Welcome to the first, in what will become a recurring segment of WORLDOFHURTONLINE.COM, The Unsung Badmother******* Awards!
The Unsung Badmotherf****** Award recognizes Outstanding Achievements In The Field of Badassery Deserving Wider Recognition. The Unsung Badmother****** is the guy who made a splash and kicked some ass, but remains largely forgotten by the masses.
The UBMF Award is named after the oft-quoted moment in the “Theme from Shaft” when Isaac Hayes is abruptly interrupted by his backup singers before he can fully extol the badass virtues of his man, Shaft. If people remember nothing else about the movie “Shaft,” or Blaxploitation in general, they remember that line, and it immortalized Hayes and made John Shaft a cinematic icon.
Now, without further ado, I am proud to announce that the first recipient of the coveted Unsung BadMother****** Award is none other than…Avery Brooks as Hawk! Take a bow, Mr. Brooks.
Um…actually, you don’t have to do anything you don’t wanna do. We still cool?
Anyway, for those who may not know, Hawk debuted as a literary character in 1976 in “Promised Land,” one of the series of detective novels in the “Spenser” series written by Robert B. Parker. Spenser, a tough, but smart, Boston private investigator, described Hawk thusly in his first appearance:
Shepard appeared from the door past the stairs. With him was a tall black man with a bald head and high cheekbones. He had on a powder blue leisure suit and a pink silk shirt with a big collar. The shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and the chest and stomach that showed were as hard and unadorned as ebony. He took a pair of wraparound sunglasses from the breast pocket of the jacket and as he put them on, he stared at me over their rims until very slowly the lenses covered his eyes and he stared at me through them.
I looked back. ”Hawk,” I said.
That ensemble sounds atrocious, even by 1976 standards, but only “the toughest muscleman Boston’s big boys could hire” could pull off a pink and powder-blue outfit and STILL seem dangerous. As the above pull quote from the back cover of the novel indicates, Hawk worked as a freelance enforcer for the mob, but he had a history with Spenser, and would often come over to the side of the angels to assist the private detective.
In 1985, the television network, ABC, brought the “Spenser” novels from the page to the small screen with the series, Spenser: For Hire, with Robert Urich as Spenser and Avery Brooks as Hawk, with a markedly improved sense of fashion. In Brooks’ depiction of Hawk, he maintained the clean-shaven dome, but he paired it with a goatee, which gave him a sense of devilish menace. Hawk rocked the Big, Bald, Black Man With A Goatee look long before it became fashionable. I started shaving my head in ‘91 and I still remember getting strange looks when I walked into Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurant in Fairborn, Ohio. Now the BBBMWAG look is the default style for every Black tough guy in fiction, particularly comic books. Heck, even Luke Cage ditched his signature Afro for a BBBMWAG.
Avery Brooks completely inhabited the role of Hawk. The man has presence. He controlled the screen, and politely, but forcefully, walked off with every scene he was in. If you YouTube Spenser: For Hire, you’ll find a series of clips dedicated to the best moments from the show. Every single one of them has Hawk. Every.single.one.
Hawk was a man of few words, and Brooks’ delivery of those lines with his precise diction wrapped in a thundering baritone, sold the intensity and conviction behind everything Hawk had to say. The only thing that boomed louder than Hawk’s voice was the long-barreled .357 Colt Python that Hawk carried with him everywhere he went. Hawk also was a master of “The Batman Grin.”
“The Batman Grin” is that brief flash of a smile displayed by an otherwise stoic character that lets his opponent know he is absolutely and irrevocably fucked. Hawk was a predator, and his smile was rarely a sign of mirth. He was baring his teeth.
In 1989, ABC spun Hawk into his own series entitled A Man Called Hawk. It fit the “One Man With A Mysterious Past and Even More Mysterious Connections, Out For Justice,” theme that I loved so well in my youth. Some of my favorite shows from the 1980s, like The Equalizer, Airwolf and Street Hawk (No relation, but YEAH, I SAID STREET HAWK!) carried this theme, and I obviously revisited it with WORLD OF HURT.
A Man Called Hawk relocated the character from Boston to Washington, D.C.. With the move, Hawk’s fashion sense became a little less “wiseguy legbreaker” and more urban as he transitioned from sharkskin three-piece suits and skinny ties to patterned kufi hats and leather pants. Although Hawk still worked as a bodyguard from time to time, he mostly left the mob contracts behind to focus on helping the little guy. Hawk also developed a slightly philosophical edge as evidenced by circuituous, metaphysical conversations with his new confidante “Old Man” played by Shaft and Shaft’s Big Score alum, Moses Gunn.
The series began as a midseason replacement and only lasted 13 episodes, partly because ABC scheduled A Man Called Hawk on Thursdays opposite the unstoppable juggernaut that was The Cosby Show. Nobody, not even Hawk, could withstand The Coz. Hawk’s brief time on the TV landscape is kind of sad, because how many dramatic series featuring a Black male lead can you name in the history of television? I’ll give you a minute…
OK, I got the Kojak reboot with Ving Rhames and Day Break with Taye Diggs. Anything else?
However, TV One has snagged the rights to re-air A Man Called Hawk, and on a good day you can catch a Hawk mini-marathon , so make sure to set your DVRs.
Fortunately, Avery Brooks returned to television in 1993 as Commander – later Captain - Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Deep Space Nine featured an insane, only-in-science-fiction concept about a planet full of White folks who viewed a Black man as a savior, sent to restore hope and to deliver them from darkness and fear. They believed his destiny was to return their people to greatness after years spent under the rule of an oppressive, secretive regime.
Sorry, wrong picture.
But, yeah, he’s a Bad Mother******, too.