Where Are Hollywood’s Next Generation of Black Movie Stars?

Actor Chadwick Boseman attends the "Get On Up" premiere at The Apollo Theater on July 21, 2014 in New York City. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America)
Actor Chadwick Boseman attends the “Get On Up” premiere at The Apollo Theater on July 21, 2014 in New York City. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America)

As “Get On Up” hits theaters, all eyes are on the next generation.

Even before Chadwick Boseman finished shooting Universal’s James Brown biopic Get on Up, out Aug. 1, he was approached to star in new projects as Sam Cooke, Richard Pryor and, in Ang Lee’s planned boxing movie, Muhammad Ali. “I was like, ‘No. I can’t do that. Really?’ ” laughs Boseman, who last year fronted the Jackie Robinson baseball biopic 42. “That’s too much.”

That Boseman, 32, would be courted to anchor upcoming films about three African-American icons speaks to his talent and experience. But it also highlights a harsh reality in Hollywood: There aren’t many choices. As the first generation of global black movie stars ages out of leading-man roles, the heirs apparent to Will Smith, 45; Denzel Washington, 59; and Eddie Murphy, 53, have not established themselves at the box office. “When you look at the landscape of up-and-coming talent, besides Chadwick and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), there really aren’t a lot of names that come to mind, and that’s an area of concern for us,” says Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association. “We haven’t really done enough to cultivate the next generation. It’s one thing to appear in a movie here or there, but it’s another to really build a rich career.”

In the 1990s and well into the 2000s, Hollywood boasted a throng of bankable black stars, with Smith (Independence Day: $817.4 million worldwide gross), Washington (American Gangster: $266.5 million) and Murphy (The Nutty Professor: $274 million) able to get movies greenlighted and open them worldwide. Smith and Washington still can command $20 million per picture in the right role, and they have broken through with overseas audiences, who haven’t always been receptive to black stars. But with that trio and other successful black actors — including Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman and Forest Whitaker — all past 40, the question is which actors will make up the next wave of A-list black stars.

In addition to Boseman, several under-40 black actors recently have been cast in promising roles. Jordan, 27, will play the Human Torch in Fox’s The Fantastic Four reboot, making him one of the first black actors to play a lead superhero that was white in the comics. John Boyega, 22, landed a key role in Disney’s Star Wars: Episode VII, currently shooting. Anthony Mackie, 35, played The Falcon in April’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. X-Men: Days of Future Past actor Omar Sy, 36, co-stars in next summer’s Jurassic World. And Damon Wayans Jr., 31, is being groomed for a Beverly Hills Cop-style film breakout in Let’s Be Cops, out Aug. 13.

“What I keep saying is we have to look at roles that are written and not assume that just because they don’t say African-American or they don’t say black, we can’t cast African-Americans,” says Clint Culpepper, president of Screen Gems, which often releases films with black casts. But Hollywood follows the money, and no under-35 black star has carried a global mega-grossing film in recent years. None besides perhaps Mackie carry name recognition with general audiences.

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SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter
Rebecca Ford

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