28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends – Day 14 – Antonio Fargas

antonio-fargas-788125l

Antonio Fargas is one of the most well-known blaxploitation actors not named Pam Grier, Fred Williamson, or Jim Brown, even if not everyone really knows his name. For many, all you have to say is he’s that guy from I’m Gonna Git You Sucka with the goldfish in his shoes. He’s also well known for his role as Huggy Bear on the Starsky and Hutch TV show.

Back in the 1970s though, you could almost say his portrayal of a pimp became what is considered the norm. He had the flamboyant clothes, the over-the-top attitude, and knew how to strut into a room.

Fargas was a nice changeup from the ultra-tough guys usually seen in blaxploitation films. His characters dressed tough. They tried to act tough. They did whatever they needed to do to protect their reputation on the street. Many times, however, those efforts fell flat.

Why We Love and Respect Him: Fargas was the Don Knotts of the blaxploitation films, and his pimp and thug characters were just streetwise versions of Barney Fife. He would go on to do other work, but his blaxploitation roles are our favorite.

Best Known For: Dressing sharp and being a hard-luck gangster.

FargasFilmStrip

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Shaft (1971) as Bunky: Bunky is a smalltime hood caught up in an NYC crime family war.

Across 110th Street (1972) as Henry J. Jackson: Henry J. Jackson is the getaway driver in the robbery of a Mafia-owned bank that scores the robbers a cool $300,000. Jackson’s crime eventually catches up with him when a couple of hoods find him in a whorehouse.

Cleopatra Jones (1973) as Doodlebug Simkins: Doodlebug Simkins is a sharp-dressing, high ranking soldier in Mommy’s drug cartel, but that isn’t good enough. He goes out on his own, has some success, but then feels the squeeze of his former boss and federal agent Cleopatra Jones.

Foxy Brown (1974) as Link Brown: Link Brown is Foxy’s drug-dealing brother, and due to his being a screw up, Foxy’s boyfriend gets offed by some gangsters. Foxy is determined to get revenge on the gangsters who killed her man.

Bio Links:

Antonio Fargas on building characters…

Antonio Fargus Interview with Soul Train; Aug. 31, 2012

Antonio Fargas IMDB

Antonio Fargas Wiki

28 For 28: Day 10, Tamara Dobson

(Apologies for getting off track this weekend. Illness struck and we weren’t ahead in the game. We’ll get caught up as the month continues. There will be 28.)

Tamara Dobson was Cleopatra Jones, the US special agent hellbent on taking out the world’s dope dealers, and through two movies, she was damn good at doing just that. It’s just too bad the blaxploitation boom was sputtering to an end by the time Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold hit theaters in 1975, and its failure to find commercial success, put an end to the character’s continued on-screen adventures.

You can’t deny these films are a good time though.

The first Cleopatra Jones was a project led by Max Julien, Goldie himself, and featured Bernie Casey and Antonio Fargas alongside Dobson in the title role. It was released exactly one month after Pam Grier’s Coffy, on July 13, 1973, but it might be the better of the two movies. They both have their charms though. Shelly Winters even adds her charms to the first Cleopatra Jones movie.

Tamara Dobson went on to do a lot of television after her final Cleopatra Jones film, and she would eventually struggle with multiple sclerosis and died in 2006.

Why We Love and Respect Her: As Cleopatra Jones, Tamara Dobson followed in the path of Shaft with the character’s heroics achieved while operating on the fringes of the law. Sure, part of the draw of the Cleopatra Jones movies is Dobson’s looks, but the character’s strength outweighs her beauty. That takes talent.

Best Known For: being 6 feet 2 of pure dynamite, and being designated as the tallest leading lady in film by the Guinness people when Cleopatra Jones was released.

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Cleopatra Jones (1973) as Cleopatra Jones: Cleopatra Jones is a badass special agent whose life mission is to put an end to the dope game.

Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975) as Cleopatra Jones: Cleopatra Jones is back and this time she does battle with drug kingpins in Hong Kong, while at the same time trying to find her missing friends.

Norman… Is that you? (1976) as Audrey: While struggling to come to grips with his son’s homosexuality, Ben Chambers (Redd Foxx) tries to convince his son he’s straight. One of those ways was the hiring of a prostitute named Audrey.

Bio Links:

Tamara Dobson’s Obituary

Tamara Dobson’s IMDB

Tamara Dobson’s Wiki

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends, Day 4 Max Julien

There are a handful of films that most commonly cited as the gateway to blaxploitation for the average viewer. The most popular of those seem to be titles like Shaft, Super Fly, Coffy, Car Wash, or The Mack. All of them are great films, and a great way to see what the elite films of the genre were like.

One of those films, however, stands out above the rest because its story digs below the surface of characters who live on the fringe of society, and the talented cast and crew deliver performances so memorable, they are still talked about 40 years later. That standout film is The Mack.

One of the biggest reasons The Mack stands out is because it’s easy to believe Max Julien really is Goldie, the ex-con who turns to pimping as a means of survival when released from a stint in the big house.

Max Julien’s impact on blaxploitation films, whether his films were technically blaxploitation or not, cannot be argued. He isn’t credited as a writer on The Mack, but he did contribute to the script and helped give it its authentic feel.

Julen burst onto the acting scene playing a revolutionary in the 1966 film The Black Klansman, and would go on to do some amazing work over the next decade or so, but then left film behind and focused on doing real, revolutionary work for real people, in real life.

mack4

Why We Love and Respect Him: In Addition to Max Julien essentially defining the look and character attributes of a big-time pimp, he also paved the way for the strong, black female character to be an ass-kicking machine with Cleopatra Jones. Julien wrote Cleopatra Jones with his then girlfriend in mind for the role, but Tamara Dobson would eventually get the part. Tamara was great, but we gotta give Max credit for developing the storyline in general, because it was this storyline that Pam Grier eventually rode to fame with Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Friday Foster. In that respect, Max begat Pam.

Best Known For: Pimpin’.

themack2Goldie

Blaxploitation Role Call:

The Black Klansman (1966) as Raymond, the Rabble Rouser: A black man infiltrates the KKK to avenge the death of a relative. Made just a few years before the concept of blaxploitation existed, it’s technically not in the genre was we see it today. First it wasn’t really developed as a vehicle to exploit black talent in order to appeal to a black audience. Second, it lacks a lot of the over-the-top elements that made the genre great. It is, however, a strong film, with a strong message, and Raymond’s role as the revolution-minded activist brought in to incite a cultural upheaval in the south is powerful.

Uptight (1989) as Johnny Wells: I honestly don’t know much about this film, but here’s what IMDB says: Black revolutionaries are betrayed by one of their own. Based on the 1935 classic, “The Informer.”

The Mack (1973) as Goldie: Goldie is an ex-con who sets out on the road to pimping after getting some advice from The Blind Man. He and his pal Slim, Richard Pryor, make waves in the underworld, and quickly become the biggest players in the game. This film is part of the core curriculum at Hip Hop Artist University.

Thomasine and Bushrod (1974) as Bushrod: Thomasine and Bushrod are a cople of criminals, per se, who target the extremely wealthy for robbery and then redistribute the haul among those who aren’t as fortunate. Despite having Julien as both a writer and lead actor, and being directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., it disappointed a lot of fans. Julien focused on efforts outside of film after this one was released.

thomasine_and_bushrod

Bio Links:

New York Times Hated The Mack

This just proves movie critics don’t know shit.

Tupac Came to Me in a Vision…

Max Julien talks about Biggie and Tupac, and the visions he had when they died.

Max Julien’s IMDB Bio

Max Julien’s Wiki

**Bonus Clip: Just for shits and giggles, we offer this refresher viewing of Dave Chappelle’s Playa Hater’s Ball, because it’s hard to watch old pimping movies without thinking about it at least once.

http://vimeo.com/15506672

28 For 28: 28 Days of Blaxploitation Legends, Day 3 Bernie Casey

BernieCaseyFilmStrip

Bernie Casey was yet another professional football player of the late 1960s and early 1970s to go Hollywood and leave NFL behind. Bernie Casey might not have the name recognition power of Jim Brown, he didn’t lack a powerful screen presence. Some claim Casey is the best actor to arise from the NFLugees during this era.

Casey appeared in several of the best-known blaxploitation films of all time. including Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, Cleopatra Jones, and the Wayans-produced blaxploitation spoof I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.  He also landed a role in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again as CIA operative Felix Leiter.

If you’re a kid of the 80s, you probably first saw Casey as Mr. Ryan from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Colonel Rhombus in Spies Like Us, and you undoubtedly remember him as U.N. Jefferson, the Lamda Lamda Lamda representative in Revenge of the Nerds.

Throughout his career he has continued to show his diversity as an actor with great performances in films from just about every basic genre.

He is also no stranger to a little controversy.

Casey played a true rogue when he starred in Hit Man (1972). Tyrone Tackett might have been a policeman at one point in his life, but his substance abuse, womanizing, and penchant for violence, indicate that time was long ago in a different world. Tacket’s actions on the screen were powerful enough to earn condemnation from the NAACP and set such a high standard many of the future action movies in  the genre simply couldn’t compete. Most looked ridiculous when they tried.

Casey also starred in what might have been the first film to ever have to calculate donated ‘Blue Chip Stamps’ when crunching the numbers of the project’s budget, Black Chariot, and was James Bond’s CIA contact in Never Say Never Again, the notorious Kevin McClory Bond film.

Hit Man (1972) Trailer

Why We Love and Respect Him: If Bernie Casey would have been given the right role, in an Oscar-caliber screenplay circa 1975, he might have been Denzel before Denzel was even Denzel. Instead, Casey when he seemed to be peaking, he found himself costarring with a coked-out David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, an oddball flick produced by two guys who would do Deer Hunter just two years later. Thankfully, awards don’t mean shit.

Casey has played good guys, bad guys, guys in between, monsters, authority figures, and funny guys; and was superb in nearly every one of those roles.

We just love him for being so versatile.

BernieCaseyRevengeNerds

Best Known For: Dressing like a successful business man, recruiting a mostly white group of nerds to join a black fraternity, and having some of the best hair in the business.

Blaxploitation Role Call:

Black Chariot (1971) as The Drifter: Casey’s character drifts into town, gets chummy with a motorcycle gang, disrespects the man in charge, and gets sucked into taking drastic actions in order to make things right.

Black Gunn (1972) as Seth, Black Activist Leader: An entrepreneur’s little brother gets mixed up with a militant activist group, fronted by Casey, and becomes entangled in a web of violence and big stakes.

Hitman (1972) as Tyrone Tackett, Pornographer/Hit Man: Tyrone takes time out of his duties as a porn talent scout to mourn his brother’s death, and quickly learns things are a mess back in Oakland and he’s going to have to straighten some of it out. Tryone drinks heavily, meets Pam Grier, sees his niece raped in a porn movie then later finds her dead, and sometimes has to get violent.

Cleopatra Jones (1973) as Reuben Masters, Drug Counselor: Cleopatra Jones hates dope, and so does her boyfriend Reuben, the head man in charge at the local halfway house for recovering addicts, but that doesn’t mean either of them will blindly follow The Man’s rules. Cleopatra Jones doesn’t hesitate to use her elite fighting skills to battle drug dealers, while Reuben boldly tries to clean up the mess left behind.  An alternate title producers might have considered was Miss Shaft, or Shaftess, as this was a direct response to the popularity of Shaft, and proved to be a precursor to the films Ms. Grier’s turned into cinema classics.

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976) as Dr. Henry Pride, a psycho scientist: A respected scientist determined to save dying liver cells gets a dose of his own medicine and is turned into a white vampire who loves hookers.

Brothers (1977) as David Thomas: (From IMDB)  Thinly disguised account of the relationship between radical black activist Angela Davis and Black Panther and prison inmate George Jackson, who was one of those killed in a failed 1971 prison breakout.

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) as John Slade, Aging Vigilante: This is Keenan Ivory Wayans’s love letter to the blaxploitation films of the 70s and features numerous superstars of the era, including Casey as Jack Slade’s boyhood idol, John Slade. John Slade hels Jack put together team of elite crimestoppers in an effort to clean up the streets and stop Mr. Big

hitmanBernieCaseyBio Links:

AT LUNCH WITH: Bernie Casey; A Filmmaker Battling Flawed Images of Blacks; New York Times, Nov. 27, 1997  

Bernie Casey is still out there fighting the good fight.

”I was on a radio talk show this morning and the host said, ‘Can I ax you a question?’ ” Mr. Casey said, visibly bristling. ”I said no, but you can ask me a question. He laughed, but he said, ‘O.K., can I ask you a question?’ ”

”I always challenge young people who talk ebonics and use a lot of profanity to become more literate, to find the words to express what they mean,” Mr. Casey said. ”We need to understand the power of words.”

Spike Lee Says Bernie Casey is the best actor of the former NFL Players club; ESPN Interview by Ralph Wiley

Black Chariot financed with blue Stamps , TCM.com

Several feature articles in 1970 and 1971 detail Goodwin’s financing of the production. According to a Los Angeles Times article, “95% of them [the film’s owners] are black and many with investments of $50 or less.” An additional $5,000 in financing was raised, according to statements made by Goodwin, from Blue Chip Stamps, a then popular grocery store premium. Goodwin explained in the Los Angeles Times article that backers were asked to give a minimum of five dollars or four books of Blue Chip Stamps [which, at the time, had a monetary face value of $1.20] to invest in the film.

Bernie Casey’s IMDB

Bernie Casey Wiki

Bernie Casey’s Bio at TCM

Bernie Casey Bio from Bowling Green’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Bernie Casey’s NFL Stats

Examples of Bernie Casey’s Artwork