Has Hollywood solved its diversity problem yet? Certainly not, but there are inarguably strides being made as the movie and television industries look tell stories that better reflect the demographics of the country — and with performers who better mirror the people consuming their entertainment. One sign of such progress can be found in the exciting number of young actors of color making an impact on screens big and small. Here are 15 young breakouts to watch. — By Ethan Alter, Kevin Polowy and Gwynne Watkins
We’ve only seen one performance thus far from the 25-year-old Mexican. But what a performance it is. Aparicio earned an Academy Award nomination for her understated, heartfelt, and at times tragic debut as a soft-spoken housemaid in Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal look at the intersection of classes in 1970s Mexico City. Look for a world of opportunity to open for Aparicio, who could follow in the paths of other Oscar-nominated non-actors like Anna Paquin and Marlee Matlin to successful Hollywood careers.
We bet Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron regret not featuring Lana Condor more prominently in her newest film, Alita: Battle Angel. The charming and versatile 21-year-old Vietnamese-American actress is but a fleeting presence in the long-in-the-works actioner (Condor recently told Yahoo Entertainment she originally auditioned for the lead), which comes hot on the heels of her Netflix rom-com sensation To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. She can also currently be seen as part of TV’s butt-kicking teen-assassin ensemble Deadly Class. While a Boys sequel is already being fast-tracked, don’t be surprised to see Condor get an action series all her own one of these days soon.
Duke’s unforgettable film debut as M’baku in Black Panther had the whole world wondering: Where has this guy been? The Yale School of Drama graduate has been lining up roles ever since. He’s set to star in the Kimbo Slice biopic Backyard Legend, the Paramount action-thriller Heroine, and the Netflix crime drama Wonderland opposite Mark Wahlberg. But first, he’ll play a suburban father whose family has a terrifying encounter with their doppelgängers in Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us.
Comedy fans may recognize Erskine from her appearances in shows like Insecure, Wet Hot American Summer and Man Seeking Woman. But it’s her 2019 Hulu series PEN15 that will put the Japanese-American actress on the map. In the show, produced by The Lonely Island, Erskine and co-creator Anna Konkle play middle-school versions of themselves, acting alongside actual middle schoolers. Erskine’s performance in particular is fearless and surprisingly poignant, whether her 13-year-old character is dealing with leg hair or suddenly noticing her friends’ casual racism. She’s one of the funniest characters of 2019, and her show is a horrifying perfect time capsule of middle school trauma.
Henry Golding might already feel a bit too established for this list. That is until you remember that, remarkably, last summer’s breakout hit Crazy Rich Asians was the Malaysian-born Brit’s first movie role. The 32-year-old former Travel Show host quickly followed that act up by costarring with Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick in Paul Feig’s fall thriller A Simple Plan. Golding already has a couple major roles on the way, including a reunion with Feig in the holiday rom-com Last Christmas and Guy Ritchie’s crime flick Toff Guys, but the internet is dreaming bigger: Golding is a new fan favorite to someday replace Daniel Craig as James Bond.
His turn as Jessie Owens in the 2016 biopic Race may not have launched him off the starting blocks, but 2018 was a watershed year for the 25-year-old Canadian. Within six weeks of the fall, James premiered opposite Julia Roberts in Amazon’s critically acclaimed series Homecoming (nabbing a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of a vet with PTSD) and headlined Barry Jenkins’s critically adored romantic dramatic If Beale Street Could Talk. There’s no slowing down now for James, who will next be seen on the run from Chadwick Boseman’s disgraced cop in the summer thriller 17 Bridges.
One of the most stunning film debuts in recent memory was Layne’s performance as a young woman experiencing first love and devastating heartbreak opposite Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk. At times, the film’s story was carried entirely by the emotion in her eyes. Those eyes will soon be much more familiar to movie audiences, when Layne appears in Rupert Wyatt’s highly anticipated sci-fi thriller Captive State and stars in HBO’s prestige adaptation of the 1940 Richard Wright novel Native Son.
The youngest member of Black-ish‘s Johnson family is about to grow up in a big way. Martin stars alongside Issa Rae and Regina Hall in the spring comedy Little, a contemporary update of the Tom Hanks’s Big. The 14-year-old actress plays Hall’s younger self, after the grown-up version magically shrinks back to kid size. And Martin’s skills aren’t just on display in front of the camera; having come up with the idea for the film at age 10, she’s now officially the youngest executive producer in Hollywood history.
Melton scored his breakthrough by replacing Ross Butler on the hit series Riverdale. But he quickly made the part of Reggie Mantle — frenemy of Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) and current beau of Veronica Lodge (Melton’s real-life belle, Camila Mendes) — his own. Melton is going to continue melting hearts in the upcoming romantic drama, The Sun Is Also a Star, opposite Grown-ish star Yara Shahidi. And after that, he’ll be flexing his not-insubstantial muscles in the long-awaited action sequel Bad Boys For Life, due in theaters next January.
Peter who? As voiced by Shameik Moore, new wall-crawler on the block, Miles Morales, swung to the forefront of our arachnid-loving hearts in Sony’s animated hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. We’ll almost certainly be hearing more from Moore’s Miles in future Spider-Verse sequels and spin-offs, but the actor-singer is making moves in the live-action realm as well. He recently landed a role in Hulu’s planned Wu-Tang Clan series, which can’t be a coincidence considering that he’s also appearing alongside Wesley Snipes in the upcoming heist movie Cut Throat City, directed by Wu-Tang’s own RZA.
Yesterday, rising British star Himesh Patel was best known for his role on the long-running U.K. soap series EastEnders. Today, he’s the face of Yesterday, the latest film from Oscar-winner Danny Boyle. Set in an alternate reality where The Beatles never emerged from Liverpool, Patel’s Jack Malik is the one person who remembers the Fab Four’s existence … and, more importantly, their entire song catalogue. Due in theaters this summer, moviegoers and music lovers will be able to spend the warm weather months listening over and over again to Patel’s Beatles-inspired jams.
Trevante Rhodes (Bird Box) and Andre Holland (High Flying Bird) aren’t the only Moonlight alums making moves. The 23-year-old Sanders, who played teen Chiron in the 2016 Oscar winner, just played a small but pivotal role opposite Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 2 and will soon be seen opposite Vera Farmiga and John Goodman in the March sci-fi thriller Captive State. But the film that’s primed to really put Sanders on the map is Native Son, the Rashid Johnson-directed adaptation of the celebrated Richard Wright novel that drew the young lead actor raves at last month’s Sundance Film Festival.
The first Middle East-born woman to be accepted to both the Juilliard and NYU graduate acting programs, the 29-year-old Shihabi (who grew up between Saudi Arabia, Beirut and Dubai) first caught indie film fans’ eyes opposite Martin Starr in the 2014 drama Amira and Sam. In 2018, though, Shihabi gained international acclaim (and a Critics’ Choice nomination) for her stunning turn as the steadfast mother and wife to a terrorist on Amazon’s Jack Ryan. Though she won’t return for another season since the series is cast anthology-style, it opens the door for the actress to show the world what else she can do.
Last spring’s underrated coming-of-age comedy Blockers featured a few funny breakout performances, but none more memorable than the magnetic 23-year-old Viswanathan, who played tomboy-gone-wild Kayla. (It was a special bonus to discover afterward that the American-as-American Pie-seeming performer, whose parents are Malaysian Tamil and Swiss, is actually Australian.) In addition to the new TBS comedy Miracle Workers, in which she costars with Daniel Radcliffe, she’ll soon be seen opposite one of our favorite Aussies of them all, Hugh Jackman, in the comedic drama Bad Education.
There’s good reason Marvel’s Black Panther won the trophy for Outstanding Performance by a Cast this year at the Screen Actors Guild — it is an ensemble littered with heavyweights, from Chadwick Boseman to Lupita Nyong’o to Michael B. Jordan to Dana Guiraia to Angela Bassett to Forest Whitaker. It’s all the more impressive then that the 25-year-old British Guyanese stole so many scenes as T’Challa’s wise-cracking younger sister/tech expert Shuri. Speaking of impressive, it’s hard to say which upcoming role of hers is more so: Avengers: Endgame, or the secret project she just wrapped with Donald Glover and Rihanna, Guava Island.
Yahoo Entertainment’s Diversity in Hollywood 2019 Report
Part 1: Where we are, how far we have to go and how we can get there
Part 2: By the numbers
Part 3: Why it’s time for change and 5 possible solutions
Part 4: Crossroads at the Oscars
Part 5: The future is now