. She has gone on to grace audience’s screens in Grown-ish, Peter Pan & Wendy and Sitting in Bars With Cake.

Shahidi is also a recognizable and worthy Gen-Z fashion icon known for her colorful yet elegant red carpets looks, crafted with her stylist Jason Bolden. Because of her love for fashion and activism, Shahidi is a US ambassador for Chanel and Tory Burch. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Social Studies, and has used her platform and scholarship to make meaningful change towards equity and inclusion. She has previously been recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s 30 Most Influential Teens, Forbes 30 Under 30, British Vogue Forces for Change, GlamourMagazine’s Women of the Year and Essence Magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood, among several others.

5. Dominique Fishback: One-Woman Wonder

Dominique Fishback, born March 22, 1991 in Brooklyn, NYC is a young star in the world of film and television, known for her arresting acting abilities and strong sense of self. She has gained prestigious recognition recently with her role as Dre in Donald Glover’s Amazon Prime hit Swarm for which Fishback is the leading lady. The role garnered her nominations for Primetime Emmy, NAACP Image and Critics Choice Awards. Prior to this role, however, she gave moving and enthralling performances in Project Power, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.

Prior to her professional credits, Fishback made a path for and by herself writing and performing in her original one-woman stage play Subverted. The piece was originally created as her honors thesis at Pace University but has been performed at MCC Theater Youth Company, in Abingdon Theatre’s Ghostlight Reading Series, in Wild Project Theater Poetic License Festival and at Culture Project’s Women Center Stage Festival at the Lynn Redgrave Theater. Recently, Fishback has teamed up with Project Power co-star Jamie Fox to adapt the piece for the screen.

Fishback is determined to stay true to her Brooklyn roots, often traveling back across the country to visit her old elementary, middle and high schools. She spends time with and encourages the students their to follow their dreams and to remain true to the spirit of New York: show don’t tell. Fishback believes in hard work not allowing oneself to be easily impressed.

4. Danielle Brooks: Master in the Making

Danielle Brooks is a show-stopping actress from Augusta, GA born on September 17, 1989. Throughout her career, the actress, singer and producer has graced the screen and stage with iconic roles in Orange is the New Black, The Color Purple, Peacemaker, Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia and The Public Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing. She is EGOT-nominated and holds a Grammy for “Best Musical Theater Album” for the 2015 cast recording of Broadway’s The Color Purple revival.

Brooks is praised for the authenticity and intellectualism that she incorporated into every role she has. Perhaps, this can be in part accredited to her training at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School. From the outspoken convict turned activist Taystee in Orange is the New Black to the headstrong but loyal Sophia in The Color Purple, Brooks is able to capture audience’s hearts and transport them to narratives they don’t have to relate to understand and believe in. Outside of acting, Brooks has a promising singing career ahead having released well-received singles like “Seasons” and “Black Woman.”

While her greatest honor is being a mother and wife, she is not afraid to say that she is still chasing her Oscar dreams. She endeavors to continue crafting a career of bold characters that are outside of the box the industry puts curvy, dark-skinned, Black actresses into. She hopes to be in an action movie one day and to show her daughter that anything is possible. Keep your eyes open for what Brooks does next.

3. Halle Bailey: Childhood Actor Turned Household Name

Halle Bailey is a beloved singer and rising actress whose name has taken over the 2020s. Born on March 27, 2000, in Atlanta, Georgia, longtime fans know Bailey as part of the musical duo with her big sister, Chloe Bailey called Chloe x Halle. The sisters first gained recognition for their mesmerizing performances on YouTube as kids. Since then they have released two studio albums including the 2020, critically acclaimed album Ungodly Hour. Chloe x Halle also starred in the TV show Grownish together. Halle’s stunning voice, often described as soulful and angelic, has made her a standout in the music industry. It has also led her to a new title in her career: Disney Princess.

Bailey made headlines when she was cast as Ariel in Disney’s highly anticipated live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid. Her delicate, yet powerful vocal abilities and princess-like speaking voice are what made her critics and audiences fall in love with her performance. Bailey was met with a polarized mix of support when it was announced she would take on the role of Ariel. Many made racist comments about the color of her skin. Despite this commotion, she showed that she embodies what it means to be a princess on and off screen, and aimed to uplift little, Black girls watching her in the process.

Bailey is not stopping her acting journey at the big feat of Disney Princess. She also starred as Nettie in the new adaptation of The Color Purple and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for her performance. Look out for more from Bailey on the big screen as well as solo music following the release of her debut single, “Angel.”

2. Marsai Martin: Big-Time Youngest Movie Producer

Marsai Martin is a young, Black actress and producer who has made an impressive impact on the entertainment industry at a remarkably young age. Born on August 14, 2004, in Plano, Texas, she first gained nationwide recognition for her portrayal of the witty and sassy Diane Johnson in the popular ABC sitcom Black-ish. Her performance on the show showcased her exceptional acting abilities, earning her critical acclaim and establishing her as one of the brightest young talents in Hollywood.

At just 14 years old, she became the youngest executive producer in Hollywood history when she conceptualized and starred in the film Little (2019). This comedy, a modern twist on the classic Big, allowed her to shine not only as an actress but also as a visionary producer. Marsai Martin’s incredible achievements and her promising future in the industry have made her a role model for aspiring young talents and a beacon of hope for increased diversity and creativity in Hollywood. Expect to see new projects from her, including the podcast series adaptation of the YA book Free to Fall.

1. Keke Palmer: A True Renaissance Woman

Keke “keep a bag” Palmer is a dynamic and multi-talented actress, singer, and television host who has captivated audiences since she was a child star. Palmer was born Lauren Keyana Palmer on August 26, 1993, in Harvey, Illinois. She made her acting debut in the critically acclaimed film Akeelah and the Bee in 2006, where her incredible talent and poise at a young age garnered widespread recognition. Over the years, Palmer has continued to impress with her diverse roles in both film and television, including her portrayal of Marty in the hit musical Grease: Live and her powerful performance in Jordan Peele’s sci-fi horror film Nope. As an entrepreneur and producer, Palmer launched KeyTV Network 6 months ago and is releasing her book Master of Me: A Memoir being released in November.

Apart from being an acting star, Palmer is celebrated for her versatility as an entertainer. She has released her own music, with singles like “Bottoms Up” and “Enemiez” and her album Big Boss. Palmer’s infectious personality has also led her to shine in the world of hosting. Here, she has taken the reins of popular daytime talk shows like Strahan, Sara and Keke. As if she could not be more accomplished, Palmer has famously taken on the biggest job yet: motherhood. She gave birth to her baby boy, Leo last year on February 25, 2023.

Palmer’s energy, charisma, and ability to connect with a wide range of audiences is how she became synonymous with “keeping a bag.” Her ability to stay centered in the spotlight throughout an almost 20-year-long career shows that Palmer is fully in charge of her own destiny.

With Hollywood being comprised of 13% Black actors, Black actresses are an even smaller minority. Yet, the challenges they face seem only to add fuel to their fire and passion for the art form. These 10 young Black actresses are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the plethora of female Black talent that is taking Hollywood by storm these days. They ride on the cusp of other iconic Black actresses who paved the way for them and will continue to break barriers of their own.