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Feb 15: Brooklyn Black History Maker, Gabourey Sidibe

Gabourey Sidibe broke barriers, defied stereotypes and is defining her own success.
Gabourey Sidibe, BK Reader
Gabourey Sidibe. Photo credit: E Online.

Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, the star of the movie Precious (2009), was born in Bedford Stuyvesant on May 6, 1983.

Her mother was a former special education teacher who gave up her career and became a street performer, while her father, from Senegal, worked as a cab driver. Her parents divorced when she was young, and Sidibe moved to Harlem with her mother.

Though she was cast in school plays as a child, Sidibe initially had no interest in acting. She witnessed her mother's financial struggles as a street singer and wanted the security that an education and a desk job would give her.

After attending local colleges, Gabby pursued a degree in psychology at Mercy College. She was in the middle of preparing for an exam when a friend phoned her about an audition for the newest effort from Lee Daniels, a film titled Precious.

Instead of attending class, she ended up being cast in the title role as Claireece "Precious" Jones, a taciturn, unattractive, overweight, sixteen-year-old who is pregnant for the second time after being raped by her father. In the movie, Precious also is on the receiving end of constant physical abuse by her mother.

As grim as the subject matter is, Precious became a huge success and a source of inspiration for many. While her co-stars, Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey both received a great deal of critical attention, it is Gabby's character and her unforgiving despair that moved the audience, evoked the most gut-wrenching emotion and earned her an Oscar nomination for "Best Actress."

Sidibe is one of seven other African-American actresses nominated for the "Best Actress" Oscar. The others are: Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bassett and Halle Berry.

But off-screen, critics in entertainment scoffed at Sidibe, questioning her longevity as a serious actress and claiming her weight would typecast her and likely limit her future roles.

But for the real-life Sidibe, if you're expecting a damaged young woman with no self-esteem, you're in for a surprise.

"I learned to love myself, because I sleep with myself every night and I wake up with myself every morning, and if I don't like myself, there's no reason to even live the life," Sidibe said. "I love the way I look. I'm fine with it. And if my body changes, I'll be fine with that."

Sibide hopes that her success in the film will motivate others to chase their dreams, but she has even bigger plans for herself as an actress.

After the critical success of Precious, Sidibe landed a number of substantial roles on television and the big screen.

In 2011, Sidibe completed shooting Yelling to the Sky, a project from the Sundance Lab that also stars Zoe Kravitz.

Sidibe also has a recurring role on "The Big C," a Showtime series, where she plays the character "Andrea." She went on to work with Ryan Murphy on the third season of his spine-tingling series American Horror Story, playing a witch named Queenie, and returned for the fourth season, American Horror Story: Freak Show, in the role of secretarial student, Regina Ross. Since 2015, she has appeared as Becky Williams in Lee Daniels' hit television drama Empire with Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. She also appeared in the Hulu comedy series Difficult People, starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner. In 2016, she reprised her role playing Queen in American Horror Story: Hotel.

From 2015 through 2020, Sidibe was in 98 episodes of the hit TV series Empire, and even moved into voicing animation, including as Shauna Bradley in The Harper House in 2021. 

Sidibe truly is an example of someone who is paving her own way, despite whatever perceived barriers others believe exist in her career. The 40-year-old actress has defined her own self-worth, her own success, her very own life story. And there is little doubt she will have many more successful stories left to tell.

Gabourey Sidibe, we acknowledge your talent and perseverance, and we honor your contributions.

*Source, IMdb,

February is Black History Month! Every day this month, BK Reader will profile one Black History Maker born or raised in Brooklyn. There are countless Brooklynites— past and present— who have contributed to America's fabric as pioneers or leaders in art, entertainment, sports, science and government. This month, we present to you 28! Click here to see all of the profiles.