Total Film’s list of the 100 Greatest Female Performances includes some great performances, but is mostly just complete and total bullshit. It manages to include more than a few cartoon characters – Jessie from Toy Story, Jessica Rabbit, Lady from Lady and the Tramp, to name a few – but only two black female characters.
Certainly in the entire history of film there are black female characters that could have rated as high as Ursa from Superman II, which is more a series of grunts and grimaces than a character. But really, the list’s oversight just gives me an opportunity to show some love to five of my favorite black female characters.
1. Cleopatra “Cleo” Sims
Set It Off
Played by Queen Latifah
From her first scene to her death in a hail of bullets, Cleo is the soul of the entire film. Other characters get the bigger dramatic arcs, but it is Cleo we care about. And Cleo we mourn.
2. Mozelle Batiste Delacroix
Played by Debbi Morgan
Mozelle is a psychic whose three husbands died much too young. She fills the film with an indelible mixture of sensuality, coldness, and compassion. And she gives the film its deep spirituality. That deep sadness we feel as she recounts the deaths of her husbands lingers long after the film is over.
3. Monica Wright
Love and Basketball
Played by Sanaa Lathan
Monica Wright is the sister we rarely get to see in films – a beautiful tomboy who is better than the brothers, and knows it. A fierce athlete with an almost pathological love of the game, she gives young sisters their very own role model and hero, flawed and relatable in every way.
4. Judy/Girl 6
Played by Theresa Randle
Girl 6 is a woman who spends the entire film trying to find herself, to live by her own rules. By film’s end, she’s become a fine portrait of a black woman rejecting a society that sees her always and only as a sexual object.
5. Jacqueline Broyer
Played by Robin Givens
The ultimate unattainable woman, Jacqueline treats men the way men have treated women for eons and makes no bones about it. She is a character that is oddly punished in the film, but she’s still the most striking thing in it.