The Most Badass Black Female Movie Heroines

Photo: American International Pictures/Getty.
We’re in the midst of an industry-wide call for inclusivity. Hollywood is finally acknowledging a lack of diversity as one of its weaknesses. And it’s about time.

Viola Davis already reminded us that it’s opportunity, not talent, keeping Black women from the roles that are so readily available to white women. This is especially true in movies. But that doesn’t mean that Black actresses haven’t played some amazing characters on the big screen. Black women were the forces behind award-winning films like Fences and Hidden Figures during this awards season.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon. Black actresses have been inspiring me by playing a diverse array of roles for my whole life. Here are some of my favorite badass Black female characters.

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Photo: Courtesy of New Line Cinema.
Cleo, Set It Off (1996)
Queen Latifah’s iconic character in Set It Off is the first queer Black woman I can remember seeing on television. She was the gutsy go-getter of her group of bank-robbing friends. As a masculine-presenting woman Cleo was confident, sharp, and so bae.
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Photo: Courtesy of Miramax.
Chantel, Just Another Girl On The I.R.T. (1992)
This indie film is a coming of age story about a Black girl in New York who is unapologetically loud and outspoken. The major theme of the film is Chantel’s unplanned pregnancy, but it’s her unflinching willingness to address sexist double standards, racism, and economic disenfranchisement that makes her such a badass. Also, '90s streetwear. It’s everything.
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Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Mary Jackson, Hidden Figures (2016)
Most of us recognize the greatness that is Hidden Figures. Much of the performance accolades have gone to Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson. But Janelle Monae’s character was actually my favorite. Mary Jackson's spunky spirit was a reminder: Never, even under circumstances of extreme discrimination and oppression, have Black women been complacent.
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Photo: Courtesy of American International Pictures.
Foxy Brown, Foxy Brown (1974)
Pam Grier’s iconic role gave us our first Black female hero. She busts up a drug ring and goes undercover to do the same to a prostitution ring. She even works with a local member of the Black Panthers to pull it off. Her hair never falters and she's as good with a gun as any man.
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Photo: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.
Rita, Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit (1993)
In case you thought rapping and singing were Lauryn Hill’s only talents, think again. In the sequel to Sister Act, the legend played a student at a struggling Catholic high school. She has to defy her mother in order to compete in a choir competition that will not only help her realize her own potential but keep her school open. Her voice is amazing and she manages to speak for so many Black girls who face adversity, even from their parents.
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Photo: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.
Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do with It? (1993)
I strongly believe that Selena is the biopic of my time. But What’s Love Got To Do With It? is absolutely a close second. Angela Bassett completely nails Tina Turner in this movie that chronicles her rise to fame and her abusive marriage to Ike Turner. Ultimately, Tina turns the tables on Ike and divorces him in order to become the solo sensation that we know today. If getting revenge on a violent ex isn’t feminist resistance, then we need to rethink this entire movement.
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