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12 Most Influential Black Women in Hollywood Right Now

From trailblazing directors to on-screen inspirations, the African American women making progress in today's tinseltown
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If you're an African American woman possessed with the drive to succeed in show business, expect to find yourself neck-deep in challenges. Even today, Hollywood is a white man's world -- and though this idea is nothing new, it may not take on real meaning until you look at the numbers...

Fact: In the 88-year history of the Academy Awards, only one African American woman has ever taken home the award for Best Actress (Halle Berry for "Monster's Ball"). Singer Irene Cara won Best Song in 1983, but other than that, the only category in which African American women have ever been recognized is Best Supporting Actress. That in and of itself reflects a troubling reality -- the The Huffington Post reported that for decades, most black actresses have been pigeonholed as "secondary characters or stereotyped as maids and nannies." Apparently, scaling the centuries-old walls of inequality is easier said than done.

In some ways, though, the past few years have been different. This year, African American film director Ava Duvernay received a Golden Globe nod for her movie "Selma" -- the first to enjoy that honor -- although, she was scandalously snubbed for an Oscar nomination a few days later.

In other words, things are improving for black women in Hollywood, but they're still not perfect. And sometimes, when the Man has failed to give recognition to the brilliant, industrious, admirable people who deserve it, we have to take matters into our own hands.

That's why we consulted two experts in show biz -- actress and film critic Carla Renata and "Entertainment Tonight" producer Tracie De La Rosa -- to get the who's who of Hollywood's most trailblazing black women today.

Keep reading to take up residence on the fabulous side of history.

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Laverne Cox
In 2013, Netflix's groundbreaking series "Orange Is the New Black" gave a voice to so many talented, inspiring women, most of whom hadn't enjoyed such a prominent platform in Hollywood before. One such diva is LGBTQ advocate (and bombshell at large), Laverne Cox.

Cox is a transgender woman playing a transgender lead character on a mainstream television show -- already a model of progress. But according to "Entertainment Tonight" producer Tracie De La Rosa, her influence transcends the small screen.

"Since being thrown into the Hollywood spotlight, she has never stepped back and hidden behind the camera," says De La Rosa. "She owns her beauty. She is not afraid to be herself." Cox was the first trans actress to win a Primetime Emmy Award, and the first-ever trans person to be on the cover of Time Magazine, where she spoke about race, class, the transgender movement and more. Her advocacy for cultural change matched with her endless talent and poise make Laverne Cox a veritable legend of our time.

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Ava Duverney
Ava Duvernay is now a Golden Globe-nominated director, but actress and film critic Carla Renata says she began with much humbler roots. "She started out as a publicist," Renata recounts. "She was a young, beautiful black woman from Compton, California. And she was able to transition into filmmaking from there, because she's an amazing writer... Now, she's knocking down barriers one film at a time." (She makes it sound so easy).

In 2012, Duvernay became the first black woman to win a directing award at the Sundance Film Festival for her second feature film, "Middle of Nowhere." In 2015, for her movie "Selma," she became the first black female director nominated for a Golden Globe.

"Some black filmmakers will say, 'I don't want to be considered a black filmmaker, I'm a filmmaker,' said Duvernay in a 2012 interview, "I don't think that. I'm a black woman filmmaker... my films are through my lens." With Duvernay's pride and hard work as inspiration, we hope to see many more black female filmmakers follow in her footsteps.

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Shonda Rhimes
Flaunting a long list of titles including screenwriter, director and showrunner, Shonda Rhimes is best known for creating and executive producing the hit TV series "Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice" and "Scandal."

"Shonda Rhimes is a beast," says Renata with a smile. "She is the only person -- male, female, black or white -- that has taken over Thursday nights on ABC Television. That is unprecedented." In other words, tune into ABC's "Thank God It's Thursday," and every show you watch will be a Shonda Rhimes production.

In September of 2014, Rhimes debuted yet another ABC smash hit, "How to Get Away with Murder," starring fellow black female powerhouse, Viola Davis. If the past decade is any indicator, we can expect Rhimes to continue besting Hollywood's off-screen scene.

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Uzo Aduba
Another "Orange Is the New Black" breakout star, Uzo Aduba won a 2014 Emmy Award and 2015 Screen Actors Guild Award for her role as eccentric prison inmate Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren. According to our expert Renata, however, Aduba's road to success wasn't always so smooth.

"Uzo sings, she comes from musical theatre," says Renata -- the two actresses met at an audition for "Sister Act" the Broadway musical in 2008, when Aduba was still struggling to make her mark as a performer. "Uzo said she was going to leave the business, because it wasn't happening for her," says Renata. Luckily, she stuck it out and auditioned for "Orange" shortly thereafter. Today, Aduba uses her extensive talents and years of experience to breathe a unique life into her character, and serves as a role model for the Hollywood underdog.

"I think her message is clear," adds producer De La Rosa. "Never give up."

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