Film and Television
Film and Television
Gil L. Robertson IV
• African Americans in Film
• African Americans in Television
• Filmography of Selected Feature Films and Documentaries
• Actors, Filmmakers, and Film and Television Executives
As the foremost medium for creative expression, cinema yields a great deal of power and influence in defining images that shape humanity. Although primarily seen as a form of entertainment, it plays a significant role in the manner in which society views itself and the world around it. With regards to the representation of African Americans in cinema, the medium has largely failed in illuminating images that reflect the complete diversity of that experience. Instead, it has largely focused on images that devalue African Americans by confining their representation within an ideological web of myths, stereotypes, and caricatures.
The experiences of African Americans in television have been somewhat less limiting than those realized in film. This has been due, in part, to the fact that television sought to capture an African American audience from the outset. In fact, many of the medium’s earliest participants such as Steve Allen publicly stated that the medium’s success would certainly benefit by the inclusion of African American performers. Therefore, beginning with the medium’s widespread use in the late 1940s and into the present day, television has provided some unique avenues of expression for African Americans in acting, production, and executive roles.
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN FILM
THE SILENT FILM ERA
Beginning with the inception of the “moving camera” in the 1890s, African American images in cinema have been positioned, marginalized, and subordinated in every possible manner to glorify and relentlessly hold to America’s status quo. In 1898, the first African Americans appeared in film as soldiers heading for battle in the Spanish-American War. Soon afterwards though, the depiction of African Americans began to mirror the racial stereotypes of that time, appearing as criminals, ministers, and, during the period in which American society grew sentimental for the Civil War era, as slaves. The most provocative film of the era in which African Americans were depicted in servitude was D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915).
Released at the end of the silent film era, The Birth of a Nation unleashed a tremendous amount of ire and controversy that is still discussed in cinematic circles. Although its release represented a technical and artistic triumph for the film community, its unabashed message of racial intolerance and embellished, stereotypical images of African Americans has become symbolic of the tremendous obstacles that African Americans face in cinema. Although other films such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1909) and The Nigger (1915) drew upon the same anti-African American propaganda, The Birth of a Nation, due to its technological significance, stands out as a fundamental reference to cinema’s position on African American images.
REDEFINING AFRICAN AMERICAN IMAGES
In response to the popularity of such films, African Americans during the 1910s and 1920s formed independent film projects and production companies in order to create more realistic images of the African American culture.
Perhaps the best known African American filmmaker of this period is Oscar Micheaux, who managed to generate financial profits from more than 30 silent and sound features that his private studio released. Utilizing a similar distribution system to that created by African American film producer Noble Johnson, Micheaux personally delivered films to movie theaters across the country, edited films on the road, and obtained money from theater owners by having actors give private performances from scenes of upcoming releases. Despite the fact that many of his films suffered from poor technical skills, Micheaux’s expert abilities as a promoter earned him a sizeable following. (Always daring, Micheaux turned the tables on Hollywood by casting his light-skinned actors to play whites in several of his films.) In 1924 the Micheaux movie Body and Soul featured Paul Robeson in his film debut.
After recovering from bankruptcy, Micheaux released The Exile in 1931—the first African American feature-length sound movie—and God’s Stepchildren (1937), among other “talkies.” As tastes began to shift from what were called “race productions” though, Micheaux saw his audience dwindle. His final film released in 1948, a three-hour epic titled The Betrayal, was a commercial failure. While many of his films have been lost, Micheaux maintained control of his prized works, ensuring that they were protected as the legal property of his wife.
There were other African American pioneer film-makers of this time period—some of whose efforts predated Micheaux’s. William “Bill” Foster began using “all-colored” casts in a number of short films in 1913. Through his Foster Photoplay Company, he released several films, the most notable of which were The Railroad Porter, The Butler, and The Grafter and the Maid. Although Foster genuinely believed in the viability of launching an African American movie company, attempting to secure technical and financial support, not to mention distribution outlets, soon brought about his company’s demise.
Headed by Noble Johnson, the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, which was established in the summer of 1915, was perhaps the first company to produce significant films featuring black performers for African American audiences. The company released several films that depicted African Americans in a common, natural manner. In response to distribution problems that often plagued African American studios, Johnson worked out a commission system that engaged African American media personnel across the United States to utilize their business relationships with movie theater owners and show his films. By doing so, Johnson was able to produce such films as The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition (1916), The Trooper of Company K (1917), and The Law of Nature (1918). Though somewhat successful, this system could not compete with major Hollywood studios, and after Johnson’s defection to Universal Films, the company soon folded.
Another early African American film pioneer was Emmett J. Scott. A former secretary to Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington, Scott believed that African American cinema could be financially supported through the sale of stock in his production company. Incorporated in July 1916, his Birth of a Race Photoplay Corporation produced The Birth of a Race and released the film in December 1918. Although the film did not meet original expectations, it did succeed in establishing a capital-raising tool that would prove instrumental to future African American filmmakers.
In addition, many other African American entrepreneurs took the gamble on producing films with varying degrees of success. The Frederick Douglass Film Company premiered its first film The Colored American Winning His Suit in 1916. In 1920, the Royal Gardens Film Company presented In the Depths of Our Hearts, and in 1921 the ex-heavyweight champion Jack Johnson starred in As the World Rolls On for Andlauer Productions. In each case, however, the African American entrepreneurs behind these ventures succumbed to the insurmountable obstacles dealt to them because of racism.
BREAKING INTO MAINSTREAM SOUND FILMS
Prior to the sound era of cinema, many film producers used white actors in “blackface,” or burnt-cork makeup, to portray blacks. As a means of capturing the distinctive dialect and cadence of African Americans though, most producers began to employ African American actors for such limited roles during the new era of sound film. Though short “talkies” by other white filmmakers depicted African Americans in a more authentic manner, little else changed for African American performers, generally appearing as criminals and domestic servants, among other roles. In fact, the film widely heralded for utilizing sound in film The Jazz Singer (1927) starred exvaudevillian Al Jolson singing in “blackface.”
One favorable change for African American performers during this era was the establishment of the movie musical. From the late 1920s through the 1940s, countless movie musicals were made and featured African American performers. For the fortunate few, singing in a film was a real achievement—not only did it guarantee work on a project, but it also enabled performers to showcase broader talents. As the film community reveled in its latest trend, many multitalented African American performers—such as Lena Horne—were discovered.
Already gaining impressive notoriety for her beauty and singing talent, Horne’s film career actually began with the black independent film The Duke Is Tops as well as some short films. Lured to Hollywood in 1942 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for a major role in Panama Hattie, Horne became the first African American performer awarded a major studio contract.
Lena Horne faced some unusual circumstances in Hollywood, though, due to her physical appearance. As a light-skinned African American with long flowing hair, she was viewed by many as something other than black. However, as a staunch supporter of her ethnicity, the actress refused to sacrifice pride in her heritage—such as playing demeaning roles as a slave or servant—for greater opportunities of film stardom. As a result, Horne only appeared in two other major films Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. Beyond these works, Horne’s brief film career mostly consisted of musical numbers that could easily be edited in order to appease Southern viewing audiences.
Another notable performer whose breakthrough came during this era was actor Paul Robeson. Widely respected for his work as a stage actor, Robeson went on to play important roles in nine feature films between 1929 and 1942. By sheer force of talent and charisma, Robeson succeeded where many others had failed in consistently securing roles that were central to the theme of the film. In such classic dramas as The Emperor Jones, the musical Show Boat, and the British film The Proud Valley, Robeson created characters that challenged film barriers of that time. Unfortunately, the barriers of prejudice and stereotype continued to exist, and Robeson, after consistently being denied roles worthy of his talent, abandoned Hollywood to pursue a concert career.
AFRICAN AMERICAN ACTORS ENDURE RACIAL STEREOTYPES
Throughout the pantheon of early Hollywood cinema perhaps no other African American caricature was as well-entrenched as the “mammy” figure. Often the source of comic relief, these characters populated films from around 1914 through the late 1950s. No two performers better embodied that image than Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel, since physically, they both met the industry’s standards. Although Beavers and McDaniel both enjoyed lengthy film careers, neither was able to discard this stereotype. Beavers, who is best known for her role in the 1934 film version of Imitation of Life, also appeared in over 120 films. McDaniel, who earned an Academy Award in 1939 for her role in Gone with the Wind, appeared in more than 300 films. Despite the stereotypical roles that each performed, Beavers and McDaniel were both well-respected and seen as successful members of the Hollywood film community.
Between the late 1920s through the mid-1940s, many other African American performers were successful in establishing film careers. Although virtually all had to suffer through gross indignities in pursuit of careers, they nevertheless contributed to the growing African American presence in mainstream films. These actors and actresses included Earl “Rochester” Anderson, Rex Ingram, Ethel Waters, and Nina Mae McKinney.
WORLD WAR II PROPAGANDA FILMS STRIVE FOR RACIAL HARMONY
With the advent of World War II, leaders of the Civil Rights movement of the early twentieth century seized the opportunity to press the U.S. government to address racial injustice including providing equal opportunity in wartime industry and the military. At the same time, such activist groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lobbied Hollywood for better film roles for African Americans.
In response, the U.S. War Department produced the groundbreaking film The Negro Soldier in 1944. At the same time, Hollywood produced movies that depicted a racially-integrated military, years before President Truman’s Executive Order No. 9981 mandated desegregation of the armed forces. For example, in Crash Dive, African American actor Ben Carter is shown saving the life of the film’s star, Tyrone Power. In the film Lifeboat African American actor Canada Lee is shown among a shipwrecked group of civilians whose ship has been destroyed by enemy fire.
Later in the war, the U.S. government commissioned several short civilian films that expressed the theme of racial harmony. One such effort was The House I Live In, which won an Oscar Award for best short film in 1947. Documentaries of this period also reflected a liberal attitude toward race relations shortly after wartime. For example, documentarians Loeb and Levitt produced the work The Quiet One in 1948 that depicted the concerted effort put forth by white social workers in dealing with disadvantaged black juveniles.
BLACKS IN POSTWAR AMERICAN FILMS
Films made in post-war America began to feature African Americans in multidimensional roles, as well as more integrated into American life. In fact, a number of films that were released in the late 1940s through the mid-1960s presented African Americans with families, careers, and working towards goals of a better life. Thus, Hollywood films sought, if only slightly, to broaden the scope of the African American experience. One significant cause was the increasing degree of political and economic influence wielded by the African American community.
Making his film debut in the 1950 drama No Way Out Sidney Poitier became the cinematic model for integration. Consistently depicted as an educated, intelligent, and well-mannered black man, Hollywood was quick to capitalize on Poitier’s appeal. With film credits that include Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), The Defiant Ones (1958), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), and In the Heat of the Night (1967), Poitier became Hollywood’s first bonafide African American film star. In 1963, he won the Academy Award in the best actor category—the first by an African American—for his lead role in Lilies of the Field.
Though Poitier’s success symbolized the changing industry standards for African American performers during the course of the next two decades, his stardom did not come without a price. Although positioned as a leading actor, Poitier’s characterizations often lacked human dimension. For instance, in all but three of the films made during this period, Poitier was never allowed to exhibit any degree of sexuality. Nonetheless, Poitier’s career heralded greater acceptance of black actors as equals to their white counterparts.
In 1954, film actress Dorothy Dandridge became the first African American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award in the best actress category for her role in Carmen Jones. With unrivaled talent and beauty, it seemed that Dandridge would become the female counterpart to Poitier’s leading African American man. However, she was unable to ever find a subsequent role offering the same dimensions as Carmen Jones. While Dandridge repeatedly demonstrated dramatic ability and landed a respectable contract with Twentieth Century Fox, the industry mainly only cast her in films as an exotic native. When the pressures of battling the film industry proved too much, Dandridge drifted from the Hollywood scene and in 1965 died of an apparent suicide.
In the case of actor Harry Belafonte, Hollywood was faced with another dilemma. A naturally romantic hero, the film industry found it difficult to contain Belafonte’s sexuality. Similar to Dandridge whom he starred opposite in Carmen Jones and Island in the Sun, Belafonte’s career was therefore largely confined to playing an island native and other unflattering roles. After performing in Odds Against Tomorrow, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and Buck and the Preacher, Belafonte began a successful career as a concert performer and prominent civil rights spokesperson, selecting future film projects only with great discretion.
Many other actors and actresses enjoyed success in films and mainstream acceptance. Among those who made a real impact during this period were Diana Sands, Ruby Dee, and Brock Peters. Along with Poitier, Dandridge, and Belafonte, their films marked the advent of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
During the 1960s Civil Rights movement and the war in Vietnam, American society was in the midst of a cultural revolution. As a result, films began to reflect the political and social changes brought about by the period’s harsh, challenging ideology. Director Melvin Van Peebles’s seminal 1971 African American-action film Sweet Sweet-back’s Baadasssss Song seemed to define, more than any other film, this era—one marked with contempt for white social order and its police.
In the wake of the enormous success of Peebles’s films, Hollywood rushed to produce similar movies that would capture this new African American audience. Although some of the African American action films, most notably Shaft (1971), Superfly (1972), and Coffy (1973), experienced a great deal of commercial success, this trend was soon dubbed “blaxploitation” by the African American media. In pursuit of increased profits though, Hollywood even remade blaxploitation films from classic horror movies—Blacula and Blackenstein, both in 1972.
Along with the popularity of African American action films was the emergence of a new wave of serious African American-oriented dramas. While most of these films failed to meet their initial expectations, a number of others did—the 1969 releases of The Learning Tree, Slaves, Putney Swope, and Sounder (1972) to name a few.
Finally, more African Americans worked in Hollywood than ever before during this period—many behind the camera as well. Such screenwriters as Richard Wesley, Bill Gunn, and Lonne Elder and directors Gordon Parks Sr., Gordon Parks Jr., Michael Schultz, and Stan Lathan were all called upon to participate in the making of major studio films.
TRANSITIONS IN AFRICAN AMERICAN FILM
Although Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr.’s impact on the American music industry is legendary, little credit has been given to him as a film producer/director. Under his Motown Films banner, Gordy produced several films, the most successful being the 1972 release Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams. Gordy’s pairing of them was the first time that African American performers were presented as romantic icons. Gordy’s 1976 film Mahogany was also the first to feature an African American actress as glamorous, independent, and sexual.
African American comedians were enjoying enormous film success as well. Richard Pryor emerged in the late 1970s as a film icon. Best known for his often provocative, iconoclastic stand-up routines, Pryor rose to superstardom through supporting role appearances. After appearing opposite Gene Wilder in the 1976 buddy film Silver Streak, Pryor continued to exhibit box-office clout in such films as Greased Lightning, Which Way Is Up, and Bustin’ Loose. He later returned to the stage where his two live concert films permanently sealed his position in film history. Other comedians, notably Eddie Murphy in the terrifically successful movie 48 Hours (1982) later benefitted from Pryor’s success.
NEW AFRICAN AMERICAN CINEMA EMERGES
Towards the mid-1980s African American actors and actresses appeared to be running on empty. With the roles offered by the blaxploitation era long gone, stereotypes of the past began to reemerge. The tragic mulatto, a well-used cinematic device once again appeared as such actresses as Rae Dawn Chong (American Flyers), Jennifer Beals (Flashdance), and Lisa Bonet (Angel Heart) were cast in roles that made no discernable mention of their ethnicity. In addition, the African American musical made a brief resurgence in the films Beat Street, Krush Groove, The Last Dragon, The Cotton Club, and Purple Rain.
Another trend that enjoyed renewed popularity in cinema was “buddy movies.” Although cinematic history is filled with various pairings of black and white performers,
the film industry in the 1980s perfected the trend with enormous box-office success. Some notable buddy film pairings included Carl Weathers and Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky films and Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in the Lethal Weapon series.
Meanwhile, a low-budget independent film was released by a recent New York University Film School graduate named Spike Lee. The release She’s Gotta Have It resulted in the resurgence of African American cinema. Lee managed to gain large audiences for most of his commercial ventures and directed a string of successful Hollywood films including one of the most politically-charged films of the era, Do the Right Thing (1989).
Spike Lee’s box-office successes, coupled with the achievements of University of Southern California Film School graduate John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Rosewood) and comedian turned actor/director Robert Townsend, (Hollywood Shuffle and The Five Heartbeats) seemed to guarantee a viable future for African American filmmakers. Along with the filmmakers,
African American actors in Hollywood began to gain steady work.
PROMISING FUTURE AWAITS AFRICAN AMERICANS IN FILM
The beginning of the new millenium showed great promise for African American talent in film. For the first time in history African American actors were able to establish solid careers in cinema. Among others, Angela Bassett, Halle Barry, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Morgan Freeman, Samuel Jackson, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, and Alfre Woodard created a lasting impact on the tapestry of film. A fresh and exciting new crop of talented actors like Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan, and directors Malcolm Lee, Patrick Famuyiwa, and Gina Prince-Bythewood, also seemed well on their way to major movie careers.
The proliferation of music artists crossing over into film had grown tremendously. Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, and especially Will Smith built strongly on their pre-2000 track records. Their multi-media successes spawned opportunities for a new generation of music talent like rappers DMX (Exit Wounds) and Eve (Barbershop), as well as singer Beyoncé Knowles (Austin Powers in Gold-member) and the late Aaliyah (Queen of the Dammed).
Action films also broke new ground, producing not one, but two stars of African American descent. The international success of films The Mummy Returns and Scorpion King turned World Wrestling Entertainment champion The Rock into a major star. Meanwhile the box office success of films like The Fast and the Furious and XXX catapulted Afro-Italian actor Vin Diesel into the exclusive $20 million club as an actor.
Perhaps the most surprising change took place during the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony when Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) each won Oscars for lead roles. Never had a black woman won for best actress, and only the great Sidney Poitier—40 years earlier—had received the best actor Oscar. As more African American performers gained responsibility for defining African American images in cinema, opportunities for black actors, filmmakers, and industry executives during the twenty-first century seemed to be very promising.
NEW MILLENNIUM OPPORTUNITIES
In the year following Denzel Washington and Halle Berry’s historic wins at the Oscars, opportunities continued to remain mixed for African Americans in Hollywood. Although established talent like Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Queen Latifah continued to enjoyed robust job prospects within the film industry, the majority of African American talent was not as fortunate. With her Oscar in hand, even Halle Berry was unable to leverage the career options bestowed to her white counterparts. In the next year, however, represented a turn around to Black Hollywood with the release of several studio and independent films featuring African American themes and talent, the most notable of which was the film Ray. Starring Jamie Foxx and based on the life of the blind Soul music icon, the film was released in the US on October 29, 2004, the film earned more than $75,000,000 at the U.S. box office. Added to film’s financial success was an Oscar win for Foxx in the Best Actor category. Other notable films released in 2004 included: Hotel Rwanda, Woman Art Thou Lose, Brother to Brother and Badasssss.
Perhaps one of the most important trends to be embraced by the African American film community has been the independent sphere of the film industry. Independent films were by definition films made outside the traditional studio system, although by the beginning of the millennium more studios set up “independent divisions” which guaranteed greater visibility and stronger box office. Oscar nominated director John Singleton was the first to make good use of the trend by producing the successful independent film Hustle & Flow in 2005. After earning over $25,000,000 at the U.S. box office, and
making a mainstream star out of Terrence Howard, the film became a model that others in Black Hollywood began to follow, including a playwright name Tyler Perry.
Building on his established following on the black theatre circuit in 2005, Perry partnered with the fledgling independent studio Lion’s Gate to release his first film Diary of A Mad Black Woman. Earning more than $50,000,000 at the U.S. box office the Perry film established the commercial viability of independent films. In 2006, Perry cemented the reach of black independent films when his second movie Madea’s Family Reunion earned over $60,000,000 a precedent setting sum for an African American film, independent or otherwise.
As if to prove that big studio films could still compete in an expanding marketplace, in 2006 mainline studio Universal Pictures released Inside Man from director Spike Lee, which earned the seminal director his first 100 million dollar grossing film.
THE AFRICAN AMERICAN FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
In 2003, a group of African American film critics launched the African American Film Critic’s Association (AAFCA), the first organization of its kind in the film industry. Much like the Foreign Press Association and the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics, the AAFCA platform creates awareness for films produced, written, directed and starring talent of African descent. Like the other groups, AAFCA issues an annual Top 10 List comprised of films release during a calendar year. Since its inception, the nationwide body has attracted a cross section of prominent entertainment media who represent print, TV, radio and online.
Much like their Anglo counterparts, British actors of African descent have also performed well in the film industry. Sine the mid-1990’s British actors of African descent have been making inroads in American films. In 1996 British actress Marianne Jean Baptist earned an Oscar nomination for her role in Secrets & Lies. The influx of Afro-British talent to the film industry has continued into the new millennium with the arrival of actors like Idris Elba (The Gospel, Daddy’s Little Girl), Thandie Newton (Mission Impossible 2, The Pursuit of Happyness), Eamonn Walker (Tears of the Sun) and Chiwetel Ejofor (Kinky Boots, Inside Man).
HOME ENTERTAINMENT OPTIONS
The growing acceptance of DVD and other Home Entertainment options have provided blacks in film with additional growth opportunities in the new millennium. With an increasing market share, Home Entertainment properties have not only substantially increased employment options for blacks in films, but also provide increased platforms for African American themed entertainment properties. Every studio in the film industry now has Home Entertainment divisions that produce and acquires content for the Home Entertainment market. However, the leader in terms of providing African American content is Codeblack Entertainment.
Established in June 2005, by industry veteran Jeffrey Clanagan, Codeblack has made in-roads in the development of African American themed content. With more than 30 titles currently on the market, the company recently entered into full-scale film production to further advance African American themes and talent in films.
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN TELEVISION
THE EARLY YEARS OF TELEVISION
Largely due to the fact that many of the new medium’s early stars were lifted from popular radio programs, African American performers began to make advancements within television almost from the start. For example, entertainer and pianist Bob Howard was included in the CBS network’s evening broadcast. Another gifted entertainer, jazz pianist Hazel Scott, had her own 15-minute broadcast three days a week. African American performers also appeared on variety and game shows, such as Your Show of Shows, All Star Revue, Strike it Rich, and High Finance, throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s. On the ABC television network, musician Billy Daniels was given his own short-lived variety show in the fall of 1952.
Although television did not make use of all the same stereotypes that cinema employed, many negative caricatures did arise. As the medium began to rebroadcast feature films and shorts that appeared in theaters, many grossly unflattering portrayals of African Americans began to appear on television. In fact, such shorts as Hal Roach’s Our Gang/Little Rascals became television mainstays.
In 1950, veteran actress Ethel Waters appeared on the first television show in which an African American was the central figure. As the star of Beulah for the first two seasons, the popular show centered on the weekly trials and tribulations of a black maid or “mammy”—a supporting character on the popular Fibber McGee and Molly radio show. (Beulah ran until 1953, when protests by the NAACP and other activist groups forced its cancellation.)
Other numerous former radio performers quickly followed in Waters’s wake including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson who played opposite Jack Benny on The Jack Benny Show and Willie Best who was a regularly featured performer on The Trouble with Father and Oh My Little Margie. In 1953 actress Lillian Randolph began to reprise the role of a maid that she played on radio for the television series Make Room for Daddy. Later, she appeared in the television show Great Gildersleeve.
Perhaps no other television show, though, created as much controversy for its negative stereotyping of African Americans as the Amos n’ Andy show. Based on the very popular 1930s and 1940s radio show Amos n’ Andy ran from 1951 to 1953. The show was perceived by many, both black and white, as an offensive reminder of the past, and the NAACP initiated lawsuits and boycott threats that were critical in forcing the show’s cancellation. After the series was cancelled though, it continued to appear in syndication until the mid-1960s.
Thoughout the early 1950s, variety shows hosted by veteran white entertainers, such as Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, and Steve Allen, occasionally featured African American entertainers. But in 1956, NBC took the bold step of creating a slot for the variety program The Nat King Cole Show. Although the variety format had always been very popular with television viewers, and Cole’s recording success was undeniable, the network was unable to secure regular sponsors, especially after Cole touched the arm of a white female guest. The show was cancelled after its first season.
COMMERCIAL TELEVISION REACTS TO THE 1960S
Throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s, African Americans appeared in many serious documentaries concerning rural poverty, segregation, and the Civil Rights movement led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The powerful medium of television provided King and the other leaders the opportunity to increase the white viewing audience’s awareness of their civil rights cause.
Commercial television reacted to the changing political, social, and economic climate in the United States much the same way that cinema did—by including more African American performers in its programming. Ensemble television shows soon began to feature African American performers: Otis Young appeared in The Outcast; Greg Morris starred in Mission Impossible; and Nichelle Nichols was featured in Star Trek. However, the most dramatic changes in television’s positioning of African American talent occurred when Sheldon Leonard hired Bill Cosby as one of two leads to star in the 1965 television show I Spy and actress Diahann Carroll was featured as a widowed nurse and single mother in the drama Julia.
While the show only lasted three seasons, I Spy marked the first time that an African American television actor was so widely accepted by television viewers—primarily for his inoffensive, perfect image. Consequently, Cosby earned three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the character, Alexander Scott. Lasting from 1968 to 1971, Julia presented Carroll as an African American woman seemingly detached from the reality of the lives led by most African Americans. Though popular with the majority viewing audience, the show was criticized for its bland depiction of an African American. Others, however, viewed Carroll’s character as an improvement over past characterizations of African Americans on television.
Blacks also began to appear on television in roles opposite whites in ways that had never before been possible. Harlem Detective featured black and white actors cast as equals on the police force. Eastside/Westside and The Nurses featured African American actresses Cicely Tyson and Hilda Simms, respectively, in regularly featured roles. Praised for its more balanced portrayal of African Americans, Eastside/Westside unfortunately lasted only one season.
As the first successful African American television variety show, The Flip Wilson Show was the first weekly program by an African American to feature “racial comedy” as
a form of general audience entertainment. The show’s rousing success paved the way for the development of the future African American situation comedies.
THE PRESENCE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS ON TELEVISION EXPANDS
During the 1970s television producers, such as Norman Lear with All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and Good Times and Bud Yorkin with What’s Happenin’ and Carter Country, created comedy programming to appeal to African American audiences. Though these shows flourished and made the African American presence on television commonplace, critics referred to them as “new minstrelsy” and derided their perpetuation of stereotypical aspects of African American humor.
One of the most significant changes occurred in children’s television programming. The public television series Sesame Street featured a multiracial mix of children and adults interacting and learning. In addition, animated programs or cartoons, such as Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972–1989) and the Jackson Five, depicted events in the lives of young African American characters.
In the category of drama, notably made-for-television movies and miniseries, two productions stood out among the rest in the 1970s—The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974) and Roots (1977). Starring actress Cicely Tyson, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was set in 1962 and spanned the life of a 110-year old African American woman from the era of slavery to the 1960s Civil Rights movement. For her outstanding efforts, Tyson was awarded an Emmy for best lead actress in a drama-special program. Based on the Alex Haley novel, Roots was the highest-rated miniseries ever, attracting an estimated 130 million viewers. Featuring such prominent African American actors as Louis Gossett Jr., Cicely Tyson, and Maya Angelou, the eight-part epic movie traced Haley’s family history from Africa to slavery in the American South.
THE COSBY DECADE
Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, African American actors continued to appear in stereotypical comedies or made-for-television movies with few exceptions. In 1984, however, veteran entertainer Bill Cosby returned to television with a half-hour series called The Cosby Show. Although expected to do well, few could have predicted the level of the show’s popularity. Consistently rated the top weekly television program, The Cosby Show ran for eight seasons and created tremendous opportunities for African American performers. While the phenomenal success of the Roots miniseries had proven that all-African American television vehicles could attract a large viewing audience, The Cosby Show demonstrated that an audience of similar proportions would also regularly support an entertaining, family-oriented program centered on African Americans as well.
In the wake of The Cosby Show’s success, an increasing number of African Americans began producing more African American-themed shows in the late 1980s. Actor Frank Reid produced and starred in the short-lived, Emmy Award-winning show Frank’s Place. Choreographer Debbie Allen produced The Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, which depicted academic life at a historical African American university. In addition, Quincy Jones produced The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air starring rap artist Will Smith, and In Living Color, which was produced by comedian Keenan Ivory Wayans and featured many talented members of the Wayans family.
BURGEONING TELEVISION NETWORKS TARGET AFRICAN AMERICAN AUDIENCES
Black Entertainment Television (BET) Holdings, Inc., which began operations in the 1980s, became the first African American-controlled cable entertainment company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in the 1990s. Led by industry giant Robert Johnson, BET targets an estimated 45 million subscribers nationwide by providing original programming on its three cable television channels—BET Cable Network, BET on Jazz, and BET Movies/Starz!3. In addition, the company has diversified its holdings by publishing magazines, marketing clothes and cosmetics, and forming a partnership with Microsoft to offer MSBET, an online service that provides entertainment information to the growing number of African Americans using the Internet. Citing a need to expand market share, as well as improve ad revenue, Robert Johnson sold the pioneering network to Viacom Holdings in November 2000. Although this move was not expected to affect programming, it did mark the end of African American ownership of any major TV concern.
While African American programs have become an increasing rarity on the major television networks which have begun to concentrate on offerings that deliver them the widest possible audience share, the launch of several networks brought new promise for African Americans. Clearly understanding the financial gain that could result, such upstart television networks as Fox, Warner Brothers (WB), and United Paramount Network (UPN) began to vigorously court African American audiences in the 1990s. Such highly-rated programs as Roc, Living Single, Martin, as well as many others were major hits with both black and young white television viewers.
Finally, in the areas of daytime and late night talk shows, several African Americans attained widespread acceptance for the first time in television history: Oprah Winfrey and Montel Williams have produced Emmy Award-winning daytime shows, while Arsenio Hall successfully led many imitators in attempting to revitalize the late night talk show format.
THE FUTURE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN TELEVISION
As the television industry headed into the twenty-first century, more African Americans than ever before were involved in television—in acting, production, and executive roles. However, while African Americans have continued to enjoy success in comedic television vehicles, no primetime dramatic series has made it beyond a full television season since the 1970s. Instead, the trend is for African American performers to be cast in ensemble shows, such as ER, Touched by an Angel, and NYPD Blue. Although most of these shows integrate their African American cast members into their stories well, many African American performers fear that their singular voice is being diluted by an increasingly multiethnic array of characters.
This brand of programming has received mixed reviews from the NAACP and other minority watchdog groups, who in recent years have challenged the networks on the lack of diversity in their programming. In an attempt to counter such fallout, during the 2001 TV season network programmers introduced two new sitcoms (My Wife and Kids and The Bernie Mac Show) which enjoyed solid ratings and whose success could even spark another “Black Renaissance” on TV.
On the other hand, the monopolies once held by the major networks have in recent years been overrun by the growing cable market, which has increased opportunities for Black talent. Cable programming has countered traditional TV programming with a brand of engaging and often provocative shows that have attracted viewers away from the major networks, as seen by the success of regularly scheduled shows like OZ, Soul Food and The Shield, and made-for-TV films like Feast of All Saints, Boycott, and The Corner. Although the sale of BET in November 2000, left a void in terms of black ownership within this market, the cable market does appear to be offering African American talent great growth opportunities as we settle into the new millenium.
Launched amidst great fanfare in January of 1995, the creation of the UPN and WB networks brought new promise for African Americans in Television. Both networks’ early programming delivered alternative viewing options to traditional television fare. With a line-up of shows that stressed diversity and leaned heavily on urban themed programming like Moesha, The Wayans Brothers, For Your Love, and The Steve Harvey Show, both networks were soon well established in the marketplace. Ironically, just as their reputations became established, both networks began to abandon their urban programming initiatives in favor of more “mainstream” fare. Although the UPN has continued to maintain a night dedicated to urban comedies, the network has consistently come under fire from watchdog groups for the stereotypical content being portrayed.
CHANGING FACES IN TELEVISION
Television in the new millennium presented expanded options for African Americans. The growing popularity of cable television created a demand for niche market programming that introduced alternative viewing choices for African Americans audiences. Although the largest share of this market is controlled by BET (which in 2001 was acquired by media giant Viacom), two additional channels (the Black Family Channel in 1999 and TV One in 2004) were launched, which increased competition and variety in the opportunity for African American in television.
Another major development in the new millennium was the merger of the WB and UPN networks into the CW channel. Although this move resulted in the cancellation of a number of African American themed shows, it also represented expanded viewership for other African American themed series like the Tyra Banks Show and TV producer Mara Brock-Akil’s hit shows Girlfriends and The Game.
SHIFTING TRENDS IN THE TV MARKET
The most influential genre to hit the TV market in the new millennium has been the advent of “reality programming”. Although originally used to describe that feature ordinary (non-actors) people in unscripted dramatic or humorous shows, these shows have gained popularity since 2000 because of there ability to place ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Reality shows have been very fruitful for African Americans, who on shows like The Apprentice and American Idol have resulted in “real life” career breaks for reality TV performers like Omarosa and 2006 Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson.
The reality genre helped to spawn a new career for former supermodel Tyra Banks, who debut her reality show America’s Next Top Model, in 2003 and her self titled talk show in 2005. Other notable African American entries in reality programming include BET’s highly-rated College Hill that features life on historical black college campuses.
Another popular TV genre experiencing a comeback in the new millennium is ensemble television. This genre was a TV mainstay through the first decades of the medium when shows Bonanza, The Walton and Hill Street Blues ruled the airwaves. As television viewers’ habits shifted in the late 80s and 90s ensemble TV took a backseat to comedies and other formats, before coming back with a vengeance at the beginning of the new millennium with fresh crop of ensemble shows. This group includes several notable shows featuring African American talent and themes like Oz, The Wire and Lincoln Heights, which as of 2007, is the only African American family drama on the air. The multiple Emmy-winning ensemble drama Grey’s Anatomy created and produced by Shondra Rhimes also deserves honorable mention.
Television is an evolving medium that will continue to grow and expand. As new technologies emerge and market tastes shift, TV will keep pace and remain at the forefront of new innovations. As for the African American presence in the medium, viewers can expect established names to continue popping up on screen and new players to step in the game who will maintain the powerful and resilient standards set forth by their predecessors.
FILMOGRAPHY OF SELECTED FEATURE FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES
The following filmography includes more than 200 selected feature films and documentaries that are remarkable for their depiction of themes and issues related to the experiences of African Americans throughout history. Ranging from the early silent movie era through major studio releases, documentaries, and made-for-television movies of the 1990s, many of these cinematic works also represent significant milestones for African Americans in the film and television industries.
8 MILE (2002)
The semi-autobiographical film chronicles the early life of blue-eye rapper Eminem.
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN WWII: A LEGACY OF PATRIOTISM AND VALOR (2000)
African American war veterans from all branches of the military describe their personal experiences in World War II. Includes tributes by General Colin Powell and then-President Bill Clinton.
AFRICANS IN AMERICA: AMERICA’S JOURNEY THROUGH SLAVERY (1998)
A four-part television documentary that chronicles the history of racial slavery in the United States from the start of the Atlantic slave trade in the sixteenth century to the end of the American Civil War in 1865. The work examines slavery from philosophical, societal, and economic viewpoints.
AKEELAH AND THE BEE(2006)
Heart warming story about an inner city African American girl’s struggle to win the National Spelling Bee prize.
Boxer Muhammad Ali is depicted during a contentious decade (1964–1974), in which he converted to Islam, befriended civil rights icons, refused the draft, was stripped of his World Heavyweight Champion title, married four times, and blurred lines between sport, ethics and society. Smith, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for this role, gives an inspired performance in and out of the ring. Another noteworthy is Jaime Foxx as cornerman “Bundini” Brown.
AMERICA’S DREAM (1995)
Trilogy of short stories covering African American life from 1938 to 1958: “Long Black Song,” based on a short story by Richard Wright; “The Boy Who Painted Christ Black,” based on a story by John Henrik Clarke; and Maya Angelou’s “The Reunion.”
Director Steven Spielberg creates an epic that relates the 1839 account of African captives aboard the slaveship Amistad, led by a Mende tribesman named Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), who free themselves and take over the ship in a bloody mutiny. Lengthy legal battles eventually reach the Supreme Court, where the Africans are found to be rightfully freed individuals in the eyes of the law.
ANTWONE FISHER (2002)
Denzel Washington directorial debut tells the story of an abused foster child’s journey into manhood.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN (1974)
The history of African Americans in the South is seen through the eyes of a 110-year-old former slave. From the Civil War through the Civil Rights movement, Miss Pittman (Cicely Tyson) relates every piece of African American history, allowing the viewer to experience the injustices. Received nine Emmy Awards; adapted by Tracy Keenan Wynn from the novel by Ernest J. Gaines.
BABY BOY (2001)
John Singleton returns to the South Central L.A. neighborhood of his breakthrough Boyz N the Hood in this candid look at a culture that fosters and tolerates lack of emotional maturity in young African-American males. Jody (Tyrese Gibson) is a 20-year-old manchild who still lives with his mother, has two children with two different women, no job, and cheats on his current girl, Yvette. Jody’s life changes when his mother’s boyfriend moves in. Melvin (Ving Rhames), an ex-con who’s been down the road Jody is heading, shows no tolerance for his attitude. Jody gets a job, but his idea of earning a living is selling stolen dresses at a beauty parlor. Real trouble starts when Rodney (Snoop Dogg), a street thug and Yvette’s ex, is released from prison and refuses to leave her house. Singleton toys with two endings, but finishes the story with the message that the means to fix the problems he’s described are within reach.
BARBER SHOP 2: BACK IN BUSINESS (2004)
The sequel to the original 2002 comedy follows deals with the popular barber shop going up against greedy real estate developers.
BEAUTY SHOP (2005)
The day-to-day antics taking place in an inner city beauty shop are vividly portrayed in this spin-off comedy from the successful Barber Shop franchise. Queen Latifah stars.
A pair of vicious black gangsters have spiritual awakenings when they realize that their lives are headed toward a dead end.
Oprah Winfrey’s pet project (she had owned the film rights for ten years) is a faithful adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984)
When a close friend of smooth-talking Detroit cop Axle Foley (Eddie Murphy) is brutally murdered, he traces the murderer to the posh streets of Beverly Hills. There he must stay on his toes to keep one step ahead of the killer and two steps ahead of the law. First of three action-comedies.
BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS (1976)
Set in 1939, this film follows the comedic adventures of a lively group of African American baseball players (Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor) who have defected from the old Negro National League. The All-Stars travel the country challenging local white teams.
The richly textured biography of jazz saxophone great Charlie Parker (Forest Whitaker), from his rise to stardom to his premature death via extended heroin use. The soundtrack, which features Parker’s own solos remastered from original recordings, earned an Academy Award for best sound. Whitaker earned the Cannes Film Festival Award for best actor, while Clint Eastwood garnered the Golden Globe Award for best director.
BIRTH OF A RACE (1918)
Emmet J. Scott’s film offers a positive depiction of African Americans during the Civil War. Although the film did not meet original expectations, it proved an inspiration to many African Americans.
BLACK GIRL (1972)
Directed by Ossie Davis, this intense drama examines the relationship between an African American woman, who feels that she is a failure, and her children.
BLACK LIKE ME (1964)
Based on John Howard Griffin’s successful book about how Griffin turned his skin black with a drug and traveled the South to experience prejudice firsthand. Features Roscoe Lee Brown.
BLACK RODEO (1972)
Documentary directed by Jeff Kanew provides a glimpse of an all-African American rodeo held at Triborough Stadium in New York in September, 1971.
BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955)
Well-remembered urban drama about an idealistic teacher (Sidney Poitier) in a slum area who fights doggedly to connect with his unruly students. Bill Hailey’s “Rock Around the Clock” over the opening credits was the first use of rock music in a mainstream feature film.
The African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) stalks the streets of Los Angeles trying to satisfy his insatiable desire for blood. Mildly successful melding of blaxploitation and horror that spawned a sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream.
BLOOD OF JESUS (1941)
A sinful husband accidentally shoots his newly baptized wife, causing an uproar in their rural town. Director Spencer Williams Jr. later starred as Andy on the Amos n’ Andy television series. Due to its rare treatment of African American religion, the film was named to the National Film Registry in 1991.
BLUE COLLAR (1978)
An auto assembly line worker, tired of the poverty of his life, hatches a plan to rob his own union. Starring Richard Pryor and Yaphet Kotto, the film is a study of the working class and the robbing of the human spirit.
BODY AND SOUL (1924)
The first screen appearance of Paul Robeson has him cast in a dual role as a conniving preacher and his good brother. The preacher preys on the heroine, making her life a misery. Objections by censors to the preacher’s character caused him to be redeemed and become worthy of the heroine’s love. Directed by African American film-maker Oscar Micheaux.
BOESMAN & LENA (2000)
This adaptation of the apartheid-era play by Athol Fugard follows the travails of downtrodden couple, Boesman (Danny Glover) and Lena (Angela Bassett). Their shanty town home in Cape Town has been bulldozed by the government so they take to the dusty road with their meager belongings, constantly bickering about their plight. The couple construct a makeshift abode for the night, which attracts the attention of an old man even lower on the economic ladder, whom Lena allows to stay to Boesman’s displeasure.
Superb HBO docudrama recreates the Civil Rights movement’s early days, from Rosa Parks’s (Iris Little-Thomas) refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated Montgomery, Alabama, bus, through the subsequent boycott of the bus system by the city’s black population, to the success of the boycott and the rise to prominence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Jeffrey Wright) as the movement’s most eloquent and popular leader. Through the use and mix of many different visual styles, director Clark Johnson uses artful touches to tell the story without overplaying his hand. Wright is fantastic as King, with other outstanding performances turned in by Terrence Dashon Howard as Ralph Abernathy and CCH Pounder as boycott organizer Jo Anne Robinson.
BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991)
John Singleton’s debut as a writer and director is an astonishing picture of young African American men, four high school students with different backgrounds, aims, and abilities trying to survive Los Angeles gangs and bigotry. Excellent acting throughout, with special nods to Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. Musical score by Stanley Clarke. Singleton was the youngest director ever nominated for an Oscar.
THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984)
A black alien (Joe Morton) escapes from his home planet and winds up in Harlem, where he is pursued by two alien bounty hunters. The humor arises from cultural and racial misunderstandings. Independently-made morality fable by John Sayles.
BROTHER JOHN (1970)
An early look at racial tensions and labor problems. An angel (Sidney Poitier) goes back to his hometown in Alabama to see how things are going. Directed by James Goldstone with musical score by Quincy Jones.
THE BROTHERS (2001)
A chain reaction of male introspection is set off as four successful, young African American men navigate the tricky waters of serious relationships in modern Los Angeles. All the bases are covered: there is the womanizing lawyer, Brian (Bill Bellamy); the one night stand-weary physician, Jackson (Morris Chestnut); the just-engaged Terry (Shemar Moore); and the unhappily married Derrick (D. L. Hughley). Not quite as strong as its female counterpart, the much-praised Waiting to Exhale, but the capable comic actors never veer too far away from the exploration of modern sexual politics.
BROWN SUGAR (2002)
Described as an African-American When Harry Met Sally this film centers on a romance between an A&R exec, Dre (Taye Diggs), at a hip-hop label and a magazine editor, Sidney (Sanaa Lathan), who have known each other since childhood.
BUCK AND THE PREACHER (1972)
A trail guide (Sidney Poitier) and a con man preacher (Harry Belafonte) and wife (Ruby Dee) join forces to help a wagon train of former slaves who are seeking to homestead out West. Poitier’s debut as a director.
BUFFALO SOLDIERS (1997)
Post-Civil War western concerns the all-black cavalry troops created by Congress in 1866 to patrol the American West. A former slave and by-the-book Army man, Sgt. Washington Wyatt (Danny Glover), leads the chase for Apache warrior Victorio (Harrison Lowe) across the New Mexico Territory while trying to deal with the common degradation suffered by his troops at the hands of white officers.
THE BUS (1964)
Documentary covers Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic 1963 March on Washington.
CABIN IN THE SKY (1943)
Based on a Broadway show and featuring an all-African American cast—Ethel Waters, Eddie Anderson, Lena Horne, and Rex Ingram. Lively dance numbers and a musical score with contributions from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
CARMEN JONES (1954)
George Bizet’s tale of femme fatale Carmen with an all-African American cast—Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, and Brock Peters. Dandridge’s Oscar nomination for best actress was the first ever by an African American in a lead role. The film earned the 1955 Golden Globe Award for best film and was named to the National Film Registry in 1992.
CATCH A FIRE (2006)
A real-life story of a South African oil refinery worker who is motivated to commit acts of terrorism against the country’s brutal apartheid government.
CHANGE OF MIND (1969)
Directed by Robert Stevens, the film portrays an African American male (Raymond St. Jacques) who has a white man’s brain transplanted into his head. After the operation, he is accepted by the brain donor’s wife as her husband. Music by Duke Ellington.
CHARLOTTE FORTEN’S MISSION: EXPERIMENT IN FREEDOM (1985)
Fact-based story set during the Civil War. A wealthy, educated African American woman (Melba Moore), determined to prove to President Lincoln that blacks are equal to whites, journeys to a remote island off the coast of Georgia. There she teaches freed slaves to read and write.
CHUCK BERRY: HAIL! HAIL! ROCK ‘N’ ROLL (1987)
Engaging, energetic portrait of one of rock’s founding fathers, via interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and performance clips of Berry at 60 years of age. Songs featured: “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Maybelline,” and more. Appearances by Etta James, Bo Diddley, and Robert Cray, among others.
THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT: ORDINARY AMERICANS (2000)
Documentary film that juxtaposes contributions of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson with views of rank-and-file protesters. Recommended for Grades 7–12.
Directed by John Berry, the film depicts a single mother (Diahann Carroll) who attempts to maintain her family of six children. James Earl Jones plays a trash collector and her boyfriend.
CLEOPATRA JONES (1973)
Federal government agent (Tamara Dobson) with considerable martial arts prowess takes on loathsome drug lords. Followed by Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold.
Strike (Mekhi Phifer), leader of a group of drug dealers (clockers), engages in a power struggle with his boss (Delroy Lindo), his do-the-right-thing brother Victor (Isaiah Washington), and his own conscience. He is also suspected of murder by relentless narcotics cop Rocco Klein (Harvey Keitel). Poignant and compelling street drama is based on the Richard Price novel. Music by Terence Blanchard.
COACH CARTER (2005)
Samuel L. Jackson stars as controversial coach Ken Carter who becomes the basketball coach for his old high school in a poor area of Richmond, CA.
COLOR ADJUSTMENT (1991)
Narrated by Ruby Dee, the film documents the modern history of race relations in the United States in the arena of television. Traces the progress of African Americans from caricatures to victims to mainstream as portrayed by television.
THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
Adaptation of Alice Walker’s acclaimed book features strong lead from Whoopi Goldberg (her screen debut which earned the 1986 Golden Globe Award for best actress in a drama) and talk show host Oprah Winfrey (also her film debut), among others. Brilliant musical score by co-producer Quincy Jones compliments this strong film.
THE COOL WORLD (1963)
Tough-talking docudrama, set on the streets of Harlem, focuses on a 15-year-old African American youth whose one ambition in life is to own a gun and lead his gang. Named to the National Film Registry in 1994.
COOLEY HIGH (1975)
African American high school students in Chicago go through the rites of passage in their senior year during the 1960s. Film is funny, smart, and much acclaimed. Great soundtrack featuring Motown hits of the era is a highlight. Sequel to the TV series What’s Happenin’.
CORA UNASHAMED (2000)
In this adaptation of the Langston Hughes short story that finds racism and tragedy in a small Iowa town in the 1930s, Cora Jenkins (Regina Taylor) and her mother (CCH Pounder) are the only blacks in the community. Cora works as a housekeeper for the Studevant family and becomes strongly attached to the family’s daughter, Jessie. This bond is resented by Jessie’s mother, selfish and cold Lizbeth (Cherry Jones), whose exaggerated sense of propriety brings about disaster.
CORNBREAD, EARL AND ME (1975)
Directed by Joe Manduke, a high school basketball star from the ghetto is mistaken for a murderer by cops and is shot, causing a subsequent furor of protest and racial hatred. Music by Donald Byrd.
THE CORNER (2000)
Based on a true story, this miniseries reveals how drugs have infested a Baltimore neighborhood and how the residents are affected. Told semi-narratively by a documentary crew, the story follows the lives of drug addicts and drug dealers. Won several Emmy awards, including Outstanding Miniseries, and Outstanding Directing.
COSMIC SLOP (1994)
Three-part anthology. “Space Traders,” based on a story by Derrick Bell, finds a fleet of aliens offering to solve all of American society’s most pressing social ills if they can have the entire black population in return (for what purpose is never explained). “The First Commandment” features a Catholic priest in a Latino parish who comes up against his parishoners’ beliefs in Santeria. “Tang,” based on a story by Chester Himes, finds a poor, desperately unhappy married couple dreaming about what they’ll do with the rifle mysteriously delivered in a flower carton to their door.
THE COTTON CLUB (1984)
An African American musician playing at The Cotton Club falls in love with gangster Dutch Schultz’s girlfriend. A black tap dancer falls in love with a member of the chorus line who can pass for white. These two love stories are told against a background of mob violence and music during the early jazz era.
COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (1970)
A successful mix of crime and comedy about a suspicious preacher’s back-to-Africa scheme that detectives (Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques) suspect is a swindle. Based on the novel by Chester Himes, the film serves as the directorial debut of Ozzie Davis.
THE COURT MARTIAL OF JACKIE ROBINSON (1990)
True story of a little known chapter in the life of the famous athlete. During his stint in the Army, Robinson (played by Andre Braugher) refused to take a back seat on a bus and subsequently faced the possibility of court martial.
CRISIS AT CENTRAL HIGH (1980)
A dramatic television recreation of the events leading up to the 1957 integration of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. Based on teacher Elizabeth Huckaby’s journal.
Director Spike Lee profiles an African American middle-class family growing up in 1970s Brooklyn and focuses on the only girl (Zelda Harris) coming of age. Music by Terence Blanchard.
DADDY DAY CARE (2003)
Eddie Murphy stars as a fired executive who decides to open a day car center for toddlers.
DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS (2007)
A mechanic (Idris Elba) enlists the help of a successful-but-lonely attorney (Gabrielle Union) while trying to wrest custody of his three daughters from his treacherous ex-wife.
DARKTOWN JUBILEE (1914)
One of the earliest feature films to star an African American, actor-comedian Bert Williams. This film was controversial because it portrayed African Americans in a positive manner.
DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (1991)
Five women of a Gullah family living on the Sea Islands off the Georgia coast in 1902 contemplate moving to the mainland in this emotional tale of change. Family bonds and memories are celebrated with a quiet narrative and beautiful cinematography in Julie Dash’s feature-film directorial debut. Honored by the Sundance Film Festival for best cinematography.
THE DEFIANT ONES (1958)
Thought-provoking story about racism revolves around two black and white escaped prisoners (Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis) from a chain gang in the rural South. Their societal conditioning to hate each other dissolves as they face constant peril together. Earned several cinematic honors including Academy Awards for best story, screenplay, and best black & white cinematography, as well as the Golden Globe Award for best film—drama.
DELIVER US FROM EVA (2003)
Eva Dandridge (Gabrielle Union) is a very uptight young woman who constantly meddles in the affairs of her sisters, until their husbands set her up with a local playboy (LL Cool J), who falls in love with her.
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1995)
Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington), an unemployed aircraft worker in 1948 Los Angeles, is hired to find mystery woman Daphne (Jennifer Beals) by a shady businessman. Realism and accuracy in period detail enhance a solid performance by Washington. Based upon the Walter Mosley novel.
DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN (2005)
A woman in an abusive relationship learns to stand up on her two feet and move on with her life.
DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)
An uncompromising, brutal comedy written and directed by Spike Lee about the racial tensions surrounding a white-owned pizzeria in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn on the hottest day of the summer, and the violence that eventually erupts.
DOWN IN THE DELTA (1998)
Chicago matriarch Rosa Lynn (Mary Alice) tries to prevent her jobless, single-mom daughter Loretta (Alfre Woodard) from succumbing to destructive forces by sending Loretta and her two grandchildren to her brother’s home (Morgan Freeman) in the Mississippi delta. Poet-novelist Maya Angelou’s first outing as a director skillfully demonstrates the importance of connecting to one’s heritage.
A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS (1973)
Earl Hamner Jr. (best known for writing The Waltons) wrote this moving made-for-television story of an African American minister whose church in Los Angeles is scheduled to be demolished.
Based on the hugely successful Broadway musical about a trio of inner-city girls who hit the big time during the turbulent ’60. Film stars Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover and Jennifer Hudson.
DRIVING MISS DAISY (1989)
Tender and sincere portrayal of a 25-year friendship between an aging Jewish woman and the African American chauffeur forced upon her by her son. The film subtly explores the effects of prejudice in the South. Earned numerous Academy and Golden Globe Awards.
A comedy about a talented street drummer from Harlem (Nick Canon) who enrolls in a Southern university, expecting to lead its marching band.
THE DUKE IS TOPS (1938)
In singer Lena Horne’s earliest existing film appearance, she attempts to make the “big-time,” while her boyfriend joins a traveling medicine show. The film helped to begin the 1940s swing era.
Film presentation of Amiri Baraka’s one-act play depicting the claustrophobic reality of the African American male’s situation in the late 1960s. Starring Al Freeman Jr., the film earned best honors at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival.
EIGHT TREY GANGSTER: THE MAKING OF A CRIP (1993)
A provocative documentary that explores the experiences and social environment influencing the life decisions of an African American gang member in Los Angeles.
THE EMPEROR JONES (1933)
Loosely based on Eugene O’Neill’s play, the film portrays the rise and fall of a railroad porter (Paul Robeson) whose exploits take him from a life sentence on a chain gang to emperor of Haiti.
As he tries to escape the drug game, big time dealer Victor Rosa (John Leguizamo) is hoodwinked by a Wall Street stockbroker.
EVE’S BAYOU (1997)
Set in 1962 Louisiana and told in flashback, the film presents a mesmerizing and complex story with haunting visuals about the upper middle-class Batiste family. Impressive, multilayered directorial debut from Kasi Lemmons. Music by Terence Blanchard.
EYES ON THE PRIZE (1986)
A comprehensive six-part series on the history of the Civil Rights movement from World War II to the present. Includes Rosa Parks and the bus boycott, the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., and the last great march in Selma, among other moments.
EYES ON THE PRIZE II: AMERICA AT THE RACIAL CROSSROADS (1965–1985) (1987)
The Civil Rights movement, from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s, is traced in this four-volume documentary.
FADE 2 BLACK (2004)
This documentary takes a look at rapper Jay-Z’s successful career.
A FAMILY THING (1996)
Racial issues are addressed in this character-driven story of two brothers in which Southerner Earl Pilcher (Robert Duvall) learns his biological mother was black and that he also has a half brother, Ray (James Earl Jones), who is black and living in Chicago. The two brothers slowly find common ground.
FAT ALBERT (2004)
The cast of this classic carton come to life to help a girl who needs friends.
FEAR OF A BLACK HAT (1994)
A good-natured comedy in which the trio known as NWH (Niggaz With Hats) are touring in support of their album and trying to convince filmmaker Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons) of their street credibility. However, the more the gangsta rappers explain themselves, the less sense they make.
FEAST OF ALL SAINTS (2001)
Based on the historical novel by Anne Rice, this film depicts nineteenth-century New Orleans, and Gens de Couleurs (Free People of Colour). Caught between the opposing worlds of white privilege and black subjugation, the Free People of Colour are descended from black slaves and white oppressors.
FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS (2003)
A New York advertising executive (Cuba Gooding Jr.) goes home to collect a big inheritance and in the process discovers his roots.
THE FIVE HEARTBEATS (1991)
Well-told story of five African American singers in the 1960s, their successes and failures as a group and as individuals. Skillfully directed by Robert Townsend who did research by talking to the Dells. Music by Stanley Clarke.
FOR LOVE OF IVY (1968)
Sidney Poitier is a trucking executive who has a gambling operation on the side. Ivy (Abbey Lincoln) is the black maid of a rich white family who is about to leave her job to look for romance. The two are brought together but the road to true love does not run smooth. Based on a story by Poitier; music by Quincy Jones.
FOR US, THE LIVING (1988)
The life and assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers are dramatically presented in this adaptation of the biography written by Evers’s widow. Provides insight into Evers’s character, not just a recording of the events surrounding his life.
48 HRS. (1982)
An experienced San Francisco cop (Nick Nolte) springs a convict (Eddie Murphy) from jail for 48 hours to find a vicious, murdering, escaped con. Film marks Murphy’s screen debut.
Enterprising young man (Sean Nelson) who sells drugs draws life lessons from chess-hustler father (Samuel L. Jackson) and heroin-dealing mentor (Giancarlo Esposito), so he looks for a way out of the dead-end business. First time director Boaz Yakin was awarded the Film-makers Trophy and Special Jury Prize at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.
FUNDI: THE STORY OF ELLA BAKER (1986)
Ella Baker’s nickname “Fundi” comes from the Swahili word for a person who passes skills from one generation to another. This film documents Baker’s work in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and her friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
GET ON THE BUS (1996)
Spike Lee looks at the personal side of the Million Man March through a fictional group of men who board a bus in south central Los Angeles and head for Washington, DC. Practically ignoring the event itself, Lee and writer Reggie Rock Bythewood focus on the men who participated, their reasons, and their interaction with each other.
GET RICH OR DIE TRYING (2005)
This semi-autobiographical tale of rapper 50 cents follows his life as an inner-city drug dealer to the launch of his music career.
GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI (1996)
Director Rob Reiner tells the story of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, murdered in 1963, and the three trials of Byron De la Beckwith (James Woods), who was finally convicted (after two hung juries) in 1994. Whoopie Goldberg plays the role of Evers’s widow, Myrlie; Evers’s sons, Darrell and Van, play themselves; and daughter Reena appears as a juror while her character is played by Yolanda King, the daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
A rich, historical spectacle chronicling the 54th Massachusetts, the first African American volunteer infantry unit in the Civil War. Winner of Academy Awards for best cinematography and best sound, the film offers stunning performances throughout, with exceptional work from Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington who earned both Academy and Golden Globe Awards for best supporting actor.
GLORY ROAD (2006)
The story of the first all-black basketball starting line-up (the legendary 1965-66 Texas Western Miners), fight to make it to the National Championship.
GO, MAN, GO! (1954)
This film depicts the Harlem Globetrotters at a time when few African Americans competed in professional basketball and the traveling team worked to find its place in American sports with its players’ amazing skills and showmanship.
GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN (1984)
Young African American boy tries to gain the approval of his stern stepfather in this fine adaptation of James Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel set in the 1930s.
GONE ARE THE DAYS (1963)
Adaptation of the play Purlie Victorious. An African American preacher (Ossie Davis) stands up to a segregationist plantation owner from whom he obtains money to establish a church.
GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
Based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel, this epic Civil War drama traces Scarlett O’Hara’s (Vivien Leigh) survival through the tragic history of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction Period. Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her portrayal of the loyal maid, Mammy. The multiple Academy Award-winning film was named to the American Film Institute Top 100 list in 1998.
THE GOSPEL (2005)
A redemptive tale about a successful R&B singer (Boris Kodjoe), who returns to his gospel roots after his father dies.
GREASED LIGHTNING (1977)
The story of the first African American auto racing champion, Wendell Scott (Richard Pryor), who had to overcome racial prejudice to achieve his success. Co-written by Melvin Van Peebles, the film also starred Pam Grier and Cleavon Little.
THE GREAT WHITE HOPE (1970)
A semi-fictionalized biography of boxer Jack Johnson, played by James Earl Jones, who became the first African American heavyweight world champion in 1910. Jane Alexander makes her film debut as the boxer’s white lover, as both battle the racism of the times.
THE GREATEST (1977)
Autobiography of Cassius Clay, the boxer who would later become the internationally recognized Muhammad Ali. Ali plays himself, and George Benson’s hit “The Greatest Love of All” is introduced.
THE GREEN MILE (1999)
Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is the decent head guard at Louisiana’s Cold Mountain Penitentiary in 1935. He works E block, which is death row (title refers to the color of the floor). Among his prisoners is hulking black man John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), whose intimidating size belies a sweet nature. And something else—it seems Coffey has the power to heal. The characters are more symbols than human beings; but Duncan’s performance earned him acclaim, including Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild nominations for best supporting actor.
GREEN PASTURES (1936)
An adaptation of Marc Connelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play that attempts to retell biblical stories in black English vernacular of the 1930s. Southern theater owners boycotted the controversial film which had an all-African American cast.
GUESS WHO (2005)
Bernie Mac stars in this comedic update of the 1960’s classic about interracial love.
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967)
Controversial in its time, a young white woman (Katharine Houghton) brings her black fiancé (Sidney Poitier) home to meet her parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy). The situation truly tests their open-mindedness and understanding. Named to the American Film Institute Top 100 list in 1998.
The first all-African American feature film and the first talkie for director King Vidor was given the go-ahead by MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, though he knew the film would be both controversial and get minimal release in the Deep South. Great music included traditional spirituals and songs by Irving Berlin.
HANGIN’ WITH THE HOMEBOYS (1991)
One night in the lives of four young men. Although the Bronx does not offer much for any of them, they have little interest in escaping its confines, and they are more than willing to complain. With characters insightfully written and well-portrayed, the film earned honors for best screenplay at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival.
HANK AARON: CHASING THE DREAM (1995)
Docudrama combines archival footage, interviews, and reenactments to tell the story of the life and career of Henry Aaron, baseball’s all-time home run king. Emphasis
on personal and societal issues, as well as on-the-field accomplishments.
HARLEM NIGHTS (1989)
Two Harlem nightclub owners in the 1930s battle comically against efforts by the mob and crooked cops to take over their territory. High-grossing effort from Eddie Murphy, who directed, wrote, produced, and starred in this film. Music by Herbie Hancock.
HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANY SISTERS’ FIRST 100 YEARS (1999)
A made-for-television movie based on the true story of the Delany sisters (played by Ruby Dee and Diahann Carroll), who lived well beyond the age of 100 after having built successful careers at a time when most women, and most African Americans, were being denied opportunities. Produced by Camille O. Cosby.
A HERO AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT A SANDWICH (1978)
A young urban African American teenager (Larry B. Scott) gets involved in drugs and is eventually saved from ruin. Based on Alice Childress’s novel.
HIGHER LEARNING (1994)
Malik (Omar Epps), Kristen (Kristy Swanson), and Remy (Michael Rapaport) are college freshmen who confront issues of racial prejudice and emerging sexuality. Laurence Fishburne plays an instructor in this John Singleton film.
HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE (1987)
Robert Townsend’s autobiographical comedy about a struggling African American actor in Hollywood trying to find work and getting nothing but stereotypical roles. Written, directed, and financed by Townsend who created this often clever and appealing film on a $100,000 budget.
HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949)
A black soldier is sent on a top secret mission in the South Pacific, but finds that he must battle with his white comrades as he is subjected to subordinate treatment and constant racial slurs. Hollywood’s first outstanding statement against racial prejudice.
Highly fictionalized tale of 1930s gangster “Bumpy” Johnson (Laurence Fishburne, reprising his role from The Cotton Club), who refuses to allow Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) and Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia) to muscle into the Harlem numbers rackets.
HOOP DREAMS (1994)
Exceptional documentary follows two inner-city basketball phenoms’ lives through high school as they chase their dreams of playing in the NBA. Offers plenty of game footage, but the more telling and fascinating parts of the film deal with the kids’ families and home life. Both players encounter dramatic reversals of fortune on and off the court, demonstrating the incredibly long odds they face. Earned numerous honors including the Audience Award at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.
HOTEL RWANDA (2004)
Don Cheadle stars in the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsis refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.
HOUSE PARTY (1990)
Light-hearted, African American hip hop version of a 1950s teen comedy with rap duo Kid ‘n’ Play. Features real-life music rappers and some dynamite dance numbers. Earned best cinematography honors at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival.
HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK (1998)
A flipside to the May-December romance that is based on the novel by Terry McMillan. Stars Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg, among others.
HOW U LIKE ME NOW? (1992)
Daryll Robert’s second directorial effort offers a fresh look at African Americans on film with plenty of lively supporting characters and witty dialogue. Music by Chuck Webb.
THE HURRICANE (1999)
A moving but truncated true story of middleweight boxing champ Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (Denzel Washington). He spent 20 years in prison after being falsely accused and convicted of murder. Anchored by an Oscar-winning performance by Washington, the film came under fire for its rearrangement of the facts behind the case.
HUSTLE & FLOW (2005)
John Singleton produced this drama about a Memphis pimp (Terrence Howard) in a mid-life crisis attempts to become a successful rapper.
I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS (1979)
An African American writer’s memories of growing up in the rural South during the 1930s. Strong performances from Esther Rolle and Constance Good. Based on the book by Maya Angelou.
I’LL MAKE ME A WORLD: A CENTURY OF AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTS (1999)
PBS documentary produced by famed documentarian Henry Hampton that honors the achievements of twentieth-century African American writers, dancers, painters, actors, filmmakers, musicians, and other artists who changed forever who Americans are as a nation and culture.
I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA (1988)
Parody of “blaxploitation” films popular during the 1960s and 1970s. A number of stars who made “blaxploitation” films, including Jim Brown, take part in the gags.
IMITATION OF LIFE (1934)
Fannie Hurst novel tells the story of widowed Beatrice Pullman (Claudette Colbert) who uses maid Delilah’s (Louise Beaver) recipe for pancakes in order to have the women open a restaurant, which becomes a success. Both mothers suffer at the hands of their willful teenaged daughters.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967)
An African American homicide expert (Sidney Poitier) is asked to help solve the murder of a wealthy industrialist in a small Mississippi town, despite resentment on the part of the town’s chief of police (Rod Steiger). Powerful script with underlying theme of racial prejudice is served well by taut direction and powerhouse performances. Won several Academy and Golden Globe Awards.
INSIDE MAN (2006)
Spike Lee directs this bank heist film about a tough cop (Denzel Washington) who matches wits with a clever bank robber (Clive Owen).
INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE (1999)
Beautiful, sexy singer/actress Dorothy Dandridge (Halle Berry) was the first African American woman to be nominated for a best actress Oscar for her title role in 1955’s Carmen Jones. Ten years later, at the age of 42, she was dead from an overdose of antidepressants after suffering a lifetime of tragedies—an abusive childhood, two failed marriages, a brain-damaged child, tumultuous affairs, limited career choices, and bad financial decisions. Berry won a Golden Globe Award for her lead role.
INTRUDER IN THE DUST (1949)
A small Southern community develops a lynch mob mentality when a black man is accused of killing a white man. Powerful, but largely ignored portrait of race relations in the South. Adapted from a novel by William Faulkner.
JACK JOHNSON (1971)
Documentary discusses the life of the first African American heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson. Brock Peters provides the voice of Johnson and Miles Davis the musical score.
JACKIE BROWN (1997)
Quentin Tarantino finally climbs back into the director’s chair with his leisurely but satisfying adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch. No, it’s not Pulp Fiction, but it could do for Pam Grier what Pulp did for John Travolta. Grier stars as out-of-luck-and-options stewardess Jackie Brown, who runs money to Mexico for ruthless arms dealer Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson). Busted on one of her errands, she comes up with an intricate plan to get out from under, hopefully with the money and without getting caught or killed. Slower and less bloody than Quentin fans are used to, but as usual he gets killer performances from everybody. Cool dialogue and chronological shifts are again key ingredients, along with a heightened sense of character development. Bridget Fonda and Robert De Niro make the most of small (but crucial) roles, but it’s Robert Forster (another 70s whatever-happened-to refugee) who provides the standout performance. The look and feel of the movie reflects the dingy world it inhabits, as well as Tarantino’s love of 70s blaxploitation flicks.
THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY (1950)
Chronicles Robinson’s rise from UCLA to his breakthrough as the first African American man to play baseball in the major league. Robinson plays himself; the film deals honestly with the racial issues of the time.
JASON’S LYRIC (1994)
Director Doug McHenry’s intense drama focuses on the stormy relationship between two brothers (Allen Payne and Bokeem Woodbine) whose lives in an impoverished Houston neighborhood lead them along different paths.
JEFFERSON IN PARIS (1994)
Thomas Jefferson (Nick Nolte) confronts the personal and political issues of slavery in America, as well as his feelings for Sally Hemings (Thandie Newton), a Monticello slave brought to Paris by Jefferson’s daughter.
JO JO DANCER, YOUR LIFE IS CALLING (1986)
Richard Pryor directed and starred in this semi-autobiographical price-of-fame story of a comic, hospitalized for a drug-related accident, who must reevaluate his life. A serious departure from Pryor’s slapstick comedies. Music by Herbie Hancock.
JOEY BREAKER (1993)
Small picture works large message with sense of humor and sincere performances. Dedicated to Fred Fondren who died of AIDS in 1992. Filmed in New York City and St. Lucia.
JOHN Q (2002)
Denzel Washington is the title’s everyman hero who’s desperate and gutsy enough to bypass medical bureaucracy altogether to get his 10-year-old son Mike (Daniel E. Smith) the heart transplant he desperately needs to live. John Quincy Archibald’s plant has just cut his hours, and when his HMO gives him the run-around, he is forced to come up with the $75,000 for his son’s operation. Unable to come up with it, John Q. takes over the emergency room and demands his son be placed at the top of the transplant list.
JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION (2004)
A litany of disasters awaits the Johnson Family (Cedric the Entertainer, Vanessa L. Williams, Solange Knowles and rapper Bow Wow) while on a road to from California to a family reunion down South.
THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY (1990)
Made-for-television biography of exotic entertainer/activist Josephine Baker (played by Lynn Whitfield), an African American woman from St. Louis who found superstardom in pre-WWII Europe, but repeated racism and rejection in the United States.
Day-to-day street life of four Harlem youths as they try to earn respect (juice) in their neighborhood. The gritty look and feel of the drama comes naturally to Ernest R. Dickerson in his directorial debut.
JUNGLE FEVER (1991)
Married black architect’s affair (played by Wesley Snipes) with his white secretary (Annabella Sciorra) provides the backdrop for a cold look at interracial love. Written, produced, and directed by Spike Lee, the film focuses more on the discomfort of friends and families than with the intense world created by the lovers for themselves. Samuel L. Jackson plays a drug-addicted brother.
KANSAS CITY (1995)
Robert Altman mixes music, politics, crime and the movies in this bittersweet homage to his hometown, set in the jazz-driven 1930s. Styled to imitate the brilliant jazz scores played by the likes of Joshua Redman and James Carter.
Docudrama with terrific cast follows the life and career of one of the greatest non-violent civil rights leaders of all time, Martin Luther King Jr.
LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972)
Jazz artist Billie Holiday’s life (depicted by singer Diana Ross) becomes a musical drama depicting her struggle against racism and drug addiction in her pursuit of fame and romance. Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, and Scatman Crothers head the supporting cast.
LAST HOLIDAY (2006)
Queen Latifah stars as a shy woman who decides to take a European vacation after being diagnosed after being given only 3 weeks to live. LL Cool J co-stars.
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (2006)
Forrest Whitaker stars delivers a stunning portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
LAUREL AVENUE (1993)
Looks at the life of an extended working-class African American family in St. Paul, Minnesota, over a busy weekend.
LEAN ON ME (1989)
Depicts the career of Joe Clark, a tough New Jersey teacher who became the principal of the state’s toughest, crime-plagued school and, through controversial hardline tactics, turned it around.
THE LEARNING TREE (1969)
A beautifully photographed adaptation of Gordon Park Sr.’s biographical novel about a 14-year-old African American boy in 1920s Kansas. The first feature film financed by a major Hollywood studio to be directed by an African American.
LETHAL WEAPON (1989)
Danny Glover and Mel Gibson work well together as a pair of cops who uncover a heroin smuggling ring. Packed with plenty of action, violence, and humorous undertones.
THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES (1970)
In this dramatic study of Southern race relations, a wealthy black undertaker (Roscoe Lee Brown) wants a divorce from his wife (Lola Falana) who is having an affair with a white policeman.
LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963)
Five East German nuns enlist the aid of a free-spirited U.S. Army veteran (Sidney Poitier). They persuade him to build their chapel and teach them English. Poitier is excellent as the itinerant laborer and became the first African American man to win an Academy Award for best actor.
LISTEN UP! THE LIVES OF QUINCY JONES (1991)
A biography of the music legend responsible for various movie scores, record productions, and arrangements for the industry’s top stars.
THE LONG WALK HOME (1989)
Whoopi Goldberg stars in this dramatic story about the relationship between a rich white housewife (Sissy Spacek) and her black maid whom she drives to work during the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott.
LOOK OUT SISTER (1948)
Louis Jordan and an all-African American cast star in this musical satire of westerns. Lots of African American culture, slang, and music from 1940s.
LOSING ISAIAH (1994)
A controversial and emotionally-moving story of a social worker (Jessica Lange) who adopts the title character, an African American baby abandoned by his drug-addicted mother (Halle Berry). Four years later, now clean and sober, the natural mother enlists the aid of a lawyer (Samuel L. Jackson) to regain custody of her child.
LOST BOUNDARIES (1949)
Respected physician Scott Carter (debut role for Mel Ferrer) and his family live and work in a small New Hampshire town, hiding the fact that they are black, passing for white, in their segregated society. But then the truth becomes known. Canada Lee also stars in this film based on a true story.
LOVE JONES (1996)
A contemporary Chicago nightclub, the Sanctuary, is the gathering spot for middle-class African American urban-ites looking for romance. Earned the Audience Award at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.
THE MACK (1973)
The Mack is a pimp who comes out of retirement to reclaim a piece of the action in Oakland, California. Violent blaxploitation film was box-office dynamite at the time of its release.
MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION (2006)
While planning her family reunion, a pistol-packing grandma (Tyler Perry) must contend with the other dramas including the runaway who has been placed under her care, and her love-troubled nieces.
MALCOLM X (1992)
Marked by strong direction from Spike Lee and good performances (notably Al Freeman Jr. as Elijah Muhammad), it is Denzel Washington’s convincing performance in the title role that truly brings this stirring tribute to the controversial African American activist alive. Based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley.
THE MAN (1972)
James Earl Jones plays the president pro tem of the U.S. Senate who becomes the first African American president when all the office holders above him in the presidential succession become victims of accidents and illnesses.
MAN ON FIRE (2004)
Set in Mexico City, Denzel Washington stars as a former assassin swears vengeance on those who committed an unspeakable act against the family he was hired to protect.
MENACE II SOCIETY (1993)
Critically acclaimed portrayal of African American teens living in Watts during the 1990s is realistically captured by 21-year-old twin directors, Allen and Albert Hughes, in their big-screen debut.
MISS EVERS’ BOYS (1997)
Wrenching docudrama covers a 40-year U.S. Public Health Service study in which African American men suffering from syphilis were monitored but not treated for the disease. Alfre Woodward earned the Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or special for her role as nurse Eunice Evers.
MISSISSIPPI MASALA (1992)
This film portrays an interracial romance that sets off a cultural collision and escalates racial tensions in a small Southern town when Mina (Sarita Choudhury), a sheltered young Indian woman, falls in love with Demetrius
(Denzel Washington), an ambitious African American man with his own carpet-cleaning business.
MO’ BETTER BLUES (1990)
Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) is a handsome, accomplished self-interested jazz trumpeter who divides his limited time between two female lovers (Cynda Williams and Joie Lee). What is interesting is subtle racial issues his life draws into focus. The Branford Marsalis Quartet provides the music for Bleek’s group, scored by Lee’s dad, Bill (on whose life the script is loosely based).
MONSTER’S BALL (2001)
Georgia death-row prison guard Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) is following in his father Buck’s footsteps as a guard, and as a bigot. His son also has joined the family business, but doesn’t seem to have the heart or stomach for it. When his son throws up during the execution of Lawrence Musgrove (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs), Hank flies into a rage that makes him reexamine his life. Soon after, he helps the waitress, Leticia (Halle Berry) from the diner he frequents after an auto accident. Leticia is Musgrove’s widow, unbeknownst to Hank, who begins a relationship with her that changes both of them. A well-done, raw, and unflinching story that the excellent cast inhabit perfectly, especially Berry who won the Best Actress Oscar.
MR. & MRS. LOVING (1996)
Fact-based movie, set in the 1960s, follows the interracial romance, marriage, and struggle of Richard Loving (Timothy Hutton) and Mildred “Bean” Jeter (Lela Rochon) and their landmark Supreme Court decision concerning miscegenation laws.
NATIVE SON (1986)
This second film adaptation of the classic Richard Wright novel tells the story of a poor African American man who accidentally kills a white woman and then hides the body.
NEW JACK CITY (1991)
Director Mario Van Peebles stars in his own film as a police detective who assigns two undercover officers (Ice-T and Judd Nelson) to capture a wealthy Harlem drug lord (Wesley Snipes). Music by Johnny Gill, 2 Live Crew, Ice-T, and others.
NO MAPS ON MY TAPS (1979)
A unique African American art form—jazz tap dancing—is shown in rare photos and Hollywood film clips from the 1930s, and in intimate portraits of three surviving dancers: Sandman Sims, Chuck Green, and Bunny Briggs.
NO WAY OUT (1950)
Sidney Poitier plays an outstanding young actor who treats two white criminals who are wounded in an attempted robbery. After one of the men dies, the other accuses the doctor of murder.
NORMAN, IS THAT YOU? (1976)
Film adaptation based on the Broadway play about the confused black parents of a homosexual son and his white lover.
NOTHING BUT A MAN (1964)
Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon) portrays an African American laborer trying to make a life in a small Alabama town. Abbey Lincoln, Yaphet Kotto, and Gloria Foster also star in this unsentimental depiction of the times. Named to the National Film Registry in 1993.
ONCE UPON A TIME . . . WHEN WE WERE COLORED (1995)
Actor Tim Reid makes a fine directorial debut with the story of an African American youngster growing up parentless in 1950s Mississippi. Nostalgic, sensitive, and heartwarming adaptation of Clifton Taulbert’s autobiographical book.
ONE FALSE MOVE (1991)
Not a typical crime thriller, first-time feature director Carl Franklin is more interested in a psychological character study of racism and small-town mores. Earned the 1993 Independent Spirit Award for best director.
ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO (1964)
The story of an interracial marriage between white laborer Julie Cullen (Barbara Barrie) and Frank Richards (Bernie Hamilton), an African American man that she meets at the plant where she works.
A highly controversial, fictionalized account of the Black Panther movement in the late 1960s. Directed by Melvin Van Peebles. Music by Stanley Clarke.
PARIS IS BURNING (1991)
Jennie Livingston’s documentary portrayal of New York City’s transvestite balls between 1985 and 1989. This is a compelling look at a subculture of primarily African American and Hispanic men and the one place they can truly be themselves. Winner of the 1991 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.
A bittersweet baseball elegy set in the minor leagues in 1957. A boyish 41-year-old pitcher cannot face his impending retirement and pals around with the team pariah, a 17-year-old African American rookie. Splendidly written and acted, the film won the 1991 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award.
A PATCH OF BLUE (1965)
A kind-hearted blind girl (Elizabeth Hartman) falls in love with an African American man (Sidney Poitier) without acknowledging racial differences.
PAUL ROBESON: TRIBUTE TO AN ARTIST (1980)
A documentary that features a look at the tremendous life of actor Paul Robeson.
PHAT GIRLZ (2006)
The comedian Mo’ Nique stars in this hilarious comedy about an aspiring plus size fashion designer struggles to find love and acceptance.
THE PIANO LESSON (1994)
Adaptation of August Wilson’s 1990 Pulitzer Prize-winning play set in 1936 concerning the prized heirloom of the Charles family—an 80-year-old, ornately carved upright piano.
Early Hollywood treatment of the tragic choice made by some African Americans to pass as white in order to attain a better life for themselves and their families. Based on the novel Quality by Cyd Ricketts Sumner.
POETIC JUSTICE (1993)
John Singleton’s second directorial effort is about Justice (Janet Jackson in her film debut), a young hairdresser who copes with her boyfriend’s brutal murder by writing poetry (provided by poet Maya Angelou). Production stopped on the South Central Los Angeles set during the 1992 riots, but the aftermath provided poignant pictures for later scenes.
PORGY AND BESS (1992)
The Glyndebourne production of Gershwin’s folk opera about the denizens of Catfish Row. Simon Rattle conducts the London Philharmonic.
Set during the Spanish-American War, this film revolves around a group of African American soldiers. Following their escape from Cuba with a fortune in gold, they travel towards Freemanville, where the group’s leader (director Mario Van Peebles) avenges the death of his father.
Terrence Howard stars as real-life swim coach Jim Ellis who starts a swim team for troubled teens at the Philadelphia Department of Recreation.
PURPLE RAIN (1984)
A quasi-autobiographical film tells the tale of Prince’s struggle for love, attention, acceptance, and popular artistic recognition in Minneapolis. Earned the 1984 Academy Award for best original song score and/or adaptation.
PUTNEY SWOPE (1969)
Comedy about a token African American ad man mistakenly elected chairman of the board of a Madison Avenue ad agency who turns the company upside down.
THE QUIET ONE (1948)
Explores the ghetto’s psychological effects on a ten-year-old African American child. The film’s commentary was written by James Agee.
RACE TO FREEDOM: THE STORY OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (1994)
Story of four fugitive slaves, in 1850, who struggle to get from North Carolina to the safety of Canada through a network of safe houses and people willing to risk smuggling them to asylum.
A RAGE IN HARLEM (1991)
Set in Harlem in 1956, this film portrays the tale of a beautiful con woman named Imabelle (Robin Givens). Adapted from a book by Chester Himes.
From the E.L. Doctorow novel set in 1906 America, a small, unthinking act represents all the racist attacks on an African American man who refuses to back down this time.
A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1961)
Outstanding story of a black family trying to make a better life for themselves in an all-white neighborhood in Chicago. Based on the Broadway play by Lorraine Hans-berry who also wrote the screenplay.
Jamie Foxx delivers a tour-de-force performance in this auto-pic on the life of the late soul music icon.
REBOUND: THE LEGEND OF EARL “THE GOAT” MANIGAULT (1996)
The film stars Don Cheadle as the title character, a 1960s Harlem playground basketball phenom who turned his life around. After dropping out of college, turning to heroin, and winding up in prison, he founded his own basketball tournament in Harlem. Music by Kevin Eubanks.
RICHARD PRYOR: LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP (1982)
Filmed live at the Hollywood Palladium, this film captures Richard Pryor at his funniest including his segment about “Pryor on Fire.”
THE RIVER NIGER (1976)
James Earl Jones is riveting and Cicely Tyson is good in this adaptation of the Tony-award winning play about African American ghetto life. Directed by Krishna Shaw, the film depicts believable characters expressing realistic emotions.
Documentary chronicles the practice of “Clowning” and “Krumping”, dance movements in South Central Los Angeles.
ROLL BOUNCE (2005)
This coming-of-age comedy tells the story of a group of roller skating friends who go up against a rival team.
The complete version of Alex Haley’s made-for-television saga that follows an African American man’s search for his heritage, revealing an epic panorama of America’s past. Music by Quincy Jones.
ROOTS: THE GIFT (1988)
A made-for-television movie based on the Alex Haley characters featuring Louis Gossett and LeVar Burton, among others.
ROOTS: THE NEXT GENERATION (1979)
Sequel to the landmark television miniseries continuing the story of author Alex Haley’s ancestors from the Reconstruction era of the 1880s to 1967, culminating with Haley’s visit to West Africa where he is told the story of Kunta Kinte.
Based on the true story of the well-off African American community of Rosewood, Florida, which was destroyed by a white mob in 1923. Directed by John Singleton and starring Ving Rhames, the film accurately shows the tensions present between blacks and whites of the time.
SALLY HEMINGS: AN AMERICAN SCANDAL (2000)
Soap opera-ish romance based on the relationship between widowed ambassador (and third President) Thomas Jefferson (Sam Neill) and his young mulatto house slave Sally Hemings (Carmen Ejogo)—an affair that lasted for 38 years. (DNA proved Jefferson to be the father of one and possibly all six of Hemings’s children.) Sally remains dignified through the years as does Jefferson. The heighth of excitement in this movie is Sally castigating her lover about his contradictory attitudes towards slavery.
SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY (1982)
Documentary about gospel music and two of its greatest legends—Willie Mae Ford Smith and Thomas A. Dorsey. Aptly demonstrates the power of music sung from the heart.
SCARY MOVIE (2000)
The Wayans brothers’ parody of Scream and all its progeny. Not as focused a satire as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and more likely to offend, still it was a huge box-office success and a hit, with teenagers especially.
SCHOOL DAZE (1988)
Director/writer/star Spike Lee’s second outing is a rambunctious comedy set at an African American college in the South.
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL (1991)
A powerful dramatization of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case that resulted in a landmark civil rights decision of the Supreme Court. Features Sidney Poitier as NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall.
SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960)
The story of a court-martial, told in flashback, about an African American cavalry officer on trial for rape and murder. A detailed look at overt and covert racism handled by master director John Ford. Based on the novel Captain Buffalo by James Warner Bellah.
SET IT OFF (1996)
This film finds four female friends (Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise) in Los Angeles pushed over the edge and taking up bank robbery to escape poverty and strike a blow against “the system.”
Director John Cassavettes’s first independent feature revolves around jazz player Hugh (Hugh Hurd), his brother Ben (Ben Carruthers), and sister Lelia (Lelia Goldoni). Light-skinned enough to pass for white, Lelia gets involved with the white Tony (Anthony Ray) who leaves when he finds out her true heritage. Music by Charles Mingus. The film was named to the National Film Registry in 1993.
Gordon Parks Sr. directed this sophisticated action film featuring Richard Roundtree as the African American private eye, John Shaft. Academy Award-winning theme song by Isaac Hayes, the first music award from the Academy to an African American. Adapted from the novel by Ernest Tidyman.
John Singleton’s updated the 1971 blaxploitation flick with Samuel L. Jackson starring as the nephew of the coolest private dick ever (Richard Roundtree has a cameo in his original role). But Jackson can more than hold his own in the cool department as he tracks down rich-kid murderer Walter Wade Jr. (Christian Bale), who’s after the only witness to his crime, a scared waitress (Toni Collette). Wade hires a Latino drug dealer and a couple of bad cops to find the girl and kill Shaft, setting off much gunfire and snappy dialoque. Jackson has charisma to burn, but other characters, as well as potentially interesting plot points, get short shrift.
SHE HATE ME (2004)
Harvard-educated biotech executive John Henry Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) gets into the baby-making business after losing his job.
SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986)
Spike Lee wrote, directed, edited, produced, and starred in this very popular romantic comedy about an independent-minded African American girl in Brooklyn and the three men and one woman who compete for her attention. Awarded the 1987 Independent Spirit Award for best first feature.
SHOW BOAT (1936)
The second of three film versions of the Kern/Hammer-stein musical (based on the Edna Ferber novel) about a Mississippi showboat and the life and loves of its denizens. The film’s musical numbers include Paul Robeson’s immortal rendition of “Old Man River.” Named to the National Film Registry in 1996.
SILVER STREAK (1976)
Energetic Hitchcock parody features successful first pairing of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.
SKIN GAME (1971)
A fast-talking con artist (James Garner) and his African American partner (Lou Gossett Jr.) travel throughout the antebellum South setting up scams. Finely acted comedy-drama.
After being jailed for possession and suspicion of murdering his supplier, street-smart, low-level drug dealer Ray (Saul Williams) relies on spoken word poetry that he composes to see him through life’s challenges. Awarded the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize in 1998.
Ossie Davis appears in this remake of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Directed by Herbert J. Biberman.
A SOLDIER’S STORY (1984)
An African American U.S. Army attorney (Howard E. Rollins Jr.) is sent to a Southern military base to investigate the murder of an unpopular sergeant. From the Pulitzer-prize winning play by Charles Fuller, with most of the Broadway cast. Fine performances from Denzel Washington and Adolph Caesar. Music by Herbie Hancock.
SOMETHING NEW (2006)
Kenya McQueen (Sannaa Lathan) is a successful African-American CPA who makes new discoveries in love after she accepts a blind date with a white architectural landscaper named Brian.
SOPHISTICATED GENTS (1981)
Nine boyhood friends, members of an African American athletic club, reunite after 25 years to honor their old coach and see how each of their lives has been affected by being black men in American society. Based on the novel The Junior Bachelor Society by John A. Williams.
SOUL FOOD (1997)
Film depicts the lives of three sisters (Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, and Nia Long) who struggle to hold their family together by keeping up their mother’s Sunday dinner tradition after she becomes ill. Boasts many promising debuts including director/writer George Tillman Jr. Produced by music producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
SOUL OF THE GAME (1996)
Television movie follows the lives of three talented players in the Negro League during the 1945 season as they await the potential integration of baseball: Flashy, aging pitcher Satchel Paige (Delroy Lindo); mentally unstable catcher Josh Gibson (Mykelti Williamson); and the young, college-educated Jackie Robinson (Blair Underwood).
SOUL PLANE (2004)
This urban spoof of the successful Airplane comedy franchise stars comedian D.L. Hugely and rappers Method Man and Snoop Dog.
The film depicts the struggles of a family of African American sharecroppers in rural Louisiana during the Depression. Cicely Tyson brings strength and style to her role with fine help from Paul Winfield. Adapted from the novel by William Armstrong. Nominated for several Oscars at the 1972 Academy Awards. Music by Taj Mahal.
SOUTH CENTRAL (1992)
A low-budget urban drama set in a gang-infested Los Angeles neighborhood. Feature debut of director Steve Anderson. Based on the novel Crips by Donald Bakeer.
STOMP THE YARD (2006)
a troubled 19-year-old street dancer is courted by the top two campus fraternities who need his fierce street-style dance moves to win the highly coveted national step show competition.
STORMY WEATHER (1943)
In this cavalcade of African American entertainment, the plot is overshadowed by the nearly non-stop array of musical numbers, showcasing this stellar cast (Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Fats Waller, Dooley Wilson, and Cab Calloway) at their performing peak.
STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN (1991)
A bleak, nearly hopeless look at a struggling African American family in a Brooklyn housing project. An up-close and raw look at part of society seldom shown in mainstream film. Music by Harold Wheeler. Awarded the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize in 1991.
SUDIE & SIMPSON (1990)
Heartwarming tale of friendship between a 12-year-old white girl and an adult black man set in rural 1940s Georgia. Based on Sara Flanigan Carter’s autobiographical novel.
SUGAR HILL (1994)
Two brothers (Michael Wright and Wesley Snipes) are heroin dealers who have built their own crime empire in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem. Snipes is moved to reconsider his career options when he falls for an aspiring actress (Theresa Randle). Music by Terence Blanchard and Larry Joshua.
Controversial upon release, pioneering blaxploitation film of the 1970s has Harlem dope dealer (Ron O’Neal) attempt to leave the profession after one last big score. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. Excellent period tunes by Curtis Mayfield.
SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG (1971)
An African American man kills two white policemen who beat up a black militant. He uses his streetwise survival skills to elude the law and escape to Mexico. Directed by Melvin Van Peebles.
TAKE A GIANT STEP (1959)
An African American youth (Johnny Nash) struggles with society’s attitude towards race and seeks the comfort of his family’s maid (Ruby Dee). Directed by Philip Leacock.
THEY CALL ME SIRR (2000)
Based on the true story of Sirr Parker (Kente Scott), a talented, but poverty-striken high school football player in South Central Los Angeles. After Sirr and his younger brother are abandoned by their mother, Sirr struggles to look after his family (including an ailing grandmother) while keeping his place on the team. But the teen is finally forced to turn to his coach (Michael Clarke Duncan) for help.
A TIME TO KILL (1996)
Powerful story of revenge, racism, and the question of justice in the “new South.” Based on the John Grisham novel. Samuel L. Jackson earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for best supporting actor.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
Faithful adaptation of Harper Lee’s powerful novel. Gregory Peck’s performance as Southern lawyer defending a black man (Brock Peters) accused of raping a white woman is flawless, earning him the Academy and Golden Globe Awards for best actor. The film was named to the National Film Registry in 1995 and the Top 100 list of the American Film Institute in 1998.
TO SIR, WITH LOVE (1967)
Skillful and warm performance by Sidney Poitier as an idealistic teacher who wins over his unruly students in London’s tough East End. Based on the novel by E.R. Braithwaite.
TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (1990)
Danny Glover’s best performance as a stranger from the South whose visit divides an African American middle-class family living in Los Angeles. Insightful look into the conflicting values of black America. The film earned the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize in 1990.
TRAINING DAY (2001)
In this drama, Denzel Washington portrays Alonzo Harris, a veteran undercover narc who’s become morally bankrupt and works on the “might makes right” theory of justice. Opposing him is rookie Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), who first wants to be a part of Harris’s team and then learns just what it will cost him. Washington’s ferocious performance won him a Best Actor Oscar.
Six days in the life of a teenage gang leader fight to survive in amidst the poverty and violence of Johannesburg. Tsotsi was the winner of an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year category.
THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN (1995)
Made-for-television drama based on the formation and World War II achievements of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ first squadron of African American combat fighter pilots, the “Fighting 99th” of the 332nd Fighter Group. Based on a story by former Tuskegee airman, Robert W. Williams.
UNCLE TOM’S CABIN (1914)
Satisfying version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s tale from the view of a founder of the Underground Railroad. Sam Lucas was the first African American actor to garner a lead role. Subsequent versions of this film were made in 1927 and 1987 (first sound version).
UNDERCOVER BROTHER (2002)
Funny but padded spoof of secret agents and blaxploitation movies. Brother (Eddie Griffin) is a secret agent from the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. sent to rescue General Warren Boutwell, a black war hero turned presidential candidate (the always-cool Billy Dee Williams) who has been brainwashed in a plot by The Man to destroy African American culture. This more-hit-than-miss comedy finds many targets of all stripes to lampoon, and does so with just the right amount of funk.
In a story set in Cleveland, actor Raymond St. Jacques leads a group of African American well-armed revolutionaries shortly following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Ruby Dee and Julian Mayfield serve as co-stars.
UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT (1974)
Two working men (Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby) attempt to recover a stolen lottery ticket from the African American underworld after being ripped off at an illegal gambling place. Directed by Sidney Poitier.
WAIST DEEP (2006)
A reformed gang banger is faced with a do-or-die situation after his son is kidnapped in a car jacking.
WAITING TO EXHALE (1995)
Popular adaptation of Terry McMillan’s novel about four African American women (Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Lela Rochon) hoping to enter the right romantic relationship. Music by producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
THE WALKING DEAD (1994)
Preston A. Whitmore II’s directorial debut depicts the Vietnam War from the perspectives of four black and one white Marine assigned to rescue prisoners of war from a North Vietnam camp in 1972.
THE WATERMELON MAN (1970)
The tables are turned for a bigoted white man when he wakes up one morning to discover he has become a black man. Godrey Cambridge takes on both roles. Directed by Melvin Van Peebles.
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT (1993)
Energetic biographical film of powerhouse songstress Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) and her abusive relationship with husband, Ike (Laurence Fishburne). Based on I, Tina by Turner and Kurt Loder. For her performance, Bassett earned the Golden Globe Award for best actress in 1994. Music by Stanley Clarke.
THE WIZ (1978)
An African American version of the long-time favorite The Wizard of Oz, based on the Broadway musical. Features all-star cast—Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, and Richard Pryor. Music by Quincy Jones.
THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE (1989)
Excellent, complex script gives each actress in a fine ensemble headed by executive producer Oprah Winfrey (in her dramatic television debut) time in the spotlight. Pilot for the series Brewster Place. Based on the novel by Gloria Naylor.
THE WOOD (1999)
Based on writer-director Rick Famuyiwa’s real life story, the ensemble comedy flashes back between the middle and high school days of three male friends growing up in Inglewood, California, and an eventful wedding day in the late 1990s. Captures the mood and nostalgia of the 1980s through memorable rhythm and blues and hip hop music.
THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL (1959)
Three survivors of a nuclear holocaust form an uneasy alliance and deal with issues of survival and racism. Features actor Harry Belafonte.
Outstanding performances by the young and largely unknown cast, particularly Michael Rapaport and N’Bushe Wright, and an excellent musical score by Taj Mahal enriches the action. Awarded the Sundance Film Festival Filmmakers Trophy.
The film offers a hard-hitting message on violence and responsibility and features performances by Louis Gossett Jr. and Vondie Curtis-Hall. Based on Fuller’s 1978 play Zooman and the Sign.
ACTORS, FILMMAKERS, AND FILM AND TELEVISION EXECUTIVES
(To locate biographical profiles more readily, please consult the index at the back of the book.)
MARA BROCK AKIL (1970– ) Writer, Producer
A Los Angeles native, Akil was raised primarily in Kansas City. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University she began her writing career on the critically acclaimed “South Central” series until she moved joined the writing staff for “Moesha,” where she also became a Producer. After a stint as Supervising Producer on the comedy series “The Jamie Foxx Show,” Akil created her first show, “Girlfriends” (2000), followed by The Game (2006).
MARIANNE JEAN BAPTIST (1967– ) Actress
Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in her native London, Baptist made history when she became the first black British actress nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Secrets & Lies (1996). The actress can currently be seen on the long running TV drama Without A Trace.
PARIS BARCLAY (1956– ) Writer, Director
A writer/director is known for his work in television. The Chicago native’s notable credits include the television series City of Angels, Cold Case House and NYPD Blue.
ANGELA BASSETT (1959?– ) Actress
Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the late 1950s, Angela Bassett was one of two daughters of a single mother and grew up in public housing. Inspired to the acting craft after witnessing a stage performance by James Earl Jones when she was a teenager, Bassett earned top grades and enrolled in Yale University. After receiving a master’s degree from its prestigious school of drama in the early 1980s, Bassett settled in New York City and began winning acting roles in an industry not particularly known for a wealth of interesting, non-stereotypical roles offered to African American women.
Bassett found work in television commercials, the CBS daytime television drama The Guiding Light and debuted on Broadway in the acclaimed musical Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Film roles were next on the horizon; in 1991, she appeared in two notable films, John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood—a casting that came with the good word of her friend, actor Larry Fishburne—and John Sayles’s City of Hope. Her work attracted the attention of filmmaker Spike Lee, who cast her as Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X, in his 1992 film biography of the slain leader. Bassett’s portrayal won high marks from critics for its intensity and sensitivity.
Once again voicing strong support for his acting colleague, Fishburne agreed to play the role of 1960s soul musician Ike Turner in a film on the condition that Bassett won its starring role based on Tina Turner’s autobiography. The 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do With It catapulted Bassett into major stardom and won her rave reviews from critics for the vivid depiction of some of the more harrowing years of the singer’s life. She won a Golden Globe Award for her efforts as well as two NAACP Image Awards. Late in 1995, Bassett appeared in a lead role in the cyberspace thriller Strange Days (1995), opposite Ralph Fiennes and in the Eddie Murphy comedy Vampire in Brooklyn (1995). Later that same year the actress won further critical acclaim for her ensemble-cast part in 1995’s Waiting to Exhale, the box-office hit based on novelist Terry McMillan’s tale of a close-knit quartet of African American women. In 1998 she starred as an older woman who falls in love with a much younger man in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. During that same year, she also served as series narrator for the acclaimed PBS documentary titled Africans in America: America’s Journey through Slavery.
In 1999, Bassett began work on a science fiction movie with director Walter Hill titled Supernova. She moved into producing in 2000 with a Showtime original movie Ruby’s Bucket of Blood, which she also starred in. Also in 2000 Bassett starred in the critically acclaimed Boesman & Lena. The year 2001 saw Bassett move back towards the mainstream with The Score alongside Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. Bassett continued to do what she considered meaningful movies in 2002 with her role in Sunshine State, an in-depth personal and political look at the state of Florida and the people who live there.
HARRY BELAFONTE (1927– ) Singer, Actor
Born on March 1, 1927, in New York City, Harry Belafonte moved to the West Indies at the age of eight. At 13, Belafonte returned to New York, where he attended high school. Belafonte joined the Navy in 1944; after his discharge, while working as a janitor in New York, he became interested in drama. He studied acting at Stanley Kubrick’s Dramatic Workshop and with Erwin Piscator at the New School for Social Research, where his classmates included Marlon Brando and Walter Matthau. A successful singing engagement at The Royal Roost, a New York jazz club, led to other engagements around the country. But Belafonte, dissatisfied with the music he was performing, returned to New York, opened a restaurant in Greenwich Village, and studied folk singing. His first appearances as a folk singer in the 1950s “helped give folk music a period of mass appeal,” according to John S. Wilson in a 1981 New York Times article. During his performances at the Palace Theater in New York, Belafonte had audiences calypsoing in the aisles.
Belafonte produced the first integrated musical shows on television, which both won him two Emmy awards and resulted in his being fired by the sponsor. The famous incident in which white British singer Petula Clark touched his arm while singing a song caused a national furor in pre-civil rights America. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Montgomery, Alabama, and Washington, DC, Harry Belafonte joined him and brought along a large contingent of performers. Touring in the stage musical Three for Tonight in which he had appeared on Broadway in 1955, Belafonte was forced to flee in the middle of a performance in Spartan-burg, South Carolina, and be rushed to the airport in the mayor’s car. Word had come that the Ku Klux Klan was marching on the theater.
Belafonte also appeared on Broadway in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (1953), and his movies include: Carmen Jones (1954); Island in the Sun (1957); The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1958); Odds Against Tomorrow (1959); The Angel Levine (1969); Buck and the Preacher (1972); Uptown Saturday Night (1974); and White Man’s Burden (1995). He also directed the film Port Chicago, in 1994.
In the 1980s, Belafonte appeared in his first dramatic role on television in the NBC presentation of Grambling’s White Tiger and, in 1981, Columbia Records released his first album in seven years, Loving You Is Where I Belong, mostly consisting of ballads. He has received numerous awards and honors including the 1982 Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize and three honorary doctorates. Belafonte received the Thur-good Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 and the National Medal of Arts in 1994. Belafonte received a Distinguished American Award at the John F. Kennedy Library in 2002 as well as a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP, Detroit Chapter.
HALLE BERRY (1968– ) Actress, Model
Halle Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to an interracial family. After winning the Miss Teen Ohio beauty pageant, Berry enrolled in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College in 1986 to study broadcast journalism. She decided to become an actor and moved to Chicago, where she studied acting and worked as a model.
She relocated to Manhattan in 1988 and landed her first TV role on the television series Paper Dolls. Her big break came when she was selected by director Spike Lee to appear in his 1991 film Jungle Fever in which she played a crack addict.
Berry was cast in the 1991 social satire Strictly Business. Some of her notable film roles include the 1996 action film Executive Decision, the 1997 comedy B.A.P.S., and the 1997 made for television movie Solomon & Sheba, where she starred playing the Queen of Sheba. She also starred as Dorothy Dandridge in the HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and in the 1998 film Bulworth. Her high profile marriage to baseball star David Justice ended in divorce in 1996.
Berry’s rise to true fame would begin in the year 2000. She was honored as the Outstanding Actress for her portrayal of Dorothy Dandridge in the HBO special of the same name at the 31st NAACP Image Awards. Later that same year she would win a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for best TV actress in a mini-series or TV movie for her role in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. A few months later she shocked the entertainment world by revealing that she married singer Eric Benet in a secret ceremony at an undisclosed location. This didn’t seem to affect her career, however, which was in high gear. Berry received a Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role for Monster’s Ball. A few weeks later, she was awarded the film industries’ highest honor when she took home the Academy Award for best actress for her work in Monster’s Ball.
REGGIE BLYTHEWOOD (1965– ) Writer, Director
A former playwright, Blythewood left his native New York to pursue work in TV and film. His list of credits includes serving as a writer on the popular TV sitcom A Different World and for the feature film Get on the Bus (1996). Blythewood made his feature film writing debut with Dancing in September (2000), and his debut as a director with Biker Boyz (2003).
ANDRE BRAUGHER (1962?– ) Actor
A Chicago native, Andre Braugher began his career in the highly popular Kojak television movies. He received a B.A. from Stanford University and a M.F.A. from the Juilliard School. He has performed numerous productions of Shakespeare in New York for the New York Shakespeare Festival and at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre.
He gained national recognition for his starring role as Detective Frank Pembleton on the long-running serial drama Homicide: Life on the Street. In 1998, Braugher earned an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a drama series.
Braugher’s other notable television and film roles include Glory (1989), Murder in Mississippi (1990), Simple Justice (1993), The Tuskegee Airmen (1995), Get on the Bus (1996), Primal Fear (1996), City of Angels (1998), Passing Glory (1999), All the Rage (1999), and Duets (2000) opposite Gwyneth Paltrow. In 1999, Braugher made his directorial debut with one vignette of the Showtime trilogy Love Songs. He also began appearing as a regular on the television series Gideon’s Crossing which garnered him a nomination in 2000 for a Golden Globe award for best TV actor in a drama.
JOY BRYANT (1976– ) Actress
The Bronx, NY native began her career as a model while a student at Yale University. Bryant’s acting debut soon followed with a role in director Robert Townsend’s Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2000), which led to a role in the Eddie Murphy action comedy Showtime. Her big breakthrough came when she starred in Denzel Washington’s directorial debut, Antwone Fisher (2000).
DIAHANN CARROLL (1935– ) Actress, Singer
Diahann Carroll was born in the Bronx on July 17, 1935, the daughter of a subway conductor and a nurse. As a child, she was a member of the Abyssinian Baptist Church choir; at the age of ten, Carroll won a Metropolitan Opera scholarship. Singing lessons held little appeal for her, however, so she continued her schooling at the High School of Music and Art. As a concession to her parents, Carroll enrolled at New York University, where she was to be a sociology student, but stage fever led her to an appearance on a television talent show, which netted her $1,000. A subsequent appearance at the Latin Quarter Club launched her professional career.
In 1954, Carroll appeared in House of Flowers, winning favorable press notices. In that year, she also appeared in a film version of Carmen Jones, in the role of Myrt.
Movie and television appearances kept Carroll busy until 1958, the year she was slated to appear as an Asian in Richard Rodgers’s Flower Drum Song. The part did not materialize. Three years later, Rodgers cast her in No Strings as a high fashion model, a role for which she earned a Tony award in 1962.
In the late 1960s, Carroll was cast as lead in the television series Julia, in which she played a nurse and war widow. She also appeared in the films Porgy and Bess (1959), Goodbye Again (1961), Paris Blues (1961), Clau-dine with James Earl Jones (1974), Sister, Sister (1982), and The Five Heartbeats (1991). She has been featured in the television series Dynasty and A Different World and has written an autobiography.
From 1996 to 1997, Carroll appeared on stage in the Broadway musical Sunset Boulevard. In 1998 she played a small role as a voodoo priestess in the movie Eve’s Bayou. Carroll also battled breast cancer that same year and did many promotional spots for the American Cancer Society. In 1999, Carroll played Sadie Delany in the film adaptation of the play Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years. for CBS. Carroll continued to work on the small screen over the next few years first starring in Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story, then winning a role in 2002 as a judge on the short-lived television drama The Court opposite Sally Field.
DON CHEADLE (1964– ) Actor
The Kansas City native first won a part on the television series “Fame” (1982) before landing his breakout roe in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995). Cheadle won a Golden Globe his portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr., in The Rat Pack (1999). Other notable roles include Out of Sight (1998), After the Sunset, (2004) and Hotel Rwanda (2004), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
JEFFREY CLANAGAN (1960– ) Film Executive
Clanagan is the President and CEO of Codeblack Entertainment, a leading film production and distribution company. His notable production credits include Lockdown (2000), Civil Brand (2002) and Hair Show (2004).
BILL COSBY (1937– ) Actor, Comedian
Born on July 12, 1937, Bill Cosby is one of the most successful performers and businessmen in the United States.
A native of suburban Philadelphia, Cosby left high school to become a medic in the U.S. Navy. As a testament
to his commitment to education, he obtained his diploma while in the service. After leaving the military, he entered Temple University, where he played football and worked evenings as a bartender.
While doing this work, Cosby began to entertain the customers with his comedy routines and, encouraged by his success, left Temple in 1962 to pursue a career in show business. He began by playing small clubs around Philadelphia and in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within two years, he was playing the top nightclubs around the country and making television appearances on shows hosted by Johnny Carson, Jack Paar, and Andy Williams. In fact, he earned the opportunity to serve as guest host of Carson’s Tonight Show. In the 1960s Cosby became the first African American to star in a prime time television series; I Spy ran from 1965 to 1968 and won Cosby three Emmy Awards.
In the 1970s, Cosby appeared regularly in nightclubs in Las Vegas, Tahoe, and Reno, and did commercials for such sponsors as Jell-O, Del Monte, and Ford. From 1969 until 1972, he had his own television series The Bill Cosby Show. During the early 1970s he also developed and contributed vocals to the Saturday morning children’s show Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. He appeared in such films as Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975), A Piece of the Action(1977), and the award-winning television movie To All My Friends on Shore (1971).
In 1975, Random House published his book Bill Cosby’s Personal Guide to Tennis: or, Don’t Lower the Lob, Raise the Net. For several years, he was involved in educational television with the Children’s Television Workshop. He returned to college, spending five years at the University of Massachusetts earning a master’s degree and then in 1977, a doctorate in education.
He was star and creator of the consistently top-rated The Cosby Show from 1985 to 1992, author of two bestselling books Fatherhood (1986) and Time Flies (1987), and a performer at the top venues in Las Vegas, where he earned $500,000 a week. He also won top fees as a commercial spokesman for Kodak and Coca Cola. He has recorded more than 27 albums and has received five Grammy Awards. Cosby also hosted a new version of the old Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life. In 1994, Cosby reunited with Robert Culp, his co-star from the I Spy show, for a new television movie I Spy Returns. He also starred in the short-lived series The Cosby Mysteries in 1995. Toward the end of the decade Cosby hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things, a show originally hosted by Art Linkletter, and starred in another sitcom entitled Cosby.
In 1998 Cosby was an honoree at Kennedy Center Honors. A few years later, Cosby’s Cosby sitcom took its final bow on CBS in spring of 2000. Cosby has continued to be active behind the scenes with many producing credits and he continues to make public appearances such as when he addressed the 2001 commencement crowd at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Cosby appeared in rare form, dressed in a t-shirt and sweat pants—with a tassel hanging from his baseball cap.
Cosby and his wife, Camille, live in rural New England. The Cosbys made headlines when they donated $20 million to Spelman College in Atlanta.
RUPERT CROSSE (1928–1973) Actor
Born in Nevis, British West Indies, on November 29, 1928, Rupert Crosse moved to Harlem at an early age. Crosse returned to Nevis at the age of seven, after the death of his father. Reared by his grandparents and strongly influenced by his grandfather, a schoolmaster, Crosse received a solid education before returning to New York, where he attended Benjamin Franklin High School. Crosse also later worked at odd jobs before interrupting high school to spend two years in military service in Germany and Japan. Once out of service, Crosse finished high school and entered Bloomfield College and Seminary in New Jersey. Though he intended to become a minister, it was obvious from the jobs he had held—machinist, construction worker, and recreation counselor—that his career plans were not yet definite.
Crosse subsequently enrolled at the Daykarhanora School, studying acting and appearing in the Equity Library Theatre off-Broadway production Climate of Eden. He then transferred to John Cassavetes’s workshop, where he helped to create Shadows (1961), winner of a Venice Film Festival Award. Crosse’s first Hollywood role was in a Cassavetes movie Too Late Blues (1962). His most important film role was as Ned McCaslin in the screen adaptation of William Faulkner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Reivers (1969). Crosse was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor for this outstanding performance. His other film credits include The Wild Seed (1965) and Ride in the Whirlwind (1965).
Crosse’s stage credits are also numerous including appearances in Sweet Bird of Youth, The Blood Knot, and Hatful of Rain. Television viewers saw Crosse in Dr. Kildare, I Spy, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as well as several other series.
Rupert Crosse died of cancer on March 5, 1973, at the age of 45 at his sister’s home in Nevis.
DOROTHY DANDRIDGE (1922–1965) Actress
Dorothy Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio; her mother was the actress Ruby Dandridge. As children, Dorothy and her sister, Vivian, performed as “The Wonder Kids,” touring the United States. In 1934, they were joined by a third performer, Etta Jones, and the trio became the Dandridge Sisters. The Dandridge Sisters were a popular act, performing at the Cotton Club in Harlem and in the motion picture A Day at the Races (1937). By the 1940s, Dorothy Dandridge had struck out on her own, appearing in the “soundies” (musical shorts) Easy Street, Yes, Indeed, Cow Cow Boogie, Jungle Jig, Paper Doll, and Sing for My Supper.
Dandridge married Harold Nicholas (of the famed Nicholas Brothers dance team) in 1942, and had a daughter, Harolyn, in 1943. Harolyn was diagnosed as having a severe developmental disability and was sent to an institution; shortly thereafter, Dandridge divorced Nicholas. She carried on a fairly successful career as a nightclub singer during the 1940s and 1950s. Her greatest triumph, however, came as a film actress, particularly in the all-African American musical Carmen Jones (1954) for which she received an Oscar nomination for best actress, becoming the first African American woman to receive this nomination. Another important role was in Island in the Sun (1957), where she was paired romantically with a white man, John Justin—a breakthrough in desegregating the screen. In 1959, Dandridge played Bess opposite Sidney Poitier’s Porgy in the movie version of Porgy and Bess. Ultimately, she appeared in over 25 films.
Dandridge married the white Las Vegas restaurateur Jack Dennison in 1959, but three years later divorced and declared personal bankruptcy. She died of an overdose of a prescription antidepressant on September 8, 1965.
OSSIE DAVIS (1917– ) Actor
Ossie Davis grew up in Waycross, Georgia, and attended Howard University in Washington, DC, where Dr. Alain Locke suggested he pursue an acting career in New York. After completing service in the Army, Davis landed his first role in 1946 in the play Jeb, where he met Ruby Dee, whom he married two years later.
After appearing in the movie No Way Out (1950), Davis won Broadway roles in No Time for Sergeants, Raisin in the Sun, and Jamaica. In 1961, he and Dee starred in Purlie Victorious, which Davis himself had written. Two years later, they repeated their roles in the movie version Gone Are the Days.
Davis’s other movie credits from this period include The Cardinal (1963), Shock Treatment (1964), The Hill (1965), A Man Called Adam (1966), and The Scalphunter (1968).
Davis then directed such films as Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) and Black Girl (1972). His play Escape to Freedom: A Play about Young Frederick Douglass, had its debut at Town Hall in New York and later was published by Viking Junior Books. Davis has also been involved with television scripts and educational programming. The Ruby Dee/Ossie Davis Story Hour was produced for television in 1974. The arts education television series With Ossie and Ruby appeared in 1981. Davis and Ruby Dee also founded the Institute of New Cinema Artists and the Recording Industry Training Program.
Davis’s continued movie appearances include roles in Let’s Do It Again (1975), Hot Stuff (1979), and Nothing Personal (1979). Recent film credits include Harry and Son (1984), and Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988) and Do the Right Thing (1989). In addition, Davis has appeared on such television series as The Defenders, The Nurses, East Side, West Side, and Evening Shade. In 1993, Davis starred in the TV miniseries Queen, the sequel to the classic miniseries Roots. He also appeared in the TV movie The Android Affair in 1995.
Davis has continued to be very active on both the big and small screens. In 1996 he appeared in Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus as well as the movie I’m Not Rappaport. In 1997 he played Juror #2 in a remake of the classic movie 12 Angry Men and in 1998 he starred in another remake, Dr. Dolittle, with Eddie Murphy. For most of 1999 he played small roles in television movies such as The Soul Collector and The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. He continued to work in television between 2000 and 2002 popping up in mini series such as Jazz and The Feast of All Saints. In 2000, Davis and his wife Ruby were honored with a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.
Davis is also the author of Just Like Martin, a novel for young adults.
SAMMY DAVIS JR. (1925–1990) Actor, Comedian, Dancer, Singer
Sammy Davis Jr. was often called “the world’s greatest entertainer,” a title that attested to his remarkable versatility as singer, dancer, actor, mimic, and musician.
Davis was born in New York City on December 8, 1925. Four years later he was appearing in vaudeville with his father and “uncle” in the Will Mastin Trio. In 1931, Davis made his movie debut with Ethel Waters in Rufus Jones for President; this was followed by an appearance in Season’s Greetings.
Throughout the 1930s, the Will Mastin Trio continued to play vaudeville, burlesque, and cabarets. In 1943, Davis entered the Army and served for two years by writing, directing, and producing camp shows. After his discharge, he rejoined the trio, which in 1946 cracked the major club circuit with a successful Hollywood engagement.
Davis recorded a string of hits (“Hey There,” “Mr. Wonderful,” “Too Close for Comfort”) during his steady rise to the top of show business. In November 1954, he lost an eye in an automobile accident, which fortunately did not interfere with his career. He scored a hit in his first Broadway show Mr. Wonderful (1956) and later repeated this success in Golden Boy (1964).
In 1959, Davis played Sportin’ Life in the movie version of Porgy and Bess. Other Davis movies from this period include Oceans 11 (1960) and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). His 1966 autobiography, Yes, I Can, became a best seller, and he starred in his own network television series. In addition, he spent time with a coterie of entertainers dubbed “The Rat Pack,” who were fixtures of top-dollar nightspots in Los Angeles and Las Vegas throughout the decade.
In 1968, the NAACP awarded Davis its Spingarn Medal. In the 1970s, Davis appeared in films, television, and nightclubs. In 1972, he was involved in a controversy over his support of Richard Nixon which was publicized by a famous photograph of Nixon hugging Davis at the 1972 Republican Convention. In 1974, Davis renounced his support of Nixon and Nixon’s programs. In the same year, his television commercials for Japan’s Suntory Whiskey won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences honored him for his unique contributions to television.
In 1975, Davis became host of an evening talk and entertainment show. In 1980, he marked his fiftieth anniversary as an entertainer and the Friars Club honored him with its Annual Life Achievement Award. During that same decade, Davis embarked on a hugely successful revue tour with Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli. In 1989, he appeared in his final film Tap with Gregory Hines and Harold Nicholas. Later that year, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and died on May 16, 1990. Shortly before his death, he was honored with a television special devoted to his life.
Davis married three times. His first marriage was in 1959 to singer Loray White. He married his second wife, actress Mai Britt, in 1961; she is the mother of his three children. In 1970, he married dancer Altovise Gore.
ROSARIO DAWSON (1979– ) Singer, Actress
The singer/actress has worked on stage, TV and film. Her notable credits includes Kids (1995), 25th Hour (2002) and Rent (2005).
SUZANNE DE PASSE (1948– ) Producer, Entrepreneur
Suzanne de Passe was born in 1948 in Harlem. She graduated from Manhattan High School and attended Syracuse University. She left without receiving her degree and became a booking agent for a New York theater. It was there that Motown Records founder Barry Gordy found de Passe and hired her as his creative assistant. Having discovered the Jackson 5 and the Commodores while working for Motown, de Passe developed a reputation for spotting talent.
In 1973 she received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay of the movie Lady Sings the Blues. In the early 1980s, she became the head of Motown Productions, the film and television division of Motown. Her production of “Motown 25,” an anniversary show for the company, earned several Emmy Awards. In 1989, de Passe produced the miniseries Lonesome Dove, which won seven Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. She also served as executive producer to the many spinoffs of the this award-winning miniseries. In 1999, she produced The Temptations, the well-received docudrama based on the famous Motown singing group.
De Passe is the CEO of her own production company, de Passe Entertainment. The company has produced the WB shows Sister, Sister and Smart Guy. In 1986, she was the subject of a study by the Harvard Business School. She has consistently taken less than the normal fee accorded to producers in order to get her projects funded, believing visibility is more important than profit. In 1995 de Passe was awarded the Charles
W. Fries Producer of the Year Award for her outstanding contribution to the television industry.
De Passe continued to produce in 1999 with executive producer credits on Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century, which aired on the Disney Channel. She worked again with Disney as executive producer of The Loretta Claiborne Story for Disney/ABC Sunday Night in 2000. Also in 2000, she was executive producer of Cheaters which aired on HBO. She returned to Disney in 2001 to produce Zenon: The Zequel. Most recently, de Passe served as executive producer of the 32nd Annual NAACP Image Awards, which aired March 2001 on the Fox Network.
RUBY DEE (1924– ) Actress
Ruby Dee was born in Cleveland on October 27, 1924, but grew up in Harlem, attending Hunter College in New York. In 1942, she appeared in South Pacific with Canada Lee. Five years later, she met Ossie Davis while they were both playing in Jeb. They were married two years later.
Ruby Dee’s movie roles from this period include parts in No Way Out (1950), Edge of the City (1957), Raisin in the Sun (1961), Genet’s The Balcony (1963), and Purlie Victorious (1963), written by Davis. Since 1960, she has appeared often on network television.
In 1965, Ruby Dee became the first African American actress to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. Appearances in movies including The Incident (1967), Uptight (1968), Buck and the Preacher (1972), Black Girl (directed by Davis) (1972), and Countdown at Kusini (1976) followed. Her musical satire Take It from the Top, in which she appeared with her husband in a showcase run at the Henry Street Settlement Theatre in New York, premiered in 1979.
As a team, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis have recorded several talking story albums for Caedmon. In 1974, they produced The Ruby Dee/Ossie Davis Story Hour, which was sponsored by Kraft Foods and carried by more than 60 stations of the National Black Network. Together they founded the Institute of New Cinema Artists to train young people for jobs in films and television, and then the Recording Industry Training Program to develop jobs in the music industry for disadvantaged youths. In 1981, Alcoa funded a television series on the Public Broadcasting System titled With Ossie and Ruby, which used guests to provide an anthology of the arts. Recent film credits include Cat People (1982) and, with Ossie Davis, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). In 1998, she narrated the PBS special God’s Gonna Trouble the Waters. She was honored, along with husband Ossie Davis, with a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2000.
BILL DUKE (1943– ) Actor, Producer, Director
Bill Duke was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. He graduated with a B.A. in 1964 from Boston University and in 1968 with an M.A. from New York University. Duke began his career directing off-Broadway plays including the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of Unfinished Business for which he won the 1974 Adelco Award.
He made his film debut with American Gigolo in 1980, and has worked as an actor in a number of projects for film and television that include Predator (1987), Commando (1985), Bird on a Wire (1990), and Action Jackson (1988).
As a director his films include A Rage in Harlem (1991), Deep Cover (1992), The Cemetery Club (1992), Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), and Hoodlum (1997).
In 1994, he completed Black Light: The African American Hero, a book of photo essays celebrating 90 of the greatest African American heroes of the twentieth century. His most recent work as an author was a 1998 inspirational book entitled The Journey. He is currently the head of the School of Performing Arts at Howard University.
AVA DUVENAY (1972– ) Writer, Producer
Powerhouse entertainment publicist co-wrote the Epiphany TV series for the Black Family Channel. DuVernay wrote and produced the film short Saturday Night Life (2006) and also wrote and produced The Middle of Nowhere.
TRACEY EDMONDS (1967– ) Producer
As the president and CEO of Edmonds Entertainment, Tracey Edmonds is involved in virtually every aspect of the entertainment business. With divisions that include a record label, music publishing, film and television production and artist management, Edmonds’s power and influence is unique for an African American female in entertainment.
A Southern California native, Edmonds is a 1987 Stanford graduate and former real estate executive who, in 1993, parlayed her business smarts and connections to create Yab Yum Entertainment. Originally established as a music publishing house, the company expanded into filmmaking with the 1996 release Soul Food. Grossing $43 million dollars at the box office, the film paved the way for Edmonds’s entry into film. Since then, Edmonds has produced the romantic comedy Hav’ Plenty, and teen drama Light it Up.
Formerly married to R&B/pop superstar Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Tracey is one half of Edmonds Entertainment which she ran with her former husband. Edmonds herself is very involved in the business, most recently serving as executive producer of the hit series Soul Food for Showtime, based on the movie of the same name produced by Edmonds. She currently splits her time between Edmonds Entertainment and being at home with her two sons, Brandon and Dylan Michael. Edmonds has also won numerous awards for her achievements in the industry, including Turner Broadcasting System’s prestigious Tower of Power Award (2000).
STEPIN FETCHIT (1902–1985) Actor
Stepin Fetchit’s place in movie history is a controversial one. Praised by some critics as an actor who opened doors for other African Americans in Hollywood, he has been berated by others for catering to racist stereotypes and doing little to raise the status of African American actors. His characters—lazy, inarticulate, slow-witted, and always in the service of whites—have become so uncomfortable to watch that his scenes are sometimes cut when films in which he appeared are shown on television. Even at the height of his career, civil rights groups protested his roles, which they considered demeaning caricatures.
Born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry in Key West, Florida, on May 30, 1902, Stepin Fetchit’s early career was in the Royal American Shows plantation revues. He and his partner, Ed Lee, took the names “Step ‘n’ Fetchit: Two Dancing Fools from Dixie.” When the duo broke up, Fetchit appropriated “Stepin Fetchit” for himself.
Fetchit appeared in numerous motion pictures in the 1920s and 1930s including In Old Kentucky (1927), Salute (1929), Hearts in Dixie (1929), Show Boat (1929), Swing High (1930), Stand Up and Cheer (1934), David Harum (1934), One More Spring (1936), and Zenobia (1939). Fetchit earned a great deal of income from these films and spent it wildly. His extravagant lifestyle ended when he filed for bankruptcy in the 1930s.
Fetchit made sporadic appearances in films later in his life, among them Miracle in Harlem (1949), Bend of the River (1952), Amazing Grace (1974), and Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976).
LAURENCE FISHBURNE (1961– ) Actor
Laurence Fishburne made his stage debut at age ten with the Negro Ensemble Theatre. The Augusta, Georgia, native made television history as a member of daytime television’s first African American family on One Life to Live. Making his film debut at the age of 12 in Corn-bread, Earl and Me, (1975) Fishburne moved to the Philippines for two years to co-star in the Francis Ford Coppola war classic Apocalypse Now. Other notable roles for the actor include: Rumble Fish (1983); The Cotton Club (1984); Gardens of Stone (1987); King of New York (1990); Class Action (1991); Deep Cover (1992); and Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993).
Following his star making performance in director John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood, Fishburne was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of 1960s pop icon Ike Turner in the 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do With It. In 1995, Fishburne became the first African American to play the title role in the film adaptation of the Shakespeare classic Othello. On Broadway, the actor has starred in the August Wilson production Two Trains Running and finished a run in the play. In film, Fishburne’s projects also include Fled (1996), Hoodlum (1997), Event Horizon (1998), and The Matrix (1999). In 2000, Fishburne expanded his role to author as he wrote, starred in, and produced Once in the Life. He has continued to stay active in the film industry, and will be starring in two Matrix sequels which are both slated to appear in theaters in 2003.
MORGAN FREEMAN (1937– ) Actor
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, on June 1, 1937, Morgan Freeman grew up in Greenwood, Mississippi. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1955, but left a few years later to pursue an acting career in Hollywood, taking classes at Los Angeles City College. He moved to New York City in the 1960s.
Freeman’s first important role was in the short-running off-Broadway play The Nigger-Lovers in 1967. Soon thereafter, he appeared in the all-African American version of the musical Hello, Dolly!
Americans who grew up in the 1970s remember Freeman fondly as a regular on the public television program The Electric Company in which he appeared from 1971–1976; his most notable character was the hip Easy Reader. More theater roles followed in productions of The Mighty Gents (1978), Othello (1982), The Gospel at Colonus (1983), and The Taming of the Shrew (1990).
In 1987, Freeman was cast in the Broadway play Driving Miss Daisy. He won an Obie Award for his portrayal of Hoke, the chauffeur for a wealthy white woman in the American South. Freeman recreated his Broadway role for the 1989 movie version of the play, receiving an Academy Award nomination for best actor. In the same year, Freeman appeared in the highly successful movie Glory about an all-African American Union regiment in the Civil War. Other film credits include: Clean and Sober (1988), Lean on Me (1989), Johnny Handsome (1989), Unforgiven (1993), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Outbreak (1995), and Seven (1995). Freeman also directed the 1993 film Bopha!. In 1995, Freeman was nominated again for an Academy Award for his role in The Shawshank Redemption. In 1998, Freeman starred in such movies as Deep Impact and Hard Rain. He continued to appear on both the large and small screens between 2000 and 2002 in movies such as Along Came A Spider and The Sum of All Fears and television specials such as Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature. In 2000, Freeman received an award from the Hollywood Film Festival for his acting career. Freeman is slated to appear in the Stephen King movie Dreamcatchers in 2003.
ANTOINE FUQUA (1966– ) Director
The Pittsburg native is a former music director (Prince, Stevie Wonder, Usher) who branched out into film directing Jamie Foxx in Bait (2000). Fuqua’s additional credits include: Training Day (2001), Tears of the Sun (2003) and most recently Shooter (2007).
DANNY GLOVER (1947– ) Actor
Born on July 22, 1947, in San Francisco, California, Danny Glover attended San Francisco State University and trained at the Black Actors Workshop of the American Conservatory Theatre.
Glover went on to appear in many stage productions including Island, Macbeth, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, and New York productions of Suicide in B Flat, The Blood Knot, and Master Harold. . .and the Boys, which won him a Theatre World Award.
Glover’s film credits include: Escape from Alcatraz (1979); Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (1984); Iceman (1984); Witness (1985); Places in the Heart (1985); The Color Purple (1985); Mandela (1987); Lethal Weapon (1987) and its sequels; Bat 21 (1988); Predator 2 (1990); To Sleep With Anger (1990); Flight of the Intruder (1991); A Rage in Harlem (1991); Pure Luck (1991); Grand Canyon (1991); Bopha! (1993); The Saint of Fort Washington (1993); Angels in the Outfield (1994); Operation Dumbo Drop (1995); Lethal Weapon 4. (1997); Beloved (1998); Boesman and Lena (2000); and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).
On television, Glover appeared in the hit series Hill Street Blues, the miniseries Chiefs, Lonesome Dove, and other projects including Many Mansions, Face of Rage, A Place at the Table, Mandela, and A Raisin in the Sun.
Glover has won numerous awards for his acting including an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts Degree from San Francisco State University in 1997. In 1998, Glover was appointed a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Program.
RICK GONZALES (1979– ) Actor
A graduate of the “Fame” High School in his native New York, Rick made his film debut in The Rookie (2002). He has since built a growing resume of performances with roles that includes: Roll Bounce, Coach Carter and War of the World, all released in 2005.
MEGAN GOOD (1981– ) Actress
A California native, Good began her acting career in commercials at age 4, before moving on to guest-starring parts on TV series like The Parent Hood, Touched by an Angel and Moesha. Her work in film includes: Eve’s Bayou, (1997) Biker Boyz, (2003) and Stomp the Yard (2007).
LOUIS GOSSETT JR. (1936– ) Actor
Born in Brooklyn on May 27, 1936, Louis Gossett began acting at the age of 17 when a leg injury prevented him from pursuing his first love—basketball. In 1953, he won out over 445 contenders for the role of a black youngster in Take a Giant Step, for which he received a Donaldson Award as best newcomer of the year.
While performing in The Desk Set in 1958, Gossett was drafted by the professional basketball team the New York Knicks, but decided to remain in theater. Ultimately, he would appear in more than 60 stage productions including such plays as Lost in the Stars, A Raisin in the Sun, The Blacks, and Murderous Angels.
On television, Gossett played character roles in such series as The Nurses, The Defenders and East Side, West Side. In 1977, he won an Emmy for his performance in the acclaimed miniseries Roots. He also starred in such films as Skin Game (1971), The Deep (1977), An Officer and a Gentleman (1983), Iron Eagle (1986), Iron Eagle II (1988), and Diggstown (1993). In 1989, Gossett starred in his own television series Gideon Oliver.
Gossett has also starred in television movies throughout the 1990s including Father and Son: Dangerous Relations (1993); Ray Alexander: A Taste for Justice (1994); The Inspectors (1998); and For Love of Olivia (2001).
PAM GRIER (1949– ) Actress
Pamela Suzette Grier was born May 26, 1949, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her father’s military career kept the family moving. Grier spent her early years in Europe, until the age of 14, when her family returned to the United States. They settled in Denver, Colorado, where she would enroll in Metropolitan State College with aspirations of a future career in medicine.
In 1967, Grier entered the Miss Colorado Universe contest in hopes of winning prize money to battle the rising tuition costs. There she attracted the attention of an agent with her second-place finish. David Baumgarten, who handled many great talents, invited her to Hollywood to begin a career in acting. Grier was disinclined to go, but she was encouraged by her mother to take the agent up on his offer.
After signing with the Agency of Performing Arts, Grier attended acting classes and worked the office switchboard. Acting roles did not come right away, but she eventually landed a small part in 1969’s The Bird Cage. Throughout the 1970s, she was a box-office draw, often appearing in blaxploitation movies such as Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). Though she was usually cast as a strong, independent woman and enjoyed being one of the few actresses given the chance to create such portrayals, she felt hemmed in by the stereotypes these films encouraged. One of the few bankable female stars of the time, Grier unofficially retired. Then in 1981, she co-starred in Fort Apache: The Bronx.
A demanding film, Grier felt validated by the success of her difficult performance. Since then, Grier has appeared on stage, in films, and on television. She was recognized by the NAACP Image Awards as the best actress in 1986 for Fool for Love. In 1993, she received awards from the National Black Theatre Festival and the African American Film Society. In 1997, she made a comeback in Quentin Tarentino’s Jackie Brown. Since then she has appeared in movies such as Snowday; A Passion in the Dessert; and the Snoop Dog movie Bones.
HENRY HAMPTON (1940–1998) Documentary Filmmaker
As a force behind the library of documentaries that primarily seek to address the African American experience, Henry Hampton used his vast understanding of the film medium as a tool to bring cultures together. A St. Louis native and son of a prominent surgeon, Hampton received his B.A. in literature in 1961 from Washington University. He has also taught at Tufts University.
In 1968, Hampton founded his production house, Blackside Inc., and initially produced industrial and documentary films. With a focus towards achieving social change through entertainment, Blackside Inc. has produced more than 60 films and media projects since its inception. Notable projects include The Great Depression, America’s War on Poverty, Code Blue, and “Malcolm X: Make It Plain,” an American Experience biography. However, Hampton is best known for the critically acclaimed, 14-hour documentary on the Civil Rights movement, Eyes on the Prize.
Hampton perfected the art of mixing archival news footage with contemporary interviews, thus giving the events more meaning to his audience. During his career he received numerous awards including six Emmys, an Academy Award nomination, and the Dupont/Columbia Award for excellence in journalism. At the time of his death, he was working on the documentary I’ll Make Me a World, a six-hour series on African American creative artists which was presented on PBS in memoriam to Hampton in 1999.
HILL HARPER (1966– ) Actor
An accomplished film, television and stage actor, Harper graduated magna cum laude from Brown University, plus earned a J.D. (cum laude) from Harvard Law School and a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government. Notable roles include Get on the Bus, (1996) Loving Jezebel, (1999) and He Got Game, (1999). Harper is currently one of the stars of the long-running drama CSI: NY.
DENNIS HAYSBERT (1954– ) Actor
The San Mateo–bred actor made his acting debut in 1979 on the popular TV series The White Shadow. Best known for playing a US President on the popular TV series 24, Haysbert’s other notable credits include Love Field (1992), Random Hearts (1999) and Jarhead (2005)
FELICIA HENDERSON (1961– ) Writer, Director, Producer
The Los Angeles native is a writer/director/producer whose credits include the TV series Soul Food, Family Matters, Moesha and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
DIJMON HONSOU (1964– ) Actor
The West African former high fashion model made the leap into acting with as the star of Amistad (1998). In 2004 he became the first African nominated for an Academy Award nomination for his role in America. Additionally, he’s had starring roles in Gladiator (2000), The Four Features (2002) and received another Academy Award nomination for his most recent role in Blood Diamond (2006).
TERRENCE HOWARD (1969– ) Actor
Known for his versatility, Howard has appeared in film and on television since the late 1980s. Since his first major role in the 1995 film Mr. Holland’s Opus, the actor has captured leading roles in Hustle & Flow, (2005) Crash (2005) and Pride (2007).
JENNIFER HUDSON (1981– ) Singer, Actress
Hudson first gained notice as a contestant on the popular reality/talent-search TV series American Idol in 2004. Next she won the coveted role playing Effie in Dreamgirls (2006), for which she won a 2007 Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actress category. The Chicago native is currently at work on her debut CD for J Records.
REX INGRAM (1895–1969) Actor
A major movie and radio personality during the 1930s and 1940s, Rex Ingram was born on October 20, 1895, in Cairo, Illinois, aboard the Robert E. Lee, a Mississippi riverboat on which his father was a stoker.
Ingram attended military schools, where he displayed an interest in acting. After working briefly as a cook for the Union Pacific Railroad and as head of his own small window-washing business, Ingram gravitated to Hollywood, where in 1919 he appeared in the original Tarzan film. Roles in such classics as Lord Jim, Beau Geste (1926), King Kong (1933), The Green Pastures (1936), and Huckleberry Finn (1939) followed. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ingram also appeared prominently in theater in San Francisco. During the late 1930s, he starred in daytime radio soap operas and in Works Progress Administration theater projects.
Ingram continued with a distinguished career on the New York stage and in film and television. In 1957, he played Pozzo in Waiting for Godot. Later film credits include Elmer Gantry (1960), Your Cheating Heart (1964), Hurry Sundown (1967), and Journey to Shiloh (1968). He died on September 19, 1969.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON (1949?– ) Actor
Samuel Jackson was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee c. 1949. As a child, Jackson’s active imagination had him recreating scenes from his favorite movies. He also acted in various school plays. His first serious involvement in acting came as a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. After deciding on drama as a major, Jackson began to enroll in theater classes at Morehouse’s sister school, Spelman College.
After receiving his Dramatic Arts degree, Jackson and his wife-to-be, La Tanya Richardson, moved to New York City. Jackson performed in various shows and films between the years 1976 and 1981. As a cast member of Charles Burnett’s A Soldier’s Play, Jackson began to make connections. Morgan Freeman and Spike Lee both encouraged Jackson to keep pursuing his goals. Several years later, Jackson and Lee collaborated on the first of many films the two would film together.
School Daze and Do the Right Thing, both directed by Spike Lee, set the stage for the creation of Jackson’s reputation which was established in Jungle Fever, also directed by Lee. This film highlighted Jackson’s versatility as he portrayed a crack addict. The role won Jackson various awards including the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Supporting Actor Award. Lead rolls in major Hollywood productions continued to propel Jackson’s career forward. In the 1990s, appearances in Jurassic Park, Patriot Games, and the Hughes brothers’ Menace II Society all brought the actor praise. The height of all of Jackson’s success came in his role in the 1994 blockbuster Pulp Fiction.
Despite the accolades and success his films produced, Jackson wished to work on-stage again. His wish came true as he was cast as the male lead in the play Distant Fires. Demand for Jackson’s work has kept him busy. Movies such as Die Hard with a Vengeance and The Great White Hype have kept the actor busy in the mid-1990s. In 1999, he starred in the much anticipated prequel to Star Wars, Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace.
In 2000, Jackson played a variety of roles, from the lady-loving detective in Shaft to the evil genius in Unbreakable. He continued to make movies in 2001 with roles in independent films such as The Caveman’s Valentine and The 51st State. Jackson returned to the mainstream in 2002 with blockbuster hits such as Changing Lanes with co-star Ben Affleck, and the long awaited Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
JAMES EARL JONES (1931– ) Actor
Jones (whose father Robert Earl Jones was featured in the movie One Potato, Two Potato) was born in Tate County, Mississippi, on January 17, 1931, and raised by his grandparents on a farm near Jackson, Michigan. He turned to acting after a brief period as a premedical student at the University of Michigan (from which he graduated cum laude in 1953) and upon completion of military service with the Army’s Cold Weather Mountain Training Command in Colorado.
After moving to New York, Jones studied at the American Theatre Wing, making his off-Broadway debut in 1957 in Wedding in Japan. Since then, he has appeared in numerous plays, on and off-Broadway, including Sunrise at Campobello (1958), The Cool World (1960), The Blacks (1961), The Blood Knot (1964), and Anyone, Anyone.
Jones’s career as an actor progressed slowly until he portrayed Jack Jefferson in the Broadway smash hit The Great White Hope. The play was based on the life of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion. For this performance, Jones received the 1969 Tony Award for the best dramatic actor in a Broadway play and a Drama Desk Award for one of the best performances of the 1968–1969 New York season.
By the 1970s, Jones was appearing in roles traditionally performed by white actors including the title role in King Lear and an award-winning performance as Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
In 1978, Jones appeared in the highly controversial Paul Robeson, a one-man show on Broadway. Many leading African Americans advocated a boycott of the show because they felt it did not measure up to the man himself. However, many critics gave the show high praise.
In 1980, Jones starred in Athol Fugard’s A Lesson from Aloes, a top contender for a Tony Award that year. He also appeared in the Yale Repertory Theater Production of Hedda Gabler. In the spring of 1982, he co-starred with Christopher Plummer on Broadway in Othello, a production acclaimed as among the best ever done. In 1987, Jones received a Tony award for his performance in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences.
Jones’s early film credits include Dr. Strangelove (1964), River Niger (1976), and The Greatest (1977). He was the screen voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977) and its sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983). Jones has also appeared in the following movies: Conan the Barbarian (1982); Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986); Soul Man (1986); Matewan (1987); Coming to America (1988); Field of Dreams (1989); Three Fugitives (1989); The Hunt for Red October (1990); Patriot Games (1992); Sommersby (1993); The Sandlot (1993); Excessive Force (1993); The Meteor Man (1993); Clean Slate (1994); Clear and Present Danger (1994); The Lion King (1994); Jefferson in Paris (1995); Cry, the Beloved Country (1995); A Family Thing (1996); Fantasia 2000; and Finder’s Fee (2001).
Among numerous television appearances, Jones portrayed author Alex Haley in Roots: The Next Generation (1979) and has narrated documentaries for the Public Broadcasting System. During the early 1990s, Jones appeared in the television series Gabriel’s Fire and the television movies Percy and Thunder and The Vernon Johns Story. He starred in the CBS series Under One Roof in 1995 and in the cable television mini-series The Feast of All Saints in 2001. Jones is also well known for his voice which has been heard in numerous commercials, including Verizon Wireless, and in promos for the Cable News Network (CNN).
In 1976, Jones was elected to the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1979, New York City presented him with the “Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture.” He received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Michigan in 1971 and the New York Man of the Year Award in 1976. In 1985, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
BEYONCE KNOWLES (1981– ) Singer, Actress
A Houston native, Knowles is best known as the lead singer of the tremendously successful pop group Destiny’s Child. In 2002, she branched out into acting with a led role in Austin Powers in Goldmember, which she followed with well-received roles in The Pink Panther (2006) and Dreamgirls (2006).
SANAA LATHAN (1971– ) Actress
A New York native, Sanaa is the daughter of Broadway actress Eleanor McCoy and TV director/producer Stan Lathan. A graduate of UC Berkeley and Yale School of Drama, the actress has built an impressive resume of leading roles in films like Love and Basketball, (2000) Out of Time, (2003) and Something New (2006).
MARTIN LAWRENCE (1965– ) Comedian, Actor
Martin Lawrence was born in Frankfurt, West Germany, in 1965. He grew up in Landover, Maryland, and would entertain his mother as a child. Intent on achieving stardom, he appeared on the talent forum Star Search, but did not immediately meet with success. In New York City’s Greenwich Village, he would tell jokes for handouts.
He went to Hollywood and appeared in the sitcom What’s Happening Now! before being selected for a role in Spike Lee’s popular film Do the Right Thing. In the early 1990s he appeared in the films House Party (1990), Talkin’ Dirty after Dark (1991), and Boomerang (1992).
Lawrence’s comedic style earned him his own sitcom Martin on network television. In the series, which ran from 1992 to 1997, Lawrence played a disc jockey whose on-air confidence was at odds with his less successful personal life. In addition to playing the title character, Lawrence also played the character’s mother and “Shenehneh,” an outspoken young woman. For his role, Lawrence won an NAACP Image Award in 1996.
Lawrence continued to appear in movies including Life (1999) with co-star Eddie Murphy, Blue Streak (1999), Big Momma’s House (2000), What’s The Worst That Could Happen (2001) and Black Knight (2001).
CANADA LEE (1907–1952) Actor
Canada Lee was born Leonard Corneliou Canagata in Manhattan, New York, on May 3, 1907. After studying violin as a young boy, he ran off to Saratoga to become a jockey. Failing in this endeavor, he returned to New York and began a boxing career. In 1926, after winning 90 out of 100 fights, including the national amateur lightweight title, he turned professional. Over the next few years, he won 175 out of some 200 fights against such top opponents as Jack Britton and Vince Dundee. In 1933, a detached retina brought an end to his ring career. He had acquired the name Canada Lee when a ring announcer could not pronounce his real name.
In 1934, Lee successfully auditioned at the Harlem YMCA for his first acting role which was in a Works Progress Administration production of Brother Moses. In 1941, Orson Welles, who had met Lee in the Federal Theatre’s all-African American production of Macbeth, chose him to play Bigger Thomas in the stage version of Richard Wright’s famed novel Native Son.
In 1944, Lee served as narrator of a radio series called “New World A-Comin”’—the first such series devoted to racial issues. That same year, he also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Lifeboat and in the Broadway play Anna Lucasta. He also worked for the NBC radio network as master of ceremonies for various war-related programming.
Lee’s political activism eventually ended his career. He campaigned against racism and discriminatory hiring practices. He also signed a petition urging the expulsion of Mississippi racist Theodore Bilbo from the Senate. Eventually, these efforts led to his blacklisting by the Hollywood establishment for suspicion of being a communist agent. In 1950, he starred in the British production of Cry, the Beloved Country—the first film to challenge apartheid and the wretched living conditions of blacks in South Africa. However, the emotional stress of the blacklisting affected his health and in 1952, he died of a heart attack.
MALCOLM LEE (1970– ) Director
Beginning his career working as an assistant director for his cousin director Spike Lee, Malcolm made his directorial debut with The Best Man (1999). Other notable credits include Undercover Brother (2002) and Roll Bounce (2005).
SPIKE LEE (1957– ) Filmmaker
Lee was born March 20, 1957, in Atlanta, Georgia. His family moved briefly to Chicago before settling in New York in 1959. Lee received a B.A. in mass communication in 1979 from Morehouse College. After a summer internship at Columbia Pictures in Burbank, California, Lee enrolled in New York University’s prestigious Institute of Film and Television. He received an M.A. in filmmaking in 1983. While at New York University he wrote and directed Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads for which he won the 1982 Student Academy award given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The movie was later shown on public television’s Independent Focus Series.
Notable films by Lee include: She’s Gotta Have It (1986), which resulted in the resurgence of African American cinema; School Daze (1988); Do The Right Thing (1989); Mo’ Better Blues (1990); Jungle Fever (1991); Malcolm X (1992); Crooklyn (1994); Clockers (1995); Girl 6 (1996); He Got Game (1998); Summer of Sam (1999); and Bamboozled (2000). In 2002, Lee tried working for the Public Broadcast station when he directed A Huey P. Newton Story, created and performed by Roger Guenveur Smith, based on his play. She’s Gotta Have It won the Los Angeles Film Critics New Generation award and the Prix de Juenesse at the Cannes Film Festival.
Lee has also written two books: Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It: Inside Guerilla Filmmaking (1987) and Uplift
the Race (1988). He has established a fellowship for minority filmmakers at New York University and is a trustee of Morehouse College. Lee’s production company, Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks is located in Brooklyn, New York.
KASI LEMONS (1961– ) Director, Actor
The St. Louis native has successfully balanced a career in directing and acting. Lemons notable acting roles include School Daze (1998), Drop Squad (1994) and Waist Deep (2006). She made her directing debut with Eve’s Bayou (1997), which she’s followed with Caveman’s Valentine (2000) and Talk to Me (2007).
BYRON LEWIS (1931– ) Producer
Byron Lewis was born in Newark, New Jersey. He received his B.A. in 1953 from Long Island University. He founded the Uni-World corporation in 1969. Lewis recognized early the power behind the buying potential of African Americans and ethnic markets. As the marketing agency for accounts that include powerhouse corporations such as Burger King, Mars Inc. and Quaker Oats, Uni-World generated over 200 million dollars in revenue in 1998.
Lewis is the executive producer of the widely syndicated television show America’s Black Forum and the founder and executive producer of the Acapulco Black Film Festival. Lewis is a member of the National Urban League and has won many honors for his role in advertising and as a producer. Lewis also spends a great deal of time talking with and teaching younger African Americans about the ways in which some companies are using African-American images and music to sell their products to young people.
DEREK LUKE (1974– ) Actor
A New Jersey native, Derek made his big-screen debut in Antwone Fisher (2000), directed and produced by Denzel Washington. Other notable credits for the actor include Friday Night Lights (2004), Glory Road (2006) and Catch A Fire (2006).
HATTIE MCDANIEL (1898–1952) Actress
Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1898, in Wichita, Kansas, and moved to Denver, Colorado, as a child. After a period of singing for Denver radio as an amateur, she entered vaudeville professionally, and by 1924 was a headliner on the Pantages circuit.
By 1931, McDaniel had made her way to Hollywood. After a slow start, during which she supported herself as a maid and washer woman, she gradually began to get more movie roles. Her early film credits include Judge Priest (1934), The Little Colonel (1935), Showboat (1936), Saratoga (1937), and Nothing Sacred. Her portrayal of a “mammy” figure in Gone with the Wind, a role for which she received an Oscar award in 1940 as best supporting actress, is still regarded as a definitive interpretation. McDaniel was the first African American to receive an Oscar award.
McDaniel subsequently appeared in films such as The Great Lie (1941), In This Our Life (1942), Johnny Come Lately (1943), Since You Went Away (1944), Margie (1946), Never Say Goodbye (1946), Song of the South (1946), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), Family Honeymoon (1948), and The Big Wheel (1949).
In addition to her movie roles, McDaniel enjoyed success in radio, in the 1930s, as Hi-Hat Hattie and in the 1940s in the title role of the very successful “Beulah” series. McDaniel died on October 26, 1952.
BUTTERFLY MCQUEEN (1911–1995) Actress
Butterfly McQueen’s portrayal of Prissy in Gone with the Wind (1939) rivals Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar-winning role as the “mammy,” and is certainly as popular with audiences as Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara or Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler.
Born Thelma McQueen on January 8, 1911, in Tampa, Florida, McQueen began her career in the 1930s performing as a radio actress in The Goldbergs, The Danny Kaye Show, The Jack Benny Show, and The Beulah Show. She also appeared on stage in Brown Sugar (1937), Brother Rat (1937), and What a Life (1938).
After her role in Gone with the Wind in 1939, McQueen was cast in other motion pictures such as I Dood It (1943), Cabin in the Sky (1943), Mildred Pierce (1945), and Duel in the Sun (1947). She appeared as Oriole on the television series Beulah from 1950 to 1952.
Given her outspokenness against racism and discrimination and her refusal to play stereotyped servant roles, McQueen’s appearances after this period were sporadic. In 1968, she won accolades for her performance in the off-Broadway play Curley McDimple. She was cast in the television program The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody, in 1978, and the film Mosquito Coast in 1986. McQueen received a B.A. in Spanish from New York City College in 1975.
On December 22, 1995, McQueen died after being critically burned when a kerosene heater in her cottage caught fire.
OSCAR DEVERAUX MICHEAUX (1884–1951) Filmmaker, Author
Micheaux was born in 1884 in Metropolis, Illinois. Little is known about his early years other than he left home at 17 and worked briefly as a pullman porter. In 1904 he began homesteading in Gregory County, South Dakota.
Micheaux was a hard-working farmer who loved to read and had a flair for writing. In 1913 he wrote, published, and promoted The Conquest: Story of a Negro Pioneer. This novel was followed by Forged Note: Romance of the Darker Races in 1915 and The Homesteader in 1917. Much of his writing was melodramatic and probably autobiographical.
In 1918 the Lincoln Picture Company, an independent African American film production company, tried to buy the film rights to The Homesteader. When Micheaux insisted that he direct the planned movie, the deal fell through. Micheaux went to New York where he formed the Oscar Micheaux Corp. Between 1919 and 1937 Micheaux made about 30 films including Body and Soul, a 1924 movie in which Paul Robeson made his first cinematic appearance.
Although Micheaux was an excellent self-promoter of his books and films, his company went into bankruptcy in 1928. By 1931 however, Micheaux was back in the film business producing and directing The Exile (1931), and Veiled Aristocrats (1932). Between 1941 and 1943 he wrote four more books Wind From Nowhere, Case of Mrs. Wingate, Masquerade, and Story of Dorothy Stansfield. In 1948 he made his last film The Betrayal. While none of Micheaux’s films achieved critical acclaim, they were quite popular with black audiences and attracted a limited white following. While his characters broke with the African American stereotypes of the day, the themes of his movies ignored racial injustice and the day-to-day problems of African Americans.
Micheaux was known as a hard worker and a natty dresser who consumed neither alcohol or tobacco. Although he made a great deal of money, all of it was squandered away. Micheaux died penniless in Charlotte, North Carolina. Conflicting dates are given for his death—March 26, 1951 and April 1, 1951.
WENTWORTH MILLER (1972– ) Actor
Born in the United Kingdom and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Wentworth is a graduate of Princeton University. He currently stars on the highly popular TV show Prison Break. Some of his additional acting credits include roles in The Human Stain (2003) and Underworld (2003).
MO’NIQUE (1967– ) Actress
Best known for her starring role on the long running TV comedy The Parkers, Mo’Nique is a popular stand-up comedian. Her work in films includes starring roles in Baby Boy Domino, and Phat Girlz (2006).
EDDIE MURPHY (1961– ) Actor, Comedian
Eddie Murphy was born on April 3, 1961, in the Bush-wick section of Brooklyn, the son of a New York City policeman and amateur comedian. As a youngster, he did imitations of cartoon characters and, as he grew older, began preparing comic routines with impressions of Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson, Al Green, and the Beatles.
Murphy attended Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School on Long Island and hosted a talent show at the Roosevelt Youth Center before beginning to call local talent agents to secure bookings at Long Island nightclubs. He was a little known stand-up comedian when he made his first appearance on the late-night television show Saturday Night Live in 1980. He made a memorable impression, and within three years was hailed as a major new star based on his work in the hit films 48 Hours (1982) and Trading Places (1983).
After his success with the first two Paramount films, Murphy starred in Beverly Hills Cop (1985) and its sequel Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), which were two of the major box-office hits of the decade. The concert film Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987) followed, as well as an effort at light-hearted fantasy The Golden Child (1986).
Murphy’s film appearances include: Coming to America (1988); Harlem Nights (1989); Another 48 Hours (1990); Boomerang (1992); The Distinguished Gentleman (1992); Beverly Hills Cop III (1994); Vampire in Brooklyn (1995); and Bowfinger (1999).
In the 1990s, in addition to appearing in the comedies The Nutty Professor (1996), Dr. Dolittle (1998), and Life (1999), Murphy also provided the voice for the main character in television’s The PJs, an animated sitcom that takes a satirical look at life in a housing project. In 1993, Murphy married model Nicole Mitchell.
From 2000 to 2001, Murphy capitalized on the success of some of his former movies, starring in The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and Dr. Dolittle 2. He also was the voice behind the character of Donkey in the smash animated comedy Shrek, for which Murphy was honored with the People’s Choice Award for best Comedic Performance in 2002. Murphy continued to stay active in 2002 starring in the movie Showtime with Robert De Niro. Murphy also spent time away from Hollywood as he and his wife Nicole, gave birth to their fifth child, daughter Bella Zahra.
CLARENCE MUSE (1889–1979) Actor, Director
Born on October 14, 1889, Clarence Muse was perhaps best known for his film acting, He was, however, also successful as a director, playwright, and actor on the stage.
The Baltimore native’s parents came from Virginia and North Carolina, and his grandfather from Martinique. After studying law at Dickinson University in Pennsylvania, Muse sang as part of a hotel quartet in Palm Beach, Florida. A subsequent job with a stock company took him on tour through the South with his wife and son. Coming to New York, he barely scraped a living together, mostly performing as a vaudevillian.
After several plays with the now-famous Lincoln Theatre group and the Lafayette Players in Harlem, and a Broadway stint in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where having white roles played by blacks in white face created quite a controversy, Muse had established himself as an actor and singer.
Muse’s first movie role was in Hearts in Dixie (1929), produced at the William Fox Studio, in which Muse played a 90-year-old man. Later, he returned to the stage for the role of a butler in the show that was to be called Under the Virgin Moon. After Muse wrote the theme song, the title was changed to his When It’s Sleepy Time Down South. Both the song and the show were hits.
When the Federal Theatre Project in Los Angeles presented Hall Johnson’s Run Little Chillun, Muse directed the show. After its successful two-year run, Muse made the screen adaption Way Down South (1939).
During Muse’s career, he appeared in 219 films, and was at one time one of the highest paid African American actors, often portraying faithful servant “Uncle Tom” characters. His movie credits include: Huckleberry Finn (1931); Cabin in the Cotton (1932); Count of Monte Cristo (1934); So Red the Rose (1935); Showboat (1936); The Toy Wife (1938); The Flame of New Orleans (1941); Tales of Manhattan (1942); Heaven Can Wait (1943); Night and Day (1946); An Act of Murder (1948); Porgy and Bess (1959); Buck and the Preacher (1971); and Car Wash (1976). His last film was Black Stallion in 1979. He also appeared over the years in concerts and on radio.
Muse died October 13, 1979, the day before his ninetieth birthday. He had lived in Perris, California on his Muse-a-While Ranch.
THANDIE NEWTON (1972– ) Actress
An international beauty Thandie is the daughter of a Zimbabwean mother and a British father. Raised in Zambia as a child, the actress moved back to London where study modern dance. Thandie made her acting debut in Flirting (1991), which she’s followed up with parts in Beloved (1998), Mission Impossible 2, (2000) Crash (2004) and most recently The Pursuit of Happyness (2006).
TYLER PERRY (1969– ) Actor, Playwright
The New Orleans bred playwright and actor is best known for his gender bending character Madea. His work in films includes: Diary of a Mad Black Woman, (2005) Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) and Daddy’s Little Girls (2007).
JADA PINKETT-SMITH (1971– ) Actress
Pinkett studied dance and choreography at the Baltimore School for the Arts before moving to Hollywood where she landed a role on the popular sitcom A Different World, Pinkett made her feature film debut Menace to Society (1993) has starred in numerous films including The Nutty Professor, (1996) and Collateral (2004). Married to actor Will Smith since 1997, Pinkett’s most
recently starred opposite Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me (2007).
SIDNEY POITIER (1927– ) Actor
Sidney Poitier was born on February 20, 1927, in Miami, but moved to the Bahamas with his family at a very early age. At age 15, he returned to Miami; he later rode freight trains to New York City, where he found employment as a dishwasher. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army and served on active duty for four years.
Back in New York, Poitier auditioned for the American Negro Theater, but was turned down by director Frederick O’Neal. After working diligently to improve his diction, Poitier was accepted in the theater group, receiving acting lessons in exchange for doing backstage chores.
In 1950, Poitier made his Hollywood debut in No Way Out, followed by successful appearances in Cry, the Beloved Country (1952), Red Ball Express (1952), Go,Man, Go (1954), Blackboard Jungle (1956), Goodbye, My Lady (1956), Edge of the City (1957), Band of Angels (1957), Something of Value (1957), and Porgy and Bess (1959), among others. Poitier starred on Broadway in 1959 in Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning Raisin in the Sun, and repeated this success in the movie version of the play in 1961.
In 1965, Poitier became the first African American to win an Oscar for a starring role, receiving this award for his performance in Lilies of the Field. Seven years earlier, Poitier had been the first African American actor nominated for the award for his portrayal of an escaped convict in The Defiant Ones.
Subsequent notable film appearances include performances in To Sir with Love (1967), Heat of the Night (1967), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (1968), Buck and the Preacher (1972), and A Warm December (1973), in both of which he acted and directed, Uptown Saturday Night (1974), and A Piece of the Action (1977). After years of inactivity, Poitier performed in two additional films Little Nikita and Shoot To Kill, both released in 1988. His directing ventures include Stir Crazy with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder (1980), Hanky Panky with Gilda Radner (1982), and the musical Fast Forward (1985).
Poitier spent two years writing his memoirs This Life published by Knopf in 1980. In 1981, Citadel Press published The Films of Sidney Poitier by Alvin H. Marill.
In 1993, Poitier won the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award and the Living Legend Award from the National Black Theater Festival. On December 3, 1995, he was presented with one of the Kennedy Center Honors. In 2000 Poitier received the Screen Actors Guild lifetime achievement award. Poitier diversified his career in 2000 as well by not only writing but recording his second autobiography The Measure of a Man. Poitier was awarded a Grammy in 2001 for Best Spoken Word Album for The Measure of a Man, from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Also in 2001, Poitier received the Hall of Fame Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at the organization’s Image Awards ceremony. Perhaps his biggest honor came in 2002 when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Poitier with a lifetime achievement award for his motion picture career.
GINA PRINCE-BLYTHEWOOD (June 10, 1969) Writer, Director, Producer
A writer/director/producer who has worked in TV and film Her credits include Love & Basketball (2000), Biker Boyz (2003), A Different World and South Central.
PHYLICIA RASHAD (1948– ) Actress
Known to millions as Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show, Phylicia Rashad has led a distinguished acting career on television and the stage. She was born on June 19, 1948, in Houston, Texas, and until 1985 was known as Phylicia Ayers-Allen. Her sister is the famous Debbie Allen; both sisters received early instruction in music, acting, and dance. Phylicia graduated magna cum laude from Howard University in 1970 with a B.F.A. in theater.
Early in her career, Rashad played the character Courtney Wright in the soap opera One Life to Live. Her big break came with The Cosby Show in which she and Bill Cosby presided over the Huxtable family for seven years, from 1985 to 1992. In 1997, she and Cosby began the new sitcom Cosby. Rashad has also appeared in Broadway and off-Broadway productions of The Cherry Orchard, The Wiz, Zora, Dreamgirls, A Raisin in the Sun, and Into the Woods.
Rashad has received two honorary doctorates, one from Providence College in Rhode Island and one from Barber-Scotia College in North Carolina. In 1995, Rashad was named spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association. In 1999, Rashad was honored by the National Council of Negro Women with the Dorothy I. Height Dreammaker Award. In 2001, Rashad and her husband Ahmad Rashad, filed for divorce after 15 years of marriage. This did not slow down Rashad’s career, however, as she took to the stage for the PBS production of The Old Settler and the critically acclaimed Blue.
ROBI REED (196?– ) Casting Director, Producer
Robi Reed is an Emmy Award-winning casting director who has worked with many of Hollywood’s brightest stars, including Vanessa Williams, Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Tupac Shakur and Denzel Washington.
SHONDA RHIMES (1970– ) Producer
Creator of the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning TV show Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes other notable credits include Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999), The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) and Crossroads (2002).
CHRIS ROCK (1966– ) Comedian, Actor
Chris Rock was born in the late 1960s in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in the mostly black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, but because of a busing policy, he
attended school in the predominantly white neighborhood of Bensonhurst. At school Rock had to endure everyday abuse from prejudiced classmates.
Supported by his family, Rock began a stand-up career at a young age. He caught a break when one of his ideals, Eddie Murphy, saw his routine and cast him in Beverly Hills Cop II. The role led to another in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, a satire of blaxploitation films of the 1970s. In 1990, Rock auditioned for Saturday Night Live and earned a spot on the cast. On the show, Rock became known for his outspoken commentaries during the weekly send-up of the nightly news and for such characters as the talk show host Nat X.
In 1993, Rock left Saturday Night Live and became a member of the cast of In Living Color. He felt more comfortable on the set of the new show, which provided more opportunities to satirize situations involving African American characters. Unfortunately, the show only lasted for one season with Rock as a member of the cast. After appearing in CB4 (1993), a movie about the rap industry that he co-wrote, Rock’s career entered a dormant period during which his father died. During the off-time, Rock studied the work of other comedians he respected, including Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, and Don Rickles.
In the late 1990s, Rock found an audience on cable television. He was a popular host of the “MTV Music
Video Awards,” served as the 1996 presidential election correspondent for Comedy Central’s Politically Incorrect, and earned two Emmy Awards for his comedy special Chris Rock: Bring the Pain (1996). He also has a series, The Chris Rock Show, on HBO which won an Emmy for Best Writing in 1999, the same year that Rock played “Rufus,” Jesus’s 13th apostle, in the controversial Kevin Smith film Dogma.
Between 2000 and 2002, Rock starred in a variety of movies including: Nurse Betty (2000); Down to Earth (2001); Pootie Tang (2001); Osmosis Jones (2001); Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001); and Bad Company (2002).
RICHARD ROUNDTREE (1942– ) Actor
Richard Roundtree is best known as John Shaft, the tough, renegade detective from the movie Shaft (1971). Born in New Rochelle, New York, on July 9, 1942, Roundtree graduated from New Rochelle High School, and attended Southern Illinois University on a football scholarship. After brief stints as a suit salesman and a model, he began a stage career with the Negro Ensemble
Company. With Shaft (1971) and its sequels Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), Roundtree reached the peak of his career and became a pop icon.
Roundtree subsequently appeared in the films Embassy (1972), Charley One Eye (1973), Earthquake (1974), Diamonds (1975), and Man Friday (1976). He appeared in the television miniseries Roots (1977) and continues to be cast in various television programs and motion pictures.
In 1995, Roundtree appeared in the films Seven and When We Were Colored. He has also served as host of the TV show Cop Files. He also appeared on the WB network in 1997 in Rescue 77, a paramedic-based drama.
In 2000, Roundtree announced that he had fought a seven-year bout with breast cancer and won. Roundtree is now an active member of the American Cancer Society and is working to make people aware of male breast cancer.
ZOE SALDANA (1978– ) Actress
A former ballet dancer, the New Jersey reared actress first gain notice in Center Stage (2000). He other notable roles include Drumline (2002) and Guess Who (2005).
JOHN SINGLETON (1968– ) Filmmaker
Singleton was born in Los Angeles in 1968. After graduating from high school in 1986, he enrolled in the University of Southern California’s prestigious Film Writing Program, which is part of their School of Cinema-Television. While there he formed an African American Film Association and did a six month director’s internship for the Arsenio Hall Show. He twice won the school’s Jack Nicholson Award for best feature length screenplay. Before graduating in 1990, he signed with the well known Creative Artists Agency.
Singleton was soon approached by Columbia Pictures to sell the film rights to Boyz N the Hood, his original screenplay and college thesis. Singleton agreed, but only if he would be the movie’s director. The movie was released in July of 1991 to mixed critical reviews. Although its first showings were marred by theater violence, it garnered Singleton an Academy Award nomination for best director. He became the first African American and the youngest person to be so honored.
Since Boyz N the Hood, Singleton has done a short cable television film for Michael Jackson entitled Remember the Time. His second film Poetic Justice was released in the summer of 1993. His third film Higher Learning was released in 1995 followed the next year by Rosewood. Singleton then took a break from movie making as he dealt with his divorce in 1997. Shortly after, Singleton was back in the director’s chair with the 2000 release of the remake of Shaft. He followed this up in 2001 with a return to the themes of his college thesis with the critically acclaimed Baby Boy.
WILL SMITH. SEEPOPULAR MUSIC CHAPTER.
WESLEY SNIPES (1962– ) Actor
Born in Orlando, Florida, on July 31, 1962, Wesley Snipes spent his childhood in the Bronx, New York. At the age of 12, he appeared in his first off-Broadway production, a minor role in the play The Me Nobody Knows. His interest in dance led him to enroll in New York’s High School for the Performing Arts. However, before completing the curriculum, his mother sent him back to Orlando to finish school, where he continued to study drama.
Upon high school graduation, Snipes was awarded a scholarship to study theater at the State University of New York at Purchase. Snipes subsequently appeared in on and off-Broadway productions including Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horsemen, Emily Mann’s Executionof Justice, and John Pielmeier’s The Boys of Winter. He has also appeared in Michael Jackson’s video “Bad” and in the HBO production Vietnam War Story for which he received cable television’s best actor award.
Snipes’s film appearances include roles in Wildcats (1986), Streets of Gold (1986), Major League (1989), and King of New York (1990). In 1990 Snipes appeared in Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, with Denzel Washington. This was followed by a role in Mario Van Peebles’s New Jack City (1991) and in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991). His most recent films include White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Passenger 57 (1992), Rising Sun (1993), Sugar Hill (1993), One Night Stand (1997), Blade (1998), The Art of War (2000), Disappearing Acts (2000) for HBO, and Blade 2 (2002).
TIM STORY (1970– ) Director
A USC Film School grad made his directorial debut with Barbershop (2002). His other directing credits include Taxi (2004), Fantastic Four (2005) and the sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007).
ROBERT TOWNSEND (1957– ) Director, Actor
Robert Townsend began his career as an actor with bit parts in such films as Cooley High (1975) and A Soldier’s Story (1984). He was born in Detroit, Michigan, and worked as a stand-up comedian before coming to Hollywood to try acting.
In 1987 Townsend responded to the paucity of film roles available to African American actors by creating and financing his own project Hollywood Shuffle. The film’s success launched Townsend into prominence as a director. Other notable Townsend films include the Eddie Murphy concert film Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987), The Five Heart Beats (1991), The Meteor Man (1993), B.A.P.S. (1997); the Lifetime original Jackie’s Back (1999); and the NBC movie Little Richard (2000).
Townsend has won two Cable Ace Awards and multiple NAACP Image Awards. He is best known for his role as the patriarch on the long-running sitcom Parenthood. Townsend also served as host on the syndicated variety show Motown Live. He had a starring role in the suspense drama Fraternity Boys. In 1999 Townsend directed the dramatic trilogy Love Songs and the Lifetime cable network made-for-television movie Jackie’s Back.
CICELY TYSON (1939– ) Actress
During the early 1970s, Cicely Tyson emerged as America’s leading black dramatic star. She achieved this through two sterling performances—as Rebecca, the wife of a Southern sharecropper in the film Sounder (1972) and as the lead in a television special The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, (1974) the story of an ex-slave who, past her 100th year, challenges racist authority by deliberately drinking from a “white only” water fountain as a white deputy sheriff watches.
Cicely Tyson was born in New York City on December 19, 1939, and raised by a very religious, strict mother, who associated movies with sin and forbade Cicely to go to movie theaters. Blessed with poise and natural grace, Tyson became a model and appeared on the cover of America’s two foremost fashion magazines Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in 1956. Interested in acting, she began to study drama and in 1959 appeared on a CBS culture series Camera Three with what is believed to be the first natural African hair style worn on television.
Tyson won a role in an off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks (1961), for which she received the 1962 Vernon Rice Award. She then played a lead part in the CBS series East Side, West Side. Tyson subsequently moved into film parts, appearing in The Comedians (1967) and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). Critical acclaim led to her role as Rebecca in Sounder (1972), for which she was nominated for an Academy award and named best actress by the National Society of Film Critics. She won an Emmy television acting trophy for Jane Pittman (1974).
Tyson’s other film appearances include The Blue Bird (1976) and The River Niger (1976). On television, she has appeared in Roots (1977), King (1978), and Wilma (1978). She portrayed Harriet Tubman in A Woman Called Moses, and Chicago schoolteacher Marva Collins in a made-for-television movie in 1981. Television appearances include The Women of Brewster Place (1989). In 1995, Tyson starred in the television series Sweet Justice.
In 1979, Marymount College presented Tyson with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts. Tyson owns a house on Malibu Beach in California. In November 1981, she married jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, but the couple divorced before Davis’s death. In 2001 Tyson was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the National Black Theatre Festival.
GABRIELLE UNION (1972– ) Model, Actress
The UCLA graduate began her career as a model before landing parts in television and film. Since her breakout role in the film Bring It On (2000), Union has gone on to build an impressive resume of performances with starring roles in Two Can Play That Game, (2001) Deliver Us From Eva, (2003) Bad Boys II (2003) and most recently Daddy’s Little Girls (2007).
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES (1932– ) Filmmaker, Actor, Writer
Melvin Van Peebles was born on August 21, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois. As a child, Van Peebles’s family moved to Phoenix, Illinois, where he graduated from high school. Studying English literature, Van Peebles received his Bachelor in Arts from Wesleyan University in 1953. After spending three and a half years as a flight navigator for the U.S. Air Force, Van Peebles settled in San Francisco.
While in San Francisco, Van Peebles began to dabble in filmmaking. Three Pickup Men for Herrick, completed in 1958, is the best known of his early work, but with success in his sight, Van Peebles took his films to Hollywood. Several rejections frustrated Van Peebles, prompting a move to Holland. There Van Peebles’s luck changed for a short while. He acted with the Dutch National Theater while studying astronomy at the University of Amsterdam, but troubles with his wife forced Van Peebles to move again. He found a home in Paris, where he wrote several novels in self-taught French.
Experiences in France led to Van Peebles’s first international film success. Story of a Three-Day Pass (1968) received generally positive criticism as it premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival. This led to Van Peebles directing a string of films including Watermelon Man (1970) and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) which he wrote, directed, and produced. A smash, the film grossed nearly $14 million dollars. This film used a mostly black crew and became controversial for its violence, earning an X rating. However, the money the film earned launched the “blaxploitation” film movement in Hollywood.
In 1971, Van Peebles turned his attention toward Broadway. His productions of Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death and Don’t Play Us Cheap received mixed reviews. Despite the lack of critical enthusiasm for his work, Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death closed as the fifth-longest running show on Broadway and Don’t Play Us Cheap received first prize during a Belgian Festival. Throughout the 1970s, Van Peebles continued to write and direct for films, plays, and television. In 1987, his teleplay The Day They Came to Arrest the Book received an Emmy Award.
After a hiatus, Van Peebles returned to directing for the film Identity Crisis (1989), featuring his son Mario, who also penned the film. In 1993, the father-son team reversed roles in the film Posse, which Mario directed and in which Melvin acted. In the mid-1990s, they continued to develop a variety of projects together including Panther (1995), a fictionalized motion picture of the history of The Black Panthers. In 1997, Van Peebles took to the small screen to portray a psychic cook in the remake of Stephen King’s The Shining.
In 1998, Van Peebles seemed to be everywhere. He served as “honorary president” for the opening of the French Black Roots cultural festival (“Racines Noires ‘98”) organized to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in France. He also performed a music-cum-spoken word cabaret show, “Melvin Van Peebles’ Roadkill Wid’ Brer Soul.” In between, Van Peebles continued to work on pre-production and directing for his film Bellyfull which came out to rave reviews in 2000. Bellyfull won Van Peebles the Acapulco Black Film Festival International Films Competition as well as the Byron E. Lewis Trailblazer award.
DENZEL WASHINGTON (1954– ) Actor
Born on December 28, 1954, in Mt. Vernon, New York, Denzel Washington attended an upstate private high school, the Oakland Academy, and then entered Fordham University as a pre-med major. Washington did not originally intend to become an actor, but when he auditioned for the lead role in a student production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, he won the part over theater majors. His performance in that play, and later in a production of Othello, led his drama instructor to encourage Washington to pursue an acting career.
Washington’s first major role was in the off-Broadway drama A Soldier’s Story. Washington re-created his role when the play was adapted into a motion picture in 1984. He played Dr. Phillip Chandler on the television series St. Elsewhere and appeared in a string of films including Carbon Copy (1980), Cry Freedom (in which he portrayed South African activist Steven Biko) (1987), The Mighty Quinn (1989), Glory which won him an Academy Award for best supporting actor (1989), Mo’ Better Blues (1990), Mississippi Masala (1992), and Malcolm X (1992). Washington also starred in Philadelphia (1993), playing an attorney for an HIV-positive lawyer played by Oscar-winner Tom Hanks. Later, he starred in Crimson Tide (1995), Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), Virtuosity (1995), Courage Under Fire (1996), and He Got Game (1998).
In 1999, Washington played one of the most important roles of his career as incarcerated boxer Rubin Carter in the movie The Hurricane, based on the true story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Washington was honored as the Outstanding Actor for his work in The Hurricane at the 31st National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards. He also received a Golden Globe for best actor in a drama for this role in 2000. Many expected Washington to take the Oscar for best actor as well that year, but he would have to wait another couple of years before he would walk away with that award. In 2001, Washington starred opposite Ethan Hawk in the number-one box office hit Training Day. It wasn’t long before the awards started to roll in. In 2001 Washington was honored with the best actor award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for Training Day. Then in 2002, he was awarded the best actor Oscar for Training Day, becoming only the second African American to win the award.
In addition to winning two Oscars and a score of Golden Globes, Washington won the Silver Beard Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1993. Washington is married to actress Pauletta Pearson.
KERRY WASHINGTON (1977– ) Actor
Since graduating with a theater degree from George Washington University, the New York native has gone on to star in several film including Save the Last Dance (2001), Ray (2004) and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, (2005). Most recently Washington played a wife of 1970s Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland (2006).
DAMON WAYANS (1960– ) Comedian
Damon Wayans was born on September 4, 1960, in New York City. While growing up, Wayans wore leg braces and special shoes to correct problems caused by a foot deformity. As a result, he often found himself teased by fellow classmates. As an adolescent and young adult, he found himself in trouble with the law on a couple of occasions.
In the 1980s Wayans turned to stand-up comedy. His brother Keenan Ivory Wayans was already gaining a following, and Damon quickly became popular on the circuit as well. Headlining appearances in clubs across the country eventually led to his film debut in Beverly Hills Cop (1984). In the mid-1980s Wayans was selected as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. He returned to stand-up after one year and appeared in several films through the remainder of the 1980s including Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Roxanne (1987), Punchline (1988), and Earth Girls Are Easy (1989), in which he starred as one of three aliens.
In the 1990s Wayans joined the cast of In Living Color. The show, created by his brother Keenan Ivory Wayans, provided a platform for social commentary. The skits often featured characters that were members of groups that historically faced discrimination. Wayans portrayed a gay movie critic; Homey, a sad-faced, black clown that refused to kowtow to “the [white] man”; and Handyman, a physically challenged superhero.
After three seasons, Wayans left In Living Color to pursue film work. He served as the executive producer of Mo’ Money, a film that he wrote. Wayans also played the main character in the romantic comedy, which tells the story of a man who tries to turn from a life of crime in order to pursue a relationship with a coworker. Wayans appeared in a number of other films in the 1990s including Major Payne (1994), Blankman (1994), Celtic Pride (1996), and The Great White Hype (1996). In several of these films, Wayans also served in additional capacities as writer and executive producer.
Wayans returned to television in the 1990s. He created the short-lived drama 413 Hope St. in 1997 before returning to comedy with Damon, a series that reunited him with In Living Color co-star David Alan Grier. The series only lasted a year but Wayans was not discouraged. He came back in 2001 with the ABC hit My Wife and Kids. The show has been a ratings success and Wayans won the People’s Choice Award in 2002 for favorite male performer in a new television series for his acting on the series.
KEENAN IVORY WAYANS (1958– ) Comedian
Keenan Ivory Wayans was born in New York City on June 8, 1958. He began his career as a stand-up comic at the Improv clubs in New York City and Los Angeles. After appearances on such television series as Benson, Cheers, Chips, and in the movies Star 80 (1983) and Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Wayans struck fame with I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1989)—a hilarious sendup of 1970s “blaxploitation” films—which he wrote and produced. His greatest success was the popular television series In Living Color, an irreverent show in which celebrities were often outrageously parodied. In Living Color won an Emmy Award in 1990.
Wayans is the oldest of a family of ten; three of his siblings—Damon, Shawn, and Kim—were regulars on In Living Color. In the late 1990s he hosted his own television talk show. Most recently, Wayans has been writing and directing the Scary Movie trilogy. Scary Movie a spoof on horror movies appeared in theaters in 2000 and a year later Scary Movie 2 followed. Wayans himself appeared in a small role in the first Scary Movie and there are rumors that he might show up on screen again in the third installment which is slated to arrive in theaters in 2003.
FOREST WHITAKER (1961– ) Actor
An east Texas native, Whitaker made his film debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), before his portrayal of the late jazz icon Charlie “Bird” Parker in Bird (1988) made him a star. Other notable roles include The Crying Game (1992), Panic Room (2002), and most recently The Last King of Scotland (2006) for which he earned an Academy Award as Best Actor in 2007. His directing credits include the films Waiting to Exhale (1995) and First Daughter (2004).
BILLY DEE WILLIAMS (1937– ) Actor
A screen, television, and stage actor with impressive credits, Billy Dee Williams has starred in some of the most commercially popular films ever released.
Born William December Williams in Harlem on April 6, 1937, Williams was a withdrawn, overweight youngster who initially planned to become a fashion illustrator. While studying on scholarship at the School of Fine Arts in the National Academy of Design, a CBS casting director helped him secure bit parts in several television shows including “Lamp Unto My Feet” and “Look Up And Live.”
Williams then began to study acting under Sidney Poitier and Paul Mann at the Actors Workshop in Harlem. He made his film debut in The Last Angry Man (1959), and then appeared on stage in The Cool World (1960), A Taste of Honey (1960), and The Blacks (1962). He later appeared briefly on Broadway in Hallelujah Baby (1967) and in several off-Broadway shows including Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (1970).
Williams’s next major role was in the acclaimed television movie Brian’s Song (1970), a performance for which he received an Emmy nomination. Motown’s Berry Gordy then signed Williams to a seven-year contract after which he starred in Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and Mahogany (1976) with Diana Ross. His last movie for Gordy was The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor King (1976).
In the early 1980s, Williams appeared in two of George Lucas’s Star Wars adventures: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). He has appeared in numerous television movies including Scott Joplin (1977), Christmas Lilies of the Field (1979), and the miniseries Chiefs. When he was cast opposite Diahann Carroll in the prime time drama Dynasty his reputation as a romantic lead was secured. At the end of the decade, he starred in action films such as Oceans of Fire (1986) and Number One With a Bullet (1987).
In 1995, Williams played a detective in the TV murder mystery Falling for You. He also hosted the Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and the Infiniti Sports Festival. In 1999 he took on another television series Code Name: Eternity which only lasted one season. In 2000, Williams began to make a movie comeback starring in such movies as The Ladies Man (2000); The Last Place on Earth (2000); Very Heavy Love (2001); Good Neighbor (2001); and Undercover Brother (2002). Some of Williams’s paintings were featured in a computer screensaver program “Art in the Dark: Extraordinary Works by African American Artists.”
VANESSA WILLIAMS (1963– ) Model, Singer, Actress
A native of New York City, Vanessa Williams made history in 1983, when she became the first African American woman to be chosen Miss America, and again in 1984, when she was forced to relinquish her title after Penthouse published nude photos of her taken years before her crowning.
In the wake of the pageant controversy Williams has gone on to achieve success, signing in 1987 with Mercury/Wing Records. Her debut project The Right Stuff achieved gold record status fueled by hit singles such as the titled track and the ballad “Dreamin.” More hits have followed in 1992 including “Saving the Best for Last” and “Colors of the Wind,” the theme song from the blockbuster Disney animated film Pocahontas which went on to win Academy, Golden Globe, and Grammy awards.
Williams made her film debut with Under the Gun in 1986, and has gone on to star opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser (1996) and Hoodlum (1997) alongside Laurence Fishburne. Some of her other notable film roles include: the highly successful family drama Soul Food (1997) and the romantic dance musical Dance With Me (1998). Williams made her Broadway debut in June 1994 in the hit musical Kiss of the Spider Woman. On television, Williams has starred in Stompin’ at the Savoy (1992), The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992), The Odyssey (1997), and, most recently, Don Quixote (2000). Off screen, Williams gave birth to a baby girl, Sasha Gabriella, in 2000, the first for her and her husband Rick Fox.
PAUL WINFIELD (1941–2004) Actor
Born in Los Angeles on May 22, 1941, Paul Winfield grew up in a poor family. Excelling in school, he attended a number of colleges—the University of Portland, Stanford University, Los Angeles City College, and the University of California at Los Angeles—but left UCLA before graduation to pursue his acting career.
Winfield appeared on television shows in the late 1960s and early 1970s—most notably as one of Diahann Carroll’s boyfriends in the series Julia. His great success in that period was in the film Sounder (1972), in which he played a sharecropper father in the nineteenth-century American South. For this role, he received an Academy Award nomination for best actor.
Winfield subsequently appeared in the motion pictures Gordon’s War (1973), Conrack (1974), Huckleberry Finn (1974), and A Hero Ain’t Nothing but a Sandwich (1978). He received accolades for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the NBC movie King (1978), for which he received an Emmy nomination. His second Emmy nomination came with his role in the television miniseries Roots: The Next Generation (1979).
In the 1980s, Winfield kept busy with appearances on television in The Charmings, The Women of BrewsterPlace, Wiseguy, and 227; on film in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Damnation Alley (1983), and The Terminator (1984); and on the stage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, and The Seagull. In 1990, he played the sarcastic Judge Larren Lyttle in the movie Presumed Innocent and in 1992 appeared on Broadway in the cast of A Few Good Men.
Winfield has won several major awards including an NAACP Image Award and election to the Black Film-makers Hall of Fame. In 1995, Winfield won an Emmy for best guest actor on a drama series for his work in Picket Fences, “Enemy Lines.” Winfield continued to be active on the large and small screens appearing in movies such as Mars Attacks! (1996), Relax. . .It’s Just Sex (1998), and Seconds to Die (2001), and such television series as Built to Last (1997) and Teen Angel (1997). In 2001, Winfield began to speak publicly about his diabetes and has often been heard encouraging African American men to exercise and to lose weight. He died March 7, 2004.
JEFFREY WRIGHT (1965– ) Actor
Born and raised in Washington DC, Wright graduated from Amherst college in 1987. Known for his great versatility, Wright has earned an Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe for his work on stage, TV and screen. Some of his notable roles includes: Angels in America, (1996) Shaft, (2000) Ali, (2001) The Manchurian Candidate (2004) and most recently Casino Royale (2006)
ACADEMY AWARDS (OSCARS)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
1963: Sidney Poitier, in Lilies of the Field
2002: Denzel Washington, in Training Day
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
2002: Halle Berry, in Monster’s Ball
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
1982: Louis Gossett Jr., in An Officer and a Gentleman
1989: Denzel Washington, in Glory
1996: Cuba Gooding Jr., in Jerry Maguire
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
1939: Hattie McDaniel, in Gone with the Wind
1990: Whoopi Goldberg, in Ghost
Best Original Score
1984: Prince, for Purple Rain
1986: Herbie Hancock, for ‘Round Midnight
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
1966–1968: Bill Cosby, in I Spy
1991: James Earl Jones, in Gabriel’s Fire
1998: Andre Braugher, in Homicide: Life on the Street
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy, Variety, or Music Series
1959: Harry Belafonte, in Tonight with Belafonte
1985: Robert Guillaume, in Benson
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy, Variety, or Music Series
1981: Isabel Sanford, in The Jeffersons
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy or Drama Special
1974: Cicely Tyson, in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special
1991: Lynn Whitfield, in The Josephine Baker Story
1997: Alfre Woodard, in Miss Evers’ Boys
2000: Halle Berry, in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Variety, or Music Series
1979: Robert Guillaume, in Soap
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Special
1991: James Earl Jones, in Heatwave
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
1984: Alfre Woodard, in “Doris in Wonderland” episode of Hill Street Blues
1991: Madge Sinclair, in Gabriel’s Fire
1992: Mary Alice, in I’ll Fly Away
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy, Variety, or Music Series
1987: Jackee Harry, in 227
1988: Jackee Harry, in “The Talk Show” episode of 227
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special
1991: Ruby Dee, in “Decoration Day,” Hallmark Hall of Fame
Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series
1986: Georg Stanford Brown, in “Parting Shots” episode of Cagney & Lacey
1990: Thomas Carter, in “Promises to Keep” episode of Equal Justice
1991: Thomas Carter, in “In Confidence” episode of Equal Justice
1992: Eric Laneuville, in “All God’s Children” episode of I’ll Fly Away
1999: Paris Barclay, in “Hearts and Souls” episode of N.Y.P.D. Blue
Outstanding Producing in a Miniseries or Special
1989: Suzanne de Passe, in Lonesome Dove
Outstanding Producing in a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special
1984: Suzanne de Passe, in Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever
1985: Suzanne de Passe, in Motown at the Apollo
Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Special
1997: Chris Rock: Bring the Pain
Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition
1971: Ray Charles, in The First Nine Months Are the Hardest
1972: Ray Charles, in The Funny Side of Marriage
Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Series
1977: Quincy Jones and Gerald Fried, in Roots
1981: Debbie Allen, for “Come One, Come All” episode of Fame
1982: Debbie Allen, for “Class Act” episode of Fame
1989: Debbie Allen, for Motown 30: What’s Goin’ On!
1999: Judith Jamison, for Dance in America: A Hymn for Alvin Ailey (Great Performances)
Outstanding Talk Show
1987–89, 1991–92, 1994–1997: The Oprah Winfrey Show
Outstanding Talk Show Host
1987: Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show
1991–1996: Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show
1996: Montel Williams, The Montel Williams Show
1998: Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show
Outstanding Sports Personality/Studio Host
1999–2000: James Brown
Outstanding Sports Event Analyst
1997: Joe Morgan
Outstanding Sports Journalism
1995: “Broken Promises” and “Pros and Cons” episodes of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel
1998: “Diamond Buck$” and “Winning at All Costs” episodes of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel
Hall of Fame Award
1992: Bill Cosby
1994: Oprah Winfrey