Can’t Knock The Hustle: Black Faces That Seemed To Be In Every Black Movie And Show Back In The Day

July 9, 2013  |  
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Have you ever watched a black film or TV show and thought to yourself, “Dang! He/she stays in a movie!”? It’s not that they’re the greatest actors of all time, but these people were just very good at getting in where they could fit in for a check. Whether they’re playing an aunt, a mom, a dad, an ogled over love interest or a shady character, these people have had some type of role, big or small in most of the movies we’ve tuned in to over the years. I dare you to look at this list and say you don’t agree.

Jenifer Lewis

No list like this would be accurate without talking about Jenifer Lewis. This woman was never without work in the ’90s as she was the go-to relative on-screen, playing Will Smith’s aunt on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from time to time, to playing someone’s mother in everything, including What’s Love Got To Do With It? If it’s a black movie you like, she’s been in it, and in memorable fashion. And if it’s a black movie you can catch on BET in the afternoons, she’s probably been in that too. Dead Presidents, The Preacher’s Wife, The Temptations, The Brothers, Nora’s Hair Salon and on and on. She’s been one of the busiest actresses in Hollywood for years, and you didn’t even know it.

Clifton Powell

You know you were thinking about his face before I gave you his name! He’s either a bad guy in his movies (Dead Presidents), or he’s the most colorful person on screen (remember Pinky in Next Friday and Friday After Next?). And let’s just keep it real, he’s been in some of the most hood fabulous movies ever: Hot Boyz, The Breaks, Civil Brand, Play’d: A Hip Hop Story, and Who Made The Potato Salad? Yes, the latter is a real film. Powell is a pretty good actor, and if you didn’t know, he goes hard for Tyler Perry. Remember that time he threatened to beat up Spike Lee for him?

Robinne Lee

Robinne’s gorgeous face has been in so many movies (though you might not have known her name like that), and she even popped up last week as the wife of a cheating Omari Hardwick in the pilot/movie for Being Mary Jane. You’ve seen her face in Hav Plenty, on the show House of Payne, Deliver Us From Eva and more. And though she isn’t this dynamic force on-screen, I have to say that on Being Mary Jane, she had my full attention when she went in on Gabrielle Union’s character for confessing that she slept with her husband, ending her “speech” with, “I think I’ll keep him.”

Vivica A. Fox

When she wasn’t playing a maneater (Two Can Play That Game and its sequels, Booty Call, Getting Played), she was the supportive wife (Soul Food, Kingdom Come, Why Do Fools Fall In Love?) or the love interest (Juwanna Man, Boat Trip, Motives). Vivica isn’t the most dynamic actress you’ve ever seen, but she’s entertaining enough and was pretty drooled over back in the day. It’s clearly worked out well for Viv because she’s been in nearly 40 films over the years, and I’m sure you’ve seen more than half of them unintentionally.

Jazsmin Lewis

You know this face! The actress of both black, white and East Indian background has consistently played someone’s girlfriend/wife or homie for years in black movies. Whether her hair was blonde, black, or brown, she was everywhere, showing up in movies like How To Be A PlayerBarbershop (and its sequel), Deliver Us From Eva, Traci Townsend, I Do…I Did! and many other movies (and straight to video joints) over the years. She’s still working though. She just finished The Cheaters Club and My Sister’s Wedding.

Bernie Mac

Before he got his own show and was high-profile enough to run with Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle and George Clooney in Oceans Eleven movies, the late Bernie Mac was out here putting in work. Even if he didn’t have major roles in the movies he showed up in, every time he showed up on-screen, he was memorable. From the trifling cheating pastor in Friday to the creeping…trifling pastor in Booty Call, to the self-hating police officer in Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood, and Flip the homeless guy in Above The Rim, Mac’s work ethic was the definition of hustle, and it truly paid off.

Mari Morrow

With her curly hair and bright smile, Mari had a different look that made her a sex symbol from the day she popped up as Wendy Mallow on Baywatch back in ’92 and played one of Eddie’s girlfriends on Family Matters. Morrow’s face popped up in many television shows over the years, and as for the movies, she’s been in How to Be A Player, Dead Men on Campus, House Party 4, Hair Show, Traci Townsend, and most recently, Pastor Brown.

Essence Atkins

Atkins has been on television since the late ’80s, including having a regular role The Cosby Show. Like many other actresses on this list, she was in Deliver Us From Eva, along with How High, Love For Sale, and Preacher’s Kid. And because of her ongoing working relationship with folks in the Wayans family, which we think started back when she played a girlfriend of Shawn’s on The Wayans Bros., she was able to snag roles in a few colorful comedies over the last few years, including Dance Flick and the hit, A Haunted House.

Richard T. Jones

Personally, I know Jones best from The Wood and the Why Did I Get Married? movies, but he’s been around (I don’t know if he’s always been bald though) for a long while, starting his career in 1993. He went from Ike Turner, Jr. in What’s Love Got To Do With It? in a curly Jheri curl and fro, and Travis in Traci Townsend (with Jazsmin Lewis), to the hateful Mike in Why Did I Get Married? He’s been a staple in many many popular black shows and movies (including Aaron in Girlfriends), and I know I’m not the only one who saw him in the movie Lockdown? That’s a BET classic!

Samuel Jackson

Samuel Jackson wouldn’t be one of the wealthiest actors in Hollywood if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s been trying to get in any and everybody’s movie since 1972. He’s been a superhero (in animated form and in real time), a radio show host, a robber, a drug addict, a bar owner, a scientist, a hit man, a cheating husband, Shaft, and a whole list of other characters. These opportunities have allowed him to work with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and in the process, become one of the most popular ones out there. If Sam Jackson isn’t a hustler in this entertainment industry, I don’t know who is.

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