As usual, Black women delivered some of the most complex, emotional, transcendent performances of the year. Whether they were bringing legends to life, taking down bad guys or hilariously stealing scenes, the variety was astounding. From well-known favorites to legends in the making, 2021 was a murderer’s row of amazing performances. We could lie and say we didn’t have fun narrowing this list down, but honestly it was a treat to relive all this beautiful work. Prepare yourself for a masterclass, because these are the best Black female performances of 2021.
It’s never easy to come into an established franchise and go toe to toe with the main character. Not only did Lashana Lynch take on James Bond, she replaced him. In Bond’s absence, she became the new 007, and made it very clear she would not stay in the background when he returned. Bond movies aren’t exactly made for great acting. Not shade, just facts. They’re all about the action and Bond looking good in a suit. Every moment she was on screen, we wished it was longer. Now that the hunt is on for the next Bond, we hope that doesn’t mean the new 007 gets cast aside, because she’s the best thing we’ve seen in the films since Naomie Harris debuted as Moneypenny.
No Time to Die is available to rent digitally.
What’s beautiful about Tessa Thompson’s portrayal of Irene in Passing is the emotion she keeps just under the surface. Sometimes we know exactly what she’s thinking, then others we have no idea, which means we can’t look away. Thompson is usually the best thing about almost any movie she’s in, and that’s no different here. It’s her steady hand that makes the most chaotic parts of this story interesting.
Passing is streaming on Netflix.
The moment we heard Jennifer Hudson was playing Aretha Franklin, we knew we were getting something special, and we were not disappointed. There was no question the vocals would be amazing, but as a young Aretha just starting out, Hudson humanized a legend. Though we knew she would overcome her troubles to become an even bigger star than she imagined, Hudson beautifully led us on the journey of Franklin’s triumph, doing Aretha and her fans proud.
Respect is available to rent digitally.
Monica Rambeau went through so much in WandaVision. She awoke from being snapped to find out her mother was dead and the jerk she used to work with was now her boss. Then without warning she’s thrown into a magical ‘70s sitcom. As over the top as all that is, Teyonah Parris never let us lose sight of the emotional cost all this was having on Monica. Her grief was always present, but not all consuming like it was for Wanda. Monica was the anchor in the superhero, magic MCU craziness.
WandaVision is streaming on Disney+.
The latest entry in the Power universe details how teenage Kanan learned the business from his mother. As Raq, Patina Miller could easily let her portrayal slide into stereotypical gangster boss lady, but the layers she brings as a mother, sister, girlfriend, community matriarch, and yes, mob boss are all brilliant on every level. It’s not just that she’s showcasing all these aspects of the character, it’s the way she switches on a dime when necessary. Sometimes it happens mid-scene. Honestly, we don’t really care how Kanan becomes the person we met on Power, we’re just here to see what Raq’s going to do from one episode to the next.
Power Book III: Raising Kanan is available on the Starz app.
Malcolm & Marie is a brilliant two-hander between Zendaya and John David Washington, but if we’re being honest, it’s Zendaya’s movie, because she captivates and steals the movie. The authentic way she builds Marie’s frustration with Malcolm, then lays out all the wrongs she’s felt from him is brutal and awkward to watch. We may not have all been in a fight this raw with our partner, but we understand the emotions. From Euphoria to Malcolm & Marie to Space Jam: A New Legacy to Dune to Spider-Man: No Way Home, no one delivered the range of Zendaya in 2021.
Blanca has always been the heart and soul of Pose, and never was that more evident than in its final season. As we watched Blanca’s unwavering support for her children manifest into success, her pride made us feel like we were a part of House Evangelista. When she stood alone mourning Pray Tell as chaos reigned around her, we felt her heart break for her best friend. In three seasons, Rodriguez never failed to make us feel every emotion, so we will miss the beautiful openness of her portrayal almost as much as we miss the fabulous ballroom looks.
Pose is streaming on Netflix.
Every once in a while, an actor is so perfectly cast that we can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall is the definition of this phenomenon. From beating up bad guys, to putting the DA in check, to being with her family, it feels like Latifah is inhabiting McCall in a way we haven’t seen her do with previous roles. While the whole cast is outstanding, Latifah has single handedly turned what could’ve been just another CBS procedural into a powerful demonstration of unapologetic female empowerment.
The Equalizer Season 2 returns Sunday, Jan. 2 at 9 pm on CBS and also streams on the CBS app.
Of course Angela Bassett delivered a perfect performance. That’s not exactly breaking news. What got us was the way she’s still able to surprise us with how good she is. When a blackout led a vengeful escaped criminal to kidnap her son Harry, we saw the vicious, manipulative side of Athena. As the villain lay dying of a gunshot to the chest, her bravado turned to fear as she realized they had no way to find Harry. In the course of an hour she led us from rage to fear to hope to relief. In the next episode, we got guilt and resignation as she realized the effects the kidnapping had on Harry. Bassett didn’t make one wrong move during the entire storyline.
9-1-1 is available on the Fox app and returns midseason.
Before Insecure ends, we need to give Natasha Rothwell her flowers. Kelli may be the comic relief, but she’s central to the success of the series. Everytime one of her girls needs to hear the hard truth, Kelli is there to hilariously deliver. She never fails to have their back, and put men in their place. However, we absolutely loved when she quietly broke down over her friends’ inability to take her seriously in the Season 5 premiere. Even we forgot for a moment that there is more to Kelli, and Rothwell brilliantly reminded us with just one look.
Insecure is streaming on HBO Max