Black women take the lead in big screen action movies

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There’s a new a-list of action movie stars in Hollywood, and it isn’t who you’d expect. When casting directors are looking for female leads for the next box office blockbuster, some black actresses are making the top of the list.

This weekend Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is debuting in IMAX theaters, and the woman playing right hand to Tom Cruise is Paula Patton. In the film Patton plays Jane Carter, an Impossible Mission Force agent forced to go rogue when her agency is ambushed. There are gun shootings, intense fighting scenes, car chases – all the elements of a heavy-hitting action blockbuster. Patton hangs tough through it all, a fearless female accomplice to Tom Cruise’s indomitable Ethan Hunt.

Paula joins an elite class of black actresses starring in action films. Historically, black female action stars first became popularized through 1970’s blaxploitation films like Cleopatra Jones and Foxy Brown.

More recently Halle Berry blazed trails for black female action stars, taking lead roles in films like the X-Men franchise, Die Another Day, and Catwoman.

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However Halle seemed to be in a class by herself — save for Thandie Newton’s casting in 2000’s Mission: Impossible II, there weren’t many black actresses being cast in action films.

But the back female action star is back! It seems in an effort to broaden their audience reach, Hollywood is casting women of color to be action film leading ladies, surprisingly getting something right in this trend — black audiences get to see black actresses take on strong leading non-stereotypical characters, and Hollywood gets black audiences filling in their seats. It’s a win win.

One of the top black female action star these days has to be Zoe Saldana, who first gained traction in the genre as Anamaria in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, but really made a name for herself in Avatar, The Losers, and Columbiana. Columbiana is especially of note because she wasn’t just the leading lady, she was the gun-toting revenge-seeking star, 108 minutes of death and destruction wrought at the hands of a woman of color.

Columbiana had a decent showing at the box office, pulling in $60 million worldwide and perhaps opening the door for other black female action stars, like Naomie Harris. Harris, a UK actress best known stateside for her role in the zombie thriller 28 Days Later, has just been cast as Miss Moneypenny in the latest installment of the James Bond franchise.

In the upcoming 23rd iteration of James Bond, currently titled Skyfall, Harris will portray Moneypenny not only as the secretary to Bond’s boss M, but also an accomplice as well — Harris says she’s been practicing stunt driving and firing machine guns for the role.

This is a big deal for the franchise and for Harris — in the history of the film, this is the first time Moneypenny is being portrayed by a woman of color.

Hopefully this trend will continue. Pending the success of the new Mission: Impossible, and James Bond, we will likely see a lot more black actresses kicking ass on the big screen.