Aunjanue Ellis defines adaptability, demonstrating range and depth as she swings from playing the cat-fighting sistah girl in Undercover Brother to the bitter backup singer in Ray. An NYU drama graduate, Ellis recently appeared on CBS's The Mentalist, as Special Agent Madeleine Hightower.
London native Naomie Harris is known for playing roles that require both inner and outer strength. In the post-apocalyptic 28 Days Later, she got to save the world, demonstrating that she is one tough cookie. She's got range, too, starring in White Teeth, Ninja Assassin, Miami Vice, Street Kings and Poppy Shakespeare. She's a big star at home, but Harris, who attended Cambridge University, is probably best known to American audiences for her role as pirate Tia Dalma in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Catch the former child actor in her newest project, The First Grader, later this year.
Guyana-born Carol Christine Hilaria (CCH) Pounder moved to the States as a young girl, but soon left--her parents shipped her to the United Kingdom to be educated in a convent boarding school. She returned to the States to attend Ithaca College, where a thespian was born. The Emmy-nominated actor has worked steadily, appearing in All That Jazz, Bagdad Cafe, Prizzi's Honor, ER, Law and Order:SVU, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and The Shield, to name just a few among many. Last year, she starred in the blockbuster Avatar, playing Moat, spiritual leader of the blue Na'vi. Next up: A change of pace role in the romantic comedy My Girlfriends Back set to release in 2010.
Sophie Okonedo was born in London to a Nigerian father and a European-Jewish mother. The Cambridge University graduate received rave reviews for her role opposite Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda. In 2008, Okonedo appeared in The Secret Life of Bees with Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson; this year she played Winnie Mandela in Mrs. Mandela, a made-for-TV movie that aired in the United Kingdom. "As a black actress, all I was offered in British film was the best friend role," she once said in an interview, "whereas in TV I was offered a whole spectrum of parts. I'd love to be able to follow that through into my newly formed film career which I didn't expect to get at 36!"
Kimberly Elise isn't one who's afraid of outsized emotion. Whether it was her role in Tyler Perry's Diary of Mad Black Woman in 2005, or as the no nonsense mother in John Q (2002), she has the ability to bring us to tears. The real-life mother of two is currently in production for Tyler Perry's adaptation of Ntozake Shange's seminal Broadway play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, set to release in January 2011.
Paula Jai Parker is best known for her role as a pimp's non-submissive girlfriend in 2005's Academy Award winning movie Hustle and Flow. (That pimp, of course, was Terrence Howard.) She brings a fiery spirit to all her roles, including her memorable performances in Idlewild, Phone Booth, Get On The Bus and She Hate Me. The Howard University graduate got her start in comedy, appearing in Fox TV's The Apollo Comedy Hour and The WB's The Wayan Bros. Parker, who is also a comedian, recently took time off from acting to raise her newborn son.
Debbi Morgan is a soap opera superstar. Starring in both All My Children and The Bold and the Beautiful, Morgan has appeared in over 350 episodes in the span of 28 years. She's also appeard in Loving, Generations, Port Charles and The City. In the '70s, you could catch her on What's Happening! and Good Times; she also played Alex Haley's great-aunt in Roots: The Next Generation. In 1997, she played Mozelle Batiste Delacroix in Eve's Bayou. These days, the Emmy Award-winning actress has returned to her roots: Playing Angie Hubbard on All My Children.
Jenifer Lewis got her start on Broadway, performing in Eubie, Ain't Misbehavin' and Dreamgirls. In 1993, she played Tina Turner's mother in What's Love Got To Do With It. In fact, she's played the mother so much (Dead Presidents, Panther, The Preacher's Wife, The Brothers) that she's become known as "The Black Mother Of Hollywood." When she's not playing someone's mama, she stars in her own, one-woman shows, from The Diva Is Dismissed to Hotflash to Bipolar, Bath & Beyond. Last year, she voiced Mama Oldie in Disney's Princess and the Frog (2009). "I am a quadruple threat," Lewis told Advocate.com . "You name the bitch who sings, dances, is funny, and can act!"
In 1978, Alfre Woodard got her first break as Rita in Remember My Name, and went on to establish herself as one of the most reserved and polished actresses in the game. She was stellar in her supporting actress role in Tyler Perry's A Family That Preys (2008) and her lead role 14 years prior in Spike Lee's Crooklyn (1998). On TV, the Oklahoma native has appeared in Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life On The Street and Desperate Housewives. Truth is, we don't have the space to list all of the Oscar nominee's many accomplishments. Next up for Woodard: A return to the big screen in Bury Me Standing, still in development.