Filling the Void: Black Fathers Impact Felt Far Beyond the Screen

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Black fathers have gotten a pretty bad rap lately. Usually portrayed as deadbeats or simply not as loving or caring as fathers of other groups, that perception has begun to change recently, even if it was never backed up by statistics.

T.V. and film have helped in recent years to bring black dads from outside the margins of media, and into the presence of American’s homes. Films and shows like South Central, He Got Game, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, showed the nuances of black dads (or uncles) and the relationships with their children at various stages of their lives. Each portrayal left an impact well beyond the medium it was broadcast in.

In the 1992 film South Central, we meet Bobby (played by Glenn Plummer) who is a small time dope pusher and gang member who just had a baby. He winds up doing time for his crimes and watches as his son not only grows up without him, but starts making the same bad decisions that he did just a few years earlier. We watch as Bobby eventually leaves prison as a changed man, and risks his own life to rescue his son from the streets.

 

With the film He Got Game, Denzel Washington also plays a formerly incarcerated father to a son living in the hood, though the circumstances are far different than South Central.

Here we see Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by NBA hall-of-famer Ray Allen) become a top prospect while playing ball during his senior year of high school. We witness him have to deal with all the trials and tribulations of his new found fame. Between the influencers, coaches, and his girlfriend tugging at him, there’s his father, Jake Shuttlesworth, currently rotting away in prison who’s just been freed temporarily. The catch is that his son must sign with the alma mater of the warden or Jake goes back to jail. We see the two fates of these men become intertwined with literally everything hinging on the outcome of a game of one-on-one.

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Ray Allen and Denzel Washington in He Got Game

Finally, there’s everyone favorite dad: Uncle Phil. Uncle Phil, played by James Avery, who sadly passed away recently, was a staple on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Uncle Phil was the stern, but fair patriarch of the Banks household, who always seemed to get into it with Will.

It was one scene however that truly showed Avery’s emotional touch, not only as an actor, but as a person. When Will’s father has to leave suddenly, Will gives a speech about how he doesn’t need him and he’ll be just fine. The thing this, it just wasn’t true. Will begins to break down and Uncle Phil rushes to  console him.

What’s amazing about this scene is that up until Will’s father leaves, everything else after that is unscripted. Will Smith, the person, actually broke down and started crying, not the character he was portraying. James Avery realized this immediately and doesn’t hesitate to hug him. For Avery, being a father meant stepping in, even when the cameras stopped rolling.

If your reading this and you’re a father, Happy Father’s Day to you. I’m curious, who were some of your favorite T.V./film dads? Feel free to comment below.