Jurnee Smollett has been in the public eye since she was 5 years old. She’s gone from child star (she was in Full House) to superhero; Smollett recently appeared as Black Canary in Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. (Making her the second Jewish actress this past year to portray Black Canary!)
We are obsessed with Jurnee Smollett, so obviously here are 18 things to know about the Black Jewish actress:
1. Jurnee was born in New York City; her father, Joel, is a white Jewish man, and her mom, Janet, is a non-Jewish Black woman. Both her parents were social activists.
Here’s her dad, and baby Jurnee:
And here’s her mom and her sister, Jazz:
2. “My father attended the March on Washington with his mother,” Jurnee said in 2015. “My grandmother was on a blacklist as a Communist American. But she was surprised when my dad married my very black mother. It put a wedge between my father and his mother. She was a passionate Jewish liberal. How could she be a racist? It is one of the great mysteries of my childhood.”
3. She describes herself as Blewish, i.e. Black and Jewish. She grew up celebrating Easter, Passover, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. All. The. Holidays. Watch her talk about it on Conan:
She still celebrates allll the holidays:
4. She has five siblings; and yes, her brother is Jussie Smollett. Here is her family and some very, very cute throwbacks:
5. All six Smollett siblings stared in On Our Own, an ABC sitcom in 1994.
Working together was “like heaven,” Jurnee said. “We all were in the same school trailer. We would eat hot links and bagels for breakfast every morning — very Black and Jewish of us.”
6. Jurnee’s first big role, on her own, was as Denise Frazer, Michelle’s best friend on Full House. The role was originally written for a white actress, but her mom got her to audition.
She still gets recognized for this role! Iconic!
7. At 10 years old, she starred in Eve’s Bayou, a critically acclaimed film that is now preserved in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry for its historical and cultural significance.
8. She also starred in Jack (a 1996 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola), Selma, Lord, Selma (a 1999 Disney film), Beautiful Joe (in 2000), and lots of other films. In 2007, she starred in The Great Debaters.
9. But! Her acting talents are not just on the big screen — she has had some notable roles on television. She was a series regular on Friday Night Lights as Jess, and starred on a legal drama on CBS called The Defenders. She was also a regular on True Blood as Nicole.
10. In 2016 and 2017, she starred on Underground as Rosalee, one of the slaves who tries to escape from a plantation in Georgia.
11. In 2010, she married singer Josiah Bell at a Los Angeles botanical garden. “It’s incredible,” she told People. “My best friend is my life partner. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
They separated in April 2020.
12. In 2016, they welcomed a son, Hunter Zion Bell:
They are SO CUTE.
13. She uses her platform to speak out for issues she believes in, posting about Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, climate change, get out the vote, and more. She was also one of the actresses involved in Hollywood’s Time’s Up movement early on.
14. Jurnee has been involved with HIV/AIDS activism since she was 11 years old. “It is a silent killer because we are not talking about it. AIDS can be prevented and treated. There is a lack of informative dialogue in communities, and the silence is killing us,” Jurnee said. (Read this story of her friendship with Hydeia Broadbent.)
15. Okay, let’s talk Birds of Prey, because Jurnee is just so damn good in the film as Dinah/Black Canary! This is also the first time Black Canary is portrayed by a Black woman.
She trained for over five months for the role, and in the film, it’s her first time publicly singing. (She’s very good, no surprise there.)
16. On playing Dinah, Jurnee said, “It’s an honor. She was written over 70 years ago and the Black Canary is one of the most iconic characters in the DC universe. So it was an honor to be the vessel through which she was brought to film.”
17. Next up? She’s set to star as the female lead, Leti, in Lovecraft Country, a drama horror show executive produced by Jordan Peele for HBO.
18. Last but not least: Jurnee as a child is so much cooler than us as adults.
Image of Jurnee Smollett-Bell in header by Earl Gibson III/WireImage/Getty Images.