Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

Black Actors, Directors, and Screenwriters Who Made TV History

Dec 03, 2023 10:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho

On 21 November and 22 November 1996, the U.N. held the first World Television Forum. It provided a platform and allowed the media to discuss the importance of TV in delivering information and also how it participates in the changing world. It is the single largest source of video consumption.

Therefore, the UN General Assembly on 17 December 1996 through resolution 51/205 established 21 November as World Television Day to commemorate the date on which World Television Forum was held. It was done by seeing television's impact on the decision-making process. Television is a major tool and so acknowledged for informing, channeling, and affecting public opinion. We can't deny its impact on world politics i.e. the way it influences world politics.

Television continues to be the single largest source of video consumption, and it does have a dark history of how Black people have been portrayed and also not recognized for their acting, directing, or producing talents. Take a look at some of the talented Black actors, directors, and screenwriters who have made TV history throughout the decades.

Ethel Waters

Ethel Waters was an American singer and actress. Waters frequently performed jazz, swing, and pop music on the Broadway stage and in concerts. She began her career in the 1920s singing blues. Her Broadway acclaim led Waters into a career in film and later television, including an appearance in the all-Black film, Cabin in the Sky, which starred Lena Horne and was directed by Vincente Minnelli. Waters is also the first Black woman to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy and the first nominated for a dramatic role for her guest appearance on the series Route 66.


Arsenio Hall

Arsenio Hall is an American comedian, actor and talk show host. Hall became a co-host of the short-lived television series The 1/2 Hour Comedy Hour in 1983. Later that year, he began to regularly appear on Thicke of the Night (1983–84), entertainer Alan Thicke’s brief foray into the late-night talk-show arena. Hall was back on television in the summer of 1985 as a regular on the musical showcase series The Motown Revue starring Smokey Robinson and again the next year as a co-host of the music show Solid Gold.

He is the first Black late-night talk show host in 1989 until 1994, with The Arsenio Hall Show, and again from 2013 to 2014. During its run the show was nominated for several Emmys, winning two. Hall also served as the show’s executive producer, a job that he would perform on other projects throughout his career. Hall starred with his good friend Eddie Murphy in Coming to America.


Cecily Tyson

The legendary Cecily Tyson had much acclaim throughout her life. Tyson dedicated her career to portraying resilient African-American women on the stage and the screen. Tyson’s first role was on NBC’s Frontiers of Faith in 1951. She continued to do small film and television shows and roles in YMCA theater productions throughout the 1950s. In the 1960s, she became the first Black person to star in a primetime drama for her role in the series East Side/West Side. Tyson's portrayal of the title role in the 1974 television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman won her two Emmy Awards and a nomination for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. 

She received another Emmy Award nomination for her role as Binta in the acclaimed series Roots. Tyson was also the first Black actress to receive an honorary Academy Award in 2018. In 2013 she received a Kennedy Center honor for “a lifetime of powerful performances in roles that shattered boundaries for African American women.” In 2014, President Barack Obama gave her a Presidential Medal of Freedom. She also received numerous NAACP Image Awards and the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Award. She has a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. 


Read also:

13 Black Legends Who Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom

On July 7, President Joe Biden awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 Americans. In light of this prestigious event, here’s a look at some of the wonderful and deserving Black l... Read More » 


Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey became the first Black woman to own her own production company. At age 19 she became a news anchor for the local CBS television station, and in 1976 she was made a reporter and co-anchor for the ABC news affiliate in Baltimore, Maryland. She found herself constrained by the objectivity required of news reporting, and in 1977 she became co-host of the Baltimore morning show People Are Talking. Winfrey’s honest and engaging personality quickly turned the program into a success, and in 1985 it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. Syndicated nationally in 1986, the program became the highest-rated television talk show in the United States and earned several Emmy Awards. Winfrey is one of television’s highest-paid entertainers.


Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte was the first Black man to win a Tony Award in 1954. He also starred in film classics such as Carmen Jones, Island in the Sun, and Uptown Saturday Night, landed a hit single with The Banana Boat Song, and released the first platinum-selling album by a solo artist. In the 1960s he became the first African American television producer, and over the course of his career, he served in that capacity on several productions. During this time Belafonte continued to record, and his notable albums include Swing Dat Hammer (1960), for which he received a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance. He also became the first Black person to win an Emmy in 1960 thanks to his TV special, Tonight With Belafonte

Broadcast by CBS, the hour-long broadcast included folk songs with performance numbers that alluded to slavery and prison chain gangs and was sponsored by cosmetics company Revlon. Belafonte pushed for talent like folk singer Odetta and director Norman Jewison. After the first show was a success, Revlon ordered five more specials. In 1989, he received the Kennedy Center Honors. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994. In 2014, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy's 6th Annual Governors Awards, and in 2022 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influence category.


Read also:

From sit-ins in the 1960s to uprisings in the new millennium Harry Belafonte served as a champion of youth and Black nationalist activism

From sit-ins in the 1960s to uprisings in the new millennium, Harry Belafonte served as a champion of youth and Black nationalist activism

Of all the contributions for which Harry Belafonte will be remembered, perhaps none is more enduring than the celebrated entertainer’s lifelong support for youth activism. Read More » 


Lena Waithe

Lena Waithe is an actress, producer, and screenwriter, and is the creator of the Showtime drama series The Chi, and the BET comedy series Boomerang, and Twenties. She also wrote and produced the crime film Queen & Slim in 2019 and is the executive producer of the horror anthology series Them. With her impressive eye for discovering and spotlighting underrepresented voices, Waithe navigates the intersection of business and entertainment in conjunction with her own production company, Hillman Grad Productions.

Waithe became the first Black woman and the first Black gay woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017. She claimed victory from directing the “Thanksgiving” episode of Netflix’s Master of None. In 2023, she received a nomination for Best Play at the 76th Tony Awards, her production work on the sketch-comedy play Ain't No Mo'. Waithe has showcased her writing, acting, and production talents for some of television’s most popular shows and is an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Waithe was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2018 and was included on Fast Company's Queer 50 list in 2021 and 2022.


Viola Davis

Viola Davis is an American actress and producer. Davis is one of the few performers to have been awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. She is the sole African-American to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting as well as the third person to achieve both statuses. She became the first Black woman to receive three Academy Award nominations back in 2017 for her supporting role in Fences. In 2015, she became the first Black woman to score an Emmy for a Lead Actress In a Drama Series for her role as Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder. Davis’s memoir, Finding Me, was published in 2022. The following year she won a Grammy for the audio version of the book. With that award, she became the third Black woman to win an EGOT.

Read also:

The Power of Black Excellence Highlighting African and African American Achievements in Various Fields - Part 1

The Power of Black Excellence: Highlighting African and African American Achievements in Various Fields - Part 1

Black Americans have imprinted on the globe in multiple fields, including politics, entertainment, athletics, and science. Read More » 



Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll is the actress who broke down racial barriers in casting and became a star of Dynasty. Carroll’s first major film role was in the 1954 musical Carmen Jones. The groundbreaking film adaptation of the George Bizet opera featured an all-Black cast led by Dorothy Dandridge (the first Black actress to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination) and Harry Belafonte. In 1968, Carroll made TV history on the series Julia as the first Black actress to star in a non-stereotypical primetime TV role. Throughout her career, Carroll found success on both the silver screen and the small screen with Porgy and Bess, Claudine, Dynasty, The Five Heartbeats, The Love Boat, A Different World, and more.


Read also:



Black British actors have significantly contributed to the movie industry and inspired lives through their various roles and have gone further to contribute to the global stage. Read More » 


The Hottest Black Actors and Actresses in This Day and Age

The Hottest Black Actors and Actresses in This Day and Age

These individuals have won the hearts of audiences worldwide with their unmistakable charm, incredible abilities, and unquestionable talent. Read More » 


Celebrating Diversity Top Movies by African American Filmmakers in the Criterion Collection

Celebrating Diversity: Top Movies by African American Filmmakers in the Criterion Collection

These filmmakers have crafted exceptional movies and left an indelible mark on the world of cinema. Read More » 


 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content. 

Read more from Boitumelo Masihleho:

Mother-Daughter Duo Made History as the First Caribbean Women to Go to Space  Other Black People Who Made Space History

Mother-Daughter Duo Made History as the First Caribbean Women to Go to Space & Other Black People Who Made Space History

Black people have played key roles in the assembly of the International Space Station, NASA, and today utilize the orbiting lab by performing numerous spacewalks and robotic operations an... Read More » 


10 Black Environmental Leaders to Follow

10 Black Environmental Leaders to Follow

Black environmental leaders are shaping many of today’s most important conversations about climate justice and driving cutting-edge research into ecosystems, planetary science, and wildlife. Read More » 


10 Poetry Books by Black Poets to Add to Your Book Shelf

10 Poetry Books by Black Poets to Add to Your Book Shelf

From ancient African poems to the work songs of enslaved people and the flood of amazing poetry during the Harlem Renaissance to right now, there’s just so much to read and celebrate from... Read More »