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Antonio Fargas: A Cinematic Legend

I soaked up information like it was my first day in 6th grade-- eager and happy to be schooled by an industry pioneer who I grew up watching on television; back in the 80's, when Kung Fu was the thing to catch on a dull Saturday morning, and Starsky and Hutch was the series to look for during the weekdays...

Antonio Fargas, an artistic innovator, materialized on the big screen in the 1970’s with dominant roles such as Link in the movie, Foxy Brown. He’s portrayed many other characters in what is considered to be Blaxploitation movies.

Actors genuinely celebrated their roles during that momentous timeframe because after so many years, they were prized.

We all know that the 1960’s and 1970’s Hollywood wasn’t welcoming to a lot of African American actors—black actors. It’s one thing to read the text books, and watch the documentaries, while listening to the stories derived from those harsh times. It’s another dash in the park to live through the hatred and societies dejection, furthermore, claiming a life of your own—still demanding your rights as a distinctive artiste and proving that you deserved each opportunity received.

The racism and seclusion in the film industry divided roles between actors (Hence Blaxploitation), and that still didn’t stop the talented Fargas. He boomed in theater as well as cinematic film. His first Broadway production was at the age of fourteen in Shirley Clarks “A Cool World”. Fargas landed another role in 1963 called The Toilet.

Fargas earned the reverence of his peers through arduous work, persistence, and appetite. He is a functioning actor that’s been in the flicks and theatrical productions well over fifty-five years.

His endowments as an actor includes his protagonist parts in Starsky and Hutch, Putney Swope, Foxy Brown, his racy character in Car Wash, Everybody Hates Chris, All My Children, Prince of Bell-Air, I’m Gone Git You Sucka, and The Steve Harvey Show, to note a few films throughout his span in cinema. Not to mention his plays in the 1960’s, for instance, “The Amen Corner, and the character, "Scipio," in the original Broadway production The Great White Hope alongside "James Earl Jones." Fargas was in the stage play Toussaint, Angel Warrior of Haiti. The assembly sketched the life of the 19th-century Haitian independence leader.

You’ll find his visuals in the video with "Rhianna," Bitch Better Have My Money. His stellar work keeps him full of activity… Fargas signed on with NBC’s COZI TV. His swing band, The New Jack Blues, premiered during spring of 2015. Fifty years in the industry allotted him experience, and because of this, Fargas is a partner in his sole production company, Granada Entertainment. The company focuses on scripts and productions for novel films and box office products.

Fargas is hailed as a “Trail Blazer for the Gay Community.” He daringly took on divergent roles that spotlight homosexuality with identification and compassion. The clever actor vowed to be a voice in the gay community long before it became LGBT.

Antonio’s father was a dominant figure in their household that had an odious dislike for bisexuals, gays, cross-dressers, and their behaviors—he loathed the manners of his own son. He became cold towards the boy and sometimes verbally abusive. Fargas was helpless in the situation because he couldn’t go against his dad’s position as disciplinarian and caregiver. This created unrest within his soul. Therefore, Fargas planned. He swore to be a voice for his brother and many like him one way or another. His outlet became the characters he portrayed in film.

Admittedly, Fargas played roles of pimps, junkies, and gay men in his movies. However, his brother’s anguish allowed him to become receptive to the characters while delivering riveting and stellar performances that were convincing.

I’m closing the history section out with this: Antonio annihilated the film industry with varied roles. There was no character too great or small for him. He has savior-faire. Fargas is simply a proficient and extraordinary actor that appeared in an unmarked amount of stage plays and films.

Words from Fargas:

Well, how do I encapsulate 55 years in the business…? I started when I was 14. I’ve been blessed to be in many decades of opportunities in cinema, on stage, New York, and around the world. I played with "James Earl Jones" in The Great White Hope on Broadway, during the Blaxploitation period and being one of the pioneers in television with Starsky and Hutch and the 70’s. Then there’s the Waynan Brothers, I’m Gone Git you Sucka. Going back to the 70’s on Carwash. Not to mention being on Daytime Soap, All My Children. About six-years ago, I finished out my series in Everybody Hates Chris. More recently, I played in the Jazz Festival with my band, The New Jack Blues. We have an album out on Itunes called the New Jack Blues. I just finished a film called Beyond the Skyline, which will be released next year.

The thing I enjoy most today is sharing my strength and experiences with young artist. I’m just excited about life. I’ve been truly privileged to represent the Gay and Lesbian Community in the roles I play in Car Wash, The Next Stop, Greenwich Village, and there’s another film called Ambush Murders. I did the roles that people didn’t want to do before it was fashionable. I particularly enjoyed the role I played in Car Wash- the transsexual. It was a groundbreaking film, and to be part of that opportunity was the first.

I toured Europe when I was seventeen and for my birthday, we went to Israel, and I got to bathe in the river of Jordan. Well, not bathe. We got to put our feet in. I celebrated my eighteenth birthday there. I’ve had many blessings to come my way. Now, I get to share my experience with other young artist, and to say, “Thank you for the support I’ve had over the years, from all different quarters like the "Black Theater.”

The theater holds a special place in my heart because theater is where I started. Before there was television, there was theater, and African Americans participation in theater was the time I started in the late 60’s. It was wonderful to have theater happen because it was right after the Civil Rights movement, and being around for that as a young pioneer.

Now, I know whose shoulders I stand on; Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby and all those who came before that. Bill Cosby gave me a break when I was young. There were so many people, and now I prepare my shoulders for others to follow that tradition. We help each other and we support each other. The theater saved my life. When I found theater, I found a family, and I found a family who thought like I did, who thought outside the box. We took chances. Those artist that raised me up, it helped me to realize that what’s going on today is preordained. It’s spiritual... I was supposed to be here, right now, on this journey. And you know—I’m truly just a grateful guy.

When you touch other artist and inspire them, and they continue on to greater things, and you know that they have an appreciation. Like, a lot of the TV shows that I got like Everybody Hates Chris, was because Chris Rock was a fan when he was growing up. Martin Lawrence was a fan when he was growing up. I did a Martin episode, and then I did an appearance with Will Smith when I did Fresh Prince of Bell-Air. I remember meeting Will Smith before he became The Prince of Bell-Air at an airport. He was a big, big, fan of mine. This lets me know that I have a place in history with our people of color, in this business, and it’s really, really, cool.

I wasn’t modest... I thought the world was about right now. You must have that hunger to do everything as soon as you learn that this is a spiritual journey and you don’t have to press... But, in the beginning, you have to pay your dues, and part of paying your dues is saying yes as much as you can. So, I understand. When people look back on their journey, they weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouth. They were born with other peoples spoons in their mouth because they stood on the shoulders of people who paved a way for them whether they know it or not.

I was really heartened by the fact that these people who became titans in the business, as they were on their way up, they said, “You know what Antonio, Thank you for what you did for me.” I ran into Terrance Howard in Monaco a couple months ago and he said, "Antonio, we have never met before. I just want to thank you for what you did for me. I stand on your shoulders and I’m going to find a way where you can appear on Empire." So, that’s out there in the spirit world. From our lips, our thoughts, hearts, and Gods heart, I expect that to happen because it happened to me in the past.

I always wanted to escape into characters. That was one of the salvation's of acting for me. I accepted it and the people who were taking chances for me in the community. The people who had to survive in a hostile realm, like gay people that couldn’t come out.

I remember my brother was gay, and my father couldn’t accept that. He was very adamant about it, and vocal, as well as physical that his son wasn’t going to be this way. That inspired me to play some of the characters I’ve played. People didn’t want to play pimps, drug addicts, and gay roles and all that. But, those are the people that attracted me because of their struggle.

I was able to speak for them and I was very privileged to do that. The people who chose those lifestyles have given me courage. They have more courage than some of us who just conformed and maybe suppressed the things like who we are and who we really were because we weren’t accepted. So, now, that it’s acceptable to have those feelings and to come out on social media, and to express their feelings is because they know who shoulders they stand on. Other actors, know who shoulders they stand on.

Playing the gay roles was different. I knew that I wasn’t gay, but I could accept that. Not only was it in my family, it was all around me. I had empathy for those people that suffered. I had empathy for those people that sat on the corner and let the people spit on them, and the people in the Civil Rights marches, the injustice because of the color of our skin, and those are the things that grabbed me. If I could speak or do something and create something that someone could say, “Yeah that’s me and he’s not playing at it. He’s really believable. He’s doing it. He’s respecting us." Some people that did those roles and felt that it wasn’t them. So, they over-did-it. It was over-the-top and that was an injustice. I try to go as far as I can with these characters to give them the respect that they deserved.

I think some of the actors today are rising up to the challenge. I think it’s very hard because reality shows have done an injustice to actors, because it’s not really reality. People are becoming stars and celebrities. It adds no substance to me. The art is becoming less and less. Particularly in film, there’s so much animation, and it’s so much stuff they can do, so your imagination is gone. I’d like to go back to films being in black and white because it’s back to the basics. There are some extremely talented actors out there today that are paying the price. They’ve suffered in silence because they were different and had to use the medicines to survive in a hostile world, and I’m talking about drugs, alcohol, to take them places because they couldn’t cope with their genius.

I think love is missing in this society between men and women... Learn to love yourself and you can love others. It’s not taught. It’s deep down inside you. There is a presence of something greater from God. It’s all of us, it’s precious, and humans need to embrace these things. I think we should start being more considerate and loving towards one another as well as accepting. Acceptance is the key. Let people be who they are, so that they can be who they are, and you be who you are.

Inspiration for the hungry:

No matter where you are, you’re part of the big picture. Just be passionate. If you’re in it to become famous, you’re going to be disappointed. There has to be a hunger that is satisfied. I never want to graduate and I don’t want to think I’ve arrived because I have an academy award, I’ve arrived because I make one hundred thousand dollars a movie, or a million dollars a movie. I always want to keep the hunger.

So, keep your hunger and never feel that you’re less than because you’re in Biloxi Mississippi, Atlanta, or wherever you are. Participate... The greatest role you’ll ever play is you. Each day I get up, I have to be me. I have to be the best me I can be. I don't get my best training from the set, or the theater schools, I get it right here, at home. I get it when I go to the store, I get it when I participate in life, I get it when I watch the performance at church, when I see the preacher. Everybody is a participator in the great movie, or the great production of life, and we all have a place. Finding the right seat on the bus is what life is about. Until you get there, you gotta try as many seats as possible...

-Antonio Fargas

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