“Andre Braugher had an incredible ability to ground every project he took part in, regardless of the genre, and strengthen it with his immense presence” says film critic Richard Newby in a conversation with Big Picture Film Club on the late talent that perished at 61 years-old on the 11th December 2023, after a battle with lung cancer.
Braugher is remembered by mainstream audiences and younger generations for portraying Captain Raymond Holt in the police comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-2021), where he was the straight-faced man surrounded by buffoonery. It is the role of a lifetime, and the actor trained at the prestigious Julliard Acting School leaves a resounding legacy spanning decades and ranging from TV to cinema.
A two-time Emmy-award winner, Braugher showed his depth in portraying law enforcement authority figures in the grim cop procedural Homicide, Life on the Streets (1993-1999), acting as Detective Frank Pembleton, in a series known for not pulling punches in a fictional police unit in the problematic Baltimore where corruption, police brutality, and violent crimes ran rampant. The series has an ensemble cast due to Braugher’s skills, presence, and charisma Det. Pembleton became the face of the show, a cop who could outsmart criminals during investigations and had a firm moral compass. This role also made him be identified with no-nonsense cops, and shades of it passed to Capt. Holt.
The two Emmys came in the form of the 1998’ “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” for playing Det. Pembleton and in 2006’ “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie” for interpreting Nick Atwater in the miniseries Thief (2006), cementing his status as a major TV actor with world-class acting showcases. He is also remembered for narrating the openings during three editions of the Olympic games with his distinguished baritone voice.
Still, one of his most memorable roles came in his first picture appearance as Corporal Thomas Searles in the Ed Zwick directed Civil War drama ‘Glory’ (1989), where the actor portrayed a sensitive, idealist, and intellectual Black man who engaged in combat to bring freedom to those who shared his African roots but didn’t have in himself the belligerent nature needed for such martial endeavours.
The cast comprises Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington, who won the Academy Award for Supporting Player, and the picture also garnered other awards from the same institution. ‘Glory’ is remembered by the acting performed by Washington and Freeman; however, the caring Searles acts as an antithesis to Washington’s Private Trip.
Although strong and firm, resembling an onyx statue, the eyes, speech pattern, and body language expose Searles’ unfitness to uncivilized activities, and he represents that in war, one of the main casualties is the loss of innocence.
During his character evolution, Searles becomes a competent combatant; his heart is there, and those dark and round eyes help bring humanity into the picture. Much like Washington, Freeman, and the other black men thrown into warfare, Searles shows how the enslavement process deprived them of the entire agency of not only their humanhood but also masculinity, and even after all the ordeals imposed by slavery and segregation, they still have to fight and die for a freedom that would only bring slight improvements to their kind. It is the acting of Braugher that brings a heart to that unit of men.
As I write this piece, the outpouring of love and grief is visible in outlets and social media posts. Braugher leaves a legacy of a talented and trained actor, showing what he could do with roles by presenting them with density and his impactful screen presence that surrendered the eyes whenever he appeared. At the same time, his big smile touched the hearts. Braugher is one of the best actors of his generation, and we are deprived of seeing what he would have brought by the end of the second and third acts of his career.