Obscure Black C-Listers: The Black Dynamite Edition
I just caught a screening of the Michael Jai White blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite, which hits theaters October 16 (I will provide a full review next week). Before I even got to the theater the cast list had my toes tingling with my usual passion for the Black C-Lister. Tommy Davidson and Arsenio Hall are well-known actors who’ve been hard to find in recent years, and I’ve already written about the exhibits of wackness that are Bokeem Woodbine and Miguel Nunez, but almost everyone else in the cast has been on my obscure actor radar since I started featuring the lesser known and praised black actor, so let’s go!
Obba Babatunde is a Tony nominated stage actor who has been in too many television and film productions to name, including memorable turns in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Life, and as Berry Gordy in The Temptations movie. He had recurring roles on The Young & The Restless, Half & Half, and Dawson’s Creek, and like any credible black actor has had small roles on numerous sitcoms. Why can’t we seem to commit his name to memory? Maybe its our Eurocentricity at play, but he ditched his birth name, Donald Cohen, at the beginning of his career, probably because he looks way less like a Cohen than like a Babatunde.
Darrel Heath is always making a funny face, which makes sense considering his background in stand-up comedy, including repeat performances on Def Comedy Jam back in the day. He wiled out in Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood as Toothpick, and lent his silliness to such enjoyable ridiculousness as Woo, B.A.P.S., and The Wayans Brothers. What a clown. I like it.
Chris Spencer hosted Vibe magazine’s short-lived and unceremoniously canceled late night talk show in 1997, but has worked steadily as a comedian and writer ever since, including contributions to BET’s Comicview and the 2009 BET Awards (insert side-eye here). He was also in Dont Be a Menace…, Two Can Play At That Game, and has a number of film projects in development.
Sally Richardson Whitfield still looks good. Actually, Salli still looks great. As much as I hate that women are always held to that standard first and examined as actors second, the wife of Dondre Whitfield (The Cosby Show‘s Robert) doesn’t seemed to have aged and looks like a scrumptious slice of 1970’s black power with a huge ‘fro instead of the Indian hair look that made her famous, so much so that I haven’t recognized in any of her roles since she cut it off. I still picture her most readily from 1994’s A Low Down Dirty Shame but she has since thrived in the science fiction genre (Gargoyles, Eureka, I Am Legend) and has had recurring roles on C.S.I: Miami and Family Law.
Tucker Smallwood is a G. Square-jawed and stern-faced with post-racial skin tone and features, Smallwood is an actor, director, musician, and writer. His rather blasphemous portrayal of God on The Sarah Silverman Program raised a few eyebrows but was in such good fun that you had to wonder whether or not he was in on the joke. Smallwood has had recurring roles on Seinfeld as three different characters (and is one of the few black folks to ever even be on that show), Malcolm & Eddie, and a slew of science fiction pieces including Star Trek Enterprise.
Mykelti Williamson is one of my not-so-secret crushes, which is way less embarrassing to admit now that he’s moved so far past the character he’s best known for, Bubba in Forest Gump. Williamson had actually been in dozens of major productions before that but has always flown suspiciously under the radar – I’ll blame the awkward fact that his Blackfoot Indian name is actually pronounced “Michael – Tee” for that. You’d recognize him most recently from 24, C.S.I New York, or this year’s Final Destination, but only if you watched any of that stuff. Every time I see him it takes a few minutes for me to remember that it’s old grown Bubba with his lower jaw tucked back in. In 1998 Williamson was acquitted of stalking his ex-wife and stabbing her friend. He was also an alternate for “The Lockers” dance troupe on Soul Train. Intriguing, if not perplexing, stuff.
Kym Whitley is such a mess, but in a good way. She’s played some of the most deliciously ridiculous roles, including a crazed fan of Marlon’s on The Wayans Brothers Show, Suga in Next Friday, and prostitutes on both Reno 911 and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I’ll suspend my black feminism for a few moments to say that she does maladjusted black womanhood great comedic justice and should get way more work. Sure, I hated Oh Drama! on BET (remember, 2000’s black version of The View?), but at this point I understand that I should just blame BET and keep Kym on my radar even after all of these years.