Inspired by my rewatching Wendell B Harris Jr’s Chameleon Street earlier (still from a scene above)… I thought about other films that centered around black men (or women) who, using primarily their intellect and wit, con their way into what we could deem white Americana, and do so successfully… mostly anyway; near perfect cons of the white-collar variety.
I couldn’t think of many others. I was almost immediately reminded of Will Smith in 6 Degrees of Separation, based on a play of the same name, about a charismatic, young, gay black man who cons his way into the homes of several of New York’s elite – all of them white – using, much like Douglas street in Chameleon Street, charm, intelligence, with a little luck on his side, as well as the gullibility of his victims.
His con was a different kind of con than we see in Chameleon Street, but it was a con nonetheless, with some Magical Negro-isms.
The film is really about the wealthy New York art dealer couple, played by Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland, who come to realize the inadequacies in their individual lives, and their life together, thanks in great part to the intrusion, albeit under false pretenses, of the character played by Will Smith, who claims to be Sydney Poitier’s son, and convinces them of this lie, with his vast knowledge of art, music, food, film, and life in general.
It’s probably one of Will Smith’s most complex roles ever, and I think he did a decent job with it, considering how early in his career it was. Though I can only imagine what a younger Jeffrey Wright could have done with the part.
Another film that I thought of was Eddie Murphy in The Distinguished Gentleman, from 1992. In it, he plays a con man who uses the passing of the long time Congressman from his district, who he just happens to share a name with, to get elected to Congress.
So help me out here folks; can you name similarly-themed films starring with black men or women in starring roles, as I outlined in the first paragraph?
A few scenes from Chameleon Street follow below: