Lakeith Stanfield isn’t just another talented actor: he’s riveting, yes, but we’re excited not only by his meteoric rise but because of the kinds of characters he so seamlessly disappears into. Complex, nuanced, fully human—not exactly the way Black men have been typically portrayed in Hollywood. That's why directors, from Ava DuVernay and Oliver Stone to Jordan Peele and Shaka King, have been eager to work with Stanfield.
Though he’s been buzzed about for some time now, this year, he’s finally getting the widespread recognition he deserves: The 29-year-old was nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” at the 2021 Academy Awards for his turn as a government informant in the historical drama Judas & the Black Messiah. And he’s just been nominated for “Best Actor” at BET Awards 2021. Keep reading to relive the five moments that show you the depths of Stanfield’s acting chops and don’t forget to tune in to BET Awards 2021 on June 27 at 8/7C p.m. to see if he finally gets his due.
2014 : Sacrificing Himself In "Selma"
In Selma, Ava Duvernay's historical drama and part-bio pic of Dr. Martin Luther King, Stanfield plays Jimmie Lee Jackson, a civil rights protester who is murdered by police in a haunting and powerful scene. “He feels like a real guy who has some weight on his shoulders, and yet you look in his eyes and see this vulnerability and this sweetness,” DuVernay said of Stanfield. “That really encapsulates the vibe of so many African-American men that I know and love. But in film and television we either see the alpha or the emasculated. He represents this beautiful hybrid of all that complexity.”
2015: Being The Big, Bad Bully In "Dope"
The California native had a breakout moment in the high school comedy Dope, where he played a local Blood gang member and ruthless bully named Marquis. Stanfield was both intriguing and believable in the role, torturing the movie’s main characters to the point where we wanted to smack him ourselves. He credits his ability to play everything from a geek to a gangsta to his versatile upbringing. “I could go chill with the gangbangers, I could go chill with anyone and fit right into whatever mold because I knew how to switch,” said Stanfield in a 2016 profile. “That was something I realized early on: Like, ‘What is my identity?’ And I realized my identity is in all of those. I learned how to survive that way, and it’s been valuable for my career.”
2016: Acting Like Himself In "Atlanta"
In the Donald Glover-helmed FX show Atlanta, Stanfield is fully in his element. During his most defining scene as the bizarre but lovable Darius, he is quick to greet a stranger at the front door with a knife before offering up a cookie when he realizes they come in peace. "I’m really similar to the character," Stanfield revealed in an interview after season one. "I exist in my own world no matter where I’m at or who I’m around. To me, it’s a paradise; it may look completely ridiculous to someone else.”
2017: Getting Ghost In "Get Out"
Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece Get Out relied on Stanfield to sell its nightmare scenario believably or it would not have held up. In a pivotal scene, we learn that Stanfield is not who he appears to be after a camera flash briefly pulls him out of deep hypnosis. From his bloody nose to the pained look on his face, Stanfield’s scene was a huge standout moment in the film, despite being brief. To keep it all the way real with you, we’re still a little triggered by unannounced camera flashes as a result of that scene.
2019: Breaking Our Trust In "Uncut Gems"
By the time he starred alongside Adam Sandler in 2019’s Uncut Gems, we knew we could count on Stanfield to be a scene-stealer. In his role as Demany, who is Sandler’s assistant of sorts, he brought intensity, grit and tension every moment, including one chaotic scene involving a dancefloor dispersing brawl with a cameo by The Weeknd. To tap into his character's questionable moral compass, Lakeith pulled from his struggle years, when he survived by stealing sandwiches from Subway, working at a marijuana dispensary, and doing door-to-door sales for AT&T.
Watch the BET Awards 2021 on June 27 at 8/7C.