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Black History Month: 9 Rising Stars

February 15th, 2011 11:37am EST

katerina-graham-300 After a decade in which more black actors won Academy Awards than in the past seventy years combined, 2011 represents a setback: the Oscars failed to nominate a single black artist, and Vanity Fair’s influential “Young Hollywood” cover featured a single black performer.

So here at NextMovie, we’re gonna celebrate Black History Month by highlighting the hottest, up-and-coming young black actors. These nine-under-30 might not all be household names yet, but we think they represent the next generation of Anthony Mackies, Zoe Saldanas, and Will Smiths (literally).

Gabourey Sidibe

Sidibe’s Academy-Award nomination for her debut performance in “Precious” sends her to the top our list. She may be 27, but Sidibe’s making a name for herself playing teens on the big screen (she co-stars opposite Zoe Kravitz in the upcoming indie drama “Yelling to the Sky,” which premieres at the Berlin Film Fest this month) and on premium cable with the always-amazing Laura Linney and Idris Elba — on Showtime’s “The Big C.”

If an Oscar nod, film-festival fodder and high-profile cable series don’t make her instantly recognizable, appearing in Brett Ratner’s ensemble comedy “Tower Heist” will. She’s already made us cry, so making us laugh with co-stars Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick (she’s already hosted “SNL”) makes her precious, indeed.

Jaden Smith

Sometimes acting talent can be inherited — as Michael Douglas, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow can attest. So it’s no surprise that Will and Jada’s offspring are following in their footsteps. Jaden, 12, was a natural charmer in last year’s “The Karate Kid” reboot, holding his own both with impressive acting chops and karate chops.

Little sister Willow is reportedly headed to star in an “Annie” remake (produced her very own Daddy Warbucks), and both are set to play the protagonist sibs in the fantasy adventure “Amulet,” based on a popular children’s graphic novel. It seems Smiths will be dominating the summer box office for decades to come.

Keke PalmerTweens know this 17-year-old beauty as the titular fashion exec in the hit Nickelodeon show “True Jackson, VP,” but she broke out five years ago as the girl who stole our hearts in the feel-good weepie “Akeelah and the Bee.”

Palmer, who has already appeared in 11 movies, will next play Queen Latifah’s daughter in “Joyful Noise,” a church-choir comedy also starring Dolly Parton. Two larger-than-life singer-turned-actresses sharing the screen already make this a must-see; hearing Palmer belting with the divas is icing on the cake.

Donald Glover

Comedy writer, sitcom regular, Twitter aficionado, hipster fashionista — Glover is a man of many talents. After making the leap from “30 Rock” scribe to “Community” star, fan-casting nearly won Glover auditions as Spiderman and Superman; although he didn’t get the parts, the hype made Glover a social-media star.

Glover’s next project is reportedly a role in Jason Segel’s much-anticipated “Muppets” movie (produced by Judd Apatow), due out this November. If that’s not proof of his popularity, he’s currently nominated for the “On the Brink” NewNowNext Award, the only black actor competing with fellow pretty young things like Andrew Garfield, Darren Criss, and Nicholas Hoult.

Zoe Kravitz

Another showbiz offspring, Kravitz (daughter of Lenny and former “Cosby” kid Lisa Bonet) has been appearing in movies since 2007′s comedy “No Reservations.”

After making her way through the indies “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” “Birds of America,” and the upcoming “Yelling to the Sky,” the 22-year-old stunner will star in her first big-budget popcorn flick as a member of the “X-Men: First Class.” Kravitz plays the winged mutant Tempest. She’s also slated to appear in the reboot of another franchise, the classic post-apocalyptic Aussie thriller, “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Tessa Thompson

Thompson shines as the youngest cast member in Tyler Perry’s emotional adaptation “For Colored Girls,” holding her own opposite a terrific ensemble of award-winning actresses, like Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine and Thandie Newton.

A primetime regular since 2006, (“Veronica Mars,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Heroes”) Thompson continues to impress with her stand-out character work. She’ll grace the screen in at least three films in 2011, including the pregnancy drama “South Dakota,” and the sci-fi thriller “Red & Blue Marbles.” After her heartbreaking performance in “For Colored Girls,” she’s ready for a leading role.

Brandon T. Jackson

If a script calls for a funny, young black guy, chances are Jackson will be up for the part. He’s been the comic-relief sidekick in more than 20 movies already, most memorably in “Tropic Thunder,” “Tooth Fairy,” and last year’s “Lottery Ticket” and “Percy Jackson.”

Next up, the 26-year-old plays Martin Lawrence’s kid in the cross-dressing comedy “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son,” (in theaters this Friday) and “A Talent For Trouble,” an indie comedy due out later this year.

Katerina Graham

Google her name, and you’ll discover she already has a cult following (including thousands of fanfics) for her supporting role as Bonnie Bennett, a beautiful young witch in The CW’s hit supernatural drama “The Vampire Diaries.”

But the Swiss-born, half-Liberian model-turned-actress is quickly breaking into big-screen roles, popping up in the thriller “The Roommate” (now in theaters), “Boogie Town,” the upcoming hip-hop reboot of “West Side Story, and Cedric the Entertainer’s directorial debut, “Chicago Pulaski Jones.”

Evan Ross

Primetime soap fans know him from the current season of “90210,” but Ross and his smoldering eyes have been around since 2006, when he debuted in the urban coming-of-age drama “ATL.”

He’s yet to hit it big, but he’s appeared in more than 15 movies and shows.

With his inherited good looks from his mom, Motown diva Diana Ross, a nuanced acting style, and at least six more movies on the horizon — including the teen drama “96 Minutes” and “Macbett,” a Caribbean remake of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” — we have faith that 2011 will be good to Ross.

Kali Hawk

After her scene-stealing performance as Faizon Love’s much-younger girlfriend in 2009′s “Couples Retreat,” Hawk — who previously appeared in Spike Lee’s short Maria Carey-spoof “Lovers & Haters” and a few straight-to-DVD projects — played P. Diddy’s assistant in “Get Him to the Greek,” initiating her in the world of Judd Apatow-produced comedies.

For 2011, Hawk’s leading-lady looks and comedy skills scored her a role in Craig Robinson and Kerri Washington’s family laughter “We the Peeples,” the ensemble drama “Answers to Nothing” with Dane Cook and Elizabeth Mitchell, and the latest buzzed-about Apatow production, “Bridesmaids,” starring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph.

Related: Brandon T. Jackson, Donald Glover, Gabourey Sidibe, Jaden Smith, Kali Hawk, Keke Palmer, Television, Celebrity

Photo Credits: Pictures provided by NextMovie

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