Black History Month 20 for 20: Robert Townsend - The Forgotten Man
Monday January 30th I was shooting the shit on Twitter as usual, and turned my attention to the love I have for Master P. My friend Courtney with a K inspired me to start this series (as you can see below). For every weekday in February, I will profile Black persons in celebration of Black History Month. #BHM20for20 Why only 20? Y’all too busy sinning on the weekend to read (I’m joking but not really). Thank you Kourtnee.
“Can’t nobody sang like Eddie Kane Jr.!” – Eddie Kane Jr.
When you think of ole Eddie Kane Jr., you better think of Robert Townsend, who along with his mentee/partner Keenen Ivory Wayans wrote The Five Heartbeats. The irony of it all is that Robert Townsend is usually somehow excluded or forgotten when people mention legendary Black comedians. From stand-up to the silver screen, Townsend has been a player on the scene for over 35 years.
Hailing from Chicago, IL aka “da crib” as my Chicago boys say, Robert Townsend’s legacy goes back to the cult classic Cooley High where he had a cameo as a basketball player. After appearing in several films from ’75 to ’86, Townsend hit it big by writing, starring & producing Hollywood Shuffle. A short 8 months later, Townsend directing the absolutely LEGENDARY stand-up film Eddie Murphy Raw starring Eddie Murphy, who happened to beat out Townsend for a spot on the Saturday Night Live cast for the ’80-‘81 season. That makes Eddie Murphy a real one forever for recognizing just how fucking talented Robert Townsend was when he was getting overlooked. Townsend then starred alongside the GOAT Denzel Washington in 1989’s The Mighty Quinn, however it was the aforementioned The Five Heartbeats that cemented Townsend’s legacy as one of the most versatile Black comedians in history.
WE (and you know who I mean when I say WE) all know what The Five Heartbeats mean to US as a community. Even if unintentionally funny, The Five Heartbeats is one of those films WE all stop doing what WE are doing to watch, and it was written (along with Keenen Ivory Wayans), produced, and starred Robert Townsend. He then followed this up by again writing, producing and starring in The Meteor Man. Say what you want about the film itself, but it was a bold leap of faith by Townsend to give US a Black superhero comedy. Also, who can forget the Golden Lords?
Robert Townsend then ventured off into TV with the family sitcom The Parent ‘Hood, which also always gets forgotten when we discuss Black sitcoms of the ‘90’s. Listen, I disliked Michael’s extension braids just as much as everyone else but are we really just going to act like we didn’t all have a thing for Zaria? I know we all follow Reagan Gomez-Preston on social media now so it might be embarrassing to admit but I had a thing for Zaria. The show was one for Black families to enjoy together, and honestly helped Black parents in the ‘90’s understand, and speak to their children with some of the issues the show covered.
In 1997 Townsend directed B*A*P*S was a bold to say the least but Halle Berry was in it, and there is no complaining from me when I get to see Halle Berry. Holiday Heart is another film that was directed by Townsend, and for a time you couldn’t turn the channel to BET without seeing Ving Rhames in drag, and Alfre Woodard as a crackhead. Again, I ask that you don’t lie to yourself because we ALL loved the Townsend directed Carmen: A Hip Hopera starring Queen Beyoncé.
Robert Townsend is a legend, and his versatility plus his ability to multitask while creating classics for US is nothing short of amazing, and this is just a piece of the appreciation he deserves. Thank you Robert Townsend, WE haven’t forgotten you.
See y’all back here on Monday, and please remember to moisturize this weekend. Now get off lawn.