It's no secret that TV shows have begun to offer actors much more complex and intriguing roles than their big screen counterparts. Which explains why some of the world's biggest movie stars — from Meryl Streep to Tom Hardy — have been hopping on one miniseries or the other.
While it's a matter of choice and artistic growth for these white stars, equally talented actors of colour have had to settle for TV roles for decades now — due, in no small part, to a serious lack of opportunities for them anywhere else.
British-Nigerian actor, Damson Idris in 'Snowfall' (Photo: FX)
Although all that is beginning to change very slowly, it still remains that if you want to find the best performance by an actor of colour, you'll most likely have to look to their TV work. That's no less true for a lot of our favourite actors of Nigerian descent.
So, to celebrate these actors, we'll be going through some of our favourite TV shows to highlight the standout work they've done. From Yvonne Orji in Insecure to Gbenga Akinnagbe in The Wire, these are the 9 best TV performances by Hollywood actors of Nigerian descent.
Uzo Aduba in Orange is the New Black (2013 - present)
Whether you like the show or not, you can’t deny that Netflix’s hit dramedy, Orange is the New Black has one of the best ensembles in TV history. Which is exactly what makes Uzo Aduba’s ability to stand out even more impressive.
Playing Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren — one of the many colourful inmates in Litchfield — Aduba’s performance is thoughtful, hilarious and creepy. It’s not hard to see why she’s already won two Emmys for her peerless work.
Uzo Aduba in 'Orange Is The New Black' (Photo: Netflix)
Yvonne Orji in Insecure (2016 - present)
While the talented Issa Rae leads HBO’s acclaimed comedy, Insecure, in every sense of the word – she’s its star, creator and executive producer – Yvonne Orji is the show's true standout and the cast member most deserving of acting awards consideration.
Playing Molly Carter, Issa’s best friend and confidant, Orji effortlessly nails the show's dramatic and comedic beats. It’s also a credit to her charismatic performance that when Molly is doing some seriously dumb stuff, she remains impossible to hate.
Yvonne Orji in 'Insecure' (Photo: HBO)
Adewale Akinnyoye-Agbaje in Oz (1997 - 2003)
Thanks to iconic shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, True Blood and Game of Thrones, HBO has had some of the greatest TV villains of all time, but none of them instilled dread quite like Oz’s Simon Adebisi.
Played with palpable menace by the versatile Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Adebisi had everyone around him — including all of us who watched from the safety of our homes — quaking with fear as soon as he walked into a room.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in 'Oz' (Photo: HBO)
Gbenga Akinnagbe in The Wire (2002 - 2008)
The Wire is regarded by many as the greatest TV show of all time. The drama earned that title for a lot of reasons, but the best thing about it was definitely its performances, and Gbenga Akinnagbe was one of the show's strongest performers.
Playing Chris Partlow — a terrifying criminal enforcer — Akinnagbe pulled off the impressive feat of imbuing his villainous character with a conflicted, underlying humanity. He is currently bringing the same magic to HBO's new drama, The Deuce.
Gbenga Akinnagbe in 'The Wire' (Photo: HBO)
Damson Idris in Snowfall (2017 - present)
While FX's stirring new drama about the Los Angeles cocaine epidemic in the '80s has its flaws — most notably, its pacing — Damson Idris' unimpeachable lead performance was one of the biggest surprises of 2017.
As Franklin Saint, a 19-year-old boy whose ambition gets him into a dangerous situation, Idris gives an impeccably nuanced performance — portraying the inner conflict of a young black man coming of age and navigating a life of crime.
Damson Idris in 'Snowfall' (Photo: FX)
O.T Fagbenle in The Handmaid's Tale (2017 - present)
While it's not surprising that most of the awards love The Handmaid's Tale got was deservedly directed at the women — especially Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley and Ann Dowd — it's a little sad that O.T Fagbenle was overlooked for his stunning performance.
As Luke Bankole, our protagonist's husband, Fagbenle took his character from an adulterous asshole to an empathetic hero we couldn't help but root for. We really hope we get to see more of Fagbenle's delicate performance in the upcoming sophomore season.
Luke Bankole in 'The Handmaid's Tale' (Photo: Hulu)
David Oyelowo in Nightingale (2014)
Most actors on this list had a fair number of episodes to create complex, three-dimensional characters, but Oyelowo did all that in a single two-hour TV movie. A feat made even more impressive by the fact he was alone onscreen.
Playing a supermarket clerk whose mind is unravelling, Oyelowo gives a disorienting and unforgettable performance — his best after his work in Selma. It’s not hard to see why the actor went on to land an Emmy nomination.
David Oyelowo in 'Nightingale' (Photo: HBO)
Sophie Okonedo in Mrs Mandela (2010)
Although a lot of talented women have played Winnie Mandela on the big and small screen — Alfre Woodard and Jennifer Hudson, just to name a few — no one has captured her essence quite like Sophie Okonedo did in the 2010 TV movie, Mrs Mandela.
For the performance, which rightfully earned her a BAFTA nomination, Okonedo revealed the strength and complexity of one of the most polarizing women in the world. It's a shame that not a lot of people got to see her powerful portrayal.
Sophie Okonedo in 'Mrs Mandela' (Photo: BBC)
Chiwetel Ejiofor in Dancing on the Edge (2013)
While a lot of people know that Chiwetel Ejiofor landed an Oscar nomination in 2014 for his performance in 12 Years a Slave, a lot of people have no idea that he also scored an Emmy nomination that same year for his work in the miniseries, Dancing on the Edge.
As Louis Lester, the leader of a jazz band whose rise to fame gets derailed by a murder, Ejiofor gives an expectedly elegant and measured performance. Not that we'd expect anything less from one of the greatest actors working today.
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 'Dancing on the Edge' (Photo: BBC)
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