It’s Presidents Day in the USA today (a holiday for some of you), and I thought we’d have some related fun with a fictional "Black Presidents Day" survey.
In the history of cinema, there have been a few instances in which black actors have played the president of the USA on the big screen. And today, you, S&A readers, will cast your votes for which of those black presidents gets to sit on the S&A Best Fictional Black USA President throne.
That’s right, it’s a democracy over here at S&A, except there’s no Electoral College; the winner of the popular vote will wear the crown; simple!
So, without further ado, here are your candidates (again, to make this easier, the focus is on film presidents, not including TV):
– James Earl Jones in Rod Serling’s provocative 1972 drama, "The Man," as Senate President pro tempore Douglas Dilman, who suddenly becomes the first black man to occupy the Oval Office, when the President and Speaker of the House are killed in a building collapse, and the Vice-President declines, due to age and poor health. Of course, his presidency causes controversy across the country, and Dilman has to prove that he’s not merely a "caretaker of the office," but is actually an experienced executive. A political moderate, he does just that, despite being confronted by extremists over his skin color, and scandals that threaten his Presidency, relying on diplomacy and peaceful means to resolve matters he’s confronted with. Of all the "candidates" on this list, he’s the only one whose race was of major significance (which maybe shouldn’t be a surprise, given the era in which the film was made).
– Morgan Freeman was president Tom Beck in the 1998 sci-fi movie "Deep Impact." A comet is en route to collide with Earth, potentially signifying the end of the world. Who would you rather have leading the so-called free world? How about God… or an actor who also played God. A very presidential performance by Freeman as Beck; assured, authoritative, commanding. But, at least, unlike Douglas Dilman, the sitting president and Speaker of the House didn’t have to die, and the VP didn’t have to decline due to age and health, for him to get into office. At least, we don’t think so. He’s already president when the movie begins.
– Chris Rock as presidential candidate Mays Gilliam in the 2003 comedy "Head of State." An Alderman who is nominated only because he’s expected to fail, since no one believes America would vote a black man into office. The movie ends with him winning the presidency, so we never actually get to see him be presidential and govern. But we are privvy to his campaign, which makes up much of the film; we know what he believes when it comes to key issues, like the role of government, family, etc. He initially gives in to dirty campaign politics, but eventually takes the moral highground.
– Terry Crews as president Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (a former porn star and champion wrestler) in Mike Judge’s 2006 scathing satire, "Idiocracy." The message apparently was only morons would put a black man in the White House (ok, maybe it wasn’t the filmmaker’s message, but… you know… I had to mention that possibility). Given his credentials, President Camacho is probably not an ideal candidate to assume the job of president. But he’s on the ballot!
– Danny Glover as president Thomas Wilson, in Roland Emmerich’s 2009 sci-fi disaster movie "2012." In short, the planet faces near-total destruction in accordance with predictions made by Ancient Mayans, thousands of years ago. It’s essentially a Noah’s Ark movie for modern times. President Wilson is ready; he made plans in advance to ensure that human civilization continued after the event. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t live to see what his plan yielded. But Glover delivers a presidential performance. Serious and noble, as you’d expect from a president, given the circumstances.
– Jamie Foxx in "White House Down" (2013). Interestingly, another Roland Emmerich film with a black president. The White House is taken over a heavily armed paramilitary group, and it’s up to Capitol Policeman John Cale (Channing Tatum) to save the day. This could essentially be broken down to another interracial buddy-action-comedy flick, despite all the fancy titles. I really didn’t buy Jamie Foxx as the POTUS. I kept waiting for a spotlight to shine on him, while he grabs a microphone and does some stand-up comedy routine. But he was President James Sawyer, younger and seemingly more virile. And even though he was to be saved by Tatum’s character, he wasn’t just some feckless president in distress. He takes an active role in saving the White House and, in effect, the country, even wiping out a few bad guys in the process.
– And finally, Samuel L. Jackson in "Big Game" (2015). When Air Force One is shot down by terrorists, leaving the President of the United States, William Alan Moore (Jackson), stranded in the wilderness of Finland, there is only one person around who can save him: a 13-year-old boy named Oskari, on a mission of his own to prove his maturity to his kinsfolk. With the terrorists closing in to capture their own "Big Game" prize (the POTUS), the unlikely duo (Oskari and the POTUS/Jackson) must team up to evade their hunters until help arrives. Samuel L. Jackson isn’t his usual blustery self here, which is a welcomed surprise. He demonstrates authority, but also amiability, and his scenes with Onni Tommila, who plays the young Oskari, are actually what you’d imagine a moment between, let’s say, Barack Obama and a kid would look, sound and feel like. There’s an ease, comfort and humor that President Moore exudes; self-aware enough, while still fun, instead of stiff. And he gets to take out a bad guy or two as well.
I could put Tiny Lister in "The Fifth Element" on the ballot; but in that film, as President Lindberg, he’s not president of the USA; He’s president of planet earth. He doesn’t really do much of anything in the movie anyway.
Again, I intentionally left out TV presidents to make this simpler. We’re looking at big screen black presidents only.
So there you have it citizens – your candidates for the S&A Best Fictional Black USA President crown. Indulge me on Presidents Day and cast your votes now!