Tag Archive: john amos

Roots is based on the popular epic novel by Alex Haley.  Based on Haley’s real life search for his African ancestors, Roots begins with the story of a Mandinka warrior, Kunta Kinte, and traces his family history through the Middle Passage, the Civil War, and into modern day America.  Very few works of art can legitimately claim to changing the way an entire culture looks at itself, but Roots could make that claim.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While there continue to be great novels made about slavery and its long lasting effects on African-Americans, no story before (or since) has put a ‘face’ to the history of blacks in America as Roots.  African-Americans are, as a culture, the only group of Americans who didn’t immigrate here by choice; Roots goes into vicious detail to remind the audience over and over again the impact of this.

Legacy:  From a show biz point of view, the cast including John Amos, Levar Burton, Louis Gossett. Jr, Leslie Uggams, Shelly Duncan, Robert Reed, Chuck Connors, Ed Asner, O.J. Simpson, and Ben Vereen were an absolute murderer’s row for the late 70s (and this doesn’t include the heavy hitters that came in for the sequel).  From a larger cutural point of view, Roots encouraged many African-Americans to research their own genealogy.  An entire industry was born out of the search by many to discover their own roots.

Craft:  Immensely watchable, the miniseries was must see television before the term existed (more on that in a minute).  For many years, Roots was a holiday staple on cable.  With an ensemble cast of that size, it’s impressive that each arc of the story is memorable in his own right.

Crossover:  Nominated for Golden Globes, and Emmys, the series finale was at the time the most watched hour of television ever (now I believe it’s third).  It’s on the short list of pieces about black culture that completely penetrated the mainstream.

Apollo:  Hoo boy…take your pick.  Was it the one everybody instantly recognizes, Kunta Kinte being strung up and whipped until he accepts that his name is now Toby?  Was it my personal favorite (within context of course), of Kunta being tied to a tree after getting caught trying to runaway and having half his foot chopped off to stop him from running?  Was it Kunta’s daughter Kizzy being sold to another family as punishment for knowing how to read and write?  Was it Kizzy being raped by her new master and giving birth to Chicken George?  Was it Chicken George learning his master was also his daddy?  Was it just the collective chill that ran down black and white audiences when they realized, “Wait, THAT’s what slavery was like?!?”  Is it the subtle racism and self-hatred elements that still exist in black culture that can be traced back to slavery?

OK, I’m clearly close to starting a new rant, I’ll stop there.  Thank you for taking the time to read the two lists I’ve put together; they’ve become one of the most popular staples of this blog.  I’ll come back later this week for some after the fact reflections now that both countdowns have ended.



Debatably the most popular black film of all time, Coming to America is the story of Prince Akeem, who, in lieu of his arranged marriage as the Prince of Zumunda, elects to go to Queens in search of true love.  On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While we live in a ‘post-racial’ America (cough, cough), it’s hard to imagine the biggest black movie star today (Will?) getting this movie greenlit and made the way it was made.  LOOK AT THIS CAST LIST:  Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Samuel L. Jackson, Eriq LaSalle, Cuba Gooding Jr., Garcelle Beauvis, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ruben Santiago-Hudson (you may not automatically remember who they were in the film, but trust me, they were all in there).  That cast list is symbolic of the one word I would use to describe this film: loaded.

Legacy:  Again, impossible to pick one thing.  People give The Nutty Professor credit for this, but every fan of this film knows Eddie originated his ‘playing multiple characters in one scene’ routine with the barbershop here.  I believe the Very Smart Brothas made this point before I did, but this is easily the most quotable black film of all time, if not the most popular.  “My name is Peaches, and I’m the best…”  You know the rest.  Does that even break the top 10 of the best lines from this film?

Craft:  Film geek time.  For the million and one jokes we could spend all day quoting back and forth, the reason this film endures (in my humble opinion) is because it is a genuinely good romantic comedy.  That’s the heart of it.  Without that, you’ve still got a really funny film but not an all time classic.  I know Shari Headley was one of my earliest crushes and started me on the path of favoring the cute girl with a head on her shoulders over the sexpot with wind blowing between the ears (and I know through conversation I wasn’t the only brotha who felt like that).  Even the throwaway ‘Trading Places’ joke was a very nice homage for Eddie Murphy fans (would they even let the joke slide in these days?  Everything is so corporate).  I’m getting off track but John Landis (also the director of Thriller) was/is a hell of a director.

Crossover:  I don’t know how to fully explain this to a generation who only knows Eddie Murphy through marginal family films, but he was THE MAN in the 80s.  The Man!  And a big part of that was because of Saturday Night Live; he was a massive crossover success before this film (and in fact certainly helped it get made).

Apollo:  Soul Glo and the jheri-curled stained couch?  A little.  “She’s your Queen to Be?”  Somewhat.  Me and those close to me live by a Code.  Among the rules of that Code is this: “Don’t make your homies look bad.”  But there are exceptions to the rule of course.  In our first year in L.A. me and my roommate at the time agreed that if we were on some studio lot, and Eriq LaSalle threw a milkshake on one of us and sped off in his luxury car, there would be no fault if the other cat fell out laughing.  That (in my humble opinion) is one of the best ‘Apollo’ moments in any movie (and some of you may not think that’s the best Apollo moment in this movie).

The top 5 films kicks off with a film that was as prestigious as it was popular.  Until then, this is Malik ‘Sexual Chocolate’ Aziz signing out.

“Sexual Chocolate.”


(dropping keyboard as I stare at the screen…)

(pointing at the screen and exiting stage left…)


Still one of the most beloved of all shows about black families, Good Times still stands for good and bad reasons as a benchmark for black television.  On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  The story of the Evans family, struggling to make ends meet in the projects of Chicago.  Nuff said.

Legacy:  The first sitcom about an African-American family.  There were other TV shows with black lead characters who had families, but this is the first one where the family was the star.  Let’s also add in this was the beginning of Janet Jackson’s acting career.  And um, how do I say this?  Oh yes…DY-NO-MITE!!!

Craft:  I’ll be the first one to admit not remembering this, but an old girlfriend bought the Season 1 DVDs, and let me tell you something: before ‘Dynomite’ took off, this show was really about something.  Michael started off as a Black Panther wannabe; that’s one example that sticks out in my mind.  And I don’t think anyone would deny that Esther Rolle and John Amos were both true black actors.

Crossover‘Temporary laid off!’  ‘Easy Credit Rip Off!’  Sorry, had to get that out of my system.  Well, as noted, J.J. became the star of the show.  You can call it ego or you can call it standing up for the culture, but both John Amos and Esther Rolle complained publicly about the ‘directon’ of J.J. as his character gained steam.  Not by coincidence, both of their characters would be written out of the show.  Which leads of course to…


Some recent television greatness is coming when the countdown continues…