Most successful African actresses in Hollywood

By: Adwoa Serwaa Bonsu
Charlize is one of the African actresses making waves in Hollywood
Charlize is one of the African actresses making waves in Hollywood

THE film industry is one cutthroat business that needs a thick skin to become successful. African actresses might not have gotten the chance to take on the big stage as much in the past decade but things are better these days.

Now we have new names hitting the big time and making a mark in the film industry.

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Here are 10 African actresses pushing the envelope in Hollywood and establishing themselves as A-listers.

Lupita Nyong’o

The 35-year-old Oscar winner is one of the most sought-after African actresses in the industry at current. Lupita Nyongo was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents.

Her claim to fame was the movie “12 Years A Slave” in which she played Patsey.

Since then she has gone on to feature in high-grossing films such as Marvel’s Black Panther, The Jungle Book and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Lupita has had 56 nominations winning 36 times.

Kandyse McClure


The South Africam born star movie career kicked off in the most unexpected of ways.

After auditioning for a friend’s play in Canada she received a call to audition for a much bigger role and from then dedicated her life to the profession.

McClure has since appeared in a number of high-profile films such as Romeo Must Die, Battleship Galactica and Da Vinci’s Inquest.

Thandie Newton

Thandiwe Nashita “Thandie” Newton was born in Westminster, London, England, the daughter of Nyasha, a Zimbabwean princess of the Shona people, and Nick Newton, an English laboratory technician and artist.

She has starred in many blockbuster Hollywood releases and has cemented her name as one of the biggest female stars of our times.

She made her debut in acting in the film Flirting back in 1991.

Ella Thomas

Thomas is of Eritrean and American descent. She spent most of her early life in Germany where she developed a love for the performing arts.

One of her most notable roles was on the hit TV series “Entourage” as Viveca.

She also appeared on CSI: Miami as P.Diddy’s girlfriend. Ella also appeared on “Castle” the hit show on ABC as well as playing a role in “Parenthood.”

Megalyn Echikunwoke

Megalyn was born in Spokane, Washington to an English, German and Irish mother and a Nigerian Father. The actress was discovered early and started acting at the tender age of 14.

You may know her from “The 4400” a TV series in which she had the main role as the grown-up Isabelle Tyler.

She also had a recurring role in the series “Raising The Bar” broadcasted on TNT. She also held roles on CBS’ “Made In Jersey” “90210” “That’s The 70’s Show” and many others.

Michelle Van Der Water


The actress was born in Cape Town, South Africa. Soon after her birth, the family moved to Australia.

She started out in 2000 after moving to Los Angeles. She has appeared on a number of films taking on short roles on various major films.

One of the main roles was in the movie “Minotaur” as Queen Raphaella starring alongside Tony Todd and Tom Hardy. Other performances came in works such as the renewal of the series “Melrose Place,” “Castle,” and NCIS: Los Angeles.

Liya Kebede

Actress Kebede was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While she may have made a name for herself in the acting scene Liya has done more as a model.

In her acting career, she has appeared in movies such as The Best Offer, Desert Flower, Lord of War, Good Shepherd, and Samba.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Gugulethu Sophia Mbatha-Raw was born on April 2, 1983 and raised by her South African father and Ann Raw an English nurse. She started her acting career in 2004 and has appeared in many critically acclaimed films often taking a major role.

She is most known for her acting on the hit TV series “Black Mirror” where she played Kelly. She also appeared as Dido Elizabeth Belle in “Belle.” In “Beyond The Lights” she featured playing Noni Jean.

She also had a role in the movie “Beauty and the Beast” in which she played Plumette.

Azie Tesfai

The Los Angeles native is the daughter of Eritrean immigrants and an only child. Tesfai had her first taste of the silver screen when she appeared on FOX’s “Wicked Wicked Games.”

She has also had roles on “Melrose Place”, “Franklin and Bash,” “Law and Order: SVU” and “Royal Pains.”

Charlize Theron


Charlie Theron was born on August 7, 1975. The South African-American actress doubles as a film producer. Theron was thrust into the limelight after her role in “The Devil’s Advocate” in the 1990s.

The dizzying heights of Hollywood fame were nothing to the then-budding star who went on to star in many other movies even winning an Academy Award for her stellar performance in the “Monster” playing the serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Upon winning the accolade, Theron became the first South African to take home the coveted prize.

Since she won in 2003 the star has played roles in films such as Mad “Max: Fury Road” “Hancock” “Atomic Blonde” and “The Fate of the Furious”.

Rachel Mwanza

Rachel Mwanza is an actress from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Born in Mbuyi Mayi in the Kasai-Oriental Province of the DRC, the actress had to endure a tough childhood.

In 2005, when Mwanza was only eight, her father sent the family to live in Kinshasa with the promise that he would join them later, something he failed to do.

The next few years were tough on the family, and Mwanza and her siblings had to drop out of school to fend for themselves.

Mwanza’s predicament got even worse when she was declared a witch and kicked to the streets, where she would spend the next few years trying to survive.

Mwanza’s acting break would come when Kim Ngunyen, a film director, saw her featured in a documentary about surviving the streets of Kinshasa. She was subsequently cast in the movie War Witch in 2012.

Her performance brought about an avalanche of awards in the Berlin Film Festival, Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and the Tribeca Film Festival. In 2013, Mwanza was also featured in the film Kinshasa Kids.

Elize du Toit

Du Toit was born in Grahamstown, South Africa. She spent much of her childhood in the country but obtained her education abroad.

Du Toit’s professional career has spanned close to two decades now, and she is famous for playing Izzy Davies in Hollyoaks, the Channel 4 soap opera.

She was a mainstay in the show for four years and terminated her association with the production in 2004. She, however, returned briefly in 2007.

After her breakout performance, she went on to star in a number of productions, with some of them being The Devil’s Chair, Waking the dead, Coronation Street, Casualty, Material Girl, Lewis, The line of Beauty, Doctor Who and lots more.

Benu Mabhena

Benu Mabhena was born in London, UK. While she can trace her acting development to the US, the actress bloodline lies in Zimbabwe, where her parents and most of her siblings were born.

From an early age, it was clear that Mabhena was in love with performance art. She would do impressions and tell stories to those around her.

After college, she chose to live in Southern California and pursue her acting dreams, landing a role in Blood Diamonds(2006). She has also appeared in Night Walkers and Princess.

Chipo Chung

Even though Chipo Chung was born in 1977 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzanian, she is actually half Zimbabwean and half Chinese.

Her first two years of life were tumultuous, as her parents tried to establish a permanent residence due to the instability in Zimbabwe. During this time, she stayed in a refugee camp in Mozambique.

When she turned 18, she left for the United States. In order to hone her raw acting talent, she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and that acted as a stepping stone to roles in productions such as Doctor Who, Sunshine, Loop, Proof, Last Enemy, Sherlock, and Camelot.