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Film Franchises Built Around Black Characters (Survey)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act November 4, 2011 at 9:50PM

This all came to me thanks to a virtual chat I had recently with a friend about the reboot of the the Alex Cross detective thriller series, based on the novel franchise written by James Patterson, which Idris Elba was once attached to take over, only to be recently replaced with Tyler Perry. Alright so... my research tells me that Virgil Tibbs was the first black fictional character to have a film franchise centered around him, that was backed by a Hollywood studio. Sidney Poitier starred in 3 successive films as Virgil Tibbs: In The Heat Of The Night (1968), They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970), and The Organization (1971). The last 2 were not as good as the first, but I'd say that The Organization was superior to They Call Me MISTER Tibbs.
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Sidney Poitier

This all came to me thanks to a virtual chat I had recently with a friend about the reboot of the the Alex Cross detective thriller series, based on the novel franchise written by James Patterson, which Idris Elba was once attached to take over, only to be recently replaced with Tyler Perry. Alright so... my research tells me that Virgil Tibbs was the first black fictional character to have a film franchise centered around him, that was backed by a Hollywood studio. Sidney Poitier starred in 3 successive films as Virgil Tibbs: In The Heat Of The Night (1968), They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970), and The Organization (1971). The last 2 were not as good as the first, but I'd say that The Organization was superior to They Call Me MISTER Tibbs.

All 3 were released by United Artists.

The first film in the franchise was based on the 1965 novel or the same name, by <strong>John Ball</strong>, who would go on to write 6 more novels which feature the Virgil Tibbs character - the last one published in 1986. Although, the 2 film sequels weren't based on any of those successive books.

A further question is how many film franchises in film history have actually been centered around characters of African descent?

I can immediately think of one missed opportunity: Denzel Washington Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, in the adaptation of <strong>Walter Mosley's Devil In A Blue Dress - the first and only only on-screen appearance of Rawlins, even though Mosley has featured the character in at least 10 novels.

There was a potential franchise there for Denzel. And the film, directed by Carl Franklin, was actually very well received as I recall, and is still held in high regard today. It didn't do blockbuster box office, but the critics loved it.

Though I should note that, as was recently announced, the Easy Rawlins series is now being developed into a TV series instead. No ETA on when we can expect to see that.

Beverly Hills Cop is another; although the last one was garbage. Now there's talk of a 4th.

I also can't forget Shaft.

What else did I miss?


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