The Top 10 Black British Actresses To Look Out For in 2024

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 09: Letitia Wright attends The EE British Academy Film Award, BAFTA, nominations announcement at BAFTA on January 9, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images) | John Phillips/Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 09: Letitia Wright attends The EE British Academy Film Award, BAFTA, nominations announcement at BAFTA on January 9, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images) | John Phillips/Getty Images
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The film and television industry has undeniably been enriched with vibrant life and rich culture, thanks to the exceptional talents of Black British actresses. In recent times, these women have been making a significant impact on television screens, captivating audiences with their remarkable performances. Their contributions have not only elevated the quality of storytelling but also brought greater diversity and representation to the world of entertainment.

Indeed, these Black British actresses are not just making waves; they’re breaking records, winning prestigious awards, and shattering boundaries in the process. They’ve redefined what it means to be multitalented, setting a new standard for excellence in the industry. Their ability to seamlessly inhabit roles that are emotionally and physically demanding, while infusing them with charisma and humor, is nothing short of remarkable.

Here are 10 exceptional Black British actresses whose contributions and performances are leaving a mark on stage and screen. The ordering of this list is ranked based on their recent impact on the industry, as well as, those whom we expect to see on screens even more.

10. Zawe Ashton: An Actress and a Playwright

Zawe Ashton is one of the many Black British actresses whose talent transcends genres and media types. She is known for her captivating performances across both stage and screen. Her roles in series like Fresh Meat showcased her ability to portray diverse and complex characters with nuance and depth. Ashton’s portrayal of Vod, an unconventional university student, demonstrated her skill in delivering wit, charm, and emotional depth. It was her main role that established her as a standout talent in the television landscape.

Beyond her acting prowess, Ashton’s recent foray into writing and directing has highlighted her multifaceted talent. Her work on the stage play For All the Women Who Thought They Were Mad exhibited her creative range and artistry. As she continues to expand her horizons in the world of storytelling, Ashton’s versatility and dedication to her craft position her as a rising talent to watch, both in front of and behind the camera. Upcoming movies to find her in include the November 2023 MCU movie The Marvels.

9. Sharon D. Clarke: A Powerhouse Performing Artist

Sharon D. Clarke is a powerhouse in the world of performing arts, particularly celebrated for her extraordinary contributions to the theater. Her career has been defined by a series of remarkable stage performances, notably in productions like Caroline, or Change. Her portrayal of the resilient and emotionally charged character Caroline Thibodeaux in this production earned her critical acclaim. Clarke’s ability to bring depth, emotion, and stunning vocals to her roles has made her a standout figure in the theater. Her skill in both singing and acting live earned her numerous awards and accolades for her exceptional talent.

Beyond her stage presence, Clarke’s skillful performances in various musicals and plays have solidified her reputation as a talented actress. Her dedication to bringing life and authenticity to her characters, no matter the role, has consistently left a lasting impression on audiences and critics alike. There is no denying that Clarke is a revered and accomplished figure within the world of theater and performance arts.

8. Cush Jumbo: An Actress Defined by Authenticity

Cush Jumbo, an immensely talented British actress, has captivated audiences with her dynamic and compelling performances across both stage and screen. Her standout role in the legal drama series The Good Fight showcased her commanding presence and depth as an actress. Jumbo’s performance of the confident and resilient lawyer, Lucca Quinn, earned her critical acclaim for her ability to embody a multifaceted character navigating the complexities of law and life.

Jumbo’s recent performance in the gripping thriller series The Beast Must Die further highlighted her skill in immersing herself in complex characters. Her ability to bring nuance and authenticity to her roles is what sets her apart as an actress. Jumbo continues to impress with her range and dedication. This can be seen in some of her most recent projects like the 2021 Netflix mini-series Stay Close. Also, look out for upcoming projects including Jumbo that are set to release next year.  

7. Thandiwe Newton: A Captivating Actress No Matter the Genre

Thandiwe Newton is a distinguished British actress known for her authenticity throughout a wide array of characters. Her portrayal of Maeve Millay in the hit series Westworld showcased her remarkable talent in portraying a complex and evolving character. Newton’s ability to portray both vulnerability and strength within Maeve highlighted her versatility as an actress. It also earned her critical acclaim and admiration from audiences for her compelling performance.

Newton’s career is adorned with impactful roles in films like Crash, where her performance as Christine Thayer earned her a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award. Her ability to bring emotional depth and resonance to her characters, whether in thought-provoking dramas or mainstream blockbusters like Mission: Impossible 2, is a testament to her acting skills. She is even no stranger to comedy as many may remember her as Kate Thomas in Norbit.

Though many viewers are just learning about her talent, she has been one of the most promising Black British actresses in the game for a while. Newton can be seen in more comedies like Netflix’s Big Mouth and its spinoff series Human Resources. Viewers can also look into Newton’s several roles in movies that have come out recently, like the 2022 releases All the Old Knives and God’s Country. 

6. Gugu Mbatha-Raw: An All-Arounder

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has emerged as an all-arounder of an actress who is leaving a lasting mark on both the big and small screens. Her breakout role in the period drama Belle showcased her remarkable ability to carry a film with poise and strength. Mbatha-Raw played Dido Elizabeth Belle, a woman navigating the complexities of race and societal norms. Her performance highlighted her talent in portraying multidimensional characters with grace and emotional depth. This consequently earned her critical acclaim and recognition.

The depth of Mbatha-Raw’s talent shines in her other performances in films like Beyond the Lights and her role in the series The Morning Show. Her ability to delve into the intricacies of complex characters has garnered praise and demonstrated her range as an actress. With a magnetic on-screen presence and a dedication to telling impactful stories, Mbatha-Raw continues to impress. She can be seen now in recent works like Apple TV’s Surfaces and Marvel’s Loki. 

5. Sophie Okonedo: An Actress Known for Her Powerful Performances

Sophie Okonedo stands as a versatile and highly respected actress. Her talent seems to know no bounds as it spans across film, television, and on-stage. Her performance in the critically acclaimed film Hotel Rwanda earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Viewers of the 2004 war drama were taken by her ability to deeply connect with such an emotionally challenging role. Okonedo’s portrayal of Tatiana Rusesabagina, a character enduring the Rwandan genocide, was marked by her remarkable ability to convey both vulnerability and strength.

Not only a presence on the silver screen, Okonedo’s talent extends to the theater. She earned a Tony Award for her compelling performance in the revival of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway. Her ability to seamlessly transition between mediums and embody characters with depth and authenticity underscores her range and dedication to her craft. Okonedo continues to show that she is an essential part of the collective of Black British actresses of note. Her work can be viewed in recent movies like the 2023 film Janet Planet and Netflix’s Heart of Stone. 

4. Naomie Harris: Academy Award Nominated Actress

Naomie Harris, a distinguished British actress, has a career defined by her impressive versatility. Harris gained widespread recognition for her role as Tia Dalma in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, showcasing her ability to embody mystical and enigmatic characters. However, it was her performance as Paula in the acclaimed film Moonlight that underscored her immense talent. Harris’s portrayal of a drug-addicted mother struggling with the challenges of life earned her critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination. The impact she made through this powerful role demonstrated to viewers that she is capable of giving her all to a performance.

Harris’s ability to seamlessly transition between genres and characters is evident in her role in the James Bond film series. She played Eve Moneypenny, a character known for her intelligence and strength. She is a key character in the films seen all the way up to the most recent addition to the series, No Time to Die. Additionally, her recent portrayal of Justin Falls in the sci-fi series The Man Who Fell to Earth further showcased that she is a multifaceted actress.

Harris consistently delivers compelling performances, infusing her characters with emotional depth and a captivating presence on screen. Watch as she further solidifies herself as a highly respected and accomplished figure in the world of acting.

3.  Michaela Coel: An Unmatched Storyteller

Michaela Coel is an extraordinarily talented and multifaceted force in the realm of storytelling. She is acclaimed for her groundbreaking work as an actress, writer, and producer. Her rise to fame began with the creation and starring role in the hit comedy series Chewing Gum, where she portrayed the quirky and relatable character of Tracey Gordon. Coel’s unique blend of humor and raw, unfiltered storytelling in the series earned her critical acclaim and showcased her ability to tackle complex themes in an engaging and authentic manner.

However, it was Coel’s magnum opus, I May Destroy You, that truly solidified her as an exceptional talent and visionary. The series, which she wrote, co-directed, and starred in, masterfully delved into themes of consent, trauma and identity. Coel fearlessly explored personal experiences within the narrative, creating a raw and honest portrayal that resonated deeply with audiences and critics alike. Her exceptional writing, coupled with her immersive performance in the series, showcased her unparalleled talent for pushing the boundaries of storytelling. It is what cemented her as a groundbreaking and influential figure in the entertainment industry.

Viewers can find even more from Coel as she is featured in Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, as well as Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.

2. Lashana Lynch: An Unstoppable Force

Lashana Lynch is one of the most notable Black British Actresses to take over film and television recently. Her portrayal of Maria Rambeau in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain Marvel showcased her ability to infuse depth and emotion into her characters. Lynch’s portrayal of a fiercely loyal and resilient Air Force pilot earned her praise for bringing a nuanced and impactful presence to the screen, resonating with audiences worldwide.

A groundbreaking moment in cinema arrived with Lynch’s casting as the new 007 agent in the 2021 James Bond film, No Time to Die. Her role as Nomi marked a significant shift in the franchise as she was officially the first Black woman to portray a 00 agent, thus breaking barriers and redefining traditional roles within the industry. Lynch’s talent, coupled with her portrayal of a strong and capable secret agent, made a substantial and impactful statement. She delivered an excellent performance while representing newfound inclusivity for the film, propelling her as an actress and contributing to a more diverse and inclusive landscape in film.

Lynch can seemingly not be stopped as she later starred as one of the leads of the 2022 critically acclaimed movie, The Woman King. In this film, Lynch played the skilled warrior and general, Nanisca. Her balance between this strong yet often humorous character, along with the movie’s intense action scenes, impressed both critics and audiences. This second breakout role of hers is further proof that Lynch has something to bring to the table. Those interested in Lynch’s work can see her in the new Captain Marvel film The Marvels, which will be released in early November. Here she will be reprising her role as Maria Rambeau.

1. Letitia Wright: A Newly Crowned Queen

Letitia Wright is a Barbadian-born British actress who has swiftly risen to prominence in the entertainment industry. She is best known for her role as Shuri in the groundbreaking film Black Panther within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wright’s portrayal of the tech-savvy and spirited princess of Wakanda in the 2018 movie catapulted her into the global spotlight. Her on-screen charisma, wit, and intelligence breathed life into the character, earning her widespread acclaim for her performance. After the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman, aka the Black Panther, Wright took on the responsibility of succeeding her real-life friend’s role and on-screen brother’s title. Her emotionally charged performance in the mourning-filled sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever solidified respect for Wright.

Beyond her role in Black Panther, Wright’s depth as an actress is evident in her portrayal of Altheia Jones-LeCointe in Steve McQueen’s anthology series Small Axe. Her performance in the series, specifically in the episode “Mangrove,” highlighted her ability to portray complex and historically significant characters.

Wright’s skill in capturing the emotional depth and resilience of her characters has not only solidified her as a rising star but also as an actress capable of taking on diverse and challenging roles with poise and depth. Her dedication to her craft and her magnetic presence on screen continue to position her as a talent to watch in the evolving landscape of film and television. Expect to see more from this star with newly released projects like her role in the movie Surrounded. Wright is also reported to be reprising her role as Shuri in future Marvel films.