Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past ten years, you’ve heard of Samuel L. Jackson; he’s one of the most popular black actors of all time. He’s appeared in over 150 films, with many of them being huge box office successes. For the third week of Black History Month, we’re covering an acting legend.
Samuel Leroy Jackson was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Tennessee. Like the other actors we’ve covered, he came from humble beginnings. He was raised by a single mother who worked as a factory worker and later a supplies buyer for a mental institution. Jackson developed a stutter at an early age, which he still has to this day. To get through speech blocks, he would use the word “motherfucker,” a word he still uses often. He went to several segregated schools before attending Morehouse College to study biology, where he got into acting. In 1968, he attended Martin Luther King Junior’s funeral as an usher. He started participating in many equal rights activist movements, including protest marches and, allegedly, was involved with the Black Panthers.
The Start of His Acting Career
Jackson began acting in theatre productions before moving to television movies and eventually to feature films. In these years he was in several of Spike Lee’s earlier films, playing minor roles. He continued to work with the director throughout his career. Mentoring him was another prolific actor: Morgan Freeman. He unfortunately developed a heavy drug and alcohol addiction which led to him having to enter rehab. He came out stronger than ever, going from being a drug addict to playing a drug addict in Jungle Fever. He also played smaller roles in the incredibly successful: Jurassic Park and Goodfellas.
Pulp Fiction and Other Tarantino Works
1994’s Pulp Fiction brought Jackson into the international realm. Although this was his thirtieth film, it was considered his first big break. The part was written for Jackson, after Tarrantino had noticed him during a film they both worked on. The role got him an Academy Award nomination, which he somehow didn’t win, despite his performance being considered as one of the best of all time. He went on to appear in three of Tarrantino’s nine other films.
In 1999, Jackson got the opportunity to play Mace Windu in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Apparently, he didn’t have the time to look at the script and only knew which character he was playing when his costume was being fitted. He stated he would’ve played any role just to be a part of the Star Wars saga. The character’s signature purple lightsaber was Jackson’s idea, who wanted his character to stand out in a crowd of people with a different colored lightsaber. The actor appeared not only in the prequel trilogy of the franchise, but also in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Another notable performance by Jackson was Nick Fury. The “Ultimate” version of the character was modeled after Jackson’s likeness with his permission six years before he started playing the character in the films. Known for his eyepatch and extensive combat knowledge, Fury is the founder of the Avengers and former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jackson’s Fury first appeared in a post-credit scene of Iron Man (2008), and later in ten other Marvel movies, including Avengers: Endgame, currently the highest grossing film of all time.
Other Notable Works
Jackson acted in 2000s Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. This is one of Shyamalan’s only good movies, which is partially because of Jackson’s stellar performance. The actor also acted in the sequel, Glass. He voiced Frozone in Disney Pixar’s The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2. His line: “Honey, where’s my supersuit?” in the first film is now a famous movie quote. He played the titular character in the anime series: Afro Samurai and played the main antagonist, Frank Tenpenny, in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Comically, he was in Snakes in a Plane, a B-movie that was hyped by the internet prior to it’s release due to it’s strange plot. Allegedly, the actor decided to do the movie having only read the ridiculous title. It is now regarded as a cult B-movie classic.
Jackson’s activism didn’t stop when he left the Black Panthers. He still champions for a variety of issues like Alzheimer’s and testicular cancer. He founded an organization to help support education with his wife, and plays golf in the Gary Player charity tournament to help raise funds for children in South Africa. He now advocates for proper coronavirus safety protocols including mask-wearing and staying at home.
Jackson has had an insane career, somehow being involved in several major media franchises, from Star Wars to Grand Theft Auto. He has a collection of action figures depicting his different characters. He struggled throughout his early life with a speech impediment and eventual addiction issues, but became one of the greatest actors of all time while also being a really cool guy. Thank you for everything, Samuel L. Jackson.
A Tribute to Samuel L. Jackson
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