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Obscure Black C-List Actors: Roger Guenveur Smith

25 August 2008 8 Comments

Whenever I try to reference Roger Guenveur Smith I always end up using the phrase “that really lightskinned guy with the ill cheekbones.” And no, I don’t mean Giancarlo Esposito, a common mistake considering both have been in multiple Spike Lee joints. In fact, Roger Guenveur Smith has been Spike Lee’s “color consciousness muse,” in films such as Malcolm X, Do The Right Thing, and Get on the Bus. In each of these films Smith’s racial ambiguity is used to to highlight racial tensions, make a point about skin color in the black community, or simply represent the shade spectrum of black folks. Roger Guenveur Smith earned a doctorate in history from Yale then wandered over to the Yale School of Drama, where he cultivated the kind of thespianism that has since become his strong suit. I think that his stage training is what has led to a few accusations of overacting in his television work , especially his turns in Oz and the ill-fated Panther (Angela Bassett was in his class at Yale and she has also been accused of the same). Like many c-listers, the overarching theme of Smith’s career has been a series of smaller film and television roles and critical praise for his stage work in pieces like A Huey P. Newton Story, Who Killed Bob Marley? and Inside The Creole Mafia, a stage show examining color classification in the black community. Perhaps Smith is too smart for television and blockbuster movies, and that’s ok with me; the black intelligentsia is always in need of someone who will bear the heavy cross of closely examining skin color through the performing arts. Unfortunately the audio is not synced with the video, but take a listen to this excerpt from Creole Mafia – my knee-jerk reaction is that we don’t need to be discussing color categorization in this day and age, but in reality it’s a conversation that the black community somehow still hasn’t successfully finished having.


  • (fŭng'kē) [blak] [chik] said:

    He’s definitely one of my favorites actors. I saw him in the Huey P. Newton and he was amazing.

  • Ill Mami said:

    “Octaroon. It’s not a cookie”


    BTW Giancarlo Esposito can GET it.

  • Lola Gets said:

    I cosign with Funky Black Chick – was amazing in that Newton play and he could get it!

    Giancarlo Esposito, no go. hehe.


  • Reginald Dorsey said:

    Which side is that nose – is it the Whop side or the nigga side, Rudy? (c) Malcolm Little

  • Invisible Woman said:

    Sorry, I can’t stand this dude!

    Giancarlo on the other hand…..


  • Thembi said:

    IW! I was waitin for your comment. I was gonna c list him like a year ago, remember?

  • Luscious Librarian said:

    I second that Fung Ke. A Huey P. Newton Story was great. I love one man shows, John Leguizamo is really good for a one man show.

    You don’t see too many recognized black one woman shows though.

  • Invisible Woman said:

    Thembi–I laughed when I saw you did this…I remember I stole your thunder for the “milk carton alert”….which reminds me…time to do one! :-)

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