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Actor-writer-producer Max Julien (1933-2022)


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Max Julien, the actor, writer and producer who became a star in the popular blaxploitation-era film "The Mack," died New Year's Day at the age of 88. The Hollywood Reporter was informed by Julien's wife of 30 years, Arabella Chavers, that the actor died at Sherman Oaks Hospital in the Los Angeles area. The cause of death has not been disclosed,

“During Julien’s decades-long career, he was known for being bold, honest and straightforward. He would live and speak his own truth both professionally and privately,” the actor's P.R. team said in a statement. "He was thought of as a rare 'man among men.'”

Born Maxwell Banks in Washington, D.C., Julien attended Howard University and embarked on an acting career in off-Broadway productions before turning his attention to film and television projects.

TMZ declared that Julien was born in 1933. Another source said that the actor was born in the month of July, and not on January 1 as other stories have said, 

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Jules Dassin's 1968 drama "Up Tight!" -- a remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer" -- starred Julien as Johnny Wells, a Black activist who became a doomed fugitive after a planned gun heist went awry.  The film also starred Raymond St. Jacques, Ruby Dee, Frank Silvera, Roscoe Lee Browne, Julian Mayfield and Janet MacLachlan. Dassin adapted the screenplay with Dee and Mayfield.

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Julien wrote the screenplay for the 1973 crime-drama "The Mack," in which he played  John "Goldie" Mickens --an ex-con who became a prosperous and powerful pimp in Oakland, California. Rising star Richard Pryor co-starred as his partner Slim. Directed by Michael Campus, the film also starred Roger E. Mosley (as Goldie's Black nationalist brother and conscience), Juanita Moore, Carol Speed, Dick Anthony Williams and Don Gordon. The film became an immediate hit with Black audiences -- and it continues to resonate. Recording artists Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Ludacris -- among others --dd sampled dialogue from the film in their songs.  It also is a favorite film of the director Quentin Tarantino, who referenced it in his 1993 drama “True Romance.” 

"Far from being one of the many cliched blaxploitation movies that only serve the purpose of historical parody,” USC professor Todd Boyd said in a 1995 essay for The Los Angeles Times, “‘The Mack’ is in fact a narrative that combines the nuances of African American folklore with the ambition of Horatio Alger.”

The Mack (1973)

Julien also was responsible for another hit film in 1973. He created and co-wrote the screenplay for "Cleopatra Jones," which starred the onetime model Tamara Dobson as an undercover U.S. government agent involved in a war against the drug trade. 

" 'Cleopatra Jones' " ... seems to be inspired in part by the James Bond movies," wrote the Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert in a review. "Aside from Cleo's striking personal appearance (the ads say Tamara Dobson is 6-feet-2, and I, for one, believe them), she carries an array of gadgets. There's her Corvette, complete with a hidden arsenal in the door; her karate; her costumes, and especially her embossed federal ID card, which indicates she's working for the President himself. Wonder if she ever met G. Gordon Liddy?"

Directed by Jack Starrett, the action picture also starred Shelley Winters, Bernie Casey, Antonio Fargas and Brenda Sykes. The movie's success spawned a 1975 sequel, "Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold" -- co-written by Julien.

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From 1974 to 1977, Julien was involved with the actress Vonetta McGee (1945-2010) -- his co-star in the Western "Thomasine & Bushrod." Directed by Gordon Parks, Jr. (who would go on to film the classic drama "Superfly"), the film -- written and co-produced by Julien -- was the tale of Bonnie and Clyde-like bank robbers on the lam in the American Southwest of the 1910s. The movie also featured George Murdock (as the U.S. marshal determined to bring them to justice) and Glynn Turman (as Thomasine's overconfident gunslinger brother).

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Known as Goldie in "The Mack," Julien also wrote and produced "Cleopatra Jones," and "Thomasine and Bushrod." May he rest in peace, and may his place in the pantheon of criminally underrated pioneering legends be elevated to its righteous place of honor.
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