The Movie That Changed My Life


It’s been a little while since we had a Movieline list article.  These were a staple of the magazine.  Whenever they needed to fill a little space, they’d just start calling around Hollywood until they got a set number of responses to a question.  For the December 1996 “Black Hollywood” issue, they asked 65 African-American industry players to tell them about the film that had the greatest impact on their personal lives.

1. Samuel L. Jackson (actor, The Long Kiss Goodnight, A Time To Kill). “When I saw Street Smart, I was deeply affected by Morgan Freeman’s performance. That movie definitely inspired me. I hope some day to be as effective in my work as Morgan was in that movie, and I hope I might move people just as deeply.”

2. Carl Franklin (director, One False Move, Devil in a Blue Dress). “The movie that changed my life was On the Waterfront. I saw it on television for the first time when I was eight or nine. It’s not the kind of movie I would ordinarily have been interested in at that age. For one thing, it was in black and white. It was drab-looking. But I was magnetized, I was blown away by Brando. I had never seen anyone like him. I would trace the fact that I went into this business back to that movie.”

3. Alfre Woodard (actress, Crooklyn, How to Make an American Quilt). “My answer could go in two entirely different directions. I could tell you how Creature From the Black Lagoon kept me awake and on my guard well into young adulthood. Or I could tell you this: I was 16 years old when I first saw The Battle of Algiers and it was a nervous-making experience. Before I had only known movies to entertain me (laugh, cry, barf or dream) or tell me something I already knew. This film was an unflinching look at a people’s complex struggle for self-rule. Never before had the effect of colonization and its relationship to me appeared so immediate. Black liberation was what I saw I wanted, and see-ing the price that some contemporary people paid for it was sobering. I understood, mainly, the power of the medium of film and that made me nervous. It is one of those essential things that must be approached with the respect one would have when, say, working with explosives.”

4. Stephanie Allain (president of production, Jim Henson Pictures). “The Godfather was the first movie I saw where I had also read the book. The transition from page to screen was revelatory. It showed me that a movie starts on the page but grows bigger and better than what you could possibly visualize from the page.”

5. John Singleton (director, Higher Learning, Boyz N The Hood). “The Godfather was the movie that changed my life. I consider it the quintessential American film.”

6. Eriq La Salle (actor, “ER”; director, Rebound: The Legend of Earl the Goat Manigault). “The Godfather was definitely the movie that had the greatest impact on me. As a director, I’m sure there’s going to be a little piece of The Godfather in anything I do.”

The Godfather

7. Topper Carew (producer, “Martin,” DC. Cab). “My two favorite films are about change. The Godfather is one, because it stresses the importance of family, no matter what the situation. Whatever changes are taking place inside or outside the family, that story points up that the sense of family must be maintained. The other movie is Eddie Murphy‘s film debut, 48 HRS. It was the first time I saw a black comic take control of an event rather than react to it. My favorite comic, Richard Pryor, always ran from the action, whereas Eddie Murphy would always walk up to it. That film mixed comedy and action in a way that had never been seen before.”

8. Kevin Hooks (actor, Sounder, director, Fled). “At first I was going to say The Godfather, but in thinking about it, the film that really had the most profound impact on me was Sounder, and not just because I was in it. When I made the movie I was 13, and I didn’t really appreciate it fully. I knew it was a landmark film– it was one of the first to address the African-American experience in a significant way–but I was not able to understand the complete nuances and subtexts until I got older. In fact, I’ve watched it over and over again as my life has progressed, and it’s been interesting to grow up with that movie. The relationship between Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield is something I didn’t understand until I was an adult. That film has such strong family values, which is what it has in common with The Godfather. To me, family is at the heart of everything,”

9. Dianne Houston (director of the Oscar-nominated short, Tuesday Morning Ride). “The movie that most influenced me when I was growing up was Sounder, It was a beautiful story and it was beautifully shot. But it also impressed me because it featured people of color. It was the first time I could relate directly to the characters onscreen.”


10. Reggie Rock Bythewood (screenwriter, Get On the Bus). “I first saw Sounder when I was about 12 years old. That movie meant a lot to me. It is a love story/social commentary/coming-of-age story rolled up in one. After seeing it, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would be involved in film-making and try to do work that would raise people’s consciousness. My only regret is that I never got a dog like Sounder.”

11. Whoopi Goldberg (actress, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Associate). “Every movie I’ve ever seen has had an effect on me. I love the movies, and always have.”

12. Blair Underwood (actor, “High Incident,” Set It Off). “The first time I was inspired by a film and affected emotionally was when I saw The Spook Who Sat By the Door at a film festival when I was 15 years old. It was directed by Ivan Dixon in the ’70s, and it made me look at life and survival from a completely different perspective. I was influenced by its humanitarian and political insights, which are as relevant today as they were back then.”

13. Arsenio Hall (actor, Blankman, Coming to America). “I saw Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments when I was a young child. The casting of legendary screen gangster Edward G. Robinson in a biblical film damaged me severely. It changed my life. I’ve been in therapy ever since.”

14. Glenn Plummer (actor, Speed 2, Showgirls). “The film that most affected my life was Cooley High, specifically the character played by Glynn Turman, ‘Preach.’ In the film, he’s the only char-acter who got out. Preach never said that he was getting out, he just knew he could. Everyone but Preach was afraid to go. Preach made me feel I could go, too.”

15. Sinbad (actor, The Cherokee Kid, Jingle All the Way). “There are so many movies that changed me, but the two that were the most important taught me to follow your dreams. I’ve seen Cornbread, Earl and Me about 20 times. When I was young, it influenced me to play ball harder. But after I saw Cooley High the first time, I knew I wanted to act. Glynn Turman makes it out, but you know because his friends have died, it’s not going to be the same for him. Oh, when Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs died in that movie. I just cried and cried.”

16. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (actor, Cooley High, The Jacksons: An American Dream). “The movie that changed my life was Edge of the City, which I saw when I was five or six. I admired Sidney Poitier’s strength, resourceful-ness, intelligence, and the fact that he was willing to help anybody–anybody who respected him, that is. I was only a little kid, but he was me–he was like an older brother I looked up to.”


17. Gregory Hines (actor, Waiting to Exhale, The Cotton Club). “Almost every movie with Sidney Poitier had a tremendous impact on me. The one that really got me was Edge of the City. When that came on The Million Dollar Movie, I must have watched it twice a day, every day that week. After that, I went to see every one of his movies. At the lime I was in a dance act with my brother and wasn’t even thinking about acting. But seeing Sidney Poitier, I thought maybe one day I could do what he was doing. He was a role model in the truest sense. He never let anybody down.”

18. Jasmine Guy (actress, Slash, “A Different World”). “My thanks have to go to Ted Turner, whose love of the classics kept Sidney Poitier’s films alive for me to see on cable television. I was just a sentimental babe who loved The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins before I saw To Sir, With Love and Raisin in the Sun. Those two movies, and Poitier’s performances in them, inspired me to act.”

19. LeVar Burton (actor, Star Trek Generations, Roots). “I remember when I was about six there was this huge excitement in our house about going to see Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field. My parents thought it critically important that my sisters and I see one of our own up there on the big screen. It was rare to see a black man starring in a major motion picture, let alone for one to have above-the-title billing. Sidney Poitier’s portrayal of a strong black man who lived life on his own terms, with quiet grace and dignity, greatly influenced my own desire to do the same.”

20. RuPaul (actor, Fled, “The RuPaul Show”). “The Diana Ross movie Mahogany had a profound effect on me as a kid. A rags-to-riches story of a ghetto girl making it big in the glamorous world of high fashion–sound familiar? You’re damn right, I’ve patterned my life after that movie!”

Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams - Mahogany

21. Troy Beyer (actress/writer, B.A.P.s, Eddie). “When I saw Mahogany, I wanted to be a star like Diana Ross. She was so beautiful and elegant–the ultimate diva. It was that movie that made me want to go into show business. I can still sing ail of ‘Do You Know Where You’re Going To?’ In fact, I sang it when I auditioned for The Cotton Club, Unfortunately, I auditioned right after Whitney Houston, so I didn’t get the part.”

22. David Alan Grier (actor, McHale’s Navy, Jumanji). “I have two. The first is The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton. He accomplished, in that one performance, everything I ever hope to accomplish as an actor. The other, even though there are few African Americans in it, is The Best Years of Our Lives. It’s one of the best movies ever made, and it captures the essence of the American experience.”

23. Natalie Cole (singer, Stardust; actress, “I’ll Fly Away”). “The Women is probably my favorite movie in the whole wide world. It’s an amazing movie for a number of reasons, most importantly because it’s about women. I will never forget Norma Shearer’s quote at the end of the film: ‘No pride at all. That’s a luxury a woman in love can’t afford.’ That really hit home.”

24. Reuben Cannon (producer, Get On the Bus). “The movie that’s inspired me the most is Get On the Bus, which is the first feature that I’ve produced. For the past 15 years, my mission has been to see that small-budget films get made which show the diversity of the African-American community that you never get to see in movies. This story of 15 black men in the Million Man March showed such diverse types of African-American guys, I felt compelled to get the story on the screen. After Spike Lee said to me, ‘I’ll direct it if you raise the money,’ I went out and raised all the money from friends like Danny Glover, Will Smith and Wesley Snipes. Because of a negative pick-up deal, I was able to return all the investors’ money before the film opened. Hopefully, this deeply gratify-ing experience will inspire others to realize their dreams.”

25. Stacey Dash (actress, “Clueless,” Cold Around the Heart). “Excalibur is not just my favorite film, it also inspires me. I love all the wisdom that Merlin is always laying down on Arthur, and I carry it around in my head. Because I’ve got no patience at all, I find it really helps to recall Merlin’s advice: ‘Be still,”‘

26. Vondie Curtis-Hall (actor, Passion Fish; director, Gridlock). “Sometimes the movies that have the biggest impact on you are not necessarily the greatest movies of all time. I was an actor on Broadway when I saw She’s Gotta Have It. At that point you didn’t see that many black actors and you certainly didn’t see many black directors. To see Spike Lee get out and make a funny, innovative movie was really inspirational. The following year I went to film school. I thought I’d like to try to bring my experiences to the screen. So She’s Gotta Have It definitely changed my life.”


27. Lisa Canning (correspondent, “Entertainment Tonight”). ‘The movie that changed my life was Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. It wasn’t an epiphany or anything, but it was one of the few females leads who I recognized as an African-American woman.”

28. Russell Simmons (cochair, Def Pictures; producer, The Nutty Professor). “I have to say The Mack really had an impact on me. It made us all want to grow up to be pimps. I’m joking, but I really loved the fun and energy of that movie and the terrific cast of people like Richard Pryor and Max Julien.”

29. Max Julien (actor, The Mack; author, Dark Clowns Kickin’ Ass). “Probably the movie that had the most effect on me was The Birth of a Nation. I saw it when I was a kid and I was offended by it. My family taught us African-American history, so I was very upset by the film’s inaccuracies of our history. The Birth of a Nation motivated me to want to alter things. After seeing it, I decided that when I grew up I was going to make films to help correct that.”

30. Wynn Thomas (production designer, Mars Attacks!, Malcolm X). “At the tender age of 13, I saw Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke. It’s a wonderful but sad story of Alma, the local preacher’s daughter and town spinster, played by the brilliant Geraldine Page. She’s in love with her neighbor across the lawn, the sexy and socially reckless Dr. John, played by the always moody Laurence Harvey. I was at the beginning of my insecure teenage years, and I completely related to the plain and sexually repressed Alma. I was shocked that a movie could convey such strong emotions, and that a movie could capture the very same emotions I was feeling at that time. That viewing of Summer and Smoke changed my life. I decided I had to be involved with a business that could communicate with people on such a stark and emotional level. It was at the age of 13 that I decided that I would one day work in the movie business.”

31. Sharlette Hambrick (coordinating producer, “Entertainment Tonight”; producer, Ink). “The movie that affected me the most was Imitation of Life. Which version? I love them both. Watching the desire of that young woman who wants so desperately to fit in–and what that desperation costs her–brings tears to my eyes to this day. My mother and I used to watch that movie and cry like you can’t believe. Years later, when I left to go to Hollywood, my mother’s one piece of advice was, ‘Be yourself.'”

32. Keith Jackson (actor, Reggie’s Prayer; tight end, Green Bay Packers). “Imitation of Life showed that no matter what happens in life, you must always remember where you came from. Every time I see that movie, it makes me cry.”


33. Tyger Williams (screenwriter, Menace II Society). “Star Wars was the first non-Disney movie that I saw, and it changed my life. I was amazed by the epic scope of it, and I was moved by the story of a conflicted hero and how the saga played out with his father. That movie made me say: ‘I want to tell stories one day.'”

34. Lynne Moody (actress, “Knots Landing,” Roots I and II). “I saw Peter Pan when I was a little girl, and it changed my life. I still haven’t grown up, I’m still trying to fly, and I’m still looking for Never Neverland.”

35. Reginald Hudlin (director, House Party, Boomerang). “Tommy by Ken Russell was the movie that tipped me over and made me think I had to make movies. When I was a kid, I listened to Motown records and wondered why they didn’t make movies to go along with the music. When I saw Tommy, I thought: finally, someone made a contemporary music movie. It wasn’t playing in my neighborhood in St. Louis. I had to take two or three buses to get to a suburban theater to see it. I even bought the album. It cost a lot, and it was a ‘white’ album, but I had to have it. I know that’s not the typical movie that people study in film school. But I think a lot of filmmakers are living to make a musical. I desperately want to make a rock opera like Tommy.”

36. Warrington Hudlin (producer, House Party, Boomerang). “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song by Melvin Van Peebles is the movie that inspired me to become a filmmaker. When I sat in the theater in 1971 watching this film, two things struck me profoundly: one is that African Americans can make movies, and two, we can change what the movies say.”

37. Preston Holmes (president, Def Pictures; producer, Malcolm X). “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song changed my life in a couple of ways. When I saw it, I was in college debating whether to leapfrog into a career in the movie business. That film showed me it was possible, Melvin Van Peebles faced a lot of obstacles getting the film made, but he triumphed. He released it himself in a four-wall strategy, made quite a bit of money and he instigated the whole blaxploitation craze of the ’70s. He proved there was an audience starved for films about black experience. Beyond that, the boldness and militance of the film’s message inspired me.”

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Posted on December 29, 2016, in Movieline Articles, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Now, I feel in the case of TV and film opinions have more value than something like predictions, since the performers’s answers here offer more personal insight and viewpoints which can build into something more (which I think a website like this offers as well). I generally enjoy articles like this and the “What’s your favorite…What influenced you…?” type of questioning in general.


    • Agreed. Sometimes even more so than the answers provided, I find it interesting to see who was influential enough at the time to be asked the question. And also to see what credits got put next to their names. Like David Alan Grier being credited for McHale’s Navy and Jumanji instead of In Living Color.

      The answers can also be really interesting. The respondents often come at the question from different angles.


      • Yeah, the performers’s mentioned credits are pretty fascinating too; with David Alan Grier, I’d go with “In Living Color” and probably “Boomerang” (especially since the film is mentioned in this article for Warrington Hudlin’s credits).


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