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  • Tishya Doraiswamy

7 Black Stars Who Lit Up Our Lives

Over the past month, the Black Lives Matter Movement has taken over the world, with protests and demonstrations in several countries, immense social media activity and popular unrest. Matters of racial injustice and inequality in various fields have come to light, and a popular slogan that has been shared is “All Lives Don’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter”. In several countries around the world, the black community has been vital in shaping the country’s culture, industry, and economies. Today, we take a look at popular culture, and the people who’ve made it what it is today: 

1. Denzel Washington Where would we start but with actor, director and producer Denzel Washington, American icon and one of the greatest actors of his generation. Born in 1954, Denzel was born into an ordinary life with an ordinary family, and grew up to graduate with a BA in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University.  Denzel’s big break came with a role in the hospital drama St. Elsewhere, making him one of the only African-American actors to feature in the six years that the show ran. In 1987, he received his first Academy Award nomination for his role as supporting actor in the film Cry Freedom. Two years later, he won in the same category for his role in the film Glory. 

Denzel Washington

However, Washington’s most famous role came in the film Malcom X - one of the most eye-opening biographical films made. Unsurprisingly, the film is being talked about once more today as the Black Lives Matter movement continues - true equality is yet to be achieved.  Since his early days, Denzel Washington has gone on two be nominated for a total of 8 Academy Awards, a whopping 10 Golden Globes, a Grammy, 2 Emmy Awards and several others.  In 2019, Denzel Washington was awarded the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, becoming one of the only three black actors to ever be its recipient. 

Must check out THIS inspirational speech he gave during his commencement address at Dillard University.

2. Samuel L. Jackson

That’s right - not only is Nick Fury a former Director of S.H.I.E.L.D and founder of the Avengers (as if that’s not enough), but he’s also the highest grossing actor of all time.

As a child, Jackson was raised by his mother and her parents - his father died of alcoholism and Jackson had rarely met him. Born during the time of segregation in schools, Jackson says he faced abundanant racism growing up. As a college student, he, along with several other students, resorted to extreme methods to demand reform in the institution, and although change did take place, Jackson was suspended and given a criminal record. Later, he graduated with a BA in Drama. 

Jackson was an active advocate for black rights and continued to be throughout his lifetime. 

For several years, the actor played minor roles in films, and in the 1990’s featured in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. For his role in the film, the Cannes Film Festival went as far as to create a Supporting Actor award just for him!

Try to imagine movies like The Avengers, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard, the Star Wars, Captain Marvel and Jurassic Park without the dynamic acting of Samuel L. Jackson - because we definitely can’t.

3. Will Smith Yet another widely known name is that of Will Smith, an American actor, rapper, and producer.  His career began not as an actor, but a rapper by the name of The Fresh Prince in the hip-hop and rap group DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. In 1989, they won their first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance, and were nominated for an award every subsequent year for 3 years (winning an award again in 1992).

Will Smith

Smith’s acting career began with the iconic show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, at which point he set for himself the aim of becoming “the biggest movie star in the world” (spoiler: he didn’t fail). 

Since the beginning of his acting career, Will Smith has made a name for himself to say the least, starring in box-office hits such as Independence Day (the second highest grossing film of all time) and Men In Black. 

In 2002, Smith was nominated for his first Academy Award for his role as Muhammad Ali in the film Ali, and in 2007, for his role in The Pursuit of Happyness. 

Besides his work as an actor and musician, Smith is an avid philanthropist, having donated to various organisations and founded their own elementary school.

4. Beyoncé Undoubtedly one of the most well-known names in popular culture, next on our list is Beyoncé. A performing talent from a young age, she grew up dancing and singing. Her musical career truly kicked off with Destiny’s Child - one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, where she was the lead singer. The group, although disbanded in 2006, continue to be hailed as R&B icons. In fact, their influence can be seen in several newer artists - Fifth Harmony, Little Mix, Meghan Trainor, to name a few. 

Beyonce receiving award

Beyoncé released her first solo recording on Jay-’s song 03 Bonnie & Clyde, and in 2003, had her first solo performance. Her solo career quickly sky-rocketed, with her first album topping the Billboard 200.  In 2016, the release of her album Lemonade made her the first artist in Billboard history with their first six albums topping the charts. 

As one of the most famous singers in the world, she has been nominated for over 800 awards, and won over half. More importantly, however, she’s been an influence to a whole generation of younger artists, many of whom are shaping music today - Ariana Grande, Doja Cat, Harry Styles, Kendrick Lamar, and more - the list goes on. And in this case, there is a literal list! Her influence has spread so far, there exists a Wikipedia page listing every artist who has stated being inspired by her - and we’re sure there are millions more in the world. 

5. Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman

We all know his deep voice and his wise face. Morgan Freeman has played several iconic roles, most notably in The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby and Invictus. Freeman began his performance career as a dancer in the 1964 World’s Fair.

Freeman’s career as an actor truly began with his role in the soap opera Another World. He went on to act in movies such as Driving Miss Daisy, Street Smart and Glory, the former two earning him Academy Award nominations. 

One of his biggest roles came in the 1990s in The Shawshank Redemption, which earned him a third Oscar nomination. 

Freeman has had an astounding career, with almost 100 films, almost 20 television and theatre roles respectively. At the age of 83, he is still going strong. 

Freeman is one of the unfortunately small number of African Americans who has been able to portray such a range of people, especially people of power, as in Deep Impact and Bruce Almighty. 

6. Oprah Winfrey Born into difficulty, Oprah Winfrey is truly a symbol of where hard work and determination can get you.  As a youngster, she experienced abject poverty and abuse, and a lost child, but nevertheless, was an honours student in High School. She got a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, and joined the local black radio station.  Her television career began when she became the first black female as well as youngest news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV.From there, she moved up and soon was hosting her own morning talk show. In months of her taking over, the show went from the lowest rated to the highest rated show in Chicago - and soon renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, becoming the single most viewed talk show in the country! She became one of the few black females in an industry dominated by white males - and was the most successful of the lot. 

Winfrey is not just deemed influential by us, but by several magazines - Life, TIME, USA Today all ranked her as one of the most influential people of her generation, the century and so on. 

Oprah Winfrey Barack Obama

Her show is credited with helping make the LGBTQ+ community more mainstream and socially accepted, influencing consumer choices, etc.  Oprah Winfrey is no doubt one of the most important figures in the entertainment industry - pioneering a new age of talk shows, becoming an idol for millions around the world, and giving millions to charities and scholarships. 

7. Halle Berry 

If someone told us that only one woman of colour has ever won an Academy Award, we would be shocked as well. Unfortunately, that’s the case, making Halle Berry the only woman of colour amongst over 90 women to win an Oscar. 

Halle Berry

Berry began her career as a model, coming 6th in the Miss World 1986. She had her film breakthrough in the movie Boomerang in 1992.

Since this role, she’s had roles in several iconic movies, including X-Men, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and John Wick: Chapter 3. 

In the 2000’s, she became one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. 

As a young girl, her biracial background often confused her, but she chose as a young woman to identify as black. However, she remains a role model for several children going through a similar confusion in identity today. 

These seven only form a fraction of the many black individuals who have influenced the entertainment industry forever - Sidney Poitier, NAS, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Whoopie Goldberg are a few names that come to mind. In a world where they are often given a disadvantage simply because of the colour of their skin, these individuals proved their worth to the world. 

But there arises the question - why must they have to prove their worth to be respected? What about the millions of ordinary individuals who suffer everyday? 

These individuals are proof of the wonders a community can produce if given the opportunity - they can change the world. 

So let us learn to give every individual the opportunity to succeed, and let a million more talents like these individuals grow. 

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Written by Tishya Doraiswamy

Content Writer @ Skyshot Media


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