3 Iconic Performances By Black Actresses That Inspired Keke Palmer Growing Up

Keke Palmer in Alice
(Image credit: Vertical Entertainment)

Keke Palmer is about to really blow up this year, between her leading role in Jordan Peele’s Nope and as a voice in the Toy Story spinoff Lightyear. But the 28-year-old has been working in Hollywood since she was ten years old. The actress found her first role in Barbershop 2 before starring in Akeelah and the Bee, along with also being in Madea’s Family Reunion and the Disney Channel film Jump In!. As Palmer branches out in more movies and television, she spoke with us about the movies early on that inspired her. 

In Palmer’s latest film, Alice, she portrays a woman who grows up as a slave in the year 1973 without knowing she was free the whole time. The movie is influenced by real women who were exploited in similar ways in the 20th century. Keke Palmer’s character in the film lives in a society devoid of role models, but once she explores the modern world, Alice becomes empowered to take on her owner. 

Growing up with movie and TV characters who we can see ourselves in is more important to our foundations than one may think. Men disproportionately are protagonists in movies compared to women, but even more so than Black women. In the spirit of this, Palmer spoke with CinemaBlend about three iconic performances she saw in her young years that had a powerful impact on her as an actress. As she shared: 

Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got To Do With It: that’s a big one that I didn’t even realize had impacted me as a kid.

1993’s What’s Love Got To Do With It had Angela Bassett portraying Tina Turner from her upbringing to her fame as a singer and ultimately how she found courage to break free from her abusive husband, Ike Turner. The movie earned Angela Bassett an Oscar nomination for her role, placing her among a handful of Black actresses who have been nominated in the Leading category. 

Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What's Love Got To Do With It

(Image credit: Touchstone Pictures)

Palmer shared that while she didn’t realize as a kid how much the movie impacted her, she’s since reflected on it being important to her. Plus, considering Keke Palmer has delved into the music world herself, it may have been helpful for her to see the ins and outs of that world before becoming part of it. Here’s another one:

Also lighthearted stuff like Raven Symone, her whole career, watching her on television and seeing what she was able to accomplish was really just so inspiring.

Keke Palmer was a child star who eventually ended up on the Disney Channel, with Jump In!, her failed pilot Keke and Jamal and the Nickelodeon shows True Jackson VP and Winx Club. Before that, she could look to Disney’s first Black female star, Raven-Symoné, in her hit series That’s So Raven

Raven Symone in That's So Raven, Disney Channel series poster

(Image credit: Disney Channel)

The comedic series ran for four seasons and later led to the sequel series Raven’s Home, which also airs on Disney Channel. Keke Palmer’s final pick is also solid: 

Brandy playing Cinderella.

Brandy was the first Black actress to play Cinderella on screen, making the TV special from the '90s a groundbreaking piece of content, as well as still super charming to this day. The movie also cast Filipino-American actor Pablo Montalbán as her prince, alongside a very diverse cast overall. Palmer ended up following in Brandy's footsteps by playing Cinderella on Broadway from late 2014 to early 2015.

Brandy and Paolo Montalban in Cinderella

(Image credit: Disney)

At the time Keke Palmer was growing up, there weren't a lot of performances from Black women to go around as there are now, but the ones she did see she can recall to this day. Alice is playing in theaters now, and you can check out what other upcoming 2022 movies are next here on CinemaBlend. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.