It’s time to throw it back to the 90s real quick. This iconic decade was defined by its unique style, timeless music (especially pop and hip-hop), and cultural events. The biggest impact of the 90s can be arguably attributed to one segment: the entertainment industry. This is especially true when it comes to the iconic 90s Black actresses who rose to prominence. They took over television and movie screens and left an enduring mark with their talent, charisma, and resilience.
Whether it was playing a dramatic, vulnerable role, or being the interest of a good old 90s love story, these black actresses’ contributions not only entertained audiences but also shattered stereotypes. This paved the way for increased diversity and representation in Hollywood which is still slowly, but gradually improving today. Take a nostalgic journey through this list of the top 10 90s black actresses who made a remarkable impact during this iconic decade. The actresses are ranked from ten to one based on their impact, achievements, and overall perception at the time and now. Regardless of how they are ranked, all ten of these stars remain as so today. This list is a chance to celebrate how they made this iconic decade what it was.
10. Lela Rochon: A Star Throughout the 90s
Lela Rochon is a well-known 90s Black Actress who made a mark in that decade. This started at just the cusp of the 1990s with her performance in the film Harlem Nights (1989). Although the film was released at the end of the 80s, it continued to resonate in the following decade. Rochon’s role in this crime comedy alongside a star-studded cast, including Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor, offered her an early platform to display her talent.
However, it was her role in the 1995 film Waiting to Exhale that solidified her presence in the 90s. Rochon portrayed the character Robin Stokes. This performance of a woman dealing with relationships and the complexities of love resonated with audiences. It exposed critics as well to her ability to portray multifaceted and relatable characters. Additionally, Rochon’s acting proficiency extended to other films during this period. These films allowed her to demonstrate her range as an actress across various genres and storylines.
9. Vanessa Williams: A Resilient Woman of Many Talents
Vanessa Williams had a multifaceted career in the 1990s, showcasing her talents not only in acting but also in music and beauty pageantry. Williams made her mark in the acting world with roles in notable films such as New Jack City (1991) where she portrayed Keisha, a character involved in the drug trade. Her performance in this crime drama demonstrated her ability to take on complex and intense roles, displaying both strength and vulnerability.
She continued to diversify her roles and appeared in the action film Eraser (1996) alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this movie, Williams played the role of a government agent. This role allowed her to show she has acting chops suited for multiple genres of film, particularly action-oriented ones.
Williams also continued to pursue her music career in the 1990s, releasing albums and singles that showcased her singing talent. Her music career took off with her most notable single, “Save the Best for Last” in 1992. The song was a huge hit and topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Her smooth and soulful voice made her a respected figure in the music industry during the decade.
Despite the controversy regarding her Miss America title in the 80s, Williams continued to build her career. She transitioned from this setback and achieved success in acting, singing, and entertainment throughout the 90s. This really made it known that she was a resilient and accomplished figure in the entertainment industry.
8. Whitney Houston: A Multifaceted Icon
Whitney Houston is known primarily for her incredible success in music. However, she also had a notable acting career, particularly in the 1990s. She starred in several films that showcased that she was more than just one of the greatest singers of all time. Houston’s most iconic role in the 90s came in the romantic drama The Bodyguard (1992). The film paired her opposite Kevin Costner and marked her acting debut. Houston not only played the role of a music superstar but also contributed to the film’s soundtrack, which included the chart-topping hit single “I Will Always Love You.” The movie’s success at the box office and the song’s overwhelming popularity solidified Houston as both a music and film industry sensation.
She continued her acting career with films like Waiting to Exhale (1995), based on Terry McMillan’s novel. In this film, Houston portrayed a woman dealing with love, friendship, and the complexities of relationships. The role once again showcased her ability to bring depth and emotion to her character. Additionally, Houston starred in The Preacher’s Wife (1996), a heartwarming film where she played opposite Denzel Washington. Her role as a preacher’s wife offered her the opportunity to display her acting prowess alongside her musical talents. She proved to be key in contributing to the movie’s success.
Whitney Houston’s acting career allowed her to exhibit her talents beyond music throughout the 90s. Her roles in these films highlighted her ability to connect with audiences on screen. It established her as a multi-talented entertainer and cemented her legacy in both the music and film industries.
7. Vivica A. Fox: An Action Movie Icon
Vivica A. Fox had a notable and diverse career in the 90s. One of Fox’s prominent roles during this period was in the 1996 film Set It Off. She portrayed the character Frankie, a determined and fearless woman participating in a series of bank heists. Her performance in this crime drama exhibited her ability to bring depth and strength to her characters. This really showed off her range as an actress in a role that demanded both vulnerability and resilience.
Fox also made an impact in the 1997 film Soul Food, where she played the role of Maxine. This family drama centered around the importance of food in uniting a family. Fox’s performance as a dedicated matriarch showcased her versatility in portraying multifaceted characters with authenticity and emotion. The role resonated with audiences and made her a beloved figure in the industry. This led to Fox also making appearances in various television series and guest-starring roles, expanding her presence across different platforms.
Fox’s performances in the 90s highlighted her versatility and ability to portray characters with depth and authenticity. This contributed to her recognition as a talented actress within the industry. Her roles in both dramatic and action-oriented films showcased her adaptability and cemented her status as a dynamic figure in the entertainment world.
6. Nia Long: An Actress the World Fell In Love With
Nia Long is another icon of the 90s. Long’s breakthrough role came in John Singleton’s acclaimed film Boyz n the Hood (1991). Her portrayal of Brandi, the love interest of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character, showcased her early talent and set the stage for her successful career. The film addressed important social issues and Long’s performance highlighted her ability to bring depth and authenticity to her characters.
She continued to demonstrate her acting range in various genres. This included romantic dramas such as Love Jones (1997), where she played the role of Nina Mosley, a photographer navigating love and career aspirations. Her performance in this film resonated with audiences, displaying her charm and on-screen chemistry with her co-stars.
Long’s presence extended beyond the big screen and into television. She had a prominent role in the popular TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as Lisa Wilkes, Will Smith’s girlfriend. This role made audiences fall in love with how personable and charming Long is on television.
Throughout the 1990s, Long’s performances highlighted her ability to portray relatable and multifaceted characters, solidifying her as a prominent actress. Her talent, screen presence, and range across various roles contributed to her enduring success and established her as a respected figure in the entertainment industry.
5. Lynn Whitfield : The Face of the 90s
There is no discussion of 90s Black actresses without highlighting the incredible Lynn Whitfield. Her poise, elegance, and versatile performances made her a show-stopper on screen. One of her notable performances during this decade was in the 1991 film The Josephine Baker Story. She portrayed the legendary Josephine Baker. Whitfield’s portrayal of the iconic entertainer, who rose from poverty to become a renowned performer, earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. Her embodiment of Baker’s strength, resilience, and charisma showcased her ability to bring historical figures to life with depth and authenticity.
In addition to her portrayal of Josephine Baker, Whitfield took on various roles that highlighted her range as an actress. She appeared in films such as Eve’s Bayou (1997). In this Southern Gothic drama, she played the complex role of a matriarch within a troubled family. The role further showcased her ability to bring nuanced characters to the screen.
Throughout the 90s, Whitfield’s work exemplified her talent in portraying strong and compelling characters. Not only this, but she also demonstrated her ability to navigate diverse storylines and genres. All this talent, plus her gorgeous presence contributed to her reputation as an actress capable of delivering powerful and memorable roles.
4. Jada Pinkett Smith: A 90s It Girl
Jada Pinkett Smith’s huge career in the 90s is what led her to the spotlighted career she still has today. The first of her notable 90s roles came in the film Menace II Society (1993). She portrayed the character Ronnie, where she showcased her ability to convey emotional depth and complexity in a film centered on themes of urban life and violence. Her performance demonstrated her capability to bring authenticity and realism to her characters.
In 1996, Pinkett Smith appeared in The Nutty Professor. In this beloved comedy, she played Carla Purty, the love interest of Eddie Murphy’s main character. Her role in this film highlighted how well she balances humor and charisma. This confirmed Pinkett Smith’s ability to thrive in comedic roles as well. Aside from her success in films, Pinkett Smith also had a notable presence on television. She appeared in various guest roles on popular TV shows, expanding her range as an actress across different platforms.
Pinkett Smith’s performances in the 90s demonstrated her range, allowing her to navigate between dramatic and comedic roles with ease. Her talent, on-screen charisma, and ability to portray diverse characters contributed to her recognition as an actress with range. It set the stage for her continued career that many know all about today.
3. Whoopi Goldberg: From Comic to Oscar-Winner
Whoopi Goldberg had a substantial and diverse career throughout the 90s. It showcased her versatility across various genres and platforms. In 1990, Goldberg starred in Ghost, a romantic fantasy thriller, where she portrayed psychic Oda Mae Brown. Her performance not only brought humor and depth to the character but also earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film’s success further cemented Goldberg’s position in the industry and highlighted her ability to effortlessly blend comedy and drama.
Continuing her success on the big screen, Goldberg starred in the cult-classic film Sister Act (1992) and its sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993). Goldberg’s role as Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer turned “nun,” showcased her comedic timing and musical talents. Her skills made the films immensely popular. It also showed she could carry a film with her charisma and stage presence alone.
In addition to her film success, Goldberg expanded her presence in the 90s with her work in television. She notably hosted her own talk show, The Whoopi Goldberg Show. This show allowed her to engage with audiences in a more personal and interactive way. It also showcased her wit, intelligence, and ability to connect with a broad range of viewers. Goldberg’s unique charm and her ability to excel in diverse roles across different mediums established her as a force to be reckoned with throughout the decade.
2. Angela Bassett: The Making of a Legend
Angela Bassett’s career in the 1990s was marked by powerful performances that solidified her reputation as one of the most talented and versatile actresses ever. In 1993, Bassett delivered a career-defining performance in What’s Love Got to Do with It, where she portrayed the iconic Tina Turner. Her portrayal of the legendary singer was both fierce and vulnerable, earning her critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. The role showcased her remarkable acting range and ability to embody the essence of such an influential figure in the music industry.
Following this success, Bassett continued to captivate audiences with her role in Waiting to Exhale (1995), a film adaptation of Terry McMillan’s novel. She played the character Bernadine, a woman dealing with the challenges of love and relationships. This performance further highlighted her ability to portray complex and emotionally rich characters. Bassett’s performances in these films solidified her as a commanding presence and exceptional talent.
Beyond these roles, Bassett’s work in the 90s exemplified her dedication to portraying multifaceted and compelling characters. She is undoubtedly one of the biggest contributors to the era’s cinematic landscape. She also set a high standard for what is considered excellence in acting. Her performances during this decade paved the way for her legendary career that extends to today, far beyond the 90s.
1. Halle Berry: Best Actress in the Making
Halle Berry began her acting journey in the late 80s but gained more widespread attention in the early 90s. She emerged as a prominent actress at this time, showcasing her versatility across various genres. She gained widespread recognition for her roles in several notable films. In 1992, Berry starred in Boomerang, a romantic comedy alongside Eddie Murphy. Her portrayal of the career-driven Angela highlighted her charm and acting prowess. Her ability to seamlessly navigate between comedy and drama set her apart in the industry.
However, it was her performance in Losing Isaiah (1995) that revealed her depth and emotional range as an actress. In this film, she delivered a compelling performance as a recovering addict fighting for custody of her child. This role showcased her ability to bring complexity and authenticity to her characters, earning critical acclaim and further establishing her as a formidable talent in Hollywood.
As the decade progressed, Berry continued to diversify her roles, starring in The Flintstones (1994) and Bulworth (1998). These films highlighted her adaptability and range. Her contributions throughout the 90s set the stage for her future success, laying the groundwork for her groundbreaking achievements and illustrious career in the following decades. This includes becoming the first Black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Monster’s Ball (2001). Berry will always be a queen of her community for her rule of the 90s.