I wouldn't pay attention if it was about a group of actors, even the greatest films. British Film Institute (BFI) interviewed tens of artists in the film industry and critics, asking them about the most memorable performances by black actors. The members of BFI don't want another snobby list, so they asked the moviegoers. My coursemates and I talked about the list, as Hattie McDaniel wasn't included in it. She was the first black actor to win the Academy Award, but I could imagine that "Gone with the Wind" was all about Scarlett O'Hara.
Sidney Poitier became the first actor to win an Oscar in the leading category, which happened fifty years ago. There were so many happenings between then and now, but the significance (or the lack of significance) of the black populace in America would be brought up again and again. My grandmother recalled the sensitive issue of interracial marriage, but "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was nothing compared to the union between Sammy Davis, Jr. and May Britt. I saw Stanley Kramer's drama, which I found a bit too sentimental. It was the last on-screen appearance between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, which overshadowed Kramer's earnest attempt to address the subject of interracial marriage.
Spike Lee would raise the awareness of black identity, as his depiction of Malcolm X could be compared to the journey of Moses (from Egypt to Sinai). He didn't fancy Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained", which was full of clichés on Blaxploitation. Jamie Foxx, one of the leading black actors of his generation, agreed to star in this film. Lee could be forgiven for being unfamiliar with Tarantino's works, as the "Pulp Fiction" director wanted a rad picture. A little smugness won't hurt as well. But let's get back to the main topic.
I was asked about the most memorable performances, and it took me some time. I haven't seen that many, but I knew some good ones. I could praise these following actors:
Angela Bassett. Critics loved her depiction of Tina Turner, soulful, dynamic, and desperate to save her abusive marriage. But I loved her turn in "Strange Days", which was James Cameron's interpretation of "1999". The inhabitants of Los Angeles became a slave to their carnal desires, no thanks to an illegal electronic device that would let the user experience another person's physical sensations. Bassett played Mace, a limousine driver who had feelings for a cop-turned-dealer of these illegal devices. He became a father figure to her son while she wouldn't mind an unrequited love. Katherine Bigelow directed this science-fiction film, and her depiction of Mace suggested hope in this doomed metropolis. It was hard to tell if a white actress would make such an impact on such a character, as Bassett possessed strength and sensitivity. She couldn't do it better.
Samuel L. Jackson. Marvel and DC Comics featured black superheroes, but an animated black character would be another thing. Samuel L. Jackson was a fine character actor, even a memorable villain. (Tarantino would attest to it.) Pixar introduced Frozone in "The Incredibles", where superheroes struggled to live a routine existence. (It turned out to be harder than fighting their enemies.) Jackson's Lucius Best kept the story grounded and attuned to reality. After all, animation had been a white man's world.
Sidney Poitier. The year 1967 was a banner year for Sidney Poitier, where he had three films shown (during that year). He was an Oscar winner, and he became an A-list star. Mister Tibbs was an iconic character, a police officer from the East Coast who was sent to investigate a spate of killings in Sparta, Mississippi. I would suspect John Ball, who wrote the novel. could have thought of other communities in the South. "In the Heat of the Night" showed how Mister Tibbs rose above the prejudice, even winning the respect of a redneck sheriff. Norman Jewison's crime drama would still resonate up to now, as blacks still struggle for equality and acceptance. Democracy and capitalism don't go together, side by side, but Poitier was a living testament that it could happen. He managed to incorporate it in Mister Tibbs, who wouldn't have any of the racist one-liners.
The other people in the room were interested in my choices, but I was eager to hear theirs.