This week on MovieZoot.com, we salute four extremely fine performances by black actors in four very classic films that had tremendous impact on the movie business including Duane Jones in the 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead, Fred Williamson in the 1987 blacksploitation action film Black Cobra, Brock Peters in his unforgettable 1962 performance in To Kill a Mockingbird, and South African actor, politician and royal heir Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the 1964 epic war classic Zulu.
Sit back and enjoy the stellar performances of these outstanding actors and maybe even reflect on the many contributions of black actors and actresses – whether they be in horror, action, drama or historical war films – to all of our memorable movie-going experiences.
George A. Romero’s 1968 independent horror film Night of the Living Dead stars Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea and tells the ghoulish story of seven people trapped in a farmhouse in Western Pennsylvania that is attacked by a large and growing group of unnamed “living dead” monsters. Completed on a $114,000 budget, the film premiered on October 1, 1968 and became a financial success, grossing $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally. It has been a horror cult classic ever since.
Black Cobra is the 1987 Stelvio Massi and Umberto Lenzi Italian blaxploitation action/thriller/martial arts film starring Fred Williamson and Eva Gimaldi where a detective protects a murder witness from a vicious gang of evil bikers. This is the first of a series of four Cobra character film sequels following the exploits of career detective Robert “Bob” Malone played by Williamson.
To Kill a Mockingbird is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee’s classic coming-of-age tale examining fear, mental illness and racial bias brought to light in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. The drama was intentionally shot in black & white to portray the societal contrasts of the time, and interpreted for the big screen by Robert Mulligan in 1962. This iconic movie stars Gregory Peck, Kim Stanley and Brock Peters and one of the first appearances on the screen from a very young Robert Duval. In 2003, the American Film Institute named Peck’s character Atticus Finch “The Greatest Movie Hero of the 20th Century,” and that’s really saying something!
Set in 1879, Zulu is the 1964 Cy Endfield grand-scale, historical war drama starring Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, James Booth, Michael Caine and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, telling the story of the Zulu nation, having stood up to the British forces with a resounding defeat, go on to the smaller battle of Rorke’s Drift. Narrated by Richard Burton, this epic and iconic film is treasured within the 500 Greatest Films by both Total Film and Empire magazines.