The Godfather of Harlem
Available on Showmax SA
The street legend of Bumpy Johnson is being brought to us from the US broadcaster ABC. Streaming on Showmax, the show is about a notorious crime boss in New York around the 50s. He is considered a pioneer as far as black organised crime goes. Some consider him Harlem’s Robin Hood.
For years Hollywood tooted it’s horn in honour of real-life villains such as Al Capone and Meyer Lansky but it isn’t too often that black crime lords receive the same adulation. I’m not saying devious behaviour is to be celebrated but even in the crime world, ingenuity and creativity exist before the inevitable demise of the criminal.
Bumpy Johnson is an elderly man who has spent most of his life moving in circles frequented by mobsters in the Big Apple. Being an African-American he was always involved in a subservient way especially at the height of segregation and racism in the US.
He builds himself a crew, poised to be an empire if only he can get a larger slice of the pie in Harlem, a territory he shares with a problematic Italian mob boss.
His main vein of income is in heroine, a poisonous pass time that has seen his family lead a life of luxury as a result of the profits.
However, Bumpy’s only daughter, Elise, falls to the temptation of the needle. And she finds herself strung out and without much hope, finances and eventually a home as Bumpy and his wife are forced to turn their backs on her.
Elise had a daughter who the Johnsons figured could not be raised by a mother who was a chronic addict. So they adopted the baby girl, raised her as their own and never told her about her mother.
This storyline makes remarkable use of Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Elise) who has a scorching scene in front of a store where a crowd gathers after she is abused by the police. Police brutality is a strong underlying theme throughout as is race, which are both issues that were prevalent back then and now.
Bumpy’s path intersects with a few other larger-than-life black figures. Malcom X befriends him in Harlem and although the two differ in their approach to life, they both share a fierce rage that if pushed too far will result in harsh consequences.
Boxer Muhammad Ali is starting out his career as a young contender to the heavyweight title. Harlem, being a place where everyone is looking for a quick come up, he is forced into a situation in which he must take a dive in order to get a shot at Sonny Liston.