Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television – By James L. Neibaur

Too often there is the belief that the internet will allow all one needs in researching any subject.  That reference books are nearly obsolete.


Case in point;  McFarland and Company’s latest publication by Bob McCann, which lists nearly 400 African American actresses and provides biographical notes and notable credits.  It is the most comprehensive reference source on its subject and is truly outstanding.

The breadth of this book includes actresses that are current stars, notable names from the past, and all of the hard working African American women who toiled in popular B movies that have lived on as aggressive examples of classic entertainment.  This includes the “Blacksploitation” period of the late sixties and early seventies that may appear dated now, but allowed for contributions beyond what was usually available for black women during those times, making a star of Pam Grier, for example.

This reviewer was especially interested in the bio on Juanita Moore, whose performance in Douglas Sirk’s IMITATION OF LIFE (1959) had such an impact on me as a small child.  Ms Moore is still alive at 88 years old.  Others whose bios interested me included such unforgettable old timers as Lillian Randolph, Louise Beavers, Fredi Washington, and Claudia McNeil.

In his preface, Bob McCann explains why he excluded some noted names from his listings.  Singers, for instance, are only used if they appeared in acting roles in a number of films – Tina Turner and Ella Fitzgerald are here, but Donna Summer, Gladys Knight, and Alicia Keys are not. 

But even with these exclusions, this reference is amazingly thorough and fascinating.  We can trace the early contribution of such pioneers as Hattie McDaniel and Dorothy Dandridge.  We become enlightened by information on the forgotten Evelyn Preer, Anita Bush, and Lucia Lynn Moses.  Noted modern era actresses like Lark Vorhees and Stacey Dash are found to have contributed far more than their most noted work.  Entries on top stars like Halle Berry and Jennifer Hudson remind us of their list of past credits.

The Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television is a most highly recommended book, mandatory for any library.  It is unfortunate that its author, who worked so hard to compile a definitive reference, did not live to see its publication.

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