Lynn Whitfield (née Smith; born February 15, 1953) is an American actress. She began her acting career in television and theatre before progressing to supporting roles in film. She won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie and received a Golden Globe Award nomination for her breakout performance as Josephine Baker in the HBO biographical film The Josephine Baker Story (1991).

Lynn Whitfield
Whitfield in 1999
Born (1953-02-15) February 15, 1953 (age 71)[1]
Alma materHoward University
Years active1977–present
(m. 1974⁠–⁠1978)
(m. 1990⁠–⁠1992)

In the 1990s, Whitfield played leading roles in a number of made-for-television movies and had several starring roles in theatrical films, including A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996), Gone Fishin' (1997), Eve's Bayou (1997), Stepmom (1998), Head of State (2003), Madea's Family Reunion (2006), and The Women (2008). Whitfield also starred in a number of movies in the 2000s and 2010s. From 2016 to 2020, she starred as Lady Mae Greenleaf in the Oprah Winfrey Network dramatic series Greenleaf, for which she won critical acclaim and garnered two NAACP Image Awards and a Gracie Award. Whitfield has won a total of seven NAACP Image Awards.

Early life


Whitfield was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the daughter of Jean (née Butler), a former president of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, and Dr. Valerian Smith, who was also a composer who wrote the musicals, The Supper and The Wake. Her mother is a founding member of the Baton Rouge chapter of The Links Incorporated and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Whitfield is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She is the eldest of four children and a third-generation BFA graduate from Howard University. Both parents were instrumental in developing Whitfield's initial interest in acting, as they were actively involved in the Baton Rouge art scene. Her love of movies was shared by her maternal grandmother, Estelle Devall Butler, who exposed her to them. By age five, Whitfield decided she wanted to be in them.





Following graduation, she first garnered attention on the stage by performing with the Black Repertory Company in Washington, D.C. She married playwright/director/actor Vantile Whitfield, one of the company's co-founders and a pioneer of black theatre, in 1974. She eventually moved to New York and appeared off-Broadway in such shows as The Great Macdaddy and Showdown Time before earning international acclaim touring the United States, Australia and London's West End in the 1977 production of the landmark play "for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf" alongside Alfre Woodard.[2]



Whitfield made her professional screen debut in 1981 as Jill Thomas in the critically acclaimed NBC serial drama Hill Street Blues. In 1983, she appeared in the comedy film Doctor Detroit (1983), playing the supporting role of Thelma Cleland. She later co-starred in the films The Slugger's Wife, Silverado, and Jaws: The Revenge. She also starred in the television films The George McKenna Story opposite Denzel Washington and Johnnie Mae Gibson: FBI as the title character and in the ABC miniseries The Women of Brewster Place alongside Oprah Winfrey and Cicely Tyson).[2] She also was a regular cast member in the short-lived 1988 ABC female-driven medical drama series HeartBeat alongside Kate Mulgrew, Laura Johnson, and Gail Strickland.


Whitfield in 1996

Whitfield achieved wide recognition in the title role of The Josephine Baker Story (1991), portraying the American who became a Folies Bergère star, a French Resistance fighter during World War II, and a civil rights activist. The HBO biopic required her to age from 18 to 68.[3] After a highly publicized casting call, Whitfield was chosen over hundreds of women.[4] In the movie, she appeared nude on-screen.[5] In his review, Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly said: "Whitfield is exceptionally good as the legendary singer-dancer who came to prominence in the ’20s for her throaty singing and her notorious "banana dance"—a wiggly little number executed while wearing nothing except a skirt of real bananas."[6] The New York Times added that Whitfield "powerfully captures her [Baker's] passionate determination.[7]" Whitfield won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for her role, and said this gave her "the greatest sense of accomplishment and realization of my vision. It absolutely called upon everything I thought I could do at that point."[8] She also received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film nomination and won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special.

After her breakthrough as Josephine Baker, Whitfield had the recurring role in the ABC legal drama Equal Justice, appearing opposite Joe Morton. She continued her career, starring in the made-for-television movies A Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story (1991); Stompin' at the Savoy (1992) with Vanessa L. Williams, Jasmine Guy, and Vanessa Bell Calloway; Taking the Heat (1993) with Tony Goldwyn; State of Emergency (1994) with Joe Mantegna; Sophie and the Moonhanger (1996); The Wedding (1998), as Halle Berry's mother; The Color of Courage (1998) alongside Linda Hamilton; and Deep in My Heart (1999) opposite Anne Bancroft. She also had a regular role on the short-lived NBC detective series The Cosby Mysteries from 1994 to 1995 and later guest-starred on Martin and Touched by an Angel.

In 1996, Whitfield was cast as the female lead opposite Martin Lawrence in the dark romantic comedy film A Thin Line Between Love and Hate.[9][10] At the time of filming, Lawrence was 12 years younger than Whitfield, who was then 42. The film grossed over $35 million against a budget of $8 million.[11] In 1997, she co-starred opposite Danny Glover and Rosanna Arquette in the comedy film Gone Fishin', appeared in the supporting role in the Canadian drama The Planet of Junior Brown, and played the mother of Jurnee Smollett's title character in the critically acclaimed independent drama Eve's Bayou.[12] In 1998, Whitfield had supporting role of an oncologist in the comedy-drama film Stepmom.[13][14]


Whitfield on the set of Curveball, in 2014

In the 2000s, Whitfield had many supporting roles on television and in films. She co-starred in the Chris Rock comedy film Head of State (2003) and Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion (2006). Whitfield also appeared in The Women (2008), The Rebound (2009), and Mama, I Want to Sing (2011) and had many roles in low-profile B-movies. She also starred as Dorothea Garibaldi in the Disney Channel films The Cheetah Girls and The Cheetah Girls 2.

On television, Whitfield had recurring roles on Boston Public and Without a Trace in the 2000s. From 2014 to 2015, she appeared in the ABC legal drama How to Get Away with Murder as villainous Mary Walker.[15] She also had a recurring role on Hit the Floor[16] and appeared as the abusive mother of April (Rochelle Aytes) on Mistresses.[17]

In 2015, Whitfield was cast as the main villain in Greenleaf, the Oprah Winfrey Network original scripted drama series about the unscrupulous world of the Greenleaf family and their sprawling Memphis megachurch. Whitfield played the leading role of Lady Mae Greenleaf, the imperious minister's wife and the power- and money-hungry matriarch of the family.[18][19] The series also starred Keith David, Merle Dandridge, Kim Hawthorne, and Oprah Winfrey. Whitfield received positive reviews from critics for her performance.[20][21] One critic stated: "Whitfield has the imperious aura of a grand soap opera diva in the tradition of Joan Collins."[22] She won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2019 and 2020 as well as the Gracie Award for Outstanding Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama Series in 2017.[23] The series ended in 2020 after five seasons and 60 episodes. Whitfield later was cast in a leading role in Greenleaf's planned spinoff.[24]

In 2018, Whitfield co-starred opposite Sanaa Lathan in the romantic comedy film Nappily Ever After, which was released on Netflix.[25] She guest-starred as Shaunette Renée Wilson's mother, a famous Nigerian surgeon, on the Fox medical drama The Resident in 2019. In 2021, she co-starred in the comedy film Vacation Friends.[26] In 2023, she will appear opposite Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman in the action comedy film, The Retirement Plan.[27]

Personal life

Whitfield speaking at a rally for Jon Ossoff's Senate campaign in 2020

Whitfield has been married twice. Her first husband, from 1974 to 1978, was Vantile Whitfield.[28] From 1990 to 1992, she was married to director Brian Gibson, with whom she had a daughter, Grace.[5][29]




Year Title Role Notes
1983 Doctor Detroit Thelma Cleland
1985 The Slugger's Wife Tina Alvarado
Silverado Rae Johnson
1987 Jaws: The Revenge Louisa McCay
1989 Dead Aim Sheila Freeman
1994 In the Army Now Sgt. Ladd
1996 A Thin Line Between Love and Hate Brandi Web
1997 Gone Fishin' Angie
The Planet of Junior Brown Mrs. Brown
Eve's Bayou Roz Batiste
1998 Stepmom Dr. P. Sweikert
2002 A Time for Dancing Linda Derricks
2003 Head of State Debra Lassiter
2006 Madea's Family Reunion Victoria Breaux
Confessions Dr. Page
2008 Kings of the Evening Gracie
The Women Glenda Hill
2009 The Rebound Laura Reilly
2011 Mama, I Want to Sing! Lillian Winter
All Things Fall Apart Bee
2012 Battlefield America Ms. Lynn Parker
Redemption of a Dog Francine
Training to Be A Superhero MiMi Jakes Short film and also producer
2013 Lonely Boy Dr. Christine Nolan
24 Hour Love Cynthia
King's Faith Vanessa
Act Like You Love Me Harriett Lofton
Someone to Love Sophia Brent Also producer
The Last Letter Lorraine
The Dempsey Sisters Olivia Norman
2014 Blood Lines Vivian
Take the Spotlight Lynn Watson
30 Days in Atlanta Clara the Immigration Lawyer
Lap Dance Momma Pearl
2015 Curve Ball Dr. Layne
2016 Prayer Never Fails Loral Hess
The North Star Miss Grace
2017 Espionage Tonight Sydney Greenstreet
2018 Nappily Ever After Paulette Jones
Solace Irene
2020 Tales from the Hood 3 Marie Benoit Video
2021 Vacation Friends Suzanne Conway
2023 The Retirement Plan Francine Drisdale
2024 Albany Road Paula Henderson


Year Title Role Notes
1981 Hill Street Blues Jill Thomas Recurring cast: season 1, guest: season 2
1982 American Playhouse Woman in the bath Episode: "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf"
1983 Matt Houston Val Episode: "The Centerfold Murders"
1985 Cagney & Lacey Eleanor Taggart Episode: "Who Says It's Fair: Part 1 & 2"
Miami Vice Odette Ribaud Episode: "Bought and Paid For"
The Insiders Yvonne Episode: "All This and the Old School Tie"
The Fall Guy Jeanne Episode: "Escape Claus"
The Fisher Family - Episode: "How Shall We Then Live?"
1986 The New Mike Hammer Della Marvel Episode: "Harlem Nocturne"
Tall Tales & Legends Pollie Ann Episode: "John Henry"
Johnnie Mae Gibson: FBI Johnnie Mae Gibson TV movie
The George McKenna Story Bobbie Maxwell TV movie
1988 St. Elsewhere Annie Callan Episode: "Curtains"
1988–89 HeartBeat Dr. Cory Banks Main cast
1989 The Women of Brewster Place Lucielia "Ciel" Turner Episode: "Episode #1.1 & #1.2"
Snoops Denise Kendall Recurring cast
1990 American Playhouse - Episode: "Zora Is My Name!"
Matlock Angela Page Episode: "The Informer Part 1 & 2"
1991 Equal Justice Maggie Mayfield Recurring cast: season 2
The Trials of Rosie O'Neill Episode: "Domestic Silence"
The Josephine Baker Story Josephine Baker TV movie
A Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story Natala TV movie
1992 Stompin' at the Savoy Esther TV movie
1993 Taking the Heat Carolyn Hunter TV movie
1994 State of Emergency Dehlia Johnson TV movie
Thicker Than Blood: The Larry McLinden Story Bobbie Mallory TV movie
1994–95 The Cosby Mysteries Barbara Lorenz Main cast
1996 Sophie & the Moonhanger Sophie TV movie
1997 Martin Ellen Episode: "Goin' Overboard: Part 1 & 2"
Touched by an Angel Dr. Serena Hall Episode: "Amazing Grace: Part 1 & 2"
1998 The Wedding Corinne Coles TV movie
The Color of Courage Minnie McGhee TV movie
1999 Deep in My Heart Corinne Burrell TV movie
Dangerous Evidence: The Lori Jackson Story Lori Jackson TV movie
Love Songs Jean Simpson TV movie
2001 A Girl Thing Nia Morgan TV movie
Boston Public Louanna Harper Recurring cast: season 2
2002 Lost in Oz Bellaridere TV movie
2002–06 Without a Trace Paula Van Doren Recurring cast: season 1, guest: season 2 & 4
2003 The Cheetah Girls Dorothea Garibaldi TV movie
2004 Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story Barbara Becnel TV movie
Strong Medicine Dr. Marshall Episode: "Race for a Cure"
2006 Shark Anita Astin Episode: "Pilot"
The Cheetah Girls 2 Dorothea Garibaldi TV movie
2009 FlashForward Anastasia Markham Episode: "White to Play"
2012 Somebody's Child Constance TV movie
Are We There Yet? Pamela "Pam" Washington Episode: "The Mother's-in-Law Episode" & "The Thanksgiving Episode"
2014 Family Time Donna Episode: "The Will"
My Other Mother Mary Jo TV movie
The Fright Night Files Madame Mabry TV movie
2014–15 How to Get Away with Murder Mary Walker Recurring cast: season 1
2014–16 Hit the Floor Vanessa Howard Recurring cast: season 2-3
2015 Chasing Life Karen Callahan Episode: "Model Behavior" & "No News Is Bad News"
Fear Files Madame Mabry TV movie
2015–16 Mistresses Marjorie Guest: season 3, recurring cast: season 4
2016–20 Greenleaf Lady Mae Greenleaf Main cast
2019 The Resident Josephine Okeke Episode: "Queens"
2022 We Need a Little Christmas Irene TV movie
2023 Fantasy Island Judy Jackson Episode: "Mystery in Miami"
2023 The Chi Alicia 4 episodes

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
1991 Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special The Josephine Baker Story Won
1992 Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV The Josephine Baker Story Nominated
1992 CableACE Award Actress in a Movie or Miniseries The Josephine Baker Story Nominated
1993 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie The Josephine Baker Story Won
1998 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture Eve's Bayou Nominated
1998 Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Touched by an Angel Won
1999 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie or Mini-Series The Wedding Nominated
2000 Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie/Miniseries/Dramatic Special Dangerous Evidence: The Lori Jackson Story Nominated
2000 Outstanding Performance in a Youth or Children's Series/Special The Planet of Junior Brown Won
1999 Online Film & Television Association Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture or Miniseries The Color of Courage Nominated
2000 Black Reel Awards Network/Cable - Best Actress Love Songs Nominated
2004 Television: Best Supporting Actress The Cheetah Girls Nominated
2005 Best Actress, Network/Cable Television Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story Won
2005 Women Film Critics Circle Awards Acting and Activism Award Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story Won
2005 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story Won
2016 Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Greenleaf Nominated
2017 Gracie Awards Actress in a Supporting Role - Drama Won
2017 Los Angeles Film Festival Best Ensemble Cast Solace Won
2018 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Greenleaf Nominated
2019 Won
2018 Black Reel Award Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama Series Greenleaf Nominated
2019 Nominated
2020 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Greenleaf Won


  1. ^ Whitfield, Lynn (May 29, 2013). "Sasha talks with Lynn Whitfield" (Interview). Interviewed by Sasha. KISS 104 on YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved July 24, 2020. So, when's your birthday?" "February 15. Birth date stated at 02:45 in video.
  2. ^ a b "Lynn Whitfield Facts, information, pictures - articles about Lynn Whitfield". Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  3. ^ "What Becomes a Legend Most? : Lynn Whitfield became Josephine Baker, Budapest became Paris and Harlem as HBO raced to complete the first movie about the storied entertainer's life". Los Angeles Times. 22 July 1990. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  4. ^ "HBO's 'Josephine Baker': The Naked Truth". Los Angeles Times. 10 March 1991. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Lynn Whitfield Shimmies into the Skin of Sultry Josephine Baker". Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  6. ^ "The Josephine Baker Story". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  7. ^ O'Connor, John J. (1991-03-15). "TV Weekend; With Josephine Baker Through a Long Life". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  8. ^ "2 Emmys For James Earl Jones; 'L.A. Law', 'Cheers' Win Again". philly-archives. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  9. ^ Brian Lowry (April 1996). "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate". Variety. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  10. ^ Martin Lawrence. "A Thin Line Between Love & Hate". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  11. ^ "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  12. ^ "Eve's Bayou". Rotten Tomatoes. 1 June 1996. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  13. ^ "Stepmom". Rotten Tomatoes. 25 December 1998. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  14. ^ "'Stepmom' (PG-13)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  15. ^ Joyce Eng (14 November 2014). "How to Get Away with Murder Postmortem: Boss Breaks Down Annalise's Motives and Killer Theories". Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  16. ^ Tambay A. Obenson (6 February 2015). "TV Casting News Roundup: New Roles for Rutina Wesley, Lyn - Shadow and Act". Shadow and Act. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  17. ^ starrymag (18 June 2015). "Rochelle Aytes – Mistresses". Starry Constellation Magazine. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  18. ^ Denise Petski (24 August 2015). "Lynn Whitfield, Merle Dandridge & Desiree Ross Join 'Greenleaf' - Deadline". Deadline. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  19. ^ Tambay A. Obenson (24 August 2015). "Lynn Whitfield, Merle Dandridge and Desiree Ross Cast in - Shadow and Act". Shadow and Act. Archived from the original on 26 August 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  20. ^ "5 Reasons to Watch Oprah Winfrey's New Series 'Greenleaf'". ABC News. 22 June 2016. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  21. ^ "'Greenleaf' Review: OWN Church Drama Delivers Juicy Moments - and Oprah Winfrey". 21 June 2016. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  22. ^ Ryan, Maureen (17 June 2016). "TV Review: 'Greenleaf'". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  23. ^ 2017 Gracies Gala Winners
  24. ^ "'Greenleaf' Spinoff Details Revealed ― Here's What to Expect".
  25. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (August 21, 2017). "Lynn Whitfield Joins Sanaa Lathan In 'Nappily Ever After'". Deadline. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  26. ^ "'Vacation Friends': 'Greenleaf' Star Lynn Whitfield & More Cast in Hulu Comedy". 25 September 2020.
  27. ^ ‘The Retirement Plan’: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Ashley Greene, Grace Byers, Rick Fox Among Cast For Action Pic
  28. ^ Shinhoster Lamb, Yvonne (2005-01-23). "Arts Administrator, Playwright Vantile Whitfield Dies". Washington Post. Washington, DC. His marriages to Barbara Cobb, Barbara Grant Thomas and Lynn Whitfield, the actress and a former student, ended in divorce.
  29. ^ "Lynn Whitfield's Daughter, Grace Gibson, Covers Adeles' "Rumor Has It/Set Fire To The Rain"".