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Emmys 2015: Eight young black actors to watch

Emmys 2015: Eight young black actors to watch
Tessa Thompson starred in "Dear White People" and "Selma." (Richard Shotwell / Invision/AP)

The year of diversity in television is in full swing. Cemented by history-making Emmy nominations for "Empire's" Taraji P. Henson and "How to Get Away With Murder's" Viola Davis for lead drama actress -- which two black women have never been nominated for together, and no black actress has ever won -- Hollywood's efforts to diversify its representations of people of color is giving many veteran actors their due recognition.

Also receiving nominations were Anthony Anderson ("black-ish"), Queen Latifah, Michael Kenneth Williams and Mo'Nique ("Bessie") and Angela Bassett ("American Horror Story: Freak Show") among others.

Just as deserving, however, are a (new) lot of young black actors storming big and small screens. Check out our list of up-and-coming black Hollywood stars to keep an eye on.

Tessa Thompson

Hometown: Los Angeles

Age: 31

Best-known role: Sam White in "Dear White People"

A lead cast member in two of last year's most talked-about films (Justin Simien's "Dear White People" and Ava DuVernay's "Selma"), Thompson's career is undoubtedly on the rise. Her beginnings, however, lie humbly in television as Jackie Cook on the second season of "Veronica Mars," with short stints on "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice." Perhaps her most emotional role to date was in Tyler Perry's 2010 film adaptation of Ntozake Shange's stage play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf" opposite a number of Hollywood heavyweights, including Kerry Washington and Phylicia Rashad. Thompson also dabbles in music as a member of the Los Angeles-based electro-soul band Caught a Ghost, featured on the "Dear White People" soundtrack.

Shameik Moore

Hometown: Atlanta

Age: 20

Best-known role: Malcolm in "Dope"

A Hollywood newcomer, Moore landed his first major role as a nerdy, Inglewood high schooler with Ivy League aspirations in Rick Famuyiwa's "Dope." Dubbed as "likable" by a number of movie critics from the film's performance at Sundance, he leads the cast of other Hollywood newbies (Kiersey Clemons, Chanel Iman, Tony Revolori) in the project produced by Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams and Sean "Diddy" Combs. Currently filming as one of the five leads in "The Get Down," which is set to premiere on Netflix next year, Moore has also appeared in "The Watsons Go to Birmingham" opposite Anika Noni Rose and "Joyful Noise" with Queen Latifah. When not acting, he releases R&B tracks on his Soundcloud account.

Keke Palmer

Hometown: Robbins, Ill.

Age: 21

Best-known role: Akeelah Anderson in "Akeelah and the Bee"

Palmer's first role was in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business" when she was 9. She's since done it all: acted opposite Cicely Tyson, Queen Latifah and Angela Bassett; anchored a television series ("True Jackson, VP") on Nickelodeon; headlined as the first black actress to lead "Cinderella" on Broadway; and released a studio album and three mix-tapes. She also holds the title as the youngest person ever to host her her own talk show ("Just Keke" on BET). Somehow, however, she's remained relatively low-key since her breakout role in "Akeelah and the Bee." But with new gigs on Fox's "Scream Queens" and "Grease: Live," her career is still on the rise.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Hometown: Oxford, England

Age: 32

Best-known role: Noni in "Beyond the Lights"

One of the many Brits taking over the American stage and screen landscape in the last year, Mbatha-Raw stands out as an actress bubbling just below widespread acclaim and recognition. Though "Beyond The Lights" is probably her most recognizable role, she also starred in 2013's "Belle" and "Jupiter Ascending" earlier this year. Mbatha-Raw's upcoming projects include the live-action reboot of "Beauty and the Beast" as the feather duster Plumette and the play "Nell Gwynn" in London. Earlier this year, she was one of 322 invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Julian Walker

Hometown: Jackson, Miss.

Age: 22

Best-known role: Randy Rousseau in "Blackbird"

Another newcomer, Walker is one of black Hollywood's latest gems as star of the Patrik-Ian Polk-directed "Blackbird," which premiered last year. The film, based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Larry Duplechan, stars Walker as a high school student in Mississippi struggling with being gay. Oscar winner Mo'Nique and Isaiah Washington play his parents. With "Blackbird" as Walker's acting debut (he graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in June), as Hollywood continues to embrace diversity in its productions, his name could easily be on studios' shortlists.

Yaya DaCosta

Hometown: Harlem, N.Y.

Age: 32

Best-known role: Whitney Houston in "Whitney"

Known by many as the runner-up on Cycle 3 of Tyra Banks' "America's Next Top Model," DaCosta, who now also goes by her husband's last name, Alafia, has successfully put reality television behind her. Starring opposite Antonio Banderas and Alfre Woodard, her first major role was in 2006's "Take the Lead," followed by a number of television roles, including "All My Children" and "Ugly Betty." One of the biggest moments in her career came earlier this year when she played Whitney Houston in the Angela Bassett-directed film for Lifetime, but she also was a cast member in "Lee Daniels' The Butler." This fall, she'll star in the "Chicago Fire" spinoff "Chicago Med" on NBC.

Tyler James Williams

Hometown: Westchester County, N.Y.

Age: 22

Best-known role: Chris in "Everybody Hates Chris"

Williams got his start as the voice of Bobby on Nickelodeon's "Little Bill" in 2000 and on "Sesame Street," but his budding career isn't reflective of such humble beginnings. After entering homes nationwide as the lead character on "Everybody Hates Chris," he's grown up in the public eye. In addition to his most recent role as Noah on "The Walking Dead," he also starred in 2006's "Unaccompanied Minors" and opposite Tessa Thompson in last year's "Dear White People." In addition to acting, Williams also released a mix-tape earlier this year that satirically looks at a number of hip-hop tropes.

Zoe Kravitz

Hometown: Los Angeles

Age: 26

Best-known role: Christina in "Divergent" and "Insurgent"

Zoe, daughter of musician Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet, is making a name for herself outside of a legendary lineage. Her filmography from just this year is one any young actress would envy. Not only did she reprise her role as Christina in the second installment of the "Divergent" series, but she's also featured in "Mad Max: Fury Road," "Good Kill" and "Dope." Her prior credits also include "After Earth," "X-Men: First Class" and "Californication." Outside of film, Zoe fronts the rock band Lolawolf with Jimmy Giannopoulos and James Levy. They've opened for both Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen.

For more entertainment news, follow me on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.

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