12 stars on the rise, from Jay Ellis piloting ‘Top Gun’ to Anthony Ramos hitting new ‘Heights’
31st March 2021

A year of the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the nation’s theaters, but it has not halted the rise of a diverse next generation of filmmakers and stars who will be gracing big screens and TV in the years ahead.

Awards season has shone a light onto vital performances still earning raves–  8-year-old Alan Kim from the drama “Minari,” Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield in “Judas and the Black Messiah,”along with a powerhouse showing from “One Night in Miami” stars Leslie Odom Jr. (a 2021 Oscar nominee),  Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree.

But that’s just part of the story. Here are 12 talented actors and filmmakers making major waves in Hollywood.

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Aldis Hodge

Aldis Hodge drew raves in "One Night in Miami" as footballer Jim Brown. (Photo: Richard Shotwell, Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Hodge, 34, is hardly a newcomer, memorably appearing in films like 2016’s “Hidden Figures,” and as MC Ren in 2015’s  “Straight Outta Compton.” But Hodge was break-out amazing in “One Night in Miami” as footballer Jim Brown. He next stars alongside Ewan McGregor in the mob drama “The Birthday Cake” and as Hawkman with The Rock in “Black Adam,” out July 2022. 

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Nia DaCosta

"Little Woods" writer and director Nia DaCosta is going superhero directing "Captain Marvel II." (Photo: Rachel Murray, Getty Images)

Writer-director DaCosta, 31, grabbed Hollywood’s attention with her 2018 award-winning crime thriller “Little Woods” before stepping over to horror directing the upcoming “Candyman” reboot. Next up, the Brooklyn-born DaCosta enters the Marvel Universe, directingBrie Larson in“Captain Marvel II.”

Patti Harrison

Patti Harrison stars as a surrogate in "Together Together." (Photo: Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

Harrison, 30, has already starred in TV’s “Shrill” and “Broad City.”  This year, the half Vietnamese trans actress and comedian voiced Tail Chief in Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” and excels as the gestational surrogate for a single 40-something (Ed Helms) in the upcoming comedy “Together Together” (opening April 23 in theaters). Next up, Harrison stars in the Sandra Bullock-led comedy “Lost City of D.”

Jenna Ortega

Jenna Ortega, 18, has moved from "Jane the Virgin" to "Scream" in record time. (Photo: Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for YouTube)

After appearing as the younger Jane in “Jane the Virgin,” Ortega, 18, garnered more adult attention appearing in Season 2 of Netflix’s “You, the recent comedy “Yes Day” with Jennifer Garner and in the teen-drama “The Fallout.”  Next, Ortega will lead the embattled ensemble in the fifth installment of the slasher series, “Scream” (out January 2022). 

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Blitz Bazawule 

Blitz Bazawule is due to direct "The Color Purple." (Photo: Vivien Killilea, Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 20)

The Ghana-born filmmaker and rapper, known as Blitz the Ambassador, co-directed  Beyonce’s 2020 visual album “Black is King.” Blitz, 38, is next set to direct the Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Spielberg-produced “The Color Purple” movie musical due out December 2023.

Destin Daniel Cretton

Destin Daniel Cretton is helming Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." (Photo: Kevin Winter, Getty Images)

The Hawaiian-born filmmaker, 42, already has a diverse body of work, directing the indie-drama “Short Term 12” and “Glass Castle” before helming the Michael B. Jordan civil rights drama “Just Mercy.” Cretton now enters the Marvel Universe directing “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” due out in September.

Simu Liu 

Simu Liu will make history as the star of "Shang-Chi." (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images for Disney)

One-time stunt person Liu is set to make history in “Shang-Chi” as the star of the first Asian-fronted movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Liu, 31, who emigrated to Canada from China at age 5, has starred in the CBC’s sitcom “Kim’s Convenience,” and is filming the true-life dog adventure “Arthur the King” with Mark Wahlberg.

Jonathan Majors 

Jonathan Majors had a huge 2020 with "Lovecraft Country" and "Da 5 Bloods." (Photo: Christopher Smith, Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

The star of 2019’s critically lauded “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” also had an epic 2020 showing as Atticus Freeman in the HBO series “Lovecraft Country” and as the loyal son David in Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods.” Majors, 31, joins the MCU as Kang the Conqueror in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” due out in 2022. 

Erin Kellyman

Erin Kellyman has masked up as the newest Marvel villain in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier." (Photo: Joe Maher, Getty Images)

The British actress, 22, soared as the leader of the Cloud Riders in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” before going to the dark side as a villain in Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” Kellyman will next star as one of the leads in the 2022 Disney+ series “Willow.”

Jay Ellis

"Insecure" star Jay Ellis will get pilot cocky as Payback in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images)

Fans now know the onetime mode, 39, as Issa Rae’s on-again, off-again partner in HBO’s “Insecure,” and he’s also scored roles in shows like BET’s “The Game” and the 2020 mini-series “Mrs. America.”?  Ellis is about to fly high as pilot Payback with Tom Cruise in this summer’s “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Dominique Fishback

Dominique Fishback is earning rave reviews for her role in "Judas and the Black Messiah." (Photo: Cindy Ord, Getty Images)

Fishback, 30, made waves as a single mother in HBO’s “Show Me a Hero” and was the soul of Showtime’s Times Square drama “The Deuce.” In 2020, the actress-playwright was heartbreakingly effective as the steadfast Deborah Johnson, partner to Fred Hampton (Kaluuya) in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

Anthony Ramos

Anthony Ramos, who is of Puerto Rican descent, will star in "In the Heights," which takes place in Washington Heights, New York City. (Photo: Dan MacMedan, Dan MacMedan-USA TODAY NETWORK)

The Broadway “Hamilton” star, 29, who was Lady Gaga’s screen BFF in “A Star Is Born,” is about to reach dizzying levels as the star of the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” (on HBO Max and theaters June 11). 

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