Over the past few years ol’ Dr. William Henry "Bill" Cosby, Jr., Ed.D. has been making a lot of noise amongst folks in the "Black Community." He’s taken the “Hip-Hop generation” to task for not being more socially responsible, and in his book, he has literally said, “Come on people” over examples being set by rappers and other media figures depicting the way black people live. As passionate as I feel about these issues, this article will not address Dr. Cosby's views of the state of "Black America."
Instead, this article is meant to pay homage. Not only Bill Cosby, but also to other pioneers of Black Cinema. Pioneers like Sidney Portier, Flip Wilson, Harry Belafonte, Roscoe Lee Browne and Calvin Lockhart, who came together in a blend of comic genius for the classic film “Uptown Saturday Night.”
While the collective works of Bill Cosby and Sidney Portier helped pave the way for actors like Will Smith, Laurence Fishburne and Samuel L. Jackson, actors like Roscoe Lee Browne and Calvin Lockhart were also influential to the progress of what is known as “Black Hollywood.” Although some may not recognize Roscoe Lee Browne’s name right away, one look at the man’s filmography and you'll begin to remember him. Browne was an accomplished Shakespearian actor determined not to be stuck in stereotypical, demeaning roles that were common for black actors of his day. He was a frequent guest star on several television programs like “Sanford and Son,” “Law and Order” and even won an Emmy for his guest role as Dr. Foster in an episode of “The Cosby Show.”
Known for his powerful baritone voice he was the narrator in the children’s films Babe and its sequel Babe: Pig in the City. His voice was heard in several cartoons like “Batman” and “Static Shock” but may be most recognized as the voice of the powerful crime boss, Kingpin on the “Spiderman” cartoons in the 90's. .
Calvin Lockhart, the actor who played Biggie Smalls in “Uptown Saturday Night,” also studied and performed Shakespeare, becoming one of the first black actors-in-residence for England’s Royal Shakespeare Company. Lockhart may best be known for his role on the prime-time soap opera of the ‘80s, “Dynasty,” but he also had small roles in major films like “Coming to America” and “Predator 2.”
Sadly, both of these thespians have passed away in the past few years, but their impact on Hollywood can still be seen.