What do the famous movie lines “They call me Mister Tibbs!” (Sidney Poitier as Detective Virgil Tibbs, In the Heat of the Night, 1967) and “E.T. phone home” (Pat Welsh doing the voice of E.T., 1982) have in common?
Before someone breaks the internet arguing that the actual line uttered by E.T. was “home phone” and not “phone home,” I really don’t care, the little girl in the movie also says “phone home” in that order right after the Muppet-alien says “home … phone”, so the line in that word order exists in the movie, and this post isn’t about that.
What the two lines have in common is the number one. That’s because out of all 100 of the greatest lines from a century of movies, there’s only one that’s spoken by a black person, which happens to be the same number that were spoken by extra terrestrials.
Actually, it’s the same number of lines – one – spoken by any Latinos or Latinas too. That distinction goes to Alfanso Bedoya, playing a Mexican bandit in the 1948 film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and AFI ranked it at #36, sandwiched by much shorter famous quips by Roy Scheider and Arnold Schwarzenegger, respectively.
It also happens to be the same number of lines uttered by a disembodied voice (“If you build it he will come” from Field of Dreams) and by a malevolent creature of Middle Earth (“My preciousssssss” by Gollum, voiced by Andy Serkis, in LOTR). Oh and there’s one line uttered by a green witch (Wizard of Oz, 1939) and one by a vampire (Dracula, 1931).
Why am I blogging about this? I’m not really sure. What started me on this path was watching the “Show me the money!” line in Jerry Maguire (awarded #25 on AFI’s list). Now it’s possible to argue that that line is not only uttered by Tom Cruise – who is the focus of the clip AFI used in their broadcast video of the 100 movie quotes – but that Cuba Gooding, Jr. also says the line, which would bring us up to 1.5 total lines out of 100 spoken by black actors. On the other hand, Al Jolson’s line in 1927’s The Jazz Singer, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” is uttered by a white character who we see performing in blackface, and that kind of cancels out the possible half-credit we might assign to Cuba Gooding, Jr. (For a nuanced and complex take on Al Jolson, check out this short video.)
I have to wonder whether AFI’s panel of cultural and film experts gave enough consideration to some of these famous lines uttered by black actors:
“Bye, Felicia.” – Ice Cube in Friday (1995).
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