Based loosely on the life and times of Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas, American Gangster was an attempt to do for America’s black underworld what the Godfather films did for the American Mafia.
The cast is major league. Pam Grier reestablished her career playing the title character and Robert Forster got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Max Cherry, the soft-spoken and world-weary bail bondsman. But it is Samuel L. Jackson, over-the-top as the gunrunner and principal bad guy Ordell Robbie, who steals this picture.
Childish Gambino is the not-really-a-side-project rap persona of multiple-threat megatalent Donald Glover. What he’s most famous for depends on your perspective but before the Gambino project took off he won an Emmy for writing on the third season of 30 Rock, launched a stand up career and starred as Troy Barnes in the very deeply brilliant Community. He’s 28.
This setup abounds with comic potential, and Diamond wrings plenty of laughs out of the awkward dynamics at hand. But there is much more here than just the usual dysfunction junction drollery. The youths, especially Taylor, have a lot to say about the way the world looks now, and much of their criticism is justified.
The escalating one-upmanship led to some truly bizarre innovations, such as casting famous boxers in the lead roles. Reynolds described how Peter Jackson, a famous black boxer, figured into the entertainments: “Uncle Tom, between acts or just before dying, would momentarily trade his slave costume for boxing trunks and spar for three rounds with another actor before resuming his tragic role.”
Given the grandeur of its lofty aspirations, the play inevitably fails on some levels, like the idea of America itself. But the failure is spectacular, memorable and exciting.
Sandke offers no critical commentary about this piece of advice that was given Armstrong after he left New Orleans: “When you go up north, be sure and get yourself a white man that will put his hand on your shoulder and say, ‘This is my nigger.’” Nor does he state that there was anything objectionable about black musicians being allowed to play in Storyville brothels and cabarets, but never to be customers. The same went for “black and tan” nightspots like New York’s Cotton Club, where blacks made music and waited tables, while “tan, tall and terrific” showgirls entertained the exclusively white clientele.
Comedian Mo’Nique, best known for urban comedies like Phat Girlz and Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, gives such a frightening performance as Mary Jones, the Academy should just hand over the Oscar statuette to her now. Her scene towards the end when she is confronted by both Precious and Weiss for all her wicked deeds is enough to make your stomach churn.
The granddaughter of slaves on both parents’ sides of the family, Simone’s stardom coincided with the civil rights struggle in the U.S. If it is necessary to find a defining moment in her life, it may have come even earlier than the Curtis Institute rejection. At her first public concert, at age ten in Tryon’s Town Hall, her parents were asked to give up their seats to a white couple. The child protested out loud until her father and mother were allowed to stay in their places.
For someone who radiated pure joy, his beginnings were Deep South Dickensian. Born in New Orleans in August 4, 1901, his unwed mother was a sometime prostitute and his absent father worked in a turpentine factory. As an unsupervised child, he worked unloading boats and selling newspapers on the sidewalk. Evenings, he would stand outside nightclubs and listen to the great trumpet players of the day, including Buddy Bolden and King Oliver, who would later become his mentor.
Dominique’s worst luck was to have been born in Houston, Texas, the principal city of Harris County. Since 1976, Texas has executed more than four times as many prisoners as any other state, and beginning with George W. Bush’s term as governor, it became the death penalty capital of the country. Harris County has committed more people to death than any other in Texas – they’re slap-happy about vengeance.
When confronted with Cotton in a police lineup, Thompson had nary a shred of doubt that he was the man who had violated her. He went to trial and, after conviction, to jail. The only problem was that Cotton was innocent. As DNA evidence would prove eleven years later, Thompson had in fact been raped by a man named Bobby Poole, who served time for other offenses in the same jail as Cotton.