Film and television icon Richard Roundtree is sadly no longer with us. The actor died on October 24, 2023, at the age of 81, leaving an incomparable legacy behind. For decades, Roundtree was a cultural icon, breaking ground as far back as the early ‘70s. While his passing saddens hearts, and his fans and family mourn, his impact and legacy will continue to endure long after his death.
The significance of Roundtree’s contributions to film and TV is undeniable. Furthermore, they helped shape the current movie industry, especially for Black action stars. Throughout his career, the actor portrayed an array of characters across various genres. Here’s a list of some of the best movies and TV shows he starred in.
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7. Embassy (1972)
Embassy, poster, US poster art, Chuck Connors, Marie-Jose Nat, Richard Roundtree, 1972. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)
Embassy is a spy thriller film based on the 1969 novel of the same name by Stephen Coulter. Roundtree was cast as Richard “Dick” Shannon, a CIA officer, and one of the film’s central characters. It was also the actor’s second role as a leading man in an action film and was released a year after the groundbreaking Shaft movie. Starring alongside Roundtree were Chuck Connors, Marie-José Nat, and Ray Milland among others. Embassy is one of the first blaxploitation films ever released and helped to further cement Roundtree’s status as a bankable action movie star.
6. Brick (2005)
This neo-noir mystery thriller is known for its unique blend of high school drama and film noir elements. It follows Brendan Frye (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a high school student who receives a mysterious phone call from his ex-girlfriend. Soon after, he sets off on a mission where he tries to solve the mystery behind her disappearance. Brick explores themes of adolescent alienation, loyalty, and the blurred lines between innocence and corruption. Although Richard Roundtree starred in a supporting role, his portrayal of Assistant Vice President Trueman was a memorable part of the film. Upon its release, Brick received widespread critical acclaim and has since gained a cult following.
5. Being Mary Jane (2013 – 2019)
Being Mary Jane stars Gabrielle Union in the title role as Mary Jane Paul, a talented and ambitious news anchor. The series revolves around her and showcases both the professional and personal parts of her life, challenges, and all. In the series, Richard Roundtree played Paul Patterson, Mary Jane’s loving father. While he was not a part of the main cast, Roundtree appeared in 33 episodes throughout the show’s five seasons. From the show’s start until its finale, Paul Patterson remains a significant presence in Mary Jane’s life, and Roundtree portrays the character brilliantly.
4. Soul Food (2000 – 2001)
Based on the 1997 film of the same name, Soul Food was developed for television by Felicia D. Henderson. It aired on Showmax for five seasons between 2000 and 2004. However, Roundtree only appeared as a recurring character in its first two seasons. In those few episodes, however, the actor left his mark on the show with his portrayal of Hardy Lester, an early antagonist in the show. The series explores family dynamics, tradition, identity, and the complexities of modern Black life. In addition, it contributed to the positive representation of Black families on television.
3. Original Gangstas (1996)
Original Gangsta is set in the struggling urban community of Gary, Indiana, which is plagued by violent gang activities. This action crime film features several iconic actors from the blaxploitation era. Besides Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Pam Grier star in lead roles. Roundtree played the character “Slick,” a former gang member in the film. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the movie was appreciated by fans of the blaxploitation genre. While it may not have achieved critical acclaim, Original Gangstas remains a notable entry in the legacy of blaxploitation cinema.
2. Roots (1977)
Roots is a groundbreaking television miniseries based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, Roots: The Saga Of An American Family. Airing in 1977, it was also a cultural phenomenon, widely regarded as one of the most influential television events in history. Roots traces the story of Kunta Kinte, an African man captured by slave traders and brought to America in the mid-18th century. Furthermore, the series chronicles his life and the lives of his descendants over several generations. Overall, it depicted their experience as slaves, and later, as free individuals striving for dignity and freedom. Richard Roundtree starred in Part IV as Sam Bennett, a free black man. Roots had a profound impact on American society, sparking discussions about race, identity, and history. It is among the most influential works Roundtree ever starred in.
1. The Shaft Franchise (1971 – 2019)
The Shaft movie franchise has its roots in the 1971 film Shaft, directed by Gordon Parks. It was based on Ernest Tidyman’s 1970 detective novel of the same name and was a cultural phenomenon upon its release. The success of the original film led to sequels, a television series, and a modern reboot. Additionally, Roundtree’s role as John Shaft was a cultural reset, showcasing a strong black protagonist in the action movie genre. The actor came to be widely regarded as the first black actor to star as the lead in an action film. The character John Shaft remains an enduring icon in American cinema, and so does Richard Roundtree.