If you are able to get your hands on unedited versions of Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny and other early cartoons, you will find caricatures of Black people. In early movies and TV shows, Black people and other people of color played stereotypical roles. Predominantly White audiences would not accept Black people in serious roles. White studio executives would not take the financial risk of portraying people of color in serious roles. These demoralizing figures were so engrained in the minds of all people that Black people accepted it and everyone else expected it. Yesterday’s portrayal of Black people might even be better than the fools we see on TV today (see my previous blog).
Television has not always been kind to Black people. There have also been many shows portraying Black people positively, many of which took place in the 1980’s. As I continue to study the history of Black people in film I am often reminded of the many strides that we have made and of how far we still have to go. Yesterday I watched Richard Pryor portray a Black president in his TV show of the same name. It had me thinking about the number of times a Black president has been portrayed in film. Before Barack Obama became president, the idea of a Black president was some imaginary idea only portrayed in movies, TV shows, books, and even cartoons. Some roles were serious and others cartoonish. I have provided a list of Black presidents portrayed by Black people. There were other “Black face” presidents, but I will not include those in this list. Let me know if I missed any.
1933 – Rufus Jones for President: Sammy Davis Jr. (Short film)
This is the earliest known film portrayal of a Black president. This was also Sammy Davis Jr.’s film debut.
1972 – The Man: James Earl Jones (Movie)
A film adaptation of a novel written by Irving Wallace. It was written for the screen by Rod Serling.
1977 – Richard Pryor Show: Richard Pryor (TV)
Sketch comedy starring Richard Pryor. Search President Pryor on YouTube.
1987 – Spiral Zone: Episode – The Imposter (Animated Series)
1980’s cartoon with the first and only portrayal of a Black president in cartoon form.
1997 – The Fifth Element: Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. (Movie)
Sci-fi movie starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. Debo actually does a pretty good job in this film.
1998 – Deep Impact: Morgan Freeman (Movie)
Morgan Freeman does a great job in this apocalyptic film. His cadences would be mimicked by the next person on this list.
2001 – 24: Dennis Haysbert (TV)
This is probably my favorite Black president on film.
2003 – Head of State: Chris Rock (Movie)
Funny man Chris Rock plays a long shot for President in this film.
2004 – Chappelle’s Show: Dave Chappelle (TV)
Dave imagines what it would be like to be a Black president. He wrote the skit because he felt like the media was too soft on Bush. He stated that things would be different if we ever had a Black president. *prophetic*
2006 – Idiocracy: Terry Crews (Movie)
The movie is interesting and so is Terry Crews’ portrayal of the President.
2007 – 24: DB Woodside (TV)
DB Woodside plays Wayne Palmer, the brother of David Palmer, who was the Black president in previous seasons of 24.
2010 – The Event: Blair Underwood (TV)
Blair Underwood plays an Afro-Cuban president in this short-lived series.