Blackfolk have forever been the epitome of cool, which is amazing when you think about all the “uncool” BS we’ve had to deal with in this Babylon. Whether on the playing field or silver screen, at the family reunion or on the J-O-B, we know how to bring the cool.
This list, however, focuses solely on the brothers and their work in movies and TV. Who are the coolest of all time? Keep reading and find out.
#10: Breno Mello (Orpheus), Black Orpheus – If you haven’t seen Black Orpheus, stop what you’re doing right now, and run to check out this classic. On the surface, this love story based on an ancient Greek tragedy may not sound like something worthy of producing Black cool, but “truss.” Brazilian actor Breno Mello delivered the performance of a lifetime as the co-lead in the movie that awakened hundreds of thousands of Blackfolk to our powerful presence outside of the U.S.
#9: Harry Belafonte (Joe), Carmen Jones – Harry Belafonte doesn’t have to play a role to be one of the coolest cats on the planet. But the cool he brought to Carmen Jones, along with the one and only Dorothy Dandridge, made that movie a timeless classic. You had to be one cool-A brother just to be on the screen with her.
#8: Mahershala Ali (voice of Uncle Aaron), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Now, I could have easily chosen bruhman for his role as Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes in Marvel’s Luke Cage, but I give the nod to Ali’s role as Uncle Aaron in this animated piece. And even though we don’t see Ali on the screen, he still brings his swagger to the performance in spades. And the relationship he has with his nephew Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is priceless. Hey.
#7: Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), In the Heat of the Night – It’s nearly impossible for folk younger than 50 to understand just how powerful a moment it was for the culture when Virgil Tibbs slapped the taste out of the mouth of Endicott (Larry Gates), the most powerful man in 1960s Sparta, MS. Poitier epitomized cool whenever he graced the big screen, but this movie role right here had him staring dead in the eye of white supremacy and refusing to blink.
#6: Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), The Matrix Series – C’mon man. Y’all already know.
#5: Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), Pulp Fiction – Of the many Academy Awards Oscar crimes in history, one of the most egregious may be the fact that John Travolta was nominated for Best Lead Actor in Pulp Fiction while Samuel L. Jackson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Neither took home the Oscar, but if you saw the movie, you know Samuel L. carries the entire film. His role was so powerful and horrifying and funny and cool, that it produced some of the most memorable quotes in movie history. And he did the damn thing in a jheri curl wig!
#4: Morris Day (Morris), Purple Rain – It would be a jailable offense if a list existed about the “coolest” anything and Morris Day was not at least in the conversation. And if you doubt Day’s level of cool, I suggest you go get you some “Chili Sauce” and answer this one question: What Time Is It?!?!
#3: Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington), Mo Better Blues – C’mon now, it’s Denzel. There’re about 50 movies I could have considered that would have fit this category (i.e. one of the most under-rated cool roles by Denzel was when he played the title role of Xavier Quinn in The Mighty Quinn). However, his role as Bleek in Mo Better Blues gets the nod here. In Blackworld, jazz musicians were known as the coolest humans to ever walk the planet. And Denzel exudes that level of old school “smoove” in this Spike Lee classic from beginning to end.
#2: Idris Elba (DCI John Luther), Luther – If you’ve even seen Luther, you already know I don’t need to explain this pick. At all! But for those who don’t know, peep this. DCI Luther has criminals of the most insidious sort and armed to the teeth, shaking in their boots. And he doesn’t even carry a gun. He just comes with his menacing cool… and that ancient wool coat that serves as his superhero cape. Because whenever you see that coat coming your way, yo playa, it’s over for you.
#1: Avery Brooks (Hawk), A Man Called Hawk – With picks 2-9 populated by mostly mega-stars, this top spot may be a surprise to folk younger than Generation Xers. But if you ever saw Avery Brooks in anything, this pick not only makes sense, it feels right. And of all his insanely cool roles on the big and small screen, this one is the top dog–even over his role as a Starfleet Commander Benjamin Sisko (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). A Man Called Hawk was a spinoff from the popular show Spencer for Hire. Hawk would come in, say maybe four or five words, and turn an “L” into a comeback victory in a second. Brooks’ presence was so overwhelming that this Black man got his own show as the lead character when such a thing was unheard of. A Man Called Hawk only lasted for 13 episodes, but it’s not because the show lacked quality or fans. It had plenty of both. And Brooks was even cooler as the headliner in his own show than he was as the Spencer for Hire sidekick. But network execs and advertisers didn’t know what to do with a brother who had audiences in the palm of his hand. But I know what to do with him. Give him the well-earned top spot as the “Coolest Black Male Movie/TV Character of All Time.”
Honorable Mention: Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes), New Jack City; Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate), Love Jones; X (Steven Williams), X-Files; Leon Robinson (J.T.), The Five Heartbeats
Let me hear from you for your thoughts on my list. And please share a list of your own. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.