As a kid, when I first watched Jurassic Park, I was in awe. My imagination ran rapid, and I just knew that one day, I too would see myself on the big screen next to a Tyrannosaurus Rex! The sequels came, and my imagination continued, geeking out every time I watched each movie. Then, superhero television shows and movies began. I use to practice my stances and hand movement, in hopes to be cast in an X-men film. It never occurred to me that the actors who were the leading men in these roles are who I admired. Sadly, it wasn’t until April Regin’s #OscarSoWhite campaign took over Hollywood’s award season in 2015 that I realized, it wasn’t my horrible acting that kept me back from achieving leading role status, it was and will continue to be Hollywood’s standards.
Those behind the hit movies that I loved thought that black men could not be huge box office draws. No matter how many Black-led 90s shows there were from UPN or the WB, achieving leading role status is few and far between. 3 black comedians have also realized Hollywood’s lackluster push in having black leading men. Jerah Milligan, James III, and Jonathan Braylock are the voices behind the hit podcast Black Men Can’t Jump [in Hollywood]. Yes, you read that right. “I came up with the name,” James III explained, “I thought it would be cool to take a name that dealt with race and movies and flip it because that’s what the conversations we’re having are about. I don’t think I thought too heavily about the movie, White Men Can’t Jump, but if you think about that movie and what that title is, you know it’s black people asserting sort of a very cocky thing of what Black people can do and white people can’t do. And so, our film podcast is talking about what white people can do and Black people can’t do. I thought that would be a fun little twist on that.”
From L to R: Jerah Milligan, Jonathan Braylock, James III | Photo Credit Viktor Erik Emanuel
And what Black men can’t seem to do, not of our own merit, but of Hollywood’s limitations, is have the leading man spot. Yes, there is Denzel Washington and Will Smith. We also had Michael B. Jordan and Black Panther dominating the box office, but “I personally hate having to talk about a black actor doing X Y & Z. It would be so cool to be at a point where we’re just normalized” Milligan says, about the state of the few leading Black men that we do have in Hollywood. “When the news about Michael B Jordan meeting with DC Comics talking about a Black Superman, which is cool, it still does not normalize us. I want us to be normalized. Can we just be Bond…can we just play Superman? Also, Michael B Jordan is great, but it would be cool to get to a point where you don’t have to be an uber-famous Black person to get a part. There are so many white actors who can just pop up off the street.”
It is because of those limitations Hollywood has put on Black men, platforms such as Black men Can’t Jump [in Hollywood], is important. The podcast, born from an argument over Martin Lawrence’s performance in Blue Streak, reviews films of leading Black actors and discusses them in the context of Hollywood’s race problem. Over the years, these gentlemen have further expanded to have episodes, which include TV shows, pop-culture events, and blockbuster films with Black actors in supporting roles.
Astronomy Club Season 1 Cast | Photo Credit: Netflix
Jerah, James, and Jonathan got their start as part of the UCB all-black, eight-person improv group known as Astronomy Club. The best way to beat racial oppression is to identify it and satirize it. It is made up of hard conversations and truths via a spoonful of comedy. The group had a hit digital series of the same name where they brought their sketches to life at Comedy Central. Their diversity allows them to go places that their white counterparts can’t follow, and through that, hilarity and thought-provoking comedy are had. Netflix debuted Astronomy Club earlier this month, where you see Jerah, James III, and Jonathan doing what they do best: mixing comedy and race. Produced by Kenya Barris, this show was part of his $100 million Netflix deal and commitment to bring black voices to the forefront.
With social media’s positive response to the Astronomy’s Club, these men are at the forefront of the push to not make Hollywood’s acknowledgment of needing more inclusion and diversity a thing of the past. “My hope is that this continues. That it’s not just a fad, it’s not just a diversity is hot now,” Braylock explains. “I hope that we in the entertainment industry, continue to include different voices so that it becomes normalized. Reality is, there have been periods of time in Hollywood, like the 90s with black sitcoms being a popular thing. We had so many to choose from, and then all of a sudden in the early 2000s, they kind of all just went away. So, my hope is that this doesn’t become a cyclical thing, where it’s hot now and then the next decade it’s not.”
While Black Men Can’t Jump [in Hollywood], is certainly an entertaining and funny show, its approach to openly reviewing Black lead actors’ work sets it apart from other movie review shows. While I have no qualms openly saying I did not enjoy a Will Smith led movie in a long time, there are others who in public, cringe at the notion of criticizing the work of the few Black male leads that we have. “I think there’s definitely a classy way to critique things and make sure that we’re down. I just think as people of color, we don’t have enough options to really come at things a certain way like white people do. One day I hope we’ll be there, but I’m not sure we have enough content yet,” Jerah mentions as a reason we have to be careful when critiquing the content that we do have top billing on. James has a different approach, “To the point of there not being enough content to where we’re thinking that we need to walk on eggshells, it may need to be a thing of; you can critique, say how you feel, say that out loud but still support! Put money into black art, into black cinema, into black television what have you. Support in that way, so that the numbers can rise up and that way there will be more Black content out there instead of there being sort of a skew leaning towards the same types of Black stuff that gets made and not the Pantheon of Black art getting made.”
It’s because of the support of movies like Get Out that Black Panther, gets made. Movies Like Into The Spider-Verse, which not only had an animated Spider-Man as a Black teenager but A Black teenager elevated by his Blackness and not the focal point of who he is. Having a platform like Black Men Can’t Jump [in Hollywood],” not only calls out Hollywood’s standards and limitations but it celebrates those who are breaking down barriers in an industry that continues to box them in.
Stream season 1 of the Astronomy Club on Netflix and listen to the Black Men Can’t Jump [in Hollywood] podcast.