Skip to main content

Snipes, Wesley

Wesley Snipes

1962—

Actor

By the time he reached the age of thirty, Wesley Snipes had proved himself one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood. Trained as a dancer, Snipes possessed the physicality to portray athletes in comedies such as Wildcats and White Men Can't Jump and the range to play serious roles in such dramas as Jungle Fever and The Waterdance. His breakout role as the murderous drug dealer Nino Brown in New Jack City opened the door to lucrative work in action films, and Snipes later starred in such movies as Passenger 57, Demolition Man, and Blade. In the process he became one of the highest-paid African-American movie stars. However, this success was followed by a period of professional disappointment, erratic behavior, and legal troubles, most notably a 2008 conviction on three counts of failing to file federal income tax returns, for which Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison.

Showed Early Acting Promise

Snipes was born on July 31, 1962, in Orlando, Florida. His father, an aircraft engineer, and his mother, Marian, then a teacher's aide, divorced a year after his birth. Snipes moved with his mother to New York City, where he performed in talent shows and won a minor role in an off-Broadway production of The Me Nobody Knows when he was twelve years old. Frequent auditions and basketball practice kept him busy during high school, and his competitive nature helped ensure that he would fare well academically. His keen interest in dance led him to enroll in New York's High School of Performing Arts, known for its strong dance department. Snipes was content there, so two years later, when his mother decided to move the family back to Orlando, the teenager complained bitterly. He had become a regular at the local pool hall and was so good at the game that he made money hustling pool. His mother decided it was time for a change of atmosphere.

After attending a multiethnic elementary school in the South Bronx and then the High School of Performing Arts, Snipes suddenly found himself in a predominantly African-American public school in Orlando, and his fast-paced style was at odds with Southern sensibilities. In an interview with Jay Mathews in the Washington Post, Snipes described how he felt when he first went to Orlando: "They're just moseying along, like lemonade on the porch on a Sunday afternoon, and you're like, yo, I can't stand this. Let me outta here."

Nonetheless, Snipes told Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "Moving to Florida was the best thing that could have happened to me. A lot of the cats I grew up with in the South Bronx found themselves in sticky situations." In Florida, Snipes remained focused on his education. Karen Rugerio, Snipes's drama teacher at Jones High School, told the Washington Post: "He was always very focused. If you criticize the work of someone at that age, they often get upset, but Wes would always listen very carefully, wanting to learn how he could do it better."

Shaped by Experiences in College

When it came time for college, Snipes auditioned for the esteemed theater arts program at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Purchase and was readily accepted, receiving a Victor Borge scholarship. As Snipes explained to Larry Rohter in the New York Times, he fell into acting through the urging of others who saw that he was a natural. "I really wanted to be a singer and dancer," he said, "and I still have a latent passion for that. When I see Alvin Ailey or Chuck Davis or Forces of Nature, I'm sitting there saying, ‘I could have been up there.’"

Snipes was one of only four African-American students in the theater arts department at SUNY Purchase, and he told Ebony magazine that it was a disconcerting experience: "I felt like mold on white bread…. What saved me was being exposed to Malcolm X." The emphasis on African-American pride found in the writings of Malcolm X helped Snipes weather a confusing period in his life: an African-American man coming of age while surrounded by whites. He became a Muslim for a short time, starting in the second semester of his freshman year, then abandoned the faith three years after he graduated. As he explained in Ebony: "A brother of mine used to say ‘When you're drowning, grab onto a log to keep afloat. But don't hold on to the log when the boat comes by. Get on the boat and bring your butt on back home.’ So Islam for me was the log to make me more conscious of what African people have accomplished, of my self-worth, to give me some self-dignity."

While in college, Snipes auditioned for Harry Belafonte's movie about break-dancers called Beat Street and realized that in addition to applying standard acting techniques, he also had to draw more from his own life experience on the street. He did not win a part in the movie, but it was a learning experience for him. Although Snipes never played a leading role in any of the university productions in which he performed, after he left college to pursue professional work, he quickly became a leading man who was very much in demand. David Garfield, an acting teacher at SUNY, told the Los Angeles Times that Snipes was "obviously gifted. He was extremely funny, he could do straight drama, he could sing and he would stop shows with the dance numbers he had choreographed. He also exhibited a strong black consciousness even then."

At a Glance …

Born on July 31, 1962, in Orlando, FL; son of an aircraft engineer and a teacher's aide (mother's name, Marian); married April DuBois, 1985 (divorced, 1990); married Nakyung Park, 2003; four children: Jelani (first marriage), Akhanaten, Jua, Jehu, Moa. Education: State University of New York at Purchase, BFA, 1984.

Career: Actor in motion pictures, stage plays, and on television, 1985—.

Awards: ACE Award, National Cable Television Association, for best actor for his performance in Vietnam Story, 1989; NAACP Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for best actor in a motion picture for New Jack City, 1993; NAACP Image Award for best actor in a television movie or miniseries for America's Dream, 1997; Volpi Cup, Venice Film Festival, best actor award for One Night Stand, 1997.

Addresses: Office—Amen Ra Films, 9460 Wilshire Blvd. Ste. 200, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

Made Steady Climb to Fame

Snipes met April DuBois while a senior in college, and they married a year after he graduated in 1984. He took a job installing telephones in New York, and that same year a casting director who had spotted him at a university drama convention contacted him for Goldie Hawn's football parody Wildcats after the first choice actor did not work out. Then, along with Matt Dillon and Andrew McCarthy, Snipes procured a leading role in John Pielmeier's off-Broadway play The Boys of Winter, about the ravaging effects of the Vietnam War on U.S. soldiers, and followed with a role in the Lincoln Center production of Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman. After this, true to his flexible nature, he put on spike heels to portray drag queen Sister Boom-Boom in Emily Mann's Broadway play Execution of Justice. Mann told the Los Angeles Times: "I remember when he auditioned. I had never seen a man put on high heels and walk that way and all of us said ‘That guy is going to be a star.’"

Because Snipes pursued an interest in martial arts, and because he has the natural grace and balance of a dancer, he was well-cast as an athlete. In 1986 Snipes portrayed a boxer in the film Streets of Gold. Then he experienced a short lull in his career, so he turned to other pursuits for his livelihood. Therapeutic massage and parking cars were two of the things Snipes tried in 1987 before landing a role in HBO's Vietnam Story. He eventually won the cable industry's ACE Award for best actor for his work in Vietnam Story.

In 1987 Snipes also appeared in Michael Jackson's "Bad" video, and this cameo role changed the course of his fate. Snipes portrayed a gang leader who shoved Michael Jackson up against a wall, and in doing so, caught the attention of director Spike Lee and Barry Michael Cooper, the cowriter of New Jack City. Lee commented in Premiere magazine that Snipes "was so real, Michael Jackson must've been scared to death."

Snipes followed Vietnam Story with a part in the 1989 baseball comedy Major League—he turned down a smaller part in Lee's Do the Right Thing for the role—and later a minor role in the drug warfare film King of New York. In 1990 Snipes finally worked with Lee, portraying the jazz saxophonist Shadow Henderson in Mo' Better Blues, which also starred Denzel Washington. Snipes told Ebony: "I just wanted to go in, do a good job, and not let Denzel blow me off the screen." In preparation for his role as a saxophonist, Snipes watched tapes of John Coltrane and other jazz legends and visited a variety of jazz clubs in New York City. A proficient mimic, Snipes memorized scales and fingering for all of the music played in the film.

Achieved Stardom in Action Films

The role of Harlem drug baron Nino Brown in the 1991 film New Jack City was also written with Snipes in mind after his appearance in the video "Bad." Directed by Mario Van Peebles, on an $8.5 million budget New Jack City grossed $22.3 million at the box office within its first three weeks—a tribute to the powerful screen presence of Snipes, who won an NAACP Image award for the performance. New Jack City was intended to be an antidrug and antiviolence gangster film, but a spate of shootings and violence erupted briefly at some theaters across the country after it opened. Some of the incidents occurred because few theaters were showing the film at first, and those that were sold out quickly, leaving dozens of frustrated people—usually teenagers—outside of the theater without tickets. Rohter noted: "Indeed, Mr. Snipes now finds himself in the peculiar position of fending off arguments that his portrayal (of drug lord Nino Brown) may have been too effective." Commenting in the Los Angeles Times about the theaters where outbreaks occurred, Snipes asserted: "They oversold the showings by 1,500 tickets and the theater owners didn't give their money back. The same thing would happen with a Menudo concert, or the Rolling Stones."

Because of Snipes's outstanding performance as Shadow in Mo' Better Blues, Lee cast him as Flipper Purify in Jungle Fever, a controversial film about interracial romance and the urban crack epidemic, writing the part with Snipes in mind. Snipes told Hilary De Vries in the Los Angeles Times: "I don't know if the film is an argument for racial purity. I think it's about how color-conscious this society really is."

Snipes followed Jungle Fever with a leading role in Ron Shelton's 1992 release White Men Can't Jump, a movie about street basketball featuring Snipes and Cheers actor Woody Harrelson as urban hoop hustlers. The onscreen chemistry between the two stars helped make White Men Can't Jump one of the season's top moneymakers, and through his performance, Snipes solidified his place in American film. As he pointed out in Entertainment Weekly, "Rarely have you seen a young black male in this type of powerful position, who can basically make or break a project."

Following White Men Can't Jump, Snipes began work on Neal Jimenez's The Waterdance, which won several awards at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. In the film he portrayed one of a group of hospitalized paraplegics and quadriplegics. To research his role, Snipes spoke with patients at rehabilitation centers to understand their physical limitations and to glean emotional insight as well.

In mid-1992 Snipes appeared in the action film Passenger 57. Stephen Holden remarked in the New York Times that "As an action hero, Mr. Snipes belongs to the school that plays it cool and tongue-in-cheek. Consistently underplaying his part, he strolls through the role with a glint in his eye that seems to acknowledge that the movie is really a live-action cartoon."

Worked with Leading Directors and Actors

The following year Snipes starred opposite Sean Connery in a film adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel Rising Sun. Although reviews of the film were mixed, many critics lauded Snipes's performance. "Snipes, as the bewildered-innocent half of the detective team…has the trickier role and brings it off flawlessly: his confusion is necessarily comic, but he never seems a buffoon," remarked Terrence Rafferty in the New Yorker. Also in 1993, Snipes teamed with Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man. As the psychopathic villain facing off against Stallone's hero cop, Snipes again received rave reviews for his performance. In New York Newsday film reviewer John Anderson noted: "Snipes, the villain you can't quite bring yourself to hate, turns out to be the kind of natural comedian Stallone will never be."

Although Snipes was a full-time action hero at this point, starring in such films as Drop Zone (1994), Money Train (1995), Murder at 1600 (1997), and U.S. Marshals (1998), he was careful to choose other roles that would help him diversify. In 1994 he portrayed the reluctant drug dealer Roemello Skuggs in the thoughtful crime drama Sugar Hill. In 1995 he went against his macho action hero image to portray a drag queen in the 1995 comedy To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Later that year, Snipes appeared in an uncredited romantic role in the highly acclaimed film adaptation of Terry Mcmillan's novel Waiting to Exhale. The 1996 thriller The Fan allowed Snipes to star opposite acting legend Robert DeNiro.

That same year, Snipes narrated and served as the executive producer of the documentary John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk, chronicling the life and work of the noted African-American historian and activist. He also landed the role of George Du Vaul in a segment of the HBO movie America's Dream, which was based on a short story by Clarke. The role won Snipes his second NAACP Image Award. The next year Snipes appeared as Max, a successful advertising executive who travels to New York to visit a friend who is dying of AIDS, in the small-budget film One Night Stand. Although One Night Stand generally received poor reviews, Snipes received a best actor award for his work in the film at the 1997 Venice Film Festival. Snipes also appeared in Down in the Delta, a film directed by the poet Maya Angelou. The film was produced by Snipes's production company, Amen Ra Films, and aired on the Showtime cable network.

The pinnacle of Snipes's action movie career came with the 1998 action/horror film Blade. In the film, which was based on a comic book series, Snipes played a half-human, half-vampire who tries to save humanity from a race of vampires. Michael O'Sullivan remarked in the Washington Post that the film's "stomach-turning special effects, bone-crunching martial arts, and cynical humor will more than satisfy any action-film addict's need for a fix of eye-popping escapist adrenaline." In Salon Charles Taylor noted that Blade "in no way resembles a good movie, but its combination of music-video bombast, goth-rock sensibility, high-tech industrial production design, cold-blooded glossy magazine visuals, high-fashion club culture, horror movies, blaxploitation movies, Hong Kong movies, and comic-book nihilism make it diverting trash." The project was popular enough to give Snipes his first sequel-spawning franchise; a lucrative proposition because, in addition to his starring role, Snipes also produced Blade.

Experienced Legal and Career Difficulties

After Blade, Snipes's fame was bigger than ever. However, in the years that followed he made more headlines for his legal troubles than for his professional accomplishments. In 2000 Snipes produced and starred in an adaptation of Terry McMillan's novel Disappearing Acts, garnering good reviews for his work in a made-for-television effort. However, his feature release earlier that year, the action-thriller Art of War was neither a critical nor a financial success. The sequel Blade II (2002) halted the box office slump, but Snipe's other major release that year, the prison boxing drama Undisputed, failed to make back its budget despite generally good reviews. Another thriller, the psychological drama Liberty Stands Still, was released directly to DVD later that year.

The third Blade film, 2004's Blade: Trinity, brought Snipes his highest payday, reportedly $13 million. However, the film faltered at the box office, failing to match the success of the first two installments. The following year Snipes brought a $5 million suit against the studio that produced the film, New Line Cinema, alleging that he had not received full payment, and that he had been denied contractual rights to approve the script, the director, and the film's poor performance was a direct result. Since filing the suit, all of Snipes's films have been released directly to DVD.

The New Line suit was neither the beginning nor the end of Snipes's legal troubles. In 2000 Snipes was prevented from buying property in Florida, which he claimed was to serve as a training camp for his security firm, the Royal Guard of Amen Ra. Local officials were disturbed by what they believed was a connection between Snipes and an extreme black nationalist group, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, and denied the star's zoning application. In 2002 Snipes was sued for paternity by a woman from Indiana, and there was briefly a warrant issued to have Snipes's DNA tested. After years of litigation, the woman's claims were eventually proved false. In 2005 Snipes was stopped in a South African airport, accused of attempting to depart using a fake South African passport.

Larger legal questions surrounding Snipes revolved around his finances. Snipes had property seized for failure to pay mortgages or property taxes. His former talent agents, the United Talent Agency, obtained a default judgment against him for $1.7 million in unpaid fees. However, when Snipes contested the ruling, the default was set aside in November of 2007, and the case was scheduled to go to trial. Finally, in October of 2006, while Snipes was shooting a film in Africa, a federal indictment was handed down against him, charging him with tax fraud, conspiracy, and failure to file tax returns for the years 1999 through 2004. Since he was out of the country, Snipes was considered a fugitive, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The tax problems stemmed from Snipes's association with radical anti-tax advocates, who advised him that he was not required to pay income tax and encouraged him to seek refunds for taxes previously paid. Because the theory under which these advisers claimed Snipes had no tax liability was based on a long-discredited legal argument, the Internal Revenue Service took the rare step of bringing criminal charges against Snipes and his advisers in order to deter others from refusing to pay their taxes. Snipes was acquitted of the most serious charges of fraud and conspiracy; he was, however, convicted of three misdemeanor counts of failing to file returns, and in April 2008 he was sentenced to three years in prison plus an additional year of probation.

Describing himself in a prepared statement as an "idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance," Snipes portrayed himself as a victim of his advisors and of his celebrity, noting that he epitomized the expression "Mo' money, mo' problems." He apologized for his "mistakes," assuring the judge that "this will never happen again." His lawyers stated that they would appeal.

Selected works

Stage

The Boys of Winter, 1985.

Death and the King's Horseman, 1986.

Execution of Justice, 1986.

Television

Vietnam Story, 1987.

America's Dream, 1996.

Disappearing Acts, 2000.

Films

Wildcats, 1985.

Streets of Gold, 1986.

Major League, 1989.

King of New York, 1990.

Mo' Better Blues, 1990.

New Jack City, 1991.

Jungle Fever, 1991.

White Men Can't Jump, 1992.

The Waterdance, 1992.

Passenger 57, 1992.

Boiling Point, 1993.

Demolition Man, 1993.

Rising Sun, 1993.

Drop Zone, 1994.

Sugar Hill, 1994.

ToWong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, 1995.

Waiting to Exhale, 1995.

Money Train, 1995.

The Fan, 1996.

(Narrator and executive producer) John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk (documentary), 1996.

Murder at 1600, 1997.

One Night Stand, 1997.

U.S. Marshals, 1998.

Down in the Delta, 1998.

Blade, 1998.

Art of War, 2000.

Blade II, 2002.

Undisputed, 2002.

Liberty Stands Still, 2002.

Blade: Trinity, 2004.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Constitution, August 7, 1990.

Boston Globe, June 7, 1991.

Ebony, November 1997.

Entertainment Weekly, September 27, 1991; April 10, 1992; December 21, 2007, p. 44.

Jet, February 17, 2003, p. 62.

Journal Now, April 18, 1997.

Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1991; May 19, 1991; June 29, 1991.

Newsweek, April 22, 1991; June 10, 1991.

New Yorker, July 26, 1993.

New York Newsday, October 8, 1993.

New York Times, August 24, 1990; March 8, 1991; March 27, 1991; June 7, 1991; November 6, 1992; October 18, 2006; January 14, 2008; February 2, 2008.

North County Times, November 13, 2007.

Premiere, July 1991.

Radar, February 15, 2007.

Rolling Stone, August 22, 1991.

USA Today, December 1, 1998; October 7, 2005.

Variety, May 21, 2007, p. 8.

Washington Post, June 7, 1991, April 21, 1998.

Online

Taylor, Charles, "I'm Gonna Git You, Suckhead," Salon, August 20, 1998, http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/reviews/1998/08/20review.html (accessed April 15, 2008.)

—B. Kimberly Taylor, David G. Oblender,
and Derek Jacques

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Snipes, Wesley." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 30 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Snipes, Wesley." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/snipes-wesley

"Snipes, Wesley." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/snipes-wesley

Snipes, Wesley 1962–

Wesley Snipes 1962

Actor

At a Glance

Shaped by Experiences in College

Steady Climb to Fame

An Established Leading Man

Role in Lees 1991 Effort

Sources

Before reaching the age of 30, actor Wesley Snipes was already recognized as an important new figure in his field. His picture graced the cover of Newsweek and Jet magazines, the Washington Post called him the most celebrated new actor of the 1991-92 season, and New Yorker magazine critic Pauline Kael dubbed him one of the most impressive members of a new generation of American actors. Snipes came to be considered one of the chief players in the film industry and an enduring, mesmerizing talent.

The key to his success seems to be an astounding versatility coupled with a striking intensity that renders his characters sharp and unforgettable. Snipes is also keenly aware of the obstacles that have hindered the advancement of black actors in cinematic circles. You will never hear me say I dont see myself as a black actor but just an actor who happens to be black, he told Ebony magazines Laura Randolph. Every chance I get Im going to tell you Im an African-American man who is acting.

Snipes was born on July 31, 1962, in Orlando, Florida. His father, an aircraft engineer, and his mother, Marian, then a teachers aide, divorced a year after his birth. His mother then moved him and two of his seven siblings to the South Bronx section of New York, where he spent his childhood honing negotiating skills. Snipes stood 5 feet 5 inches tall when in high schoolhe eventually grew 6 more inchesand substituted bravado, boldness, and charm for height at that time, which in turn served as a solid foundation for his adult life.

Snipess aunt Della Saunders entered him in talent shows when he was a child. One of those led to a minor role in the off-Broadway play The Me Nobody Knows when Snipes was 12 years old. Frequent auditions and basketball practice kept him busy in high school, and his competitive nature helped ensure that he would fare well academically. His keen interest in dance led him to enroll in New Yorks High School of the Performing Arts, known for its strong dance department. Snipes was content there, so two years later, when his mother decided to move the family back to Orlando, the teenager complained bitterly. He had become a regular at the local pool hall and was so good at the game that he made money hustling pool. His mother decided it was time for a change of atmosphere.

After attending a multiethnic elementary school in the

At a Glance

Born July 31, 1962, in Orlando, FL;son of an aircraft engineer and a teachers aide; married, 1985 (divorced, 1990); children: Jelani (son). Education: State University of New York at Purchase, B.A., 1984.

Actor in motion pictures, stage plays, and on television, 1985. Selected stage appearances include The Me Nobody Knows, The Boys of Winter, Death and the Kings Horsemen, and Execution of Justice. Also appeared in HBOs Vietnam Story, 1987, and Michael Jacksons music video Bad, 1987. Film appearances include roles in Wildcats, 1985, Streets of Gold, 1986, Major League, 1989, King of New York, 1990, Mo Better Blues, 1990, New Jack City, 1991, Jungle Fever, 1991, White Men Cant Jump, 1992, and The Waterdance, 1992.

Awards: Cable televisions ACE Award for best actor for his performance in Vietnam Story; included in People magazines 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, 1991 issue.

Addresses: AgentDolores Robinson, 335 North Maple Road, Suite 250, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

South Bronx, and then the High School of the Performing Arts, Snipes suddenly found himself in a predominantly black public school in Orlando, and his fast-paced style was at odds with Southern sensibilities. In an interview with Washington Post contributor Jay Mathews, he described how he felt when he first went to Orlando: Theyre just moseying along, like lemonade on the porch on a Sunday afternoon, and youre like, yo, I cant stand this. Let me outta here.

The drama department of Jones High School in Orlando soon took his mind off of what he had left behind when they started casting for Damn Yankees. Snipes was given a warm reception in the theater department and wasnt modest when it came to letting it be known that he had attended the High School of the Performing Arts. He earned spending money in high school by joining a city-sponsored drama troupe called Struttin Street Stuff and performed puppet shows in parks and schools for up to $70 a week. Around the same time, he also won an award for his one-man show playing Puck, a character from William Shakespeares comedy A Midsummer Nights Dream, and had a successful run playing Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple.

Snipes told Stephen Holden of the New York Times: Moving to Florida was the best thing that could have happened to me. A lot of the cats I grew up with in the South Bronx found themselves in sticky situations. Karen Rugerio, Snipess drama teacher at Jones High, told the Washington Post: He was always very focused. If you criticize the work of someone at that age, they often get upset, but Wes would always listen very carefully, wanting to learn how he could do it better.

Shaped by Experiences in College

When it came time for college, Snipes auditioned for the State University of New York at Purchases esteemed theater arts program and was readily accepted, receiving a Victor Borge scholarship. As Snipes explained to Larry Rohter of the New York Times, he fell into acting through the urging of others who saw that he was a natural. I really wanted to be a singer and dancer, he said, and I still have a latent passion for that. When I see Alvin Ailey or Chuck Davis or Forces of Nature, Im sitting there saying I could have been up there.

Snipes was one of only four black students in the theater arts department at SUNY Purchase, and he told Ebony magazine that it was a disconcerting experience: I felt like mold on white bread. What saved me was being exposed to Malcolm X. The emphasis on black pride found in the writings of Malcolm X helped Snipes weather a confusing period in his life: a black man coming of age while surrounded by whites. He became a Muslim for a short time, starting in the second semester of his freshman year, then abandoned the faith three years after he graduated. He revealed to Randolph: A brother of mine used to say When youre drowning, grab onto a log to keep afloat. But dont hold on to the log when the boat comes by. Get on the boat and bring your butt on back home. So Islam for me was the log to make me more conscious of what African people have accomplished, of my self-worth, to give me some self-dignity.

While in college, Snipes auditioned for Harry Belafontes movie about break-dancers called Beat Street and realized that in addition to applying standard acting techniques, he also had to draw more from his own life-experience on the street. He didnt land a part in the movie, but it was a learning experience for him. Although Snipes was never given the role of leading male in any of the university productionsin spite of his obvious talents and experienceafter he left college to pursue professional work, he quickly became a leading man who was very much in demand. David Garfield, an acting teacher at SUNY Purchase, told the Los Angeles Times that Snipes was obviously gifted. He was extremely funny, he could do straight drama, he could sing and he would stop shows with the dance numbers he had choreographed. He also exhibited a strong black consciousness even then.

Steady Climb to Fame

Snipes met his wife while a senior in college, and they married a year after he graduated in 1984. He took a job installing telephones in New York, and that same year a casting director who had spotted him at a university drama convention contacted him for Goldie Hawns football parody Wildcats after the first-choice actor didnt work out. Then, along with Matt Dillon and Andrew McCarthy, Snipes procured a leading role in John Pielmeiers off-Broadway play The Boys Of Winter, about the ravaging effects of the Vietnam War on U.S. soldiers, and followed with a role in the Lincoln Center production of Wole Soyinkas Death and the Kings Horsemen. After this, true to his flexible nature, he put on spike heels to portray drag queen Sister Boom-Boom in Emily Manns Broadway play Execution of Justice. Mann told the Los Angeles Times: I remember when he auditioned. I had never seen a man put on high heels and walk that way and all of us said That guy is going to be a star.

Because Snipes pursued an interest in martial arts, and because he has the natural grace and balance of a dancer, he was well-cast as an athlete. In 1986, Snipes portrayed a boxer in the film Streets of Gold. Then he experienced a short lull in his career, so he turned to other pursuits for his livelihood. Therapeutic massage and parking cars were two of the things he tried in 1987 before landing a role in HBOs Vietnam Story. He eventually won the cable industrys ACE Award for best actor for his work in Vietnam Story.

In 1987, Snipes also appeared in Michael Jacksons Bad video, directed by Martin Scorsese, and this cameo role changed the course of his fate. Snipes portrayed a gang leader who shoved Michael Jackson up against a wall, and in doing so, caught the attention of director Spike Lee and New Jack City coscreenwriter Barry Michael Cooper. Lee commented to Premiere magazines Ralph Rugoff that Snipes was so real, Michael Jackson mustve been scared to death.

Vietnam Story was followed by a part in the 1989 baseball comedy Major League he turned down a smaller part in Lees Do the Right Thing for this roleand later a minor role in the drug warfare film King of New York. Around the same time, Snipes and his wife had a son named Jelani, and they were divorced in 1990.

That same year Snipes portrayed a jazz saxophonist named Shadow Henderson in Lees Mo Better Blues, holding his own opposite heartthrob and Academy Award winner Denzel Washington. Snipes told Randolph: I just wanted to go in, do a good job, and not let Denzel blow me off the screen. As preparation for his role as a saxophonist, Snipes watched tapes of John Coltrane and other jazz legends and visited a variety of the jazz clubs in New York City. A proficient mimic, Snipes memorized scales and fingering for all of the music played in the film.

An Established Leading Man

The role of Harlem drug baron Nino Brown in New Jack City was also written with Snipes in mind after his appearance in the video Bad. Directed by Mario Van Peebles, New Jack City opened March 8, 1991, and drew $22.3 million at the box office within its first three weeksa tribute to the powerful screen presence of Snipes.

New Jack City was designed to be an antidrug and antiviolence gangster film, but a spate of shootings and violence erupted briefly at some theaters across the country after it opened. Some of the eruptions were due to the fact that few theaters were showing the film at first, and those that were sold out quickly, leaving dozens of frustrated peopleusually teen-agedoutside of the theater without tickets. Rohter noted: Indeed, Mr. Snipes now finds himself in the peculiar position of fending off arguments that his portrayal (of drug lord Nino Brown) may have been too effective.

Commenting in the Los Angeles Times about the theaters where outbreaks occurred, Snipes asserted: They oversold the showings by 1,500 tickets and the theater owners didnt give their money back. The same thing would happen with a Menudo concert, or the Rolling Stones.

Role in Lees 1991 Effort

Because of Snipess outstanding performance as Shadow in Mo Better Blues, Lee decided to cast him as Flipper Purify in Jungle Fever, a controversial film about interracial romance, and wrote the part with Snipes in mind. Snipes told the New York Times that Lee had said to him on the last day of shooting Mo Better Blues: Be ready for the next one, because I got something great for you.

In Jungle Fever, released in June of 1991, Snipes portrayed a married architect having an affair with his white secretaryan affair that ended due to economic and cultural differences between the lovers and their conflicted families. The film was a vehicle for Lees views on interracial relationships, and Snipes told Hilary De Vries of the Los Angeles Times: I dont know if the film is an argument for racial purity. I think its about how color-conscious this society really is.

Snipes didnt have any personal experience with interracial relationships to draw from when making Jungle Fever, and he told Randolph in the Ebony interview: Its more important to me to try and develop a good relationship between a black man and a black woman. Thats the agendaand thats totally where my head isto redefine the image of black male/female relationships and how important they are. We have to work on that then we can venture out. Until then, we aint ready for it.

Snipes followed Jungle Fever with a leading role in Ron Sheltons 1992 release White Men Cant Jump, a wise guy buddy movie about street basketball featuring Snipes and Cheers actor Woody Harrelson as urban hoop hustlers. The on-screen chemistry between the two stars helped make White Men Cant Jump one of the seasons top moneymakers, and through his performance, Snipes solidified his place in American film. As he pointed out in Entertainment Weekly, Rarely have you seen a young black male in this type of powerful position, who can basically make or break a project.

Following White Men Cant Jump, Snipes began work on Neil Jamenezs The Water dance, which won several awards at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. In the film, he portrays one of a group of hospitalized paraplegics and quadriplegics. To research his role, he spoke with patients at rehabilitation centers to understand their physical limitations and to glean emotional insight as well. This part was particularly challenging for Snipes because he relies heavily on physical expression and is physically very graceful.

In mid-1992, Snipes completed filming of the hijacking adventure Passenger 57. He is set to work on an action drama titled Money Men and a screen version of novelist Michael Crichtons bestseller Rising Sun. In addition, Sony Pictures optioned The Black Panther, which features a crime-fighting African prince named TChalla who will be developed with Snipes in mind.

Snipes resides in the Fort Green section of Brooklyn, not far from Lees 40 Acres and a Mule studio, and hasnt let fame change him at all. He is unusually pragmatic, and in spite of being included in People magazines feature The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, 1991, he hasnt lost sight of what is important to him. I am never going to stop doing action-oriented projects that make me seem like Im just one of the guys from the hood, Snipes told Rohter. Audiences want to see that energy, that physicality, that toughness. But I want to do everything, and Im blessed to be in the right place at the right time. As he told Premiere magazine: Im just thankful that I realized this [acting] is what Im supposed to be doing.

Sources

Atlanta Constitution, August 7, 1990.

Boston Globe, June 7, 1991.

Ebony, September 1991.

Entertainment Weekly, September 27, 1991; April 10,1992.

Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1991; May 19,1991; June 29, 1991.

Newsweek, April 22, 1991; June 10, 1991.

New York Times, August 24, 1990; March 8, 1991; March 27, 1991; June 7, 1991.

Premiere, July 1991.

Rolling Stone, August 22, 1991.

Washington Post, June 7, 1991.

B. Kimberly Taylor

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 30 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/snipes-wesley-1962-0

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/snipes-wesley-1962-0

Snipes, Wesley 1962–

Snipes, Wesley 1962–

(Welsey Snipes)

PERSONAL

Full name, Wesley Trent Snipes; born July 31, 1962, in Orlando, FL; father, an aircraft engineer; mother, Marian (a teacher's aide); married April DuBois, 1985 (divorced, 1990); married Nakyung "Nikki" Park (a painter), March 17, 2003; children: (first marriage) Jelani Asar; (second marriage) Alaafia Jehu–T, Akhenaten Kihwa–T, Alimayu Moa–T, Iset Jua–T. Education: Attended High School for the Performing Arts, New York City; State University of New York College at Purchase, B.A., theatre and dramatic arts, 1984; trained as a dancer and singer. Avocational Interests: Capoeira, martial arts.

Addresses: Manager— Schiff Company, 9465 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 480, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

Career: Actor, producer, and choreographer. Amen RA(production company), 1985; appeared in television commercials, including Levis 501 jeans, 1986, the Maryland State Lottery, 1988, and Total Gym workouts, 2005. China One (a restaurant), Los Angeles, CA, owner. Previously worked as a telephone installer.

Member: Screen Actors Guild.

Awards, Honors: Cable Ace Award, best actor, 1988, for Vietnam War Story; MTV Movie Award nomination, best villain, 1992, Image Award, outstanding lead actor in a motion pictures, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1993, both for New Jack City; MTV Movie Award nominations (with Woody Harrelson), best kiss and best on–screen duo, 1993, both for White Men Can't Jump; Gold Special Jury Award (with others), best actor, World Fest Houston, 1992, Independent Spirit Award nomination, best supporting male, 1993, both for The Water dance; MTV Movie Award nomination, best villain, 1994, for Demolition Man; Volpi Cup, best actor, Venice Film Festival, 1997, for One Night Stand; Image Award, outstanding lead actor in a television movie, miniseries, or drama special, NAACP, 1997, for America's Dream; Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1998; Block-buster Entertainment Award, favorite actor—horror, and MTV Movie Award nomination, best fight, 1999, both for Blade; Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination (with Tommy Lee Jones), favorite duo–action/ adventure, 1999, for U.S. Marshals; Black Reel Award nomination, network/cable—best actor, 2001, for Disappearing Acts; Black Reel Award nomination, theatrical—best actor, 2003, for Undisputed; honorary doctor-ate, humanities and fine arts, State University of New York–Purchase.

CREDITS

Film Appearances:

Roland Jenkins, Streets of Gold, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1986.

Trumaine, Wildcats (also known as First and Goal), Warner Bros., 1986.

Ambulance driver, Critical Condition, 1987.

Willy Mays Hayes, Major League, Paramount, 1989.

Shadow Henderson, Mo' Better Blues, Universal, 1990.

Thomas Flannigan, King of New York, New Line Cinema, 1990.

Nino Brown, New Jack City, Warner Bros., 1991.

Flipper Purify, Jungle Fever, Universal, 1991.

Sidney Deane, White Men Can't Jump, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1992.

John Cutter, Passenger 57, Warner Bros., 1992.

Raymond Hill, The Waterdance, JBW Productions, 1992.

Jimmy Mercer, Boiling Point (also known as Money Men and L'extreme limite), Warner Bros., 1993.

Simon Phoenix, Demolition Man, Warner Bros., 1993.

Web Smith, Rising Sun, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1993.

Pete Nessip, Drop Zone, Paramount, 1994.

Roemello Skuggs, Sugar Hill (also known as Skeezer, Harlem, and Harlem: A Love Story), Twentieth Century–Fox, 1994.

John, Money Train, Columbia, 1995.

Miss Noxeema Jackson, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (also known as To Wong Foo, with Love, from Julie Newmar), Universal, 1995.

(Uncredited) James Wheeler, Waiting to Exhale, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1995.

Narrator, John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk (documentary), Black Dot Media, 1996.

Bobby Rayburn, The Fan, TriStar, 1996.

Detective Harlan Regis, Murder at 1600 (also known as Executive Privilege and Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), Warner Bros., 1997.

Max Carlyle, One Night (also known as One Night Stand), New Line Cinema, 1997.

Mark J. Sheridan/Mark Warren/Mark Roberts, U.S. Marshals, Warner Bros., 1998.

Cousin Will Sinclair, Down in the Delta, Miramax, 1998.

Blade/Eric, Blade, New Line Cinema, 1998.

Himself, Jackie Chan: My Story, 1998.

Ringside fan, Play It to the Bone (also known as Play It), Buena Vista, 1999.

Neil Shaw, The Art of War (also known as L'art de la guerre), Warner Bros., 2000.

Monroe Hutchen, Undisputed, Miramax, 2001.

Mr. Fletcher, Zigzag, Silver Nitrate Films, 2001.

Joe, Liberty Stands Still (also known as Liberty stands still—Im visier des morders), Lions Gate Films, 2002.

Blade, Blade 2, New Line Cinema, 2002.

Monroe Hutchen, Undisputed (also known as Undisputed—Sieg ohne ruhm), Miramax, 2002.

Himself, The Blood Pact: The Making of "Blade II" (documentary), New Line Cinema, 2002.

Himself, Spike Lee's "25th Hour": The Evolution of an American Filmmaker (documentary short), Touch-stone Home Video, 2003.

Dean Cage, Unstoppable (also known as 9 Lives), Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, 2004.

Blade, Blade: Trinity, New Line Cinema, 2004.

Lorenz and Jason York, Chaos (also known as Hit & Blast), 2005.

Blade, Nightstalkers, Daywalkers & Familiars: Inside the World of the "Blade" Trinity (documentary), New Line Cinema, 2005.

Himself, Road to"New Jack City" (documentary short), 2005.

Jack Tuliver, 7 Seconds, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005.

Painter, The Marksman, Columbia TriStar Home Video, 2005.

Lorenz and Jason York, Chaos (also known as Hit & Blast), Lionsgate, 2005.

Sonni Griffith, The Detonator, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2006.

Lucky, Hard Luck, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2006.

James Dial, The Contractor, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2007.

Neil Shaw, The Art of War II: Betrayal, Stage 6 Films, 2008.

Film Work:

Executive producer, John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk (documentary), Black Dot Media, 1996.

Producer, The Big Hit (also known as Warheads), 1998.

Martial arts choreographer and producer, Blade, New Line Cinema, 1998.

Producer, Down in the Delta, Miramax, 1998.

Executive producer, The Art of War (also known as L'art de la guerre), Warner Bros., 2000.

Executive producer, Undisputed, Miramax, 2001.

Producer and fight coordinator, Blade 2, New Line Cinema, 2002.

Producer, Blade: Trinity, 2004.

Television Appearances; Series:

Officer Lou Barton, H.E.L.P. (also known as 911), ABC, 1990.

Television Appearances; Movies:

George Du Vaul, "The Boy Who Painted Christ Black," America's Dream, HBO, 1996.

Obike Fixx, Futuresport, ABC, 1998.

Franklin Swift, Disappearing Acts, HBO, 2000.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Sergeant Bookman, "An Old Ghost Walks the Earth," Vietnam War Story, HBO, 1988.

The Real Malcolm X, CBS, 1992.

Presenter, The 1992 MTV Movie Awards, MTV, 1992.

Presenter, The 1993 MTV Movie Awards, MTV, 1993.

The 25th NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1993.

Narrator, Hardwood Dreams, Fox, 1995.

The MTV Video Music Awards 1995, MTV, 1995.

Poetry, Passion, the Postman: The Poetic Return of Pablo Neruda, 1996.

Masters of the Martial Arts Presented by Wesley Snipes, 1998.

Presenter, The 1998 VH1 Fashion Awards, VH1, 1998.

Intimate Portrait: Maya Angelou, Lifetime, 1998.

Bravo Profiles: The Entertainment Business, 1998.

The 5th Annual Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, Fox, 1999.

25 Years of No. 1 Hits: Arista Records' Anniversary Celebration, NBC, 2000.

Stars and Bras, 2000.

The Great American History Quiz: America at War, History Channel, 2001.

Dr. Ben, 2001.

Hardwood Dreams: Ten Years Later, Spike TV, 2004.

(Uncredited) Audience member, The World Awaits: De La Hoya vs. Mayweather, HBO, 2007.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

All My Children, ABC, 1984.

Silk, "Streetwise," Miami Vice, NBC, 1986.

Nicholas Murdock, "Choice of Chance," A Man Called Hawk, ABC, 1989.

One of two guys working for the man in fantasy sequence, "Here's why you should always make your bed in the morning," The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, 1989.

The Arsenio Hall Show, syndicated, 1991, 1994.

Larry King Live, CNN, 1993.

Voice of the pied piper, "The Pied Piper," Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (animated), HBO, 1995.

"Money Train," HBO First Look, HBO, 1995.

Late Show with David Letterman (also known as Letterman and The Late Show), CBS, 1996.

"Jackie Chan: From Stuntman to Superstar," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 1996.

Clive Anderson All Talk, BBC1, 1997, 1998.

The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1997, 1998, 2000.

The Entertainment Business, Bravo, 1998.

The Howard Stern Radio Show, 1998.

Howard Stern, E! Entertainment Television, 1998, 2002.

"25 Toughest Stars," Rank, E! Entertainment Television, 2002.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, 2002.

Duke, "Bernie Mc Rope–a–Dope," The Bernie Mac Show, Fox, 2003.

Also appeared as himself, "The Films of Spike Lee," The Directors.

Television Work; Movies:

Producer, Futuresport, ABC, 1998.

Executive producer, Disappearing Acts, HBO, 2000.

Executive producer, Dr. Ben, 2001.

Television Work; Specials:

Executive producer, Masters of Martial Arts Presented by Wesley Snipes, TNT, 1998.

Stage Appearances:

The Me Nobody Knows, off–Broadway production, c. 1974.

L. B., The Boys of Winter, Biltmore Theatre, New York City, 1985.

Sister Boom Boom and understudy for the role of Richard Pabich, Execution of Justice, Virginia Theatre, New York City, 1986.

Also appeared as Puck, A Midsummer Night's Dream; in Death and the King's Horseman.

RECORDINGS

Music Videos:

Mini Max, "Bad" by Michael Jackson, 1987.

OTHER SOURCES

Books:

Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 24, Gale Group, 2000, Vol. 67, Gale, 2008.

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James Press, 1996, 4th ed., St. James Press, 2000.

Newsmakers 1993, Issue 4, 1993.

Periodicals:

Ebony, November, 1997, p. 188.

Hollywood Reporter, March 23, 1992, pp. S12–S13, S21.

Jet, May 29, 2000, p. 64; March 12, 2008, p. 34.

New York Times, March 27, 1991, p. B6.

People Weekly, September 7, 1998, p. 144.

Premiere, July, 1991, pp. 78–79.

St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), February 2, 2008, p. 1B.

UPI NewsTrack, July 15, 2005.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. 30 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/snipes-wesley-1962

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/snipes-wesley-1962

Snipes, Wesley

SNIPES, Wesley



Nationality: American. Born: Orlando, Florida, 31 July 1962; grew up in the South Bronx. Education: Attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York; State University of New York at Purchase, B.A. in Dramatic Arts. Family: Divorced, son: Jelani Asar. Career: Moved back to New York to establish career as an actor, early 1980s; made Broadway debut in The Boys of Winter, 1985; had attention-getting role as a gang leader in the Michael Jackson music video Bad, 1987; made first important movie appearances in Major League, King of New York, and Mo' Better Blues, 1989–90; in TV series H.E.L.P., 1990; is an expert at capoeira, an African-Brazilian martial arts technique. Awards: Best Actor Cable Ace Award, for Vietnam War Story 2, 1989; Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup, for One Night Stand, 1997. Agent: Baker Winokur Ryder, 405 South Beverly Drive, 5th Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.


Films as Actor:

1986

Wildcats (Ritchie) (as Trumaine); Streets of Gold (Roth) (as Roland Jenkins)

1987

Critical Condition (Apted) (as ambulance driver)

1988

Vietnam War Story 2 (Morris, Sholder, Uno—for TV)

1989

Major League (Ward) (as Willie Mays Hayes)

1990

King of New York (Ferrara) (as Thomas Flannigan); Mo' Better Blues (Spike Lee) (as Shadow Henderson)

1991

New Jack City (Van Peebles) (as Nino Brown); Jungle Fever (Spike Lee) (as Flipper Purify)

1992

White Men Can't Jump (Shelton) (as Sidney Deane); The Waterdance (Jimenez, Steinberg) (as Raymond Hill); Passenger 57 (Hooks) (as John Cutter)

1993

Boiling Point (James B. Harris) (as Jimmy); Rising Sun (Kaufman) (as Web Smith); Demolition Man (Brambilla) (as Simon Phoenix); Harlem (Sugar Hill) (Ichaso) (as Roemello Skuggs)

1994

Drop Zone (Badham) (as Pete Nessip)

1995

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (Kidron) (as Noxeema Jackson); Money Train (Ruben) (as John); Waiting to Exhale (Whitaker) (as James, uncredited)

1996

The Fan (Tony Scott) (as Bobby Rayburn); Clive Anderson All Talk (as himself); America's Dream (Barclay, Duke, Sullivan—for TV) (as George Du Val); John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk (Bourne) (doc) (as Narrator)

1997

One Night Stand (Figgis) (as Max Carlyle); Murder at 1600 (Little) (as Detective Harlan Regis)

1998

Down in the Delta (Angelou) (as Will Sinclair) (+ pr); Blade (Norrington) (as Blade/Eric) (+ pr, chor); U.S. Marshals (Baird) (as Mark Sheridan); Futuresport (Dickerson—for TV) (as Obike Fixx) (+ pr)

2000

Blade 2 (del Toro) (as Blade); The Art of War (Duguay)

Publications


By SNIPES: articles—

"New Face: Wesley Snipes: How an Actor Turned into a Jazzman," interview with Stephen Holden, in New York Times, 24 August 1990.

Interview with Paul D. Colford, in Newsday (Melville, New York), 23 October 1990.

"Hollywood's Hottest New Star Talks about His Divorce, His Days on the Streets and Why He Doesn't Have Jungle Fever," interview with Laura B. Randolph, in Ebony (Chicago), September 1991.

"Stars Recall Their Encounters with Racism," interview with Clarence Waldron, in Jet (Chicago), 7 December 1992.

Interview in Playboy (Chicago), October 1993.

"The Wisdom of Wesley," interview with Lawrence Grobel, in Movieline (Los Angeles), August 1998.


On SNIPES: books—

Zwocker, Ray, Who's Hot: Wesley Snipes, New York, 1993.

On SNIPES: articles—

Rohter, L., "The Star of New Jack City Is Building on Its Success," in New York Times, 27 March 1991.

Washington, Elsie B., "That's My Baby," in Essence (New York), May 1991.

Seidenberg, Robert, "Splashy Movies, Unsung Stars," in American Film (Hollywood), June 1991.

Rugoff, R., "Wesley Fever," in Premiere (New York), July 1991.

"Wesley Snipes: Busiest Actor in Hollywood," in Jet (Chicago), 18 May 1992.

Current Biography 1993, New York, 1993.

Hirschberg, Lynn, "Living Large," in Vanity Fair (New York), September 1993.

Norment, Lynn, "Bachelors with Money and Clout," in Ebony (Chicago), October 1993.

Fink, Mitchell, "Could It Be the Title?" in People Weekly (New York), 6 March 1995.


* * *

Wesley Snipes is best-known to the mainstream moviegoing public as a durable star of action-adventure films. Upon earning his movie star stripes in the early 1990s, he became an action hero to rival Stallone and Schwarzenegger. The actor's success in the likes of Passenger 57 (playing a specialist in antiterrorism who goes up against airline hijackers) and Drop Zone (cast as a U.S. marshal battling sky-diver villains) confirms that an African-American actor is perfectly capable of finding major stardom playing such roles. Snipes also has been cast as other standard characters in action epics. He has been the wizened veteran hero's youthful partner (in Rising Sun, paired with Sean Connery); and the deranged, ultra-dangerous villain (in Demolition Man, opposite Stallone).

But what truly marks Snipes as a motion picture personality is his versatility; his interest in playing not only in action-adventure fare but in character-driven films; and his willingness to experiment in roles that a Sylvester Stallone never, ever would accept. He initially attracted attention as the gang leader in the popular Michael Jackson music video Bad, a role that served as his calling card for feature film work. After impressive supporting turns in three films—Major League (as the speedy baseball player Willie Mays Hayes); King of New York (as a tough, honest cop); and Mo' Better Blues (as a jazz musician)—Snipes hit the mark in two 1991 releases. Not only did his performances in New Jack City and Jungle Fever establish him as a rising young star, but they effectively displayed his range as an actor. In New Jack City, he offered a chillingly sinister performance as Nino Brown, a Harlem drug lord; and in Jungle Fever, he gave a subtle performance as Flipper Purify, a guilt-ridden architect, married to a black woman, who enters into an affair with his white secretary.

Around the time he made The Waterdance and White Men Can't Jump, Snipes quickly was emerging as one of the decade's upper-echelon stars. In The Waterdance, he is Raymond Hill, a streetwise black who has become a paraplegic and is confined to a rehabilitation center. In White Men Can't Jump, he plays another street-smart type: Sidney Deane, a Southern California basketball hustler. At first glance, both characters are contemporary African-American stereo-types. Raymond Hill is a self-described ladies' man who before becoming wheelchair-bound had lived a "wild life"; admittedly, he was not much of a husband to his wife or father to his little girl. And Sidney Deane seems the type who, if given the opportunity, would hustle you out of your last dime. Nevertheless, in both The Waterdance and White Men Can't Jump, Snipes adds unusual depth and poignancy to his characterizations. His performances allow you to see beyond the characters' surface hype, making both men at once deeply flawed and deeply human.

Snipes also is not apprehensive about playing against type—in the broadest possible sense. He lampooned his macho image in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, in which he, along with Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo, play drag queens. Snipes's Noxeema Jackson comes complete with blond wig and red high-heel shoes. He/she is co-winner of a drag queen beauty pageant, and he/she is not afraid of wiggling his/her hips. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be amenable to gently spoofing his screen image, playing the "twin" of Danny DeVito in Twins and a scientist who finds himself pregnant in Junior. But one cannot imagine Schwarzenegger playing a homosexual, let alone a drag queen. It is to Snipes's credit that he is willing to risk alienating his action-adventure audience by stretching himself in a role like Noxeema Jackson.

In the latter part of the 1990s, Snipes kept on mixing his screen roles. He appeared in thrillers, action films, and science fiction epics, playing heroes, villains, and victims: U.S. Marshalls (as an ex-CIA agent framed on a murder rap); Murder at 1600 (as a homicide detective intent on solving the title crime); Money Train (re-teamed with White Men Can't Jump co-star Woody Harrelson, as a New York City undercover transit cop who becomes entangled in a theft scheme); The Fan (as a star San Francisco Giants baseball player who is stalked by a psycho); and, most strikingly, the ultra-violent Blade (as a half-human/half-vampire). At the same time, Snipes accepted roles in dramas, playing secondary characters in a pair of films that charted the plight of contemporary black women: Waiting to Exhale (as a businessman whose wife is dying); and Down in the Delta (as a successful lawyer). Perhaps his most interesting role of the period is the lead in One Night Stand, Mike Figgis's thoughtful and ambitious follow-up to Leaving Las Vegas. Snipes has one of his best-ever parts as Max Carlyle, an otherwise intelligent and compassionate television commercial director who is floundering in a world that is all gloss and no substance, and whose wife, friends, and colleagues are collectively shallow. Max undergoes a crisis upon visiting an old friend who is dying of AIDS and having a chance encounter with a kindred spirit, a woman who may be his true soul mate.

—Rob Edelman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Snipes, Wesley." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. 30 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Snipes, Wesley." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/snipes-wesley

"Snipes, Wesley." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/snipes-wesley

Snipes, Wesley 1962–

Wesley Snipes 1962

Actor

Seeds of Raw Talent

Shaped by Experiences in College

Steady Climb to Fame

An Established Leading Man

Landed Leading Roles

Sources

Before reaching the age of 30, actor Wesley Snipes was recognized as an important new figure in his field. His picture has graced the cover of Newsweek and Jet magazines, and New Yorker magazine critic Pauline Kael dubbed him one of the most impressive members of a new generation of American actors. Snipes came to be considered one of the chief players in the film industry and an enduring, mesmerizing talent.

Snipes was born on July 31, 1962, in Orlando, Florida. His father, an aircraft engineer, and his mother, Marian, then a teachers aide, divorced a year after his birth. His mother then moved him and two of his seven siblings to the South Bronx section of New York, where he spent his childhood honing negotiating skills. Snipes stood 5 feet 5 inches tall when in high school-he eventually grew 6 more inches-and substituted bravado, boldness, and charm for height at that time, which in turn served as a solid foundation for his adult life.

Snipess aunt Delia Saunders entered him in talent shows when he was a child. One of those led to a minor role in the off-Broadway play The Me Nobody Knows when Snipes was 12 years old. Frequent auditions and basketball practice kept him busy in high school, and his competitive nature helped ensure that he would fare well academically. His keen interest in dance led him to enroll in New Yorks High School of the Performing Arts, known for its strong dance department. Snipes was content there, so two years later, when his mother decided to move the family back to Orlando, the teenager complained bitterly. He had become a regular at the local pool hall and was so good at the game that he made money hustling pool. His mother decided it was time for a change of atmosphere.

Seeds of Raw Talent

After attending a multiethnic elementary school in the South Bronx, and then the High School of the Performing Arts, Snipes suddenly found himself in a predominantly African American public school in Orlando, and his fast-paced style was at odds with Southern sensibilities. In an interview with Washington Post contributor Jay Mathews, Snipes described how he felt when he first went to Orlando: Theyre just moseying along, like lemonade on the porch on a Sunday afternoon, and

At a Glance

Born July 31,1962, in Orlando, FL; son of an aircraft engineer and a teachers aide; married, 1985 (divorced, 1990); children: Jelani (son). Education: State University of New York at Purchase, B.A., 1984.

Career: Actor in motion pictures, stage plays, and on television, 1985. Selected stage appearances include The Me Nobody Knows, The Boys of Winter, Death and the Kings Horsemen, and Execution of Justice. Also appeared in HBOs Vietnam Story, 1987, Americas Dream, 1996, and Michael Jacksons music video Bad, 1987. Film appearances include roles in Wildcats, 1985, Streets of Gold, 1986, Major League, 1989, King of New York, 1990, Mo Better Blues, 1990, New Jack City, 1991, Jungle Fever, 1991, White Men Cant Jump, 1992, The Waterdance, 1992, Passenger 57, 1992, Boiling Point, 1993, Demolition Man, 1993, Rising Sun, 1993, Drop Zone, 1994, Sugar Hill, 1994, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, 1995, Waiting to Exhale, 1995, The Fan, 1996, Murder at 1600, 1997, One Night Stand, 1997, U.S. Marshals, 1998, Down in the Delta, 1998, Blade, 1998.

Awards: Cable televisions ACE Award for best actor for his performance in Vietnam Story; Best Actor award for One Night Stand, Venice Film Festival, 1997.

Addresses: Agent Dolores Robinson, 335 North Maple Road, Suite 250, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

youre like, yo, I cant stand this. Let me outta here.

The drama department of Jones High School in Orlando soon took his mind off of what he had left behind when they started casting for Damn Yankees. Snipes was given a warm reception in the theater department and wasnt modest when it came to letting it be known that he had attended the High School of the Performing Arts. He earned spending money in high school by joining a city-sponsored drama troupe called Struttiri Street Stuff and performed puppet shows in parks and schools for up to $70 a week. Around the same time, he also won an award for his one-man show playing Puck, a character from William Shakespeares comedy A Midsummer Nights Dream, and had a successful run playing Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple.

Snipes told Stephen Holden of the New York Times: Moving to Florida was the best thing that could have happened to me. A lot of the cats I grew up with in the South Bronx found themselves in sticky situations. Karen Rugerio, Snipess drama teacher at Jones High, told the Washington Post: He was always very focused. If you criticize the work of someone at that age, they often get upset, but Wes would always listen very carefully, wanting to learn how he could do it better.

Shaped by Experiences in College

When it came time for college, Snipes auditioned for the State University of New York at Purchases esteemed theater arts program and was readily accepted, receiving a Victor Borge scholarship. As Snipes explained to Larry Rohter of the New York Times, he fell into acting through the urging of others who saw that he was a natural. I really wanted to be a singer and dancer, he said, and I still have a latent passion for that. When I see Alvin Ailey or Chuck Davis or Forces of Nature, Im sitting there saying I could have been up there.

Snipes was one of only four African American students in the theater arts department at SUNY Purchase, and he told Ebony magazine that it was a disconcerting experience: I felt like mold on white bread. What saved me was being exposed to Malcolm X. The emphasis on African American pride found in the writings of Malcolm X helped Snipes weather a confusing period in his life: an African American man coming of age while surrounded by whites. He became a Muslim for a short time, starting in the second semester of his freshman year, then abandoned the faith three years after he graduated. He revealed to Randolph: A brother of mine used to say When youre drowning, grab onto a log to keep afloat. But dont hold on to the log when the boat comes by. Get on the boat and bring your butt on back home. So Islam for me was the log to make me more conscious of what African people have accomplished, of my self-worth, to give me some self-dignity.

While in college, Snipes auditioned for Harry Belafon-tes movie about break-dancers called Beat Street and realized that in addition to applying standard acting techniques, he also had to draw more from his own life-experience on the street. He didnt land a part in the movie, but it was a learning experience for him. Although Snipes was never given the role of leading male in any of the university productions-in spite of his obvious talents and experience-after he left college to pursue professional work, he quickly became a leading man who was very much in demand. David Garfield, an acting teacher at SUNY Purchase, told the Los Angeles Times that Snipes was obviously gifted. He was extremely funny, he could do straight drama, he could sing and he would stop shows with the dance numbers he had choreographed. He also exhibited a strong black consciousness even then.

Steady Climb to Fame

Snipes met his wife while a senior in college, and they married a year after he graduated in 1984. He took a job installing telephones in New York, and that same year a casting director who had spotted him at a university drama convention contacted him for Goldie Hawns football parody Wildcats after the first choice actor didnt work out. Then, along with Matt Dillon and Andrew McCarthy, Snipes procured a leading role in John Pielmeiers off-Broadway play The Boys Of Winter, about the ravaging effects of the Vietnam War on U.S. soldiers, and followed with a role in the Lincoln Center production of Wole Soyinkas Death and the Kings Horsemen. After this, true to his flexible nature, he put on spike heels to portray drag queen Sister Boom-Boom in Emily Manns Broadway play Execution of Justice. Mann told the Los Angeles Times: I remember when he auditioned. I had never seen a man put on high heels and walk that way and all of us said That guy is going to be a star.

Because Snipes pursued an interest in martial arts, and because he has the natural grace and balance of a dancer, he was well-cast as an athlete. In 1986, Snipes portrayed a boxer in the film Streets of Gold. Then he experienced a short lull in his career, so he turned to other pursuits for his livelihood. Therapeutic massage and parking cars were two of the things Snipes tried in 1987 before landing a role in HBOs Vietnam Story. He eventually won the cable industrys ACE Award for best actor for his work in Vietnam Story.

In 1987, Snipes also appeared in Michael Jacksons Bad video, and this cameo role changed the course of his fate. Snipes portrayed a gang leader who shoved Michael Jackson up against a wall, and in doing so, caught the attention of director Spike Lee and New Jack City co-screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper. Lee commented to Premier magazines Ralph Rugoff that Snipes was so real, Michael Jackson mustve been scared to death.

Vietnam Story was followed by a part in the 1989 baseball comedy Major League-he turned down a smaller part in Lees Do the Right Thing for this role--and later a minor role in the drug warfare film King of New York. Around the same time, Snipes and his wife had a son named Jelani. The couple divorced in 1990. That same year, Snipes portrayed a jazz saxophonist named Shadow Henderson in Lees Mo Better Blues, holding his own opposite Academy Award winner Den-zel Washington. Snipes told Randolph: I just wanted to go in, do a good job, and not let Denzel blow me off the screen. In preparation for his role as a saxophonist, Snipes watched tapes of John Coltrane and other jazz legends and visited a variety of the jazz clubs in New York City. A proficient mimic, Snipes memorized scales and fingering for all of the music played in the film.

An Established Leading Man

The role of Harlem drug baron Nino Brown in the 1991 film, New Jack City, was also written with Snipes in mind after his appearance in the video Bad. Directed by Mario Van Peebles, New Jack City grossed $22.3 million at the box office within its first three weeks-a tribute to the powerful screen presence of Snipes. New Jack City was designed to be an anti-drug and anti-violence gangster film, but a spate of shootings and violence erupted briefly at some theaters across the country after it opened. Some of the eruptions were due to the fact that few theaters were showing the film at first, and those that were sold out quickly, leaving dozens of frustrated people-usually teenagers-outside of the theater without tickets. Rohter noted: Indeed, Mr. Snipes now finds himself in the peculiar position of fending off arguments that his portrayal (of drug lord Nino Brown) may have been too effective. Commenting in the Los Angeles Times about the theaters where outbreaks occurred, Snipes asserted: They oversold the showings by 1,500 tickets and the theater owners didnt give their money back. The same thing would happen with a Menudo concert, or the Rolling Stones.

Landed Leading Roles

Because of Snipess outstanding performance as Shadow in Mo Better Blues, Lee decided to cast him as Fipper Purify in Jungle Fever, a controversial film about interracial romance, and wrote the part with Snipes in mind. Snipes told the New York Times that Lee had said to him on the last day of shooting Mo Better Blues: Be ready for the next one, because I got something great for you. In Jungle Fever, released in June of 1991, Snipes portrayed a married architect having an affair with his white secretary-an affair that ended due to economic and cultural differences between the lovers and their conflicted families. The film was a vehicle for Lees views on interracial relationships, and Snipes told Hilary De Vries of the Los Angeles Times: I dont know if the film is an argument for racial purity. I think its about how color-conscious this society really is.

Snipes followed Jungle Fever with a leading role in Ron Sheltons 1992 release White Men Cant Jump, a movie about street basketball featuring Snipes and Cheers actor Woody Harrelson as urban hoop hustlers. The on-screen chemistry between the two stars helped make White Men Cant Jump one of the seasons top moneymakers, and through his performance, Snipes solidified his place in American film. As he pointed out in Entertainment Weekly, Rarely have you seen a young black male in this type of powerful position, who can basically make or break a project.

Following White Men Cant Jump, Snipes began work on Neil Jamenezs The Waterdance, which won several awards at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. In the film, he portrayed one of a group of hospitalized paraplegics and quadriplegics. To research his role, Snipes spoke with patients at rehabilitation centers to understand their physical limitations and to glean emotional insight as well.

In mid-1992, Snipes appeared in the action/adventure film Passenger 57. The film featured Snipes as a security agent and martial arts expert named John Cutter. Cutter is a passenger on a plane that is hijacked by terrorists, and he uses his skills and intelligence to save his fellow passengers. Stephen Holden of the New York Times critiqued Snipess performance: As an action hero, Mr. Snipes belongs to the school that plays it cool and tongue-in-cheek. Consistently underplaying his part, he strolls through the role with a glint in his eye that seems to acknowledge that the movie is really a live-action cartoon.

The following year, Snipes starred in Boiling Point as a U.S. marshal who tracks down a sociopathic con artist. He also starred opposite Sean Connery in a film adaptation of Michael Crichtons novel, Rising Sun. Snipes and Connery play two detectives who are called upon to investigate the murder of a prostitute during the opening of a new skyscraper in Los Angeles. Although reviews of the film were mixed, many critics lauded Snipess performance. Snipes, as the bewildered-innocent half of the detective team, has the trickier role and brings it off flawlessly: his confusion is necessarily comic, but he never seems a buffoon, remarked Terrence Rafferty of the New Yorker. Also in 1993, Snipes teamed with Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man. As Simon Phoenix, Snipes portrayed a criminal who escapes from prison after being cryogenically frozen for 36 years. In order to recapture Phoenix the authorities turn to John Spartan, a police sergeant who was also cryogenically frozen. The film centers around the battles between Phoenix and Spartan, who is played by Stallone, in the fictional city of San Angeles. Again, Snipes received rave reviews for his performance. John Anderson of New York Newsday remarked: Snipes, the villain you cant quite bring yourself to hate, turns out to be the kind of natural comedian Stallone will never be.

In 1994 Snipes landed the role of Roemello Skuggs, a drug dealer who seeks an escape from his violent world, in the film Sugar Hill. That same year he starred as Pete Nessip in Drop Zone, a film about a U.S. marshal who enters the world of professional skydiving to destroy a terrorist group and avenge the death of his brother. Along with John Leguizamo and Patrick Swayze, Snipes played a drag queen in the 1995 comedy To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. In the film, the three men portray drag queens who are on their way to a beauty pageant when their car breaks down in a small town. Stranded, the three men become involved in the lives and problems of the towns inhabitants. In 1995, Snipes also played the role of James in the highly acclaimed film adaptation of Terry Mcmillans novel Waiting to Exhale.

In 1996, Snipes starred in the action thriller The Fan. Snipes appeared in the role of Bobby Rayburn, a star baseball player who is stalked by an overzealous fan, played by Robert DeNiro. The fan becomes psychotic after Rayburn falls into a batting slump, and kidnaps Rayburns young son. That same year, Snipes narrated and served as the executive producer of the documentary John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk. He also landed the role of George Du Vaul in the movie Americas Dream, which aired on HBO.

Snipes maintained a presence on the big screen in 1997. In the film Murder at 1600 Snipes starred as Harlan Regis, a detective who is called upon to investigate a murder at the White House. Critics generally gave the film poor reviews. Although Roger Moore of Journal Now called the premise of the film preposterous, he noted that Snipes as Harlan Regis is properly jaded, efficient, and annoyed. Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today remarked that Murder at 1600 is a fairly diverting game of whodunit, like a big screen version of Clue, until it sinks into routine thriller antics and wraps up preposterously. Snipes also appeared as Max, a successful ad executive who travels from his home in Los Angeles to New York to visit a friend who is dying of AIDS, in the film One Night Stand. While in New York, Max has an affair with a stranger and begins to question the meaning of his life. Although One Night Stand generally received poor reviews, Snipes received a best actor award for his work in the film at the 1997 Venice Film Festival.

In 1998, Snipes teamed with Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Downey Jr. in the action thriller U.S. Marshals. In the film Snipes played the role of Sheridan, a man who is falsely accused of murdering two government agents. As Sheridan tries to clear his name, he is pursued by U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) and his assistant John Royce (Robert Downey, Jr.) The film received mixed reviews. Snipes also appeared in Down in the Delta, a film directed by poet Maya Angelou. The film was produced by Snipess production company, Amen Ra Films, and aired on Showtime. Snipes also played a half-human, half-vampire who tries to save humanity from a race of vampires in the film Blade. Michael OSullivan of The Washington Post remarked that the films stomach-turning special effects, bone-crunching martial arts, and cynical humor will more than satisfy any action-film addicts need for a fix of eye-popping escapist adrenaline. Charles Taylor of Salon Magazine noted that Blade in no way resembles a good movie, but its combination of music-video bombast, goth-rock sensibility, high-tech industrial production design, cold-blooded glossy magazine visuals, high-fashion club culture, horror movies, blaxploitation movies, Hong Kong movies, and comic-book nihilism make it diverting trash. In addition to his starring role, Snipes was also the producer of Blade.

Through hard work and perseverence, Wesley Snipes has become one of the countrys most successful African American actors. However, Hollywood stardom can also lead to enormous pressure. Its a stressful life, Snipes told Lynn Norment of Ebony, It has benefits and perks, but its highly stressful. The more you do and the more money you make, the more stress there is. To cope with the stresses of his daily life, Snipes has developed a deeply-rooted spirituality. As he remarked to Norment, I think thats the only way Ive been able to survive.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Constitution, August 7, 1990.

Boston Globe, June 7, 1991.

Ebony, November 1997.

Entertainment Weekly, September 27, 1991; April 10, 1992.

Journal Now, April 18, 1997.

Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1991; May 19, 1991; June 29, 1991.

Newsweek, April 22, 1991; June 10, 1991.

New York Newsday, October 8, 1993.

New York Times, August 24, 1990; March 8, 1991; March 27,1991; June7,1991, November 6,1992.

New Yorker, July 26, 1993.

Premiere, July 1991.

Rolling Stone, August 22, 1991.

Salon, August 20, 1998.

USA Today, December 1, 1998.

Washington Post, June 7, 1991, April 21, 1998.

B. Kimberly Taylor and David G. Oblender

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 30 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/snipes-wesley-1962-1

"Snipes, Wesley 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/snipes-wesley-1962-1