Top Ten Greatest and Most Underrated Black Actors of All Time.

Kendall Rivers
7 min readFeb 25, 2022
Lee Thompson Young

So many iconic black actors in the business from the likes of Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishbourne, Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, Will Smith, Chadwick Boseman etc. But what about some of the ones that aren’t exactly Marquee names but just as effective and just as memorable and talented? The ones also responsible for the amazing contributions they provided in their projects? Here are ten overlooked talented brothers who deserve a bit more praise and recognition for what they did\do.

10. Lee Thompson Young.

The suicide at the ripe age of 29 of this young actor with such promise truly hurts my soul. I grew up with Lee as the star of the classic Disney show Famous Jett Jackson, but he had done quite a bit more and was on the cusp of possibly having an amazing and long career on par with such iconic black actors as Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Forrest Whitaker, Laurence Fishbourne etc. But alas we lost such a talented and charming young man who had the potential to being the black Tom Selleck. Young was definitely a tv star and I only wish he could’ve lived long enough to continue to grow more and more into one of our greatest actors.

9. Reggie Hayes.

When we talk about comic geniuses we do not ever seem to utter this man’s name. Reggie Hayes is best known to all of us as William Dent. The lovable, dorky, straight forward and big brotherly male buddy to Joan, Maya, Toni and Lynn on the classic UPN sitcom Girlfriends. Reggie was masterful as William and proved in this role that he was capable of having such great comic delivery and timing as a perfect comic relief but also the heart and chops to be a leading man in a series with his dramatic skills being just as sharp as his comedy skills. It’ s a shame that this man has not had his own series by now.

8. Joe Morton.

You know this man best as Miles Dyson from Terminator 2, Papa Pope from Scandal, Henry Deacon from Eureka and Byron Douglas The 3rd from A Different World, but he’s had many memorable roles throughout film and television the past 30 odd years. Some may not consider someone with Joe’s career underrated but he’s still rarely comes up when we talk about iconic black actors and just iconic actors period. This man is a chameleon and can play any role given to him. For that the brother deserves far more props.

7. Kadeem Hardison.

As Dwayne Wayne Kadeem became a black tv legend. He has also been known for being involved in projects such as Fire & Ice, White Men Can’t Jump and The Sixth Man to KC Undercover and Between Brothers, but still I feel like Kadeem is overlooked as a truly talented and capable actor besides the Dwayne Wayne character, although that is the role we all love him best as. Kadeem Hardison has also proven himself to be quite the romantic lead such as his roles in Fire & Ice and A Different World playing opposite two classy beauties such as Lark Voorhies and Jasmine Guy. Let’s just say that any man would pay a fortune to have the onscreen interactions with gorgeous women as Kadeem has.

6. Russell Hornsby.

If anybody is the new school Denzel Washington it’s Russell Hornsby aka Officer Eddie Sutton from Lincoln Heights who for me he’ll always be best known. Hornsby has also had major roles in the tv series Grimm, Creed 2, Fences, The Hate You Give, Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector and currently BMF (Black Mafia Family) on Starz. The man has such power and raw emotion in any scene he’s in and it makes him a truly dynamic actor who deserves to get his chance at an Oscar one of these days.

5. Allen Payne.

This man was in almost every black produced and cast film in the 1990’s and deserved it because he’s a true star. Smooth, cool, handsome and able to be both dramatic and funny, Allen Payne’s got the skills to pay the bills. Women love him and guys wanna be him. He’s had many recognizable and beloved roles including Lance Rodman from The Cosby Show, Gee Money from New Jack City, Jason Alexander from Jason’s Lyric, Dead Mike from CB4, Marcus Wilkes from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Tristan from Blue Hill Avenue, Van Compton from Commitments, Walter Peeples from The Tuskseegee Airmen and CJ Payne from House Of Payne.

4. Jaleel White.

Jaleel White will always be known as Steve Urkel for all the good that is and all the bad that is. But this brother is so much more than that one iconic character. In fact, we saw him play a whole bunch of different characters on Family Matters all distinctive and all making us forget that they were in fact being played by the same actor. Jaleel unfairly never gets credit for his impeccable character comedy skills that are on par with Eddie Murphy in Coming To America and Nutty Professor 1 and 2, Martin Lawrence on Martin and Big Momma’s House. He somehow completely disappears into the characters he played and that’s remarkable for any child actor to accomplish never mind any adult actor.

3. Leon.

Leon is a true legend, especially when it comes to biographical musical films such as his iconic roles in The Temptations as David Ruffin and The Five Heartbeats as J.T. Matthews. He’s also in classic sports films Cool Runnings as Derice Bannock and Above The Rim as Shep. You might also remember him as Lela Rochon’s married on again\off again lover Russell in Waiting to Exhale. The man has been apart of many legendary films and yet still doesn’t get enough acclaim in the mainstream compared to his contemporaries. Leon is as dynamic as he is cool and has been truly blessed to be apart of so many classic films that people will always love for now and forever.

2. Charles S. Dutton.

Charles is best known as Roc Emerson from the 1990’s Fox sitcom Roc. Through his classic show he was able to deal with very specific issues in the black community as well as just the ups and downs of family life in general. Charles S. Dutton is a straight up theater\stage actor whose been in many productions from Shakespeare to The Piano in 1990. Charles is a very outspoken and passionate man who overcame past demons and channeled all his energy and pain into his amazing performances. Through his work on Roc, Menace ll Society etc. we see Dutton’s heart pour through his sleeves and every performance he gives whether dramatic or comedic feels genuine and believable.

  1. Howard Rollins Jr.

Before there was Denzel, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson etc. There was Howard Rollins Jr. I truly believe that I have not seen an actor pour more genuine emotions into a dramatic scene better than Howard Rollins. He makes you truly believe that he is feeling all the pain his character is feeling and can make tears drop on a dime. He’s also been apart of quite a few iconic black projects including the In The Heat Of The Night television series from 1988–1993, Ragtime and A Solider’s Story. One of our greatest losses is Mr. Rollins who died far too young due to Lymphoma in 1996. It takes truly great actors to take over the iconic role of the great Sidney Poitier but Howard did it with impeccable skill. It’s unfortunate that a terrible drug addiction got the best of him but he’ll always be remembered for his truly powerful, natural and memorable performances. Like Mr. Poitier, Mr. Rollins will always be known by the name of “Mr. Tibbs.”

Here’s the link to the Greatest and Most Underrated Black Actresses piece from last year:



Kendall Rivers

Kendall is a screenwriter who’s a huge fan of classic tv and movies. He enjoys creating good stories and characters.