Being a fan of cinema who watches at least 150+ films annually, you become aware of little details the average viewer wouldn’t. I started to take notice of the lack of WOC representation in the film industry, both in front and behind the camera, at a relatively young age. Of course, back then, I had no idea what it meant or that it was even an issue, but as I’ve grown older, it’s become a topic of discussion that I’m incredibly passionate about. Being a Hispanic female who has an intense appreciation for the art of filmmaking, it’s unfortunate and at times even hurtful not having the opportunity to relate to many characters and/or storylines on the big screen. These past few years, the topic highlighting the lack of WOC roles has caught fire, and it has quickly become something more and more people are talking about and trying to change for the better each and every day. I feel so honored to live in a society that, although flawed in heaps of ways, has a burning and deep desire to alter and improve the roles WOC have in modern cinema. Even though there is still a long way to go, I feel like the industry is taking the necessary steps in the right direction. That being said, I think we should take the opportunity to celebrate those fantastic WOC leads that have had the opportunity to grace our screens with their talents within the past few years – they’re slowly but surely paving the way for other women to follow in their footsteps, something utterly praise worthy.

Here’s a list of my favorite WOC lead roles across an array of diverse genres:

Disclaimer: I consciously excluded comedy because it is my least favorite film genre and I hardly ever watch it. Out of the ones I have watched, less than a handful have had WOC leads.



  • Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Meiko Kaji as Yuki Kashima in Lady Snowblood 
  • Zoe Saldana as Cataleya in Colombiana
  • Pam Grier as Foxy Brown in Foxy Brown
  • JeeJa Yanin as Zen in Chocolate

ANIMATION (about WOC characters/non-Disney):


  • The Breadwinner
  • The Prophet
  • Spirited Away
  • Persepolis
  • My Neighbor Totoro



  • Daughters of Destiny
  • India’s Daughter
  • Strong Island
  • Ladies First
  • The Pearl of Africa



  • Nora El Koussour as Layla in Layla M
  • Elvire Emanuelle as Mo in First Match
  • Karidja Toure as Marieme in Girlhood
  • Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi in Queen of Katwe
  • Sareum Srey Moch as Loung Ung in First They Killed My Father
  • Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre as Lila in Una Noche
  • Adepero Oduye as Alike in Pariah
  • Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  • Lamis Ammar and Ruba Blal as Layla and Jalila in Sandstorm
  • Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith in Bessie
  • Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo in Frida
  • Meron Getnet and Tizita Hagere as Meaza Ashenafi and Hirut Assefa in Difret
  • Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby in Middle of Nowhere



  • Narges Rashidi as Shideh in Under the Shadow
  • Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki in Audition
  • Sheila Vand as The Girl in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  • Blanca Guerra as Concha in Santa Sangre
  • Soo-jung Lim and Geun-young Moon as Soo-mi Bae and Soo-yeon Bae in A Tale of Two Sisters



  • Parminder Nagra as Jess in Bend it Like Beckham 
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle in Belle
  • Sandra Oh as Jade Li in Double Happiness
  • Angira Dhar as Karina in Love Per Square Foot

I’m always in search for new WOC lead roles and stories to experience, so you already know what to do – if you know about any that I didn’t mention in this list, let me know! Who knows, maybe I’ll discover a new favorite!




  1. I love this post so much. Thank you for using one of my suggestions… Its often weird to think that growing up I don’t really recall seeing anyone that looked like me or my family on screen. I remember being hurt and confused by that, even as a child but, I didn’t really realise just what a big or complex social issue it was till I was older. I’m so very glad that those with the power in Hollywood are finally waking up and trying to make content more diverse but I am frequently reminded of how slow progress can be.

    Reading this post I was reminded of some tweets that Jessica Chastain wrote, addressing lack of diversity in 2017 cinema. She couldn’t even name 5 movies in 2017 that had WOC leads. That’s awful. We live in such a diverse world that is pushing for equality and yet, last year only a handful of films had WOC leads. Jessica post got even more ironic when  asked her followers to name recent films with WOC leads and most could only name movies where WOC were in supporting roles. It’s a trap even I fall into, as I was going to recommend ‘The help’ and ‘Secret Life of Bees’  to you but, I realised while they’re great WOC characters in these films, they’re all supporting a white female character. Obviously, I’m all for supporting all female leads, but it just proves, it’s so much harder for WOC to get to the forefront.

     We still have such a long way to go and I feel this is somewhat hilighted in the films you recommended. Many of which were indie films and/or Netflix originals. I’m not saying at all that it’s a bad thing to have your films on Netflix,quite the opposite in fact. It’s a huge achievement but, I can’t help but have weird feelings… We’re now in a world where it’s relatively easy to make an indie film (far easier than it used to be with cheaper cameras and Kickstarter campaigns etc)and with services like Netflix and VOD it’s far easier to get diverse content out their to the public. Which is fabulous and a great step forward in representation but, it always strikes me that very few of these movies, if any at all are being made, distrubuted etc by the big, traditional Hollywood studios. It’s like a double-edged sword. Advances in technology and the way we view content has lead to much more diversity but, if we hadn’t had that, in 2018 would cinema really have moved on? It’s very obvious that ‘Hollywood’ is still the white straight mans club and they’re studios are still very reluctant to cast any female lead. Yes, you Marvel, with your 10 years of superhero movies, and currently ZERO female leads. And then, on the odd occassions big budget Hollywood does cast female leads
    it will always be a white straight able-bodied woman. It’s ĺike they can’t even comprehend the idea of a female lead, let alone a WOC who may also identify as part of several other miniority groups.

    I know traditional cinema also ‘looks down’ on a lot of content from streaming services. This is evident in rulings like the one at Cannes film festival which stated films shown must have a theatrical release but then I feel, isn’t this Hollywood and traditional cinema’s wake up call? They resent these other platforms for taking their buisness, but then these platforms are the ones giving people the diverse content they want to see. Maybe if traditional cinema and big studio execs made more of any effort to offer content that realistically represented life in 2018 ‘Hollywood’ wouldn’t be in the situation. White male Hollywood did not move with the times, to it’s own detriment. It needs to seriously wake up and start producing more diverse content or just lose more of it’s buisness to online , on demand and indie projects who are continuing to provide content that the viewers want. Either way, we’ll stil get the representation we deserve. I’m so glad things are progressing and if big studios are too late to leave their white mans bubble it’s truly their loss.

    I also know the best way to get more content is to support more films with WOC so thank you for all the recs.
    Daughters of Destiny, India’s Daughter, Strong Island, Layla M,  First match and  A Girl That Walks Home at Night are all currently on my Netflix ‘ To Watch’ list (so many movies, not enough time). I’m definetly putting  ‘Colombiana’on the list as I have developed a real love for Zoe Saldana recently. ‘Middle of Nowhere” is something I realky need to watch as I love all of Ava’s work. And ‘ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ sounds fascinating.

    You metioned so many of my favourites I immediatly want  rewatch ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’. ‘Peresepolis’ , my absolute favoutite. Such an incredible story and the annimation was so different to anything I’d ever seen. There are no
    Words to describe what  Sareum Srey Moch’s, peformance in, ‘First They Killed my Father’ does to me. I watched  ‘Belle’ recently. What a fascinating  story that’s obviously forgotten by the history books. Gugu, was fantastic, she has some fabulous looking projects in the pipeline that I’m excited to see and support. ‘Pariah’ is such an underrated movie, I related a hell of a lot to parts of the story and it really wish I’d have found it a few years ago as I really could have used it then… It just bought home to me why representation is so very important.

    Please don’t laugh but I have such a soft spot for ‘Bend it Like Beckham’. Honestly, the movie means so much to me. It’s the first time I ever remember seeing anyone who looked remotely like me on screen AND she played football! As a kid I loved football(soccer), still do in fact. And, even though my disability  prevented me playing, I’d watch the games religiously weekend with my Dad.  But, I’d never ever, seen any women playing football. There were no girls leagues, never ever any mention of female players existing anywhere and I often got ridiculed for my love of the game. England is the home of football, but it’s always been made very clear to girls it’s a mans game, a mans world. Very slowly that is changing but, seeing a girl, a girl that looked like me playing football. As a kid that meant everything to me… Over the years I’ve often returned to the film and at times I’ve almost related more to Jules’ story. The pressure that she feels to conform to looking and dressing ‘more feminine’ and the fact that she doesn’t, leads to her mother making assumptions about her sexuality. At times nothing has made me happier than Kiera Knightly affirming that dressing a certain way does not make her a lesbian, and conversely that even if she did dress more feminine she could still be a lesbian. I feel like the film does such a good job of not just addressing issues such of race and religion but also of conformity, sexuality, gender and self-expression. Is a much better film than people give it credit for and the messages it conveys are things that many people ,boththose with outdated assumptions and those trying to figure who they are, still need to hear… But alot of this I only learned to appreciate when I was older. Mostly when I think of the film I’m just filled with joy. The joy of tiny, childhood me, seeing a face that looked like mine, enjoying something as much I did. Letting me know it wasn’t a man’s game or a man’s hobby, that out their in the world there were other girls, who looked just like me who loved football too. I had my place in the world, I was ok, I fit in. That was the message childhood me took away from that movie. That’s why I’ll always mantain that representation is so vitally important. I can only hope young woc of colour today, are getting that validation too and they’re not having to find it all in one place. As things continue to progress lets hope they find that validation everywhere.

    If you’re looking for recs, you’ve already metioned most of the most of my favourites. The most obvious one that comes to mind is Hidden Figures but I kinda assume everyone’s seen that, lol. Other than that ‘Wadjda’ is a film I cannot recommend enough. It’s simple but moving story about a young girl growing up in Saudi Arabia. ‘Gabby Sidibe peformance in ‘Precious’ is also great.


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