If you have a favorite TV show right now, chances are you also have a favorite character attached to that series. Sometimes it’s the sidekick, it may even be the menacingly-attractive antagonist for some, but there’s no denying the power of the lead character. What would Martin be without the titular star’s comedic prowess? Peak MTV-era Daria without the monotone bluntness of Daria? Buffy The Vampire Slayer without, well, Buffy?!
The feeling is even greater when talking about a Black lead, a role we’ve unfortunately only witness sporadically over the years. Joining the aforementioned Lawrence, it would be characters like a bifocal-rocking blerd, a sassy set of girlfriends from Los Angeles and a West Philadelphian, born-and-raised, that individually became pioneering examples for us to see our people at the forefront of television screens, especially in Black households. Thankfully, recent faves like ABC’s Abbott Elementary and the 50 Cent-produced Power Universe are all ushering in new Black lead characters that are fiercer than ever, bolder than ever and, most importantly, as Black as they come.
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We felt it was only right to honor the aforementioned characters in our fictional family, in addition to a few others that were the melanated face of their respective series and showed the true buying power of African Americans in media. In short, it felt great to both see and be seen.
Although this list doesn’t represent the full range of beloved Black lead characters in TV history, the 12 selected here did an outstanding job at either representing for a generation, showing an archetype that’s wildly inspiring or simply creating a person that lived as a best friend in our head. Keep the entertainment coming!
Keep scrolling to check out 12 of our favorite Black lead characters throughout television history, and feel free to share some of your own that we missed:
Strong Black Leads: 12 Best Black Main Characters In TV History was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
1. Steve Urkel, ‘Family Matters’
Played by: Jaleel White
The one that made it chic to be a geek.
2. Martin Payne, ‘Martin’
Played by: Martin Lawrence
One word: WASSUP!
3. Arnold Jackson, ‘Diff’rent Strokes’
Played by: Gary Coleman
The premiere child star.
4. Joan Clayton, ‘Girlfriends’
Played by: Tracee Ellis Ross
She made Black-Bohemian-meets-the-boardroom look flawless.
5. Cookie Lyon, ‘Empire’
Played by: Taraji P.Henson
People still want to see a spinoff for Cookie.
6. Will Smith, ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’
Played by: Will Smith
The consummate king of all things cool in the 1990s.
7. Olivia Pope, ‘Scandal’
Played by: Kerry Washington
What. a. walk!
8. Moesha Mitchell, ‘Moesha’
Played by: Brandy
Inspired teens everywhere to keep a diary and a kooky set of friends on speed dial.
9. Issa Dee, ‘Insecure’
Played by: Issa Rae
Those mirror raps were painstakingly relatable.
10. Annalise Keating, ‘How To Get Away With Murder’
Played by: Viola Davis
You got to love a woman that knows her way around a courtroom.
11. Earnest “Earn” Marks, ‘Atlanta’
Played by: Donald Glover
The blunt realness of Earn will forever be appreciated.
12. TIE: The Whole Cast of ‘Living Single’
Played by: Queen Latifah (Khadijah James), Kim Coles (Synclaire James), Erika Alexander (Maxine “Max” Felice Shaw), T.C. Carson (Kyle Barker), John Henton (Overton “Obie” Wakefield Jones) and Kim Fields (Regina “Regine” Hunter)
They play off each other with such symbiotic grace, it’s impossible to separate how influential the cast of Living Single was on the culture collectively.