What are the best, most memorable and quotable lines from the long history of Black cinema? That’s a great question I’m here to answer with my Top 10 list.
Now, Blackfolk have been making movies for a good minute… since Oscar Micheaux laid the foundation with his “Race Movies” designed to push back against the racist and whack way the “mainstream” movie-making types in the 19-teens and ‘20s were “misrepresenting” us. From Micheaux to Melvin Van Peebles to Gordan Parks to Bill Dukes to Spike Lee to John Singleton to F. Gary Gray to Euzhan Palcy to Julia Dash to Ava DuVernay, and many, many more, there have been plenty of classic flicks. There have also been some crazy, memorable lines that we quote and recite over and over to this day, either with our crew or even to ourselves.
I’m here to set the record straight in terms of the best of the best. Or at least give you the lines that I can’t get out of my head… and don’t want to.
So, check’em out and let me know what you think. Which quotable lines did I leave off? Of the ones on my list, do my rankings make sense, or am I completely out of my mind? I’m very open to the feedback; so, send it my way at email@example.com.
But whether you agree with me or not, I hope you at least have fun judging one brother’s perspective.
#10: “Hey auntie!” (Killmonger / Michael B. Jordan; Black Panther, 2018)
This movie was mos def one for the culture. And it did not disappoint for memorable lines, like when the Black Panther / Prince T’Challa first reunites (semi-rescues) his ex-boo Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o and says meekly and almost star-struck, “Hi.” Or M’baku’s (Wintson Duke) exchange with Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), about feeding him to his children, followed by, “I’m kidding. We are vegetarians.” But the winner is Killmonger (Jordan) introducing himself to his “long-lost” family. What’s even more amazing about this line is, it was improvised by Jordan! It wasn’t even in the script, but it’s mos def in our memory banks for unforgettable moments from an unforgettable movie.
#9: “You’re the best Devon. But when you’re on the field, nobody hears you. They hear the band. One band. One sound.” (Sean Taylor / Leonard Roberts, Drumline, 2002)
That mantra, “One band. One Sound,” serves as one of the main themes for the 2002 breakout classic Drumline. We first hear it from Atlanta A&T University marching band section leaders as the answer to band leader, Dr. James Lee’s (Orlando Jones) query, “Section leaders, what is our concept?” And they reply in unison: “One band. One sound!” Powerful stuff. But for most memorable lines, I chose the moment when the section leader for the drummers, Sean Taylor (Leonard Roberts), is engaged in one of his many one-on-one confrontations with the movie’s main character Devon Miles (Nick Cannon). If you haven’t seen the movie, you’re probably not reading this, but to paint the picture anyway, there’s been beef between Sean and Devon from jump. This particular scene finds the two of them alone in the band room, with Sean using a machine that prints out the beats he creates, and Devon waiting, impatiently, for his turn. They exchange words: “Look man, I got some stuff in my head I need to put down, so hurry up with your little rudimentary sh*t” (Devon / Nick); “I’ve had it with your no-talent, wanna-be gangsta ass. You wanna prove that I’m once and for all better than you, strap up” (Sean / Leonard). “Bring it on, big brother tin man” (Devon / Nick). And the drum-off ensues. And while drumming, they go back-and-forth with the insults: “Fake thug, little wanna be drummer boy” (Sean / Leonard). “Whatever, you big, bald-headed, boozhie, my first drum havin’” (Devon / Nick). “No Method Man” (Sean / Leonard). “Fluff Daddy” (Devon / Nick). Finally, Sean has to admit to himself and his competitor/rival Devon, what is apparent to everyone watching. And that’s where this classic line comes in. Because it not only reiterates the movie’s foundational theme (One band. One sound.), it serves as a major turning point in the relationship between these two talented brothers.
#8: “Let me tell you somethin’. This here, right now, at this very moment, is all that matters to me. I love you. That’s urgent like a motherf**ker.” (Darius Lovehall / Larenz Tate, Love Jones, 1997)
Personal confession: I’m not sure if I could stay married if I didn’t include this iconic line from the incomparable Love Jones. You could really make a Top 10 list of classic lines just from this movie alone. But, I’m just gonna leave this one with you right here, and let you go rediscover those other gems for yourself, possibly in one of them Netflix & chill situations. “Is that alright?”
#7: “Let me tell you something, and don’t you ever forget it. Success is nothing without someone you love to share it with.” (Brian / Billie Dee Williams; Mahogany, 1975)
I understand that this choice is outside the wheelhouse of millennials and Gen Z members. But there was such a thing as Black Cool before y’all were born. And you best believe, Billie Dee Williams epitomized Black Cool back in the day. He was Denzel, Idris, Larenz, etc. before Denzel, Idris, Larenz, etc. And even though his co-star in Mahogany was a global star as a singer with the Supremes and then her own solo career, Diana Ross was and is so much more than Tracey Ellis Ross’s mama. I don’t think Diana Ross gets enough credit for her acting. She did the damn thang in this movie and another with Billie Dee as her co-star, Lady Sings the Blues, about the one and only Billie Holiday. But without giving away too much of this movie, if you haven’t seen it, the line that pierced the spirit of Black America was Billie Dee’s comeback words to a slew of insults thrown at him by his former girlfriend Tracy Chambers (Ross) has stayed with Black America ever since. But y’all young’uns don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout that!
#6: “Nola Darling will never marry some non-modeling, non-weight-lifting, pseudo-Black man like yourself.” (Mars Blackmon / Spike Lee; She’s Gotta Have It, 1986)
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me, that I’m a huge Spike Lee fan. And that fandom began when I was in undergrad at UT and took a friend to see some movie by this supposed up-and-coming director, Spike Lee. The theater was one of those that only showed independent films. It was kinda dingy and right there on Guadalupe, across the street from campus. Me and my homie Kellee E. had no idea what to expect. But it didn’t take long for us to realize we were watching an instant classic. Since then, I’ve seen this movie only about 11.7 million times. And believe me, it’s full of memorable lines. In fact, one scene, the Thanksgiving Dinner scene, has more classic lines than hundreds of movies combined: “Gimme some more meat, man.” “Fake Billie Dee mother f**ker.” “What about you? You ain’t down, so chill.” And more. But my favorite is Mars Blackmon’s (Lee) response to Greer Childs’ (John Canada Terrell) remarks about the main character’s (Nola Darling / Tracy Camilla Johns) food being worthy of “marrying material.” Yes, the modern-day Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It is good, but please check out this original classic.
#5: “They call me Mr. Tibbs!” (Virgil Tibbs / Sidney Poitier, In the Heat of the Night, 1967)
Any time I’m making a “best of” list regarding Black movies, or movies in general, the 1967 classic In the Heat of the Night often finds its way in. I mean, c’mon. For me and for many others, that scene when the main character Philadelphia detective Virgil Tibbs slaps the taste out of the mouth of the most powerful white supremacist in Sparta, Mississippi, Endicott, played quite “racistly” by actor Larry Gates. But long before that unforgettable movie moment, it’s already been firmly established that Detective Tibbs is THE MAN. I’m not going to spoil the power of this line by giving you the context. But here’s the clip below that shows Detective Tibbs ain’t scared of “nobody.” But FYI: this line had Blackfolk so hyped that Hollywood made a Virgil Tibbs movie a few years later, and guess what the title was? You already know. They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!
#4: “Do revolutionaries eat fried chicken?” (Grady / Bill Nunn, School Daze, 1988)
So, the brothers, or Fellas Phi Fellas, of Mission College, led by campus revolutionary, Dap Dunlap (Laurence Fishburne), are somewhat at odds. Dap wants the brothers to commit to carrying on his plans for the revolution, even in the face of almost certain consequences and repercussions from the Mission administration and board. Dap’s crew is down, but not that down. They’ve got scholarships and legacies and the investments and hopes and dreams of their parents and communities of origin on their shoulders, and they’re trying to convince Dap that in this instance, he may need to ease up and chill. But Dap ain’t tryin’ to hear none of that, and calls them every kind of wanna-be Uncle Toms he can think of. His crew then leaves Dap to brew in his own frustration and disappointment, alone. But just like any crew you or I have ever been part of, after the flare-up, comes the reconciliation. Because, yo, it’s all love! And so, just a few moments later, Dap’s crew, consisting of Grady (Bill Nunn), Edge (Kadeem Hardison), Jordan (Branford Marsalis), Booker T. (Eric Payne) and Monroe (James Bond III), come knocking, and offer up a peace offering in the form of a question: “Do revolutionaries eat fried chicken?” A line delivered by the late, great Bill Nunn. Rest in Power “Radio Raheem”! And FYI, the ensuing Kentucky Fried Chicken scene is not only one of the most memorable of the movie, it offers many movie-goers their first glimpse of the one and only Samuel L. Jackson as a local named Leeds, who responds to Booker T’s question about when will he be finished with the salt, with a response that only makes sense in Blackworld: “What time it is?!”
#3: “Sh*t. That ain’t nothin’ but Ultra-Perm.” (Clarence / Eddie Murphy, Coming to America, 1988)
First off, this entire movie is classic line after classic line. “Pound for pound, Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest fighter ever live” (Morris, the always eating barber / Arsenio Hall). “Oh, there they go. There they go. Every time I start talkin’ ‘bout boxing, a white man got to pull Rocky Marciano out they ass. Dat’s dey one. Dats dey one” (Clarence, the forever talking barber / Murphy). “F**k you, f**k you and f**k you. Who’s next?” (Clarence / Murphy). “Godd*mn boy, what’s that; some kinda weave or somethin’?” (Clarence / Murphy). “There’s a God somewhere” (Reverend Brown / Arsenio). And so many more! But, it’s Clarence’s response to Prince Akeem telling him he doesn’t use chemicals in his hair, “just juices and berries,” that wins the prize for me.
#2: “Any time…………… Lisa McDowell.” (Prince Akeem / Eddie Murphy, Coming to America, 1988)
Okay. Maybe there’s another prize-winner from this movie, as well. But, unlike the other nominees that are just straight funny, this one brings the humor and the heart. The line comes during the scene when the “queen” Prince Akeem has been searching for (Shari Headley / Lisa McDowell) is visibly upset because her boyfriend, Darrly Jenks (Eriq La Salle), has just announced to a house full of party people that the two are engaged to be married—without sharing any of this with Lisa, heir to the McDowell empire. Akeem, who has yet to be revealed to Lisa as prince of Zamunda, sees her in distress and comforts her with his presence, conversation and the fact that he just plain gets her. But when Akeem’s reminded that he’s at the party in a “domestic capacity,” he gets up from the swings the pair are setting on to go back to work. It’s at this moment Lisa thanks him for spending time with her. And Prince Akeem’s / Murphy’s response serves as a master class in the power of timing. And because I’m a sucker for comedies and love stories, this line right here brings it all together: “Any time…………… Lisa McDowell.”
#1: “Hey. Double or nuthin’.” (Quincy McCall / Omar Epps, Love and Basketball, 2000)
I told y’all I’m a sucker for love stories, especially romantic comedies. So, it only makes sense that something from Love and Basketball or The Best Man or Brown Sugar or Hav Plenty etc. would make the list. I’m putting my money on the line that changed everything between Quincy McCall (Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) in Love and Basketball. And if I say any more, and you haven’t seen the movie, I’ll spoil it. But chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know what Quincy meant when he said those four simple words: “Hey. Double or nuthin’.”
Honorable Mention: “Good morning Shaaaaame.” (Wayman / Corwin Hawkins; A Low Down Dirty Shame, 1994)
I am absolutely certain this line is on no one else’s “best movie lines” list. But it’s on mine, because every time I watch this movie and see/hear these words delivered, I’m crying laughing. Every time.