TV One’s series Unsung Hollywood, which shines a spotlight on prominent African American stars from the world of film, television, comedy and sports, telling the stories that have rarely or never been told. The episode airing on Wednesday, April 9 at 10 pm ET is focused on easily recognizable actor/director and Poughkeepsie native Bill Duke. In the episode, Bill Duke’s shining moments as both an actor and director are highlighted as well as his more little known personal projects that have kept him relevant and on the cutting edge of creative filmmaking to the present day. In addition to Duke himself, this episode features interviews with family members, friends and Hollywood colleagues, including Whoopi Goldberg and Vivica A. Fox.
Standing six feet, four inches tall, Bill Duke has been a towering presence as both actor and director in film and television for the past forty-plus years. With his menacing eyes and iconic shaved head, he has played everything from a gay pimp (American Gigolo) to a militant Muslim (Car Wash) to a seen-it-all detective (Menace II Society). For a long time, Duke worried that he himself had messed up. A pre-med drop-out in the 1960s, he threw himself into the New York theater scene and struggled with poverty, drugs and overall discouragement before moving to LA and getting his first breaks in TV and film. He was passionate about acting, but on his terms, rejecting roles that he found stereotypical or demeaning. Looking for more control and substance in his work, Duke turned to directing in the early 80s and remade himself into an A-lister behind the camera, calling the shots in major films like A Rage In Harlem, Sister Act 2 and The Cemetery Club. Meanwhile, the imposing man with the glowering look but gentle spirit has mentored hundreds of aspiring film-makers in inner city boot camps and after-school programs that complete the circle of his powerful, generous life and career.