Thursday, September 23, 2021
By Yussuf J. Simmonds (Managing Editor)
Published June 10, 2010

*** Legends ***

by Yussuf J. Simmonds

Sometimes the media (print, electronic, film, etc.) depict art imitating life and/or sometimes they depict life imitating art. Very often, art and life intersect blurring the lines between the real and the unreal suggesting ‘is it live or is it Memorex?’ Nowhere in society does this transformation take place than on the screen/film.


In some instances, the role shapes the player and other times, the player makes the role memorable. It must be noted that “Ali” (Will Smith), “Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) “Ray” (Jamie Foxx) and the “Greatest” (Muhammad Ali), had the largest numbers of named depictions of Black people in recent memory. In those movies, some of the individuals actually portrayed themselves. Some memorable portrayals are as follows:

AL FREEMAN, JR. depicted the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (Malcolm X)

ALBERT HALL was the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (Ali)

Angela Bassett
ANGELA BASSETT has brought many famous women to life; she has portrayed Rosa Parks (The Story of Rosa Parks); Tina Turner (What’s Love Got To Do With It?); Katherine Jackson (The Jacksons: An American Dream); and Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X and Panther)

ANTHONY GRIFFIN portrayed Eldridge Cleaver (Panther)

ARNOLD F. TURNER as Ralph Metcalfe (The Jesse Owens Story)


BARRY HENLEY was Herbert Muhammad (Ali)

Billy Dee Williams
BILLY DEE WILLIAMS did Berry Gordy (Jackson: An American Dream)

CHARLES SHUFFORD played George Foreman (Ali)

CHIP MC ALLISTER was Young Cassius Clay (The Greatest)

Cicely Tyson
CICELY TYSON depicted Coretta Scott King (King)

Courtney Vance
COURTNEY VANCE brought Bobby Seale to life (Panther)

COLEY WALLACE as Joe Louis (The Joe Louis Story)

Cuba Gooding
CUBA GOODING JR. played Dr. Ben Carson (Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story); Petty Officer Dorie Miller (Pearl Harbor); Chief Carl Brashear (Men of Honor)

Denzel Washington
DENZEL WASHINGTON did George McKenna (The George McKenna Story); Malcolm X (Malcolm X); Steve Biko (Cry Freedom)

DELROY LINDO was Clarence Thomas (Strange Justice)

Diana Ross
DIANA ROSS played Billie Holiday (Lady Sings the Blues)

DORIAN HAREWOOD as Jesse Owens (The Jesse Owens Story)

Halle Berry
HALLE BERRY did Dorothy Dandridge (The Dorothy Dandridge Story)

HOWARD ROLLINS was Medgar Evers (The Medgar Evers Story); Andrew Young (King)

IRENE CARA depicted Myrlie Evers (The Medgar Evers Story)

JACKIE ROBINSON as Jackie Robinson (The Jackie Robinson Story)

JADA PINKETT SMITH played Sonji Clay (Ali)

JAMES EARL JONES portrayed Malcolm X (The Greatest)

JAMES PICKENS, JR. as Medgar Evers (Ghosts of Mississippi)

JAMES TONEY was Joe Frazier (Ali)

Jamie Foxx
JAMIE FOXX depicted Ray Charles (Ray); Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown (Ali); Stanley Tookie Williams (Redemption: the Stan Tookie Williams Story)

LARENZ TATE played Quincy Jones (Ray)

LEVAR BURTON played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Ali)

LLOYD HAYNES was Herbert Muhammad (The Greatest)

Louis Gossett Jr.
LOUIS GOSSETT JR. did Anwar Sadat (Sadat) Satchel Paige (Don’t Look Back: The Story of Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige); Vernon Jordan (Strange Justice); Father Clements (The Father Clements Story)

Laurence Fishburne
LAURENCE FISHBURNE depicted Ike Turner (What’s Love Got To Do With It?)

LAWRENCE HILTON JACOBS delivered Joseph “Joe” Jackson (Jackson: An American Dream)

MARCUS CHONG played Huey Newton (Panther)

Mario Van Peebles
MARIO VAN PEBBLES delivered Stokely Carmichael (Panther); Malcolm X (Ali)

Morgan Freeman
MORGAN FREEMAN played Joe Clark (Lean on Me); and Nelson Mandela (Invictus)

Muhammad Ali
MUHAMMAD ALI showed he was the greatest when he played himself (The Greatest)


NONA GAYE did Belinda Ali (Ali)

PAUL WINFIELD depicted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (King); Thurgood Marshall (Strange Justice)

REGINA TAYLOR as Anita Hill (Strange Justice)

ROGER E. MOSLEY did Sonny Liston (The Greatest)

RUBY DEE was Rae Robinson (The Jackie Robinson Story)

Sidney Poitier
SIDNEY POITIER depicted Nelson Mandela (Mandela and De Klerk); Thurgood Marshall (Separate but Equal); Simon of Cyrene (The Greatest Story Ever Told)

Whoopi Goldberg
WHOOPI GOLDBERG as Myrlie Evers (Ghosts of Mississippi)

Will Smith
WILL SMITH delivered Muhammad Ali (Ali)

William Marshall
WILLIAM MARSHALL played Edward Brooke (the Boston Strangler)

The above is a sampling of the biographical movies which depicted the life and times of Black men and women who have contributed to human history.


Categories: Legends

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