It looks like on nearly every channel in prime-time, there are talented Black women that are headlining a variety of different shows, showing strength, intelligence and sexiness across the broad spectrum of the television landscape.
While there have always been talented sisters doing their thing through the years, never has there been such sheer volume of ladies on the small tube. From fixers to surgeons, senior law partners to convicts, law professors to television anchors and everything in between, there are strong women holding it down every night.
The ranks will continue to swell as Regina King will debut in the upcoming drama, American Crime and Keke Palmer has been cast in the FOX drama, Scream Queens and Yaya DaCosta will co-star in the upcoming drama, Chicago Med.
Let’s take a look at a “Lucky Thirteen” sisters that have shattered television’s glass ceiling, inspiring the next generation of Black actresses.
Jada Pinkett Smith | Gotham
One of the key players in the successful FOX series, Gotham, the 43-year old Pinkett Smith plays Maria Mercedes “Fish” Mooney, a nightclub owner and mobster who leads a gang under Don Falcone, whom she aims to overthrow. She operates in Gotham’s red-light district despite the heavy presence of the Italian Mafia. Although small in stature, Pinkett Smith wields considerable influence among the show’s criminal underworld.
Uzo Aduba | Orange is the New Black
The architect of one of cable television’s most distinctive characters, the Nigerian-American Aduba portrays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, an emotionally unstable lesbian female inmate with a violent past who is obsessed with Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling). Aduba has won several awards for her work on the show including an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series as well as an Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series at the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Gina Torres | Suits
On this legal drama, the 45-year old Torres is large and in charge as the authoritative, yet beautiful co-founder and managing partner, Jessica Pearson of the firm Pearson Hardman. Mentored by Daniel Hardman, when she was an associate fresh out of Harvard Law School, her stature in the firm grew, with Hardman and her writing off three other named partners from the firm’s door. She has a close relationship with Harvey (Gabriel Macht), originating from observing and sponsoring Harvey’s rise through the firm, as well as paying his way through Harvard Law School.
Tika Sumpter | The Haves and Have Nots
On this prime-time soap opera, 34-year old Sumpter brings the heat and drama as the unscrupulous temptress, Candance Young. Portrayed as a roguish, crafty Jezebel with a very presumptuous, saucy and nervy attitude, Candace often subjugates others through her many forms of manipulation; extortion; low blows; and dirt she’s able to obtain on people. Routinely chewing up scenery, Sumpter’s Candance is covetous and aspiring of the wealth and riches that the Cryer family possesses and will go to any and all lengths to partake in it.
Chandra Wilson | Grey’s Anatomy
For the past ten years, the 45-year old Houston native has portrayed surgeon, Dr. Miranda Bailey. Referred to as “The Nazi” by her colleagues for her tough personality, Bailey worked her way up to the attending physician level, while her relationship with the five surgical interns she was in charge of, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) and Alex Karev (Justin Chambers), formed a focal point at the beginning of the series. Wilson has been with the show since its inception.
Nicole Beharie | Sleepy Hollow
Portraying Lt. Grace Abigail “Abbie” Mills, the 30-year old Julliard trained Beharie plays a lifelong resident of Sleepy Hollow who about to transfer to Quantico to train with the FBI but decides to stay after the death of her mentor. Slowly, she comes to accept her role in the fight against the dreaded Horseman as the second Witness to the Apocalypse. Abbie is the driving force in the future of understanding the new Sleepy Hollow.
Tamara Jones | Castle
Playing medical examiner, Dr. Lanie Parish, the 40-year old Jones often sports an upbeat outlook. A close friend of Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), Parish is one of the few people Beckett can talk to easily and without reservation. Parish notices the personal connection between Beckett and author Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and urges her to act on it. While initially struggling to find her niche, Jones has evolved into a steady and solid choice on this show.
Shanola Hampton | Shameless
As the free-spirited, Veronica “Vee” Fisher, the 37-year old South Carolina native Hampton is the Gallaghers’ neighbor and Fiona’s best friend and confidante; she often gives Fiona advice concerning relationships, caring for her siblings, and caring for herself. Always willing and able to lend a hand, Veronica had pursued a medical career until she was fired from the hospital for stealing medical supplies. She currently works as a webcam girl, giving Hampton plenty of latitude to inject layers of additional unique personality idiosyncrasies into her interesting character.
Angela Bassett | American Horror Story: Freakshow
The sexy 56-year old beauty has discovered the fountain of youth working on this horror anthology. Playing Desiree Dupree, also known as The Three Breasted Woman, she is an intersexed person who identifies as female and has a third breast. Her character backstory is multi-layered when it is revealed that she is 100% female and that her supposed penis is nothing more than an enlarged clitoris. Her character sufferers and endless amount of highs and lows in her attempt to find ultimately happiness – and endless acting possibilities for this Oscar nominee.
Kerry Washington | Scandal
Washington helms one of television’s hottest dramas as master fixer, Olivia Pope in Shonda Rhimes winning show. Partially based on Judy Smith, Washington’s Pope is a Washington, D.C.-based crisis manager who runs her own firm, Pope & Associates, that specializes in political situations. The character has become a widely-watched fashion and style trendsetter and vaulted Washington into super-stardom.
Viola Davis | How To Get Away with Murder
After years of small supporting performances, Golden Glove winner and Oscar nominee, Viola Davis, has found her calling as Professor Annalise Keating, a high-profile defense attorney who teaches a class simply entitled, How to Get Away with Murder. The show follows the personal and professional life of Keating and the group of her best students from her class to work who work at her firm. As her professional and personal life start to collide, Annalise and her students become unwillingly entwined with a murder plot.
Taraji P. Henson | Empire
One of the year’s biggest surprises is this uber-successful show and the true engine of the show, the 44-year old DC native Henson. Playing the audacious and over-the-top character, Cookie Lyons, the outspoken ex-wife of CEO Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) and mother of his three sons, she is home after serving a 17-year stretch in prison for drug dealing. She sees herself as the sacrificial lamb for Empire, which she built with Lucious, but then took the fall for when she was arrested for running the drugs that financed Lucious’ early career. Howard and Henson’s on-screen reunion has proved to be a rating’s bonaza for FOX.
Gabrielle Union | Being Mary Jane
After auditioning and losing out to Kerry Washington for the lead in Scandal, Union rebounded nicely landing the title role in this winning BET drama. Her Mary Jane Paul has it all: she’s a successful TV news anchor, entirely self-sufficient – an all-around powerhouse who remains devoted to a family that doesn’t share her motivation. As Mary Jane juggles her life, her work and her commitment to her family, we find out how far she’s willing to go to find the puzzle pieces that she, and society, insist are missing from her life as a single Black female. Much like her other peers, Union seems tailor-made for this character providing much nuance and layers to the complex Mary Jane.