Not only is Africa a continent that is known for its beautiful land, it also has a reputation for being home to some of the world’s most beautiful people. In Hollywood today, actresses from all walks of life have only just begun to really dominate the big screen. In a career where women are fighting to be seen, to earn equal money as their male counterparts, and to get starring roles in blockbuster releases, the origins of many leading ladies may be unknown. In fact, there’s probably been quite a few actresses that are of African descent in movies, and you would’ve never had a clue. Luckily, we comprised a list of some of these women.
Here are 10 of the hottest African actresses:
1. Charlize Theron
Perhaps the most famous African in Hollywood, Charlize Theron was born in the city of Benoni in Gauteng, South Africa. The future actress grew up on a farm with her mother and alcoholic father. In 1991, Theron’s father was shot and killed by her mother. Her father had a tendency to abuse Charlize and her mother when he was overly intoxicated. Found to be an act of self-defense, Charlize’s mother was acquitted of these charges.
At 16, Charlize and her mother moved to Italy so Theron could pursue dancing and modeling. The twosome traveled throughout Europe until Charlize was 19 and moved to the United States. Charlize got her start with a bit role in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest in 1995. Her workload picked up quickly from there as she landed parts in movies such as The Mighty Joe Young, Reindeer Games, and Sweet November.
Finally, in 2003 Charlize was cast in a role that would see her become the first South African to win a Best Actress Oscar. Playing the role of notorious serial killer, Aileen Wuornus, Charlize skyrocketed to mainstream success in Monster. She continues her acting career to this day, and has begun philanthropic pursuits such as The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project to help African youth fights HIV/AIDS.
2. Wunmi Mosaku
This actress was born in Zaria, Nigeria. At birth, she was given the name Oluwunmi Olapeju Mosaku. Not long after her entry in this world, her family emigrated to Chorlton, a southern suburb of Manchester, England. As a teenager, Wunmi attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Graduating in 2007, the actress soon made her onstage debut in a production of The Great Theatre of the World.
From there, Mosaku found her first big breakout in 2010’s I Am A Slave. Receiving rave reviews from the Toronto Film Festival, I Am A Slave put Wunmi on the map as she continued to get steady work from there on. In 2015, Mosaku landed a role in a three-part series that aired on BBC called Capital. Following the wave of success, Wunmi Mosaku won her first ever British Academy Television Award for Best Supporting Actress when she played the character of Glorida Taylor in a made-for-TV film called Damilola, Our Loved Boy.
Although she made a name for herself in British entertainment, Wunmi has started to nab some American roles. She played the character Kahina in this past year’s blockbuster, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Her future seems even brighter as she has wrapped filming for many upcoming releases including MacBeth and The Escape.
3. Michelle Van Der Water
This South African native was born in Cape Town. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to Australia in a quaint town right outside of Sydney. As a college student at Wollongong University, Michelle graduated with a Bachelor of Creative Arts. Her degree was in Graphic Design and New Media.
Upon graduating, Michelle began modeling and taking acting classes on the side. In 2000, she committed to becoming an actress full-time. She cut her teeth in film shorts and bit television roles. Van Der Water received her most notable break in 2006’s Minotaur, where she starred beside Tom Hardy. Since then, the South African actress has landed roles on Melrose Place, Castle, and NCIS: Los Angeles. Michelle continues to hone her craft by studying acting at the John Kirby Studio located in Hollywood, California.
4. Lupita Nyong’o
Lupita was born in Mexico but raised in Kenya, giving the actress a duel-citizenship to both countries. Acting has always been in her blood, as her family go-togethers consisted of plays put on by fellow kids or day trips to the theatre. Her love for acting took center stage at the age of 14 when she cast in her first official role as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Nyong’o joined the Phoenix Players, a repertory company in Kenya, landing leading roles in On the Razzle and There Goes the Bride.
Lupita moved to the United States to attend college. She graduated from Hampshire College, obtaining a degree in film and theatre studies. Her education continued as the actress enrolled in the Yale School of Drama for her Masters degree.
Upon graduating college, Lupita’s career skyrocketed as she was cast in 12 Years a Slave. Portraying the character Patsy, Nyong’o became the first African to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Firmly cemented as a powerhouse in Hollywood, Lupita has since starred in big-budget films such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book.
5. Kandyse McClure
Born Candice McClure in Durban, South Africa, Kandyse’s family moved to Canada when she was still very young. In 1998, the future actress graduated from West Vancouver Secondary School and quickly began to pursue acting. Her first television appearance came in 1999 when she starred alongside Lou Diamond Phillips in A Class of His Own.
Kandyse would continue to land a bunch of bit roles on both American and Canadian television. Her first big break would come in 2004 as she became a featured character on Syfy Channel’s Battlestar Galactica as Officer Anastasia Dualla. She remained on that show until 2009 while simultaneously getting one-offs on popular shows such as Sanctuary and Smallville. Her most recent notable role was on Netflix’s Hemlock Grove where she portrayed Dr. Clementine Chasseur, one of the main characters of the show.
6. Ama K. Abebrese
Ama was born in Kumasi, Ghana with the name of Ama Konadu Abebrese. Early in her life, Abebrese and family moved to West London where he started her acting training at YCTV (Youth Culture Television). Ama further worked on her craft as she joined the Lyric Theatre Summer Company. The rising actress received gigs on local television stations in West London such as OBE TV, where she acted a presenter and host for a number of shows. During her time there, she rubbed elbows with top Hollywood stars, interviewing the likes of Rihanna, Harrison Ford, and Akon.
Ama’s breakthrough role happened in 2010 when she played the character of Pabi in Sinking Sands. Her work on this film earned the actress an African Movie Academy Award. Since this breakout, Ama has been cast in a Netflix original movie called Beasts of No Nation.
7. Liya Kebede
This actress is also the 11th highest paid top model in the world, according to Forbes. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this beauty quickly relocated from her homeland to France upon graduation to pursue modeling. Shortly after, the jetsetter moved to New York City, where she met her first huge break. In 2000, Liya received an exclusive contract from Tom Ford to work the Gucci Fall/Winter fashion show. In May 2002, the model graced the cover of Paris Vogue, in a magazine that was dedicated entirely to her.
Liya continued to make a name for herself in 2003 by becoming the first Ethiopian to be named the face of Estee Lauder Cosmetics. She mainly focused on her modeling career, however Kebede did manage to score bit roles in The Good Shepherd and Lord of War. It wasn’t until 2009 when Liya would get her first major acting role. Kebede was cast as supermodel Waris Dirie in the film adaptation of the character’s autobiography, Desert Flower.
8. Ruth Negga
This actress was also born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her family resided in Addis Ababa until Ruth was four when her Irish mother moved the family to Limerick, Ireland. Ruth attended Trinity College in Dublin where she graduated with a Bachelor of Art in Acting Studies.
Negga’s first onscreen role came in 2004 as she played the lead role of Taiwo in the Irish film, Capital Letter. The Ethiopian actress quickly nabbed her next leading role as Mary in the film, Isolation. In 2005, she starred alongside John Malkovich in the movie, Color Me Kubrick.
Work began to pick up for Ruth in 2013, when she was cast in the recurring role of the TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Although she filmed scenes for 12 Years a Slave, they found their way onto the cutting room floor. However, this did not deter the Trinity graduate. In 2015, she joined the cast of Preacher as Tulip O’Haire. Her biggest break to date came in 2016 as she filmed the biracial-love drama, Loving, based on the landmark interracial marriage case of Loving v. Virginia. This particular role earned Negga a nomination for Best Actress at the Golden Globes.
This ageless beauty may be best known as the great love of David Bowe. With a birth certificate addressing her as Zara Mohamde Abdulmajid, this model/actress was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. However, at the behest of her grandfather, she was renamed the now-iconic, Iman.
At four years old, Iman was sent to boarding school in Egypt. However due to political uprisings, the family moved to Kenya, where she attended the University of Narobi to study political science. During her time there, Iman was discovered by an American photographer named Peter Beard. At his urging, she moved to the United States to pursue a modeling career. Within one year, she was on the cover of Vogue.
Since that fateful cover, Iman has been the face of many famous campaigns including Calvin Klein and Versace. With her career booming, she made appearances on numerous successful shows including Miami Vice and The Cosby Show.
Iman had a seamless transition into the big screen as well, landing roles in big box office movies such as Out of Africa, No Way Out, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. More recently, she started hosting fashion-themed shows including Project Runway Canada and The Fashion Show.
10. Yvonne Orji
This actress was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. Not longer after her birth, Yvonne’s family moved to Maryland in the United States. As a student at George Washington University, Orji obtained a Master’s in Public Health. It was her parents’ wish to become a doctor or a lawyer. However, she moved to New York to pursue standup comedy.
Trying to carve her way through entertainment, Orji has finally started to gain traction. She was recently cast as Molly in HBO’s new show, Insecure. She also landed a bit role in the hit show, Jane the Virgin. Ironic enough, Yvonne is a devout Christian and has vowed to wait until marriage to lose her virginity.