Everyone remembers the most painful tear ever filmed for a movie. That was the tear that Denzel Washington let trickle down his cheek in that whipping scene from Glory. Although it was just a movie, that tear under those circumstances continues to summarize the Black struggle from 1619 to 2017 and beyond. Some of the best acting comes without words. One has to make their existence speak. In that scene, Washington was quite articulate. Denzel went on to become the second Black man to win an Oscar Best Actor in a Leading Role. Sidney Poitier was the first Black male actor to receive such recognition. Another one of my favorite actors was in Glory also. Morgan Freeman essentially played a mentor to Denzel’s verbose character. Freeman has played God. As simple as that may seem, to have God be Black says a great deal in American society that feels comfortable with a White male Santa Clause and Jesus Christ. I essentially like Morgan Freeman in every role he has played. Yet, The Shawshank Redemption remains a classic among classics. Freeman’s narration of the narrative was impeccable. He has taken this narrative power to commercials and documentary programming on television with such shows as Through the Worm Hole. Freeman voice along can make the most mundane script take on magical powers. What many have probably forgotten is that Freeman spent some time on Young and the Restless back in the day. I recall his tall Afro pulled back like Frederick Douglass.
Is it myth or reality that there was a time in American history when Blacks use to signal to everyone around to come and look whenever Black actors were seen on television? Hollywood is a very powerful place. Hollywood has the power to create images. Hollywood has the power to force an entire people in a mold of what Hollywood feels defines that person or “those” people. Black face was a precursor to Step’N Fetch It. Hollywood could not resist the need to mold the Black man into a slow taking, slow walking type of harmless idiot. As far as other ethnicities go, White males have played Native American, Arab, and Chinese. Tarzan was considered Lord of the Jungle. Given the shameless but shameful side of Hollywood, it is no small feat to see Black actors on the big screen. The “all White” Oscars was only a couple of years ago.
Everyone is flocking to movie theaters to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I recall seeing the first Star Wars way back in 1977. I can understand why this film has endured all these years later. Darth Vader has loomed over our culture since we first saw Darth Vader on the big screen. As menacing as Darth Vader’s appearance was, would this powerful legacy have endured without the voice of James Earl Jones? The image and the voice was a match made in heaven. As another one of my favorite actors, James Earl Jones has always had my attention since I first came into the knowledge of a James Earl Jones. He brought the boxer Jack Johnson to life in The Great White Hope. Just like Freeman, Jones’s voice has also been used to move a great deal of commerce. In the final analysis, every time I see Vader, I hear James Earl Jones.
Clarence Williams, III is my favorite actor of all time. When Williams came into our homes as Lincoln Hayes in Mod Squad, all bets were off. Would it be correct to say that Williams was before his time? Yes, I have seen Williams in several movies playing stereotypical supporting roles. In my opinion, none of these roles did Williams justice. His range as an actor was boundless. He could also shed a tear that would stand up a Washington tear. There have been many movies that I have watched only because Williams was casted in a role. He was in American Gangster along with Denzel Washington. Nevertheless, in Mod Squad, Clarence Williams, III is forever preserved as the coolest cat on the planet.
Spike Lee unearthed Samuel L. Jackson and Halle Berry all at the same time. From Jungle Fever to Pulp Fiction Samuel L Jackson has become one of the most prolific actors in the history of film. Although this article is about my five favorite Black male actors, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Halle Berry went on from playing an unknown crack head to become the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Female Actress in a Lead Role. Nevertheless, her pairing with Samuel L. Jackson in Jungle Fever was timeless and priceless. Unfortunately, Samuel L. Jackson just missed an Oscar for Pulp Fiction. I remember his famous wince when Martin Landau’s name was called instead of his name. I winced also. I felt that Mr. Jackson was robbed. It should also be noted that Samuel L. Jackson is a part of the Star Wars saga. Jackson was in one of the prequels.
Above I mentioned my favorite five Black male actors who just happen to be my favorite top five male actors. The following is how I rank them: (1) Clarence William, III, (2) James Earl Jones, (3) Samuel L. Jackson, (4) Morgan Freeman, and (5) Denzel Washington.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he published a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”