Cinematic Themes

by Cinque Brown

I have always liked to see Black people, on the big screen. I have a friend who has been privy to free movie passes this summer, that's why he is my friend-smile.

I particularly like to watch movies where Black people are the central focus. People of African descent have a uncanny flair for the dramatic. Which makes them enjoyable to watch, listen to, or read about. When you combine those three factors your result is "usually" great entertainment.

This summer I saw a movie which I had to add to my all time favorite list. The movie was called Hoodlum and featured Lawrence Fishburne as Harlem numbers runner Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson and Cicely Tyson as Madam Stephanie St.Clair a.k.a The Queen.

I must admit, that it is possible that I am biased in my assessment of this movie. This bias is not due to any "geographic tribalism". Instead my "love" for this movie may be the result of the fact that Bumpy was a regular patron of my grandfather's (who was a tailor) business. Although the movie's story line was fictional, the character was not, nor was his bravery. There will be critics who will highlight the movie title as negative. I say to them, see the movie and learn about Bumpy.

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Lena Horne's manager Sherman Sneed who grew up in the "Bumpy" era said "There would be no Harlem today for Black people, if not for Bumpy Johnson".

In other summer 97' movies, the Black superhero has returned in the form of comic book releases like Steel and Spawn. I used to be a comic book junkie but now I turn to real history for my heroes. The release of these two movies reminds me of a great book title by J.A. Rogers entitled from "Superman to Man". For history buffs, this is a great read and chronicles real life African heroics.

In the DC comic based Steel, Shaquille O'Neal is military man John Henry Irons. The character resembles the legendary folk hero and postal stamp icon John Henry so much I wonder if there is a lawsuit pending. I hope some sort of financial arrangement has been made with the African American originators of the John Henry character.

Steel was created about six years ago when D.C. comics killed off Superman along with about six other supermen characters and Steel was one of them. Shaquille says "If you look at the comic you can tell it's me. Big strong, sexy, bald and hoop earring." In my opinion, his acting was corny and Boo Smith, Jr. who plays Tee Neechy in Hoodlum" should have been cast in that role. If you have ever seen Steel in the comic book you would know that Boo Smith, Jr. looks exactly like him! But I guess, since the movie was partially produced by Quincy Jones, the "Hollywood" connection could not be broken. Although Quincy can be faulted there, I commend him for his ability to employ so many young African American artist for the soundtrack.

Spawn was created by a European-American named Todd McFarlane. The character "Spawn" is spiritually torn between good and evil because he has made a deal with devil in the name of love. I find it very interesting and "comical" that this sort of theme has been re-created by a white artist and has been selling so well with all people . Actually this situation can be viewed as a metaphor for African-Americans or people of color in general. Before the movie was released Spawn was released as a cartoon on HBO for all the comic book fans. Unfortunately the movie producers changed Jason Wynn, who is Black to a white guy named Terry Fitzgerald for the movie. McFarlane said they made Jason white for the movie because they thought it would "add another dimension"?????

Spawn opened big at the box office on its opening weekend behind the predictable, patriotic, no Black people scripted drama Air Force One with 21.5 million dollars. I think that the HBO version of Spawn makes the movie version look like SPAM! However in the theater I viewed the movie at, everybody was loving it, maybe because it was free?

Then again, I wasted my time watching How to be a Playa but I felt like I had Nothing to Lose cause it was free and Money Talks. Many of our younger generation acted as if the release of How to be a Playa was a major Event Horizon. I guess they don't remember When We Were Kings. So if you happen to see two Men in Black (skin) in your theatres counting how many African Americans they can find on screen, it might be me and Charles. By the way a Steven Spielberg movie featuring my namesake Joesph Cinque will be released this November. The movie will be called Amistad and if you have comments about it you can Contact me at my e-mail address,, for your review.

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Editor's Note(12/9/97): To read Cinque's review of Amistad, go to the following site:

Cinematic Themes by Cinque Brown

© Copyright 1997. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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