The Duke is an unmistakable man of presence. His full name is William Henry "Bill" Duke. He is not only a film actor but a director with an extraordinary history and with an even more unbelievable past. No one could dream up a life like his in their dreams, so it must be a true story.
Please don't be fooled by his looks, and any of the "bad***" characters he plays. He is a soft spoken man, extremely articulate and is one of the most humble people I had the pleasure of meeting this past summer while attending the American Black Film Festival (ABFF). This American-born actor, who I could have easily mistaken for a Caribbean man (yes I want to claim him as a fellow Caribbean), is very much a survivor, believer and a leader.
What makes this legend so fascinating? Given the fact that he was born on Feb 26, 1943 and lived through an era when slavery, civil rights and segregation were still very fresh in society's vocabulary, it's amazing to think of what he has experienced as he survived through the serious issues blacks had to endure in America.
Mr. Duke stands a solid six foot four and a half feet tall, so you can't help but wonder where on Gods good earth would he be able to blend into anything and not be noticed? Then you add in his dark skin. Wow! But Duke did not let that be a challenge to him. Nor was it a hindrance to his vision, hopes, dreams and desires. In fact, he used his physical characteristics to his advantage and landed some of Hollywood's best roles. The roles that made his career.
He played in American Gigolo opposite Richard Gere, Car Wash, Commando, Predator with Arnold Schwartzenegger, Bird on a Wire, Payback with leading man Mel Gibson, X-Men The Last Stand to name a very, very few. His resume is chalked full of movies, television shows, radio shows... The list goes on. This man is brilliant.
But make no mistake, Don't take his run of success as something that came easily to him. Duke will tell you that the challenges he faced both internally in his community of blacks as well as outside of his race were not easy. But it was all these challenges that made him the man he is today. It is those challenges that made him even more dedicated to assuring that the legacy he started to build some 35 years ago does not go forgotten.
But he strives to not only leave a legacy of a great career for new actors, filmmakers and directors in the industry. Socially, he has taken on the responsibility of addressing issues such as racial discrimination that still plague our society and within the black community as we discuss dark skin versus light. He even tackles racial discrimination that we all face, whether we be black or white.
Duke has also taken a lead on topics of HIV/AIDS as if the color issue wasn't heavy enough.
This seems like a heavy burden to take on for anyone person, causing me to wonder where he finds the time to act if he is still trying to save the world.
With all that is going on in his life he still made the time to do a workshop during ABFF to support new and aspiring filmmakers. I present you with Mr. Bill Duke, for those that may not have known his magnificent body of work. I hope this brief interview sparks an interest for those who feel challenged, disheartened, beat up, different or challenged by life to look up to him and become a true fan of both he and his work.
Mr. Duke: your humanitarian work is the greatest thing I will remember you for. The topic of Dark Girls and the issue that young women face daily, even to this day. In the name of "social equality," I do a curtsey to you. "DUKE!" You are royalty in my book.
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