As the entertainment industry continues to evolve during unprecedented times, opportunities for newcomers to tell unique stories abound. These young Black actresses and actors have already made their mark in film, television, and theater—but with their latest projects, their artistry and acclaim are expected to reach the next level.
Take a look at 20 young Black stars who are making big moves in movies, television, and streaming and are poised to become the next generation of Hollywood A-listers.
Actress, singer and dancer Ariana DeBose’s first appearance on screen came during a 2009 season of So You Think You Can Dance. Though DeBose, 31, was eliminated during the competition, that experience propelled the Raleigh, North Carolina, native to try theater. She made her Broadway debut in 2011 with Bring It On, and followed up with Motown: The Musical, Pippin and Hamilton. In 2018, she was nominated for a Tony for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, for her portrayal of Donna Summer in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical; and her role as Anita in the 2021 Steven Spielberg–directed musical West Side Story earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture.
Lexi Underwood first took to the stage in 2013, in a theatrical production of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The Washington, D.C.–bred actress and singer got her big break two years later, landing the role of young Nala in Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway. Since then, Underwood, 18, has appeared in series such as Person of Interest and Family Reunion; she also heads her own company, Ultimate Dreamer Productions. In 2020, she received critical acclaim for her role as Pearl Warren in Little Fires Everywhere, earning an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Youth. This year, the multihyphenate star will take on the role of Malia Obama in Showtime’s series The First Lady.
RJ Cyler’s acting skills in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl earned the respect of critics, but it was his on-screen charisma that marked him as a surefire talent to watch. After the release of the 2015 film, Cyler, 27, was cast in two big-budget productions—the dark comedy War Machine, alongside Brad Pitt, and Power Rangers. In 2018, he starred in the Matthew McConaughey–led crime drama White Boy Rick; and last year, he dazzled with his portrayal of Jim Beckwourth in Netflix’s The Harder They Fall. His television credits include shows such as I’m Dying Up Here, Black Lightning and Scream: The TV Series. Cyler was also recently tapped as a regular in the upcoming Issa Rae HBO Max comedy series Rap Sh-t.
Hailey Kilgore made her professional acting debut in the Portland Center Stage’s productions of Our Town and Ain’t Misbehavin’ in 2015. Two years later, the Happy Valley, Oregon, native was cast as Ti Moune in the Broadway musical Once on This Island, earning a Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical. Kilgore’s training made for a seamless transition to television, as she excelled in her roles in the series The Village and Amazing Stories. In summer of 2021, the 23-year-old was cast as Jukebox in Starz’s Power Book III: Raising Kanan. One month later, she premiered on the big screen in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, playing the younger sister of the Queen of Soul, opposite Jennifer Hudson.
Jonica “Jojo” T. Gibbs
Jojo T. Gibbs’s portrayal of Hattie on the BET scripted comedy series Twenties has been groundbreaking. Prior to her role as the first queer Black female protagonist on primetime television, Gibbs moved in 2015 from her hometown of Hampstead, North Carolina, to Los Angeles, after receiving her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Gibbs worked the stand-up comedy circuit for almost six years and also cocreated a web series titled No More Comics in L.A. before being cast in her breakout part.
Michael Evans Behling
Raised in Columbus, Indiana, Michael Evans Behling excelled as a student athlete in high school. When injuries derailed his track career, he stopped competing and briefly studied premed at Indiana University before deciding to pursue modeling and acting. After being featured in ad campaigns for Adidas and in an episode of Empire, Behling snagged his role as Jordan Baker on The CW’s All American in 2018, putting his athleticism to good use on the silver screen. This year, the 27-year-old actor reprised his role as Baker in the spin-off series, All American: Homecoming.
Eighteen-year-old Afro-Latino actor Jaden Michael is best known for his portrayal of a young Colin Kaepernick in Colin in Black & White—but Michael’s relationship with Netflix began long before he landed the lead role in the series. In 2016, he appeared in The Get Down before being cast in the streaming platform’s original film Vampires vs. The Bronx. Michael, who was born and raised in New York City, began modeling at age 2 and got his start as an actor doing voiceover work for Dora the Explorer. He used that experience to further hone his craft, earning subsequent roles in Paterson, Custody and the film adaptation of Wonderstruck. Last year, he was also cast in the starring role of Mickey Bolitar in a TV pilot based on the Harlan Coben novel Shelter.
Before newcomer Quincy Isaiah was chosen to play Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson in the series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, coming to HBO this March, he’d nearly quit acting altogether due to rejection from producers and talent agents. Born in Muskegon, Michigan—just 100 miles from Johnson’s hometown of Lansing—Isaiah, 26, caught the acting bug during his last year at Kalamazoo College, in 2017. The next year he appeared in Samuel Wofford’s Corporate Coffee, a short film about a Black man’s first experience with the eerie culture of his new white-collar job. The part showed Isaiah had the acting chops to step into even bigger shoes, including his leading role as the Lakers’ basketball legend.
Jasmin Savoy Brown
Raised in Springfield, Oregon, Jasmin Savoy Brown began her career in 2013, with minor parts in Grimm and The Fosters, before guest-starring in an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine one year later. The 28-year-old subsequently landed recurring television roles in Stitchers, The Leftovers, Will, For the People and Judd Apatow’s Love. Last year marked Brown’s emergence as a leading lady—starring in the Showtime drama Yellowjackets as well as the slasher film Sound of Violence. This year, Brown can be seen in the fifth installment of the horror movie Scream: She plays Mindy Meeks-Martin, the franchise’s first openly queer character.
Kelvin Harrison, Jr.
Since his earliest roles in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and the science-fiction action flick Ender’s Game in 2013, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., has appeared in more than 20 films, eight television shows and one music video. Although the New Orleans native is also a skilled musician, his passion ultimately inspired him to pursue acting. That decision led to Harrison landing roles in Dee Rees’s Mudbound, It Comes at Night, for which he earned a Gotham Award nomination for Breakthrough Actor, Monster, Luce, and Waves. On the heels of starring in December’s romantic musical-drama Cyrano, this year the 27-year-old will appear as B.B. King in the upcoming Elvis biopic and voice the character of young Scar in McQueen’s sequel to the live-action version of The Lion King.
Amandla Stenberg made her acting debut in 2011’s Colombiana, and saw her star rise the following year with her breakthrough role as Rue in The Hunger Games. This Los Angeles-born singer and actress then appeared in the series Sleepy Hollow and later earned a Critics’ Choice Award nomination and NAACP Image Award win for her performance as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give. Stenberg has long been a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and was named “Feminist of the Year” in 2015 by the Ms. Foundation for Women, as well being included in TIME Magazine’s list of the Most Influential Teens the same year. Continuing to work hard at honing her craft, Stenberg has been cast in the main role in the upcoming series The Acolyte, slated for release in 2023.
Storm Reid was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Los Angeles with her family in order to pursue a serious career in acting. Her journey began in 2012 with the television film A Cross To Bear. She then went on to star in 12 Years a Slave, Sleight, and Lea to the Rescue. In 2017, Reid received critical acclaim and several award nominations for her role as Meg Murry in Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time. Her star power drew the attention of Jay-Z, as she can also be seen in the video for “Family Feud,” off of his 4:44 album. Two years later, Reid was cast in When They See Us, and landed the role of Gia Bennett in HBO’s hit drama show, Euphoria.
Marsai Martin, has already established herself as a power player in Hollywood at only 17 years old. In 2014 she was cast as Diane Johnson on the ABC sitcom Black-ish and received three NAACP Image Awards for her performance. After starring in An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has to Win, she landed the main role in Little, and also became the executive producer of the film, making the 13-year-old Martin the youngest person to ever produce a movie. Adding to her versatility as an entrepreneur, the Texas-born actress launched Mari by Marsai, a new luxury nail brand featuring a range of press-on nails. Today, Martin can been seen on the final season of Black-ish, along with a guest voice role on Disney+’s Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.
Miles Gutierrez-Riley will soon be making his television debut in the second season of Amazon Prime’s hit series The Wilds, premiering May 6th. Later this year, he will also star in Paramount’s film adaptation of On The Come Up (Angie Thomas’ New York Times bestselling follow-up book to The Hate U Give) and Leah Bleich’s The Moon & Back. Miles was also handpicked by Jeremy O’Harris to appear in his upcoming play A Boy’s Company Presents: Tell Me If I’m Hurting You.
Miles graduated from Fordham University with a BA in Theatre Performance where he was the recipient of the 2019-2020 Denzel Washington Scholarship.
The highly versatile Caleb McLaughlin dabbled in many forms of artistic expression as a child. He studied dance at Happy Feet Dance School in New York, and also excelled in opera and theater, appearing in Lost in the Stars, and starring as Young Simba in the Broadway version of The Lion King. McLaughlin rose to prominence in 2016 with his portrayal as Lucas Sinclair in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. After his exciting performance as a young Ricky Bell in the New Edition biopic, this award-winning actor earned his first starring role in the film Concrete Cowboy, alongside Idris Elba and Jharrel Jerome.
Saniyya Sidney is slowly but surely evolving into one of Black Hollywood’s new “it” girls. At the age of 15, she as already won several awards, including two Critics’ Choice Awards, an NAACP Image Award and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. In 2016, she earned roles in two films lauded by critics – Fences and Hidden Figures – and FX’s American Horror Story: Roanoke. Her portrayal of a young Venus Williams in the 2021 biopic King Richard was widely regarded as the best performance of her career thus far. In April, Saniyya will play Sasha Obama in The First Lady, set to premiere on Showtime in April.
Tyrel Jackson Williams
Acting was a large part of Tyrel Jackson Williams’ life early on, having roles in Everybody Hates Chris (which stars his older brother, Tyler James Williams) and the romantic comedy Failure to Launch. Williams’ was able to build up his resume, appearing in national commercial spots for McDonald’s, Target and Verizon – just to name a few – prior to being cast in Disney XD’s Lab Rats in 2012. The success of Lab Rats allowed the young actor flourish in future roles; namely that of Mikey in Pants on Fire, and as Charles in the IFC comedy series Brockmire form 2017 to 2020. Recently, Williams was cast as a regular for the upcoming Starz revival of Party Down.
Not all superheroes wear capes; and Kaci Walfall is using her starring role in Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship’s Naomi to show of color around the world that being yourself isn’t a bad thing at all. Due to Walfall’s authenticity in real life, she was able to fully execute to role of the DC Comic’s title character. With previous credits in Army Wives, The Equalizer and Power, Walfall’s undeniable talent and drive will allow her to excel in the entertainment industry for years to come.
Before the masses came to know him as B-Mickie from BMF, Myles Truitt had been building upon a solid foundation in the realm of film and television since 2017. He made his acting debut as a young Ronnie DeVoe in The New Edition Story, and then portrayed Devin in the powerful “FUBU” episode during the second season of Atlanta. Truitt has also had recurring roles in Queen Sugar and Black Lightning, and this ambitious actor is now slated to appearing in the upcoming season of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Priah Ferguson got her start as an actress in 2015, first appearing in a few independent films before making her television debut on the show Atlanta, shot mostly in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Ferguson’s big break came in 2017, as she was cast as Erica Sinclair – Lucas’ little sister – in Stranger Things. She will also be in the Netflix Halloween film Boo!, alongside executive producer Marlon Wayans, set to be released later this year.