Though there is a lot of emphasis on youth in Hollywood, many women over 40 continue to make award-winning appearances in film and television. These women have achieved success in their roles and are an inspiration to other Black actresses beginning their careers. Take a look at our list of Black actresses over 40 who have made it big.
1. Alfre Woodard
In 1978, Alfre Woodard starred alongside Samuel L. Jackson in the film The Trial of the Moke. She starred in Cross Creek in 1983, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. The same year, she received a Primetime Emmy Award for her role in Hill Street Blues television show.
Woodard won another Primetime Emmy Award in 1986 for her role in L.A. Law. She played the role of Winnie Mandela in the 1987 film Mandela, for which she won an NAACP Image Award. In 1991, she won a Golden Globe Award for her role in the film Passion Fish. She won several awards for her performance in the 1997 film Miss Evers’ Boys.
More recently, Woodard has appeared in the 2019 film Clemency and the 2021 film Fatherhood. In addition to her acting career, she is also a producer of The Porter’s television series, which began in 2022. Woodard is an outspoken activist for HIV/AIDS care and LGBT rights.
2. Angela Bassett
One of the best-known Black actresses over 40, Angela Bassett, had her breakthrough in 1991. She played Tina Turner in the film What’s Love Got to Do with It. She won a Golden Globe Award for her performance. In 1995, she received an NAACP Image Award for her role as Betty Shabazz in the film Malcolm X.
Bassett played the lead role in the 1999 film How Stella Got Her Groove Back. She also starred in The Rosa Parks Story in 2003. She won an NAACP Image Award for each of these performances.
Her role as Queen Ramonda in the 2018 hit film Black Panther landed her a Screen Actors Guild Award. Since 2018, she has been starring in and producing the television series 9-1-1. Bassett supports children and youth, health care, and art programs.
3. Gabrielle Union
The 2000 comedy film Bring It On saw Gabrielle Union receive mainstream recognition. She later had a leading role in the 2003 film Deliver Us from Eva. She starred in Daddy’s Little Girls in 2007, followed by 2012’s Think Like a Man and 2014’s Think Like a Man Too. In 2016, Union appeared in The Birth of a Nation and Almost Christmas.
She has also appeared in several television shows. Union played Dr. Courtney Ellis in the television series City of Angels in 2000. From 2013 to 2019, she played the lead role in Being Mary Jane, for which she won an NAACP Image Award.
Outside of her acting career, she has launched a clothing line, a hair-care product line, and her own wine. She is also the author of two children’s books and two memoirs. Union is an advocate for women’s rights and breast cancer.
4. Halle Berry
In 1989, Halle Berry made her acting debut in the television sitcom Living Dolls. Her first film appearance was in the 1991 movie Jungle Fever. In 1999, Berry played the lead role in the film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, for which she won several awards.
In 2002, Berry starred alongside Billy Bob Thornton and Heath Ledger in the film Monster’s Ball. She received many awards for her role, including an Academy Award. The same year she appeared in the James Bond film, Die Another Day.
Berry played the role of Storm in the X-Men movies between 2000 and 2014. She had the lead role in Catwoman in 2004 and starred in Their Eyes Were Watching God in 2005. Berry advocates for women’s issues, environmental causes, health, and education.
5. Kerry Washington
In 2002, Kerry Washington had her first big role in the 2002 film Bad Company with Chris Rock. She played Ray Charles’ ex-wife in the 2004 film Ray. In 2006, she played the ex-wife of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film The Last King of Scotland.
From 2012 to 2018, Washington starred in the television series Scandal, for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award and the NAACP President’s Award. She appeared in 2012’s Django Unchained and had the lead role in the 2016 film Confirmation.
In 2020, Washington appeared in the television series Little Fires Everywhere. She has also worked as both a producer and a director. She advocates for women’s rights and supports LGBT programs and cancer organizations.
6. Naomie Harris
As a child actress, Naomie Harris appeared in the television series Simon and the Witch in 1987. She saw success with her role in the 2002 horror film 28 Days Later. Harris appeared in two films from the fantasy series Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp.
In 2013, she played Winnie Mandela, the second wife of Nelson Mandela, in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Between 2012 and 2021, she appeared in three James Bond films: Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die.
Harris performed in the 2016 drama film Moonlight and played the voice of Nisha in 2018’s Mowgli. In 2021, she played the role of Frances Barrison (Shriek) in the Marvel movie Venom.
She has been an advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, women’s rights, and ending violence against women.
7. Octavia Spencer
In 1996, Octavia Spencer appeared for the first time in film in A Time to Kill. She had several appearances in television shows, including ER, The X-Files, NYPD Blue, Ugly Betty, CSI, and The Big Bang Theory.
She performed in the 2009 horror flick Halloween II, followed by the 2011 drama The Help. It was this performance that won her an Academy Award. In 2013, she played a role in the science fiction film Snowpiercer and in 2016, she played a mathematician in the drama Hidden Figures.
She has also appeared in 2017’s The Shape of Water, the 2018 comedy Instant Family, and the 2019 psychological thriller Ma. Spencer has acted in the television drama series Self Made, Truth Be Told, and Red Band Society.
She also works as a producer and has written two children’s books. She supports LGBT rights and received the Inspiration Award from GLSEN, an organization dedicated to creating safe and supportive schools for LGBT youth.
8. Oprah Winfrey
While Oprah Winfrey is well-known for her media empire and former talk show, she is also a successful actress. Her first major film role was in the 1985 movie The Color Purple. In this movie, she played a housewife named Sofia. She got nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award.
In 1989, Winfrey starred in and produced a television series called The Women of Brewster Place. She made a guest appearance as a therapist on the television show Ellen in 1997. The following year, she produced and starred in the film Beloved. She got nominated for an NAACP Image Award for her role as Sethe.
In 2013, she won an African-American Film Critics Association Award for her performance in The Butler. She produced and starred in the 2014 historical film Selma. In 2018, she appeared in the adventure film A Wrinkle in Time.
Winfrey has also performed as a voice actress in The Princess and the Frog, Bee Movie, and Charlotte’s Web. She is a generous supporter of many causes, including disaster relief, HIV/AIDS, children’s access to education, and the preservation of Black history.
9. Queen Latifah
She is well known for her singing and rapping career. Queen Latifah is also an accomplished actress. Her first television appearance was in 1991 on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Between 1993 and 1998, she played Khadijah James on the sitcom Living Single.
She saw success in film with her role in the 1996 movie Set It Off. She starred alongside Vivica A. Fox and Jada Pinkett in the crime film. Queen Latifah was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the 2002 musical film Chicago.
She has had roles in several comedy movies including Bringing Down the House with Steve Martin in 2003, and Girls Trip with Regina Hall in 2017. She won a Primetime Emmy Award for her work in the 2015 film Bessie.
From 2016 to 2019, she performed in the musical drama series Star. Since 2021, she has held the lead role in the action television show The Equalizer. Queen Latifah has worked to support Black culture, women’s rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, and LGBT programming.
10. Regina King
Between 1985 and 1990, Regina King starred in the television sitcom 227. During the 1990s, she appeared in the films Boyz in the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Friday.
She played the role of Detective Lydia Adams on the television crime series Southland from 2009 to 2013. She also starred in American Crime between 2015 and 2017, for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award.
King also won Primetime Emmy Awards for her roles in the 2018 crime drama Seven Seconds and the 2019 superhero show Watchmen. She received an Academy Award for her performance in the 2018 drama film If Beale Street Could Talk.
In addition to her acting career, King also began working as a television director in 2013. She started work in film production in 2020. She is a supporter of gender equality and the Black Lives Matter movement.
11. Rochelle Aytes
In 2004, Rochelle Aytes got her film start in the movie White Chicks. This was followed by roles in Madea’s Family Reunion in 2006 and Trick ‘r Treat in 2007. Most of Aytes’ work has been on television.
She appeared in the 2007 drama series Drive as well as the crime drama show The Forgotten from 2009 to 2010. Aytes is well known for playing the role of April Malloy in the drama series Mistresses from 2013 to 2016. During the same period, she played Savannah Morgan in Criminal Minds.
In 2013, Aytes played Perri Reid in the film CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. Since 2019, she has held the role of Nichelle in the action drama television series S.W.A.T. Outside of her acting career, Aytes is a supporter of victims of human trafficking.
12. Rosario Dawson
In 1995, Rosario Dawson made her film debut playing Ruby in the drama Kids. That same decade she appeared in movies including He Got Game, Side Streets, and Light It Up. She has appeared in musical comedies such as Josie and the Pussycats in 2001 and Rent in 2005.
Other films that Dawson has appeared in include King of the Jungle, Ash Wednesday, Men in Black II, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
Dawson has also had roles in television series. She played Claire Temple in several Marvel shows including Daredevil, Luke Cage, and The Defenders. Dawson played the leading role in the series Briarpatch and has been cast in the starring role for the show Ahsoka.
Along with her acting roles, Dawson has been an advocate for many causes. She supports children’s charities, environmental causes, human rights, and health care.
13. Sophie Okonedo
In 1991, Sophie Okonedo made her film debut in the 1991 movie Young Soul Rebels. She appeared with Jim Carrey in the 1995 comedy film Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.
In 2004, Okonedo starred alongside Don Cheadle in the drama film Hotel Rwanda. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. In 2006, she appeared in the television drama Tsunami: The Aftermath, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
Okonedo is also a theater actress. She won a Tony Award for her performance in 2014’s A Raisin in the Sun and has also appeared in The Crucible in 2016 and Antony and Cleopatra in 2018. She is a supporter of various causes including environmental charities, children’s charities, and HIV/AIDS awareness.
Top Black Actresses Over 40, Final Thoughts
From television series to hit films to Broadway, these Black actresses have shone on the acting stage. Their performances have been recognized with many prominent awards including Golden Globes, Tony Awards, and Academy Awards. Along with acting, these Black women have contributed their time and funds to worthwhile causes throughout the world.