Nigerian faces are showing up on big and small screens worldwide. While Nollywood is yet to capture the global mainstream, actors originating from the country have made names for themselves in the world’s biggest movie industry, grabbing roles on Emmy-winning shows and billion-dollar-grossing movies. Hollywood is constantly changing, with more non-white, non-American actors getting their big break than ever before. These six actors (and actresses) of Nigerian descent are part of the generation responsible for this shift.
John Boyega (Star Wars)
There is no better way to start this list than with John Boyega, the easy-on-the-eyes actor who was immediately became a household name when it was revealed he had landed a major role in the then-upcoming Star Wars trilogy. Portraying Finn starting with 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Boyega’s status as a true leading man was cemented, being a face of perhaps the most enduring franchise in film history.
He has since achieved success outside of the world of the Jedi and wisecracking robots; he is a recipient of a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, a Critics Choice Television Award. And the Cannes Film Festival’s Trophee Choppard Award. In 2016, he founded UpperRoom Productions which recently inked a deal with Netflix to produce a slate of movies for the streamer.
Damson Idris (Snowfall)
Idris had always wanted to be a football player, even dreamed of being the next Cristiano Ronaldo. But acting found him and it has not let go since. When he is not stirring up a storm on social media with his cool sense of fashion, Idris is making himself into the next big thing in the world’s biggest film industry.
The London-born star attracted critical acclaim when he played a 19-year-old drug dealer in the crime drama Snowfall. In his relatively infant career, he has appeared alongside stars like Liam Neeson, Riz Ahmed, Kate Beckinsale, Kate Mara and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. He has also had roles on Twilight Zone and Black Mirror.
Wunmi Mosaku (Loki, Lovecraft Country)
Referred to as “Britain’s new queen of horror”, Mosaku is a BAFTA winning actress whose career appears to be headed for the stars and beyond. Her career breakthrough came in form of her performance in the TV film Damilola, Our Loved Boy in 2016. In that same year, she appeared in the summer blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In 2019, she appeared in Luther alongside Idris Elba.
She has also gone on to play major roles in Lovecraft Country and the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Loki series. Her turn in Lovecraft Country earned her Screen Actors Guild Awards and Critics Choice Awards nominations.
Sam Adegoke (Dynasty)
Sam Adegoke on Dynasty is unmistakably Nigerian. This is not necessarily because of the chutzpah with which he plays the role but the fact that his character sometimes break into Yoruba on a show full of white, American characters. This was something he actively pushed for.
“Jeff, my character, is like this self-made tech billionaire. He’s like a Mark Zuckerberg,” he told the show’s writers. “Could he be Nigerian? (Because) that’s realistic.” They agreed.
He has also appeared in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, NCIS: LA, Switched at Birth and Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland.
Rotimi (Divergent, Power)
The Nigerian-American wears many hats indeed: singer, fashion model, video vixen and actor. In the last regard, he has become somewhat of a force. In 2013, he starred in Black Nativity alongside Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Mary J. Blige. The following year, he appeared in the blockbuster Divergent. But it was his role on Power that brought him to a global audience when his role as Andre Coleman became a fan favorite.
He has had roles in Boss, Battle Creek and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Earlier this year, he appeared in the star-studded Coming 2 America, the sequel to the Eddie Murphy classic.
Folake Olowofoyeku (Bob Hearts Abishola)
It was a certainly unexpected role. A Chuck Lorre sitcom headed by a Nigerian woman speaking Yoruba and English with her very Nigerian accent. The idea seemed like fantasy, something that seemed interested on paper but inconceivable onscreen. But Olowofoyeku embodied Abishola in a way that made the character a truly original sensation on American screens. Having moved to America in her adult years, she retained the element of Nigerianness in her, which reflected in her performance.
She is a magnet for prestige shows. Beyond Bob Hearts Abishola, her resume is filled with impressive shows like Modern Family, Westworld, 30 Rock, How to Get Away with Murder, Law & Order, Transparent and so many other award-winning classics.
Kanyinsola Olorunnisola is a journalist, social critic and literary enthusiast. He is the recepient of the 2017 Fisayo Soyombo National Essay Prize, the 2020 Speculative Literary Foundation’s Diverse Writers Grant and the 2020 K&L Prize for African Literature. He is the founder of SprinNG, a platform dedicated to the development of young African writers.