Next Wave Hollywood: 15 Actors Reflecting the Best of Their Generation
This feature is in the March/April Next Wave Issue. Click here to subscribe.
When it comes to the craft of acting, this group of thespians is not only creating sensational art but pushing boundaries that will no doubt be felt for years to come.
Viewers were first introduced to Whitney Peak as Judith Blackwood, one of the twins in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in 2018. That role proved to be the perfect stepping stone: The 19-year-old actress now stars in HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot. Peak showcases an understated quiet confidence as Zoya, bringing a voice of reason to the often spoiled Upper East Side kids. In addition to her breakout role, Peak is currently filming the highly anticipated Hocus Pocus 2, slated for a late-2022 release.
2021’s critically acclaimed series The Underground Railroad was driven in large part by Mbedu’s thoughtful portrayal of Cora Randall. The Amazon Prime series tells not only our community’s trauma and history but also showcases moments of our joy, resilience, and deep love. Mbedu embodied Cora’s strength and softness by simply invoking emotions solely with her eyes. Mbedu will soon star opposite Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis in The Woman King, which hits theaters in September 2022.
Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Commanding every role with the Midas touch, Harrison Jr.’s strongest attribute is his ability to make you fall in love with his characters and then hate them so vehemently within a matter of mere seconds. While he’s captivated audiences as a dramatic actor in 2018’s Monster, Waves and Luce in 2019, or portraying Fred Hampton in 2020’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, it is more lighthearted rom-com roles like his turn as David in 2020’s The High Note that show his dexterity. Currently, Harrison Jr. can be seen alongside Peter Dinklage in Cyrano (released on Feb. 25) and as B.B. King in Elvis, out this June. In January, it was announced the actor will portray the prolific artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the biographical film Samo Lives.
Another Chilling Adventures of Sabrina veteran is Tati Gabrielle. The scene-stealer made her mark as the positively villainous leader of the Weird Sisters, Prudence Blackwood. Gabrielle expanded her range as the cold-hearted witch through storylines that tackled abandonment, revenge, sexuality, and love. Netflix later cast her as librarian extraordinaire Marienne in last October’s third season of the cult-favorite You. In February, she starred as Braddock in the high-octane action-adventure video game-turned-film Uncharted, alongside Tom Holland.
Ryan Destiny first skyrocketed onto our screens as Alexandra Cran in Fox’s 2016 musical drama Star. While she wasn’t the titular character, her bright light and stellar vocals (she’s also a singer) drew viewers in. Watching Destiny embody Alex’s journey from a spoiled rich kid to learning how to be selfless in love and career was a delight. In 2020, Destiny picked up a recurring role as transfer student Jillian in the Freeform hit Grown-ish. Her character makes waves and shakes up the dynamic at Cal U. Presently, Destiny can be heard on iHeart’s scripted drama podcast The Lower Bottoms.
First wowing viewers as Ezekiel “Zeke” Figuero in Netflix’s gone-too-soon musical drama The Get Down in 2016, the career evolution of Justice Smith has been one to marvel at. Never shying away from characters that are bold and push boundaries, he played the confident and queer Chester in HBO Max’s Generation in 2021. Smith’s career continues to flourish: He’s set to reprise his role as the funny and endearing Franklin Webb in the next installment of the long-standing blockbuster franchise Jurassic World: Dominion in June.
Jahi Di’Allo Winston
A former child star with the range to blossom into one of the most cherished actors of his generation, Winston has proven to be a force onscreen. The 18-year-old's notable role as Mouse in 2020's Charm City Kings showed the importance of Black brotherhood and familial relationships. It is evident that Winston throws himself into every role, which will be seen in Netflix’s upcoming 2022 film, We Have A Ghost.
After bursting onto the screen as Zora in OWN’s Greenleaf from 2016 to 2020, Simone gracefully stepped into her first lead film role as Selah Summers, the manipulative and vengeful high school cheerleader in 2019’s Selah and the Spades. Since then, Simone has landed roles as Tabby in The Craft: Legacy (2020’s reboot of the 1996 cult classic) and as Davina in Starz’s Power Book III: Raising Kanan last July. This year, Simone will showcase her range with the upcoming period drama The Walk.
From Jerrika in Showtime’s The Chi to the financially and emotionally fractured young Mia Warren in Hulu’s 2020 series Little Fires Everywhere, Boone elevates herself with each performance. Her winning streak continued in 2021’s Hulu sleeper hit Nine Perfect Strangers. Boone chooses roles that push against the stigma and preconceived notions that Black women are a monolith. Her characters have heart, grit, and agency at every twist and turn. Later this year, she’ll reprise her role as a forgery heroine in Season 2 of the Nazi-hunting Amazon Prime drama Hunters.
While everyone was reveling in the portrayals of Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal, by Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield respectively, in 2021’s esteemed Judas and the Black Messiah, it was Fishback’s quiet strength and presence as Deborah Johnson that made the film even richer. Before she was Deborah, she was Kenya in 2018’s The Hate U Give, and she gave triple-threat Jamie Foxx a run for his money, showcasing her poetry and freestyle skills as Robin in 2020’s sci-fi thriller Project Power. In June 2023, Fishback will command the screen again in her lead role in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.
Essiedu made waves with his delicate portrayal of assault and trauma as Kwame in HBO’s I May Destroy You series in 2020. Essiedu’s earnestness in crafting this fully fleshed-out, flawed, vulnerable, and deeply deserving Black gay man is a performance unlike any we’ve ever seen. Further showing his range, he starred opposite the brilliant Jodie Turner-Smith as George Boleyn in last year’s period drama Anne Boleyn. This year, we’ll get a second season of his performance as Alex Dumani in the hit AMC show Gangs of London, where we can continue to find his character playing chess with everyone he’s involved with.
Enchanting audiences as Teen Chiron in 2016’s Academy Award-winning film Moonlight, Sanders’ on-screen reign has not slowed down. Showing his artistic range when tackling everything from Black masculinity to sexuality, Sanders went on to play layered drifter Bigger Thomas in 2019’s film adaptation of Native Son. Currently, he can be seen as Bobby/The RZA in the TV story of one of hip-hop’s most iconic groups, Wu-Tang Clan, in Wu-Tang: An American Saga. This holiday season, he can be seen as Bobby Brown in Kasi Lemmons’ musical biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody.
Quintessa Swindell recently captured audiences as Laila in the HBO In Treatment reboot. Swindell’s portrayal of Laila’s fight for her family’s support of her queer relationship in the midst of a struggle for perfection solidified them as a rare talent. A nonbinary actor whose art pushes boundaries in a cis-het-dominated industry, next up is their performance as the first Black Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone in DC Comics’ Black Adam. The first live-action film centered on the anti-hero and the iconic Justice Society of America is slated to hit theaters in July.
Trained at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Mosaku thrived as Rial in 2020’s racial and societal horror film His House, about the undertones of assimilating to life in a new country as a refugee. Further solidifying her space in the race-thriller subgenre, she became the haunting and enchanting Ruby Baptiste in HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Proving she’s more than a drama darling, Mosaku effortlessly transformed into action-packed hero Hunter B-15 in Marvel’s time-bending Loki series in 2021. Later this year, Mosaku can be seen in HBO’s limited series We Own the City, based on the book by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton.
First capturing Twitter’s attention with her catchphrases and legendary memes, Brunson transitioned to TV. Her roles on 2019’s A Black Lady Sketch Show and 2020’s Magical Girl Friendship Squad further displayed her creative genius. Abbott Elementary (a sitcom created by and starring Brunson) marked ABC’s first comedy premiere to quadruple ratings since its debut last December. The show follows a group of educators tackling the financial, administrative, and personal challenges of teaching in the Philadelphia public school system. While her career continues to flourish, Brunson continues to provide us with the laughs we need.