This February join MGM HD in celebrating Black History Month, highlighting the contributions of African-American actors to the legendary MGM library.

Every genre has stand-out actors who, even if they do not become household-names, become fan-favorites.  Reliable character actors who are remarkable for the “something extra” they bring to a role, regardless the movie.  On any given day you can watch MGM HD and you will see many of these men and women at work, putting in performances that prove the old actor’s adage, “there are no small parts, only small actors.”  Steve James is one of those actors.

James was perhaps best known as Corporal Curtis Jackson in “American Ninja” (1985) and “American Ninja 2,” (1987) showing this February on MGM HD.  In those movies, Steve James stood out, not only for his good looks and physique, but also for his superior acting.  He was able to bring an honesty and directness to his performance that helped to ground those films and give the relationship between himself and his co-star a sense of reality (and sometimes make outrageous dialog sound more natural).  Throughout the 1980’s, James held his own on screen with other action stars including Chuck Norris in “The Hero and the Terror” (1988) and David Carradine in “P.O.W. The Escape” (1986). You can also enjoy Steve James’s work in “To Live and Die in LA” (1985), “The Land that Time Forgot” (1975), “The Delta Force” (1986) and the comedy, “Johnny Be Good” (1988) (All of which are also part of the MGM movie library).

Steve James was also adept at comedy, as he demonstrated in his turn as “Kung Fu Joe” in Keenan Ivory Wayans’ comedy classic “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” (1988) (also showing this month). In that movie, James played with his own action-actor image to great effect, particularly in a fight scene set to Carl Douglas’ “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting” (for more about “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” check out this month’s blog on “VHS TV”).

Although he began his career as a stunt man and he was a student and practitioner of kung fu, Steve James came from a family of artists.  His father was jazz trumpeter Hubie James, and his godfather was the great actor Joe Seneca.  It was Seneca who took James to the movies when he was boy, and it was there where he found his calling as an actor. This background may explain his ability to commit to parts and take his craft seriously.

Tragically, Steve James’s career was cut short by cancer at the young age of 41 in 1993.  However, his performances are memorialized on screen and available for new audiences to discover and old fans to enjoy this February on MGM HD.