February is Black History Month, a time to honor the social and political equality granted to African Americans, due in part to the work of revolutionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
Film was a particularly difficult industry for black actors to break into. Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to ever win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1939, for playing Mammy in Gone with the Wind, opening the door for more black women to appear in prominent roles in film. Specifically for screenings in the 1940s South, where a black actress couldn’t play anything but a servant on screen, beautiful women like Lena Horne were given roles that were expendable, able to easily be cut out of films without affecting the plot. Eventually, movies would reflect the real-life improvements in race relations, leading to Halle Berry becoming the first black woman to win a Best Actress Oscar in 2001.
Although they deserve to be recognized every day, this month is the perfect time to appreciate these stunning, game-changing goddesses from movies and TV. From the legendary pioneers to the burgeoning ingenues, these are The 50 Hottest Black Actresses of All Time.