An actress and singer known for delivering heartfelt and energetic performances, Jurnee Smollett’s talent continues to evolve with each new project.
Smollett most recently starred in The Great Debaters alongside Denzel Washington, who also directed the drama, and Forest Whitaker. Produced by Oprah Winfrey, the film depicts the true story of Melvin B. Tolson (Washington), a professor at Wiley College in the Jim Crow South, who inspired four students to form the school’s first debate team, becoming the first African American university to break color barriers and eventually going on to challenge Harvard in the national championship. In addition to receiving rave reviews, the film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture and she was personally nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture. She was also recently seen guest starring on the two-hour season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, which aired on May 22nd.
Smollett made her breakthrough performance when she starred in Kasi Lemmon’s critically acclaimed Eve’s Bayou and was voted one of the five Hollywood stars to watch in the millennium by Interview Magazine. In the film, Smollett portrayed Eve, a young girl who, in the course of one summer, opens up a Pandora’s Box of family secrets. Starring opposite Samuel L. Jackson, Smollett’s performance earned her a Broadcast Film Critics Award for Best Youth Performance.
Smollett recently starred in Malcolm D. Lee’s Roll Bounce with Nick Cannon which garnered her rave reviews from USA Today, the LA Times, Daily Variety and New York Daily News among others for her portrayal of “Tori,” the endearing friend who goes from braces to beautiful over the course of the film. Smollett also starred in Phil Joanou’s Gridiron Gang, opposite The Rock as well as Stephen Metcalfe’s Beautiful Joe starring Sharon Stone.
On television, Smollett starred on the Comedy Central series, Wanda at Large with Wanda Sykes. Other guest starring appearances include roles on House, E.R. and Strong Medicine. She also appeared in the made-for-television films, Ruby’s Bucket of Blood with Kevin Anderson as well as a highly praised performance in Disney’s Selma Lord Selma, bringing to life the true-to-life story of Sheyann Webb, an outspoken little girl who befriended Dr. Martin Luther King during the 60’s voter rights movement.
In addition, Smollett has starred with Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad on the CBS sitcom, Cosby. For her work on the series, Smollett won NAACP Image Awards in 2000 and 1999, as well as a Vision Award in 1999. Smollett also received much critical acclaim for her guest starring role as the daughter of an activist who is brutally murdered in NYPD Blue. Smollett began her television acting career at the age of four with a recurring role on Full House, later reviving the character for a season of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. She followed by starring on the 1994-1995 ABC comedy, On Our Own with her real life sister and four brothers.
In addition to acting and singing, Smollett is an activist and the youngest board member of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), a nonprofit organization working in the U.S and South Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, advance human rights and equality, safeguard voting rights, and assist educated and empower children orphaned by AIDS as well as other at-risk youth. Smollett has been involved with ANSA since the age of 11 and in March, 2006, became ANSA’s pioneer presenter for Positively Speaking, a program of Los Angeles Unified District HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit that brings people who are infected or affected by the disease into middle and high school classes to tell their own stories and lead discussions. Smollett has traveled to South Africa through her efforts with ANSA, where she has met with Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others, and recently completed a U.S. State Department speaking tour of Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa where she spoke with women and girls about HIV/AIDS.
She recently also joined the board of the Children’s Defense Fund.